Books on GIF #37 — 'Samskara: A Rite for a Dead Man' by U.R. Ananthamurthy


Books on GIF is a weekly review and discussion of random books told with the help of GIFs. We'll cover fiction, nonfiction and the occasional graphic novel.

This Sunday's book is 'Samskara: A Rite for a Dead Man' by U.R. Ananthamurthy.
SamskaraI really liked this odd and satirical novella. It's set in an Indian village where Naranappa has just died. He's a brahmin, like the rest of the men in the village, but he renounced their religious ways and lived a life of pleasure. drank. He lived with a prostitute named Chandri (who is the only character in the book with any practical wisdom), he hung out with Muslims, and he encouraged local teens to defy their parents and be independent, even prodding one to run away and join the army. caused the rest of the village much consternation. Because of his lifestyle, the village is unsure who should say the last rites for him before his body is cremated. Squabbling begins, not only because of petty jealousies and townie intrigue, but also because religious reasons forbid eating until the last rites are performed. So everyone is hangry. townspeople ask Praneshacharya, a local brahmin famed for being wise and holy, to decide who should say the last rites. Praneshacharya consults the sacred texts looking for an answer. He goes to a temple to talk to god. God has no answer. Praneshacharya is frantic. He doesn't know what to do, so he does nothing. Days pass. No one eats (though some cheat). Naranappa's body bloats and stinks. Rats show up. They die. Vultures come. Plague spreads. People freak out. Praneshacharya dithers, Chandri the wise prostitute eventually takes matters into her own hands, solving one problem, but then causing another with her innocent yet sexy ways. (Those tropes were overcome, I thought, by the overall message of the book.) She causes Praneshacharya to renounce his life and vow to wander the earth. But he doesn't get very far because he can't outrun his problems. always thought of himself as holy and wise, even marrying an invalid just to prove it. Everything he has relied on — from sacred words to his gods — fails him, and he's forced to do something he's never had to do before: use his own judgment. lesson: god isn't going to come from the sky and fix your problems, and you can't always rely on conventional wisdom or tradition. In order to be truly wise, you must seek out information that disrupts your world view. Like Socrates said, you acquire wisdom by admitting you don't have all the answers. Growth, then, comes from challenging yourself. Speak to people you disagree with. Read a book! (Read this book!!) thinking is important and, as Praneshacharya found out, not being able to can be catastrophic.

My rating:'Samskara: A Rite for a Dead Man' was originally published in English by Oxford University Press India in 1976. It was republished in 2016 by The New York Review of Books. 130 pages. Translated from Kannada by A.K. Ramanujan.

What's next?In the coming weeks I'll review 'White Teeth' by Zadie Smith (next week, I promise!), 'Crossing to Safety' by Wallace Stegner and 'American Gods' by Neil Gaiman, among others.

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* Thanks especially to Donna for copy editing this review!