A Taste of Life: The last days of U.G. Krishnamurti
by Mahesh Bhatt
Few deaths are worth writing much about; the actual event is generally utilised by memorialisers simply as a peg by which to talk about the far more important issue – the life itself. More so when the one doing the dying is that great anti-guru U G Krishnamurti, he who believed in little (supposedly) and depended on even less (purportedly). Yet an account of the final days of any spiritually enlightened being seems a sure-fire shortcut to embellished hagiography, especially if the account is written by a self-proclaimed follower. But while Bhatt, the filmmaker, is indeed another follower (despite his mild protestations to the contrary), he was also specifically appointed by the notoriously prickly U G to ‘oversee’ his death, in 2007.
But “death takes a long time to come,” Bhatt writes, and so we come to see something of a last lesson unfolding around Krishnamurti. Slowly expiring (he refuses any medical intervention) in a grand (rented) villa on the Mediterranean coast, Krishnamurti’s followers and friends and relatives slowly begin arriving from around the world. The resulting mishmash of personalities, all living a sudden communal lifestyle surrounding a dying man, leads to some truly touching collective reactions, at once irreverent (as per U G) and reverential (as per those gathered).
For someone who rails against dependence of any kind, it is clearly difficult for Krishnamurti to be forced to accept the assistance of those around him to, for instance, walk to the toilet. The experience obviously enrages him at times – “No spiritual shit,” he barks at the mantra-chanting circle (or some such) at one point, before kicking everyone out. Still, for a man who claimed he would rather just crawl into a cave and die alone, the final stage that Krishnamurti sets up for himself – reclining beside a fireplace, in front of massive windows, surrounded by the people of his life – belies the lesson behind the lesson. (Carey L Biron)
Socio-political and economic challenges in South Asia
edited by Tan Tai Yong
Beginning with a summarising foreword by Lim Hng Kiang, Singapore’s minister of trade and industry, this is a collection of papers presented at a conference in October 2007 – though the broad policy issues covered are, fortunately, still relevant. Of particular note is Stephen Cohen’s piece on US foreign policy in the region. He focuses on the downside of military engagement with Pakistan, which he notes has led to the sidelining of the country’s civil society, including how other countries in the region have been overlooked due to the consideration that they are part of India’s strategic realm. Relevant does not always mean exciting, however, and the rest of the book offers little more than mundane analyses on the socio-political and economic challenges facing the region – the oft-quoted vision of Southasia as active in regional and multilateral negotiations continues. Perhaps most particularly, given the economic slowdown that has hit since these papers were presented, the book fails to warn that trade liberalisation is not the only way towards a prosperous future for the region. (Shiven Thapa)
The Lazy Conman and Other Stories: Folktales from Nepal
by Ajit Baral
This collection is a substantial addition to the meagre corpus of Nepali folktale literature available to English readers. A light-hearted read, the more than two dozen stories here tell of a time of pastoral lifestyles, and of a natural world inhabited by gods and goddesses. Each tale is animated with expressive illustrations by the renowned cartoonist Durga Baral, editor Ajit Baral’s father. If Baral’s reckonings are to be accepted – that, for instance, the stories “tell us much about ourselves” – then it is a wonder that Nepalis have not yet made a name for themselves in the annals of con artists, sophists and loafs. Wit and cunning are the most esteemed and effective of character traits, evidently, bringing riches and rewards to heroes scattered throughout. Despite the tradition of sharing stories in communal and family gatherings, children’s sensitivities to violence and gore are of no concern here. While outnumbered, token tales ending on a moral note also make their way into the assortment – such as in “Selfishness”, for which one can only guess what lesson is to be learned. One word of advice, though: it is best to read each story to the finish, lest a casual reader incur the wrath of the goddess of tales – as the king does in, naturally, “The Goddess of Tales Gets Angry.” (Smriti Mallapaty)
Beyond the Frontiers: Women’s stories from Nepal
edited by Padmavati Singh
This is not a new book, but its novelty lies in the content. As it is, few works of Nepali literature ever get translated into Englis h, and only a couple of them are by women authors. Established about a decade ago, Gunjan is an association of women litterateurs of Nepal. The organisation decided to take matters into its own hands, and commissioned three local editors to compile an anthology of translations of Nepali stories by women writers. The result is an eclectic volume in which traditionalists and experimentalists – from the redoubtable Dev Kumari Thapa and Maya Thakuri – to the somewhat reticent Bhuvan Dhungana tell their tales.
Chief editor Padmavati Singh has selected two of her representative stories for this anthology, “Silent Submission” and “Is Woman a Human Being?”. Faint feminism can still be detected in these tales, but the message gets somewhat lost in the translation. “Awaiting Doomsday”, by Dev Kumari, is more carefully translated. Indeed, perhaps this underlines a major weakness of this volume: translated by people of different background and sensibilities, the quality of prose is notably inconsistent. As with any such undertaking, the other flaw of this book is in the names it has left out – Parijat, Banira Giri, Sharada Sharma and others. But then, no compilation is ever complete. (C K Lal)