Academic journal article CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture

Elements of Hinduism in Chandra's Red Earth and Pouring Rain

Academic journal article CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture

Elements of Hinduism in Chandra's Red Earth and Pouring Rain

Article excerpt

I posit that the Bhagavad-gita as a living document adapts itself to future generations and welcomes a recasting to fit the moral dilemmas of contemporary life. Reading the Bhagavad-gita and studying Hinduism more in-depth illuminates two phenomena: the instructive power behind the stories and the necessity of a spiritual guide to assist one in understanding faith. In the following, I discuss Hinduism's influence on contemporary literature as seen through an examination of connections between the Bhagavad-gita and Vikram Chandra's novel, Red Earth and Pouring Rain. I focus on the Bhagavad-gita and stress elements of Hinduism which provide a framework for evaluating the mindset and actions of characters placed in situations similar to what the protagonist of the Bhagavad-gita faces: Arjuna Pandava doubts his role in an epic battle and finds himself morally paralyzed. As a warrior, Arjuna would not have completed his duty without Krishna's counsel. The fundamental role of a guru has been stressed since the beginning of Hinduism and is discussed in Vedic texts. While elaborating on the guru's importance, Swami Akhilananda asserts that "one can hardly expect to reach the higher state of divine realization without the help of his Guru" (192). The dialectical structure of the Bhagavad-gita poses Krishna as offering wisdom to Arjuna: Arjuna returns to the battle with a confident resolve regarding his purpose and understanding of Hinduism. Chandra's novel takes certain elements from the Bhagavad-gita and recasts them to fit contemporary settings. Tenets of Hinduism connect with the content of Red Earth and Pouring Rain. Bishnupriya Ghosh summarizes that all Indian writing in English "seem[s] to offer a microcosmic India to global audiences" (82). To arrive at meaning, current scholarship is not turning to the Bhagavad-gita as a framework for understanding Indian novels. However, a pairing of contemporary Indian writing in English with the Bhagavad-gita returns scholarly focus to the inherent qualities found within the text itself. Rather than following the current trend of examining Indian literature as a product marketed to Western audiences, I analyze the relationship between a foundational text of Hinduism and contemporary Indian writing in English.

Sunanda Mongia asserts that "the fact is that criticism of the Indian novel has been erratic ... the contemporary novel, undeservedly, has not received consideration, possibly because critical environment is not based on initiation of academic debates by venturing opinions before there are quotable precedents of one's critical positioning" (215-16). Aside from basic reviews and author interviews, scholars who analyze contemporary fiction tend to focus on the direct impact Indian novels in English have made on India. Bishnupriya Ghosh's When Borne Across: Literary Cosmopolitics in the Contemporary Indian Novel offers a reason for the paucity of scholarly material: "Indicative of how young this literary tradition is, criticism on 'Indian writing in English' almost always adopts a generational rhetoric, the periodizing gesture imparting sought-after literary credentials" (6). Ghosh's research and analysis follows the difficulties and rewards experienced by novelists who break with the past while still allowing it to inform current insights. An example of what Ghosh labels "generational rhetoric" appears when Mongia attempts to categorize Indian writing in English. She records three chronological phases of such novels, nine patterns found within novels published between 1981 and 1997, and describes six trends of literary form and style. In the pattern that Mongia calls "Re-visions of religion, mythology, history, Independence, Partition," she pairs Shashi Tharoor's structure in The Great Indian Novel with how "Chandra ranges over the history and mythology of India and uses the narrative framework of Mahabaharata in Red Earth and Pouring Rain" (221). While Mongia does not reprimand Chandra's recasting of religious figures (such as Ganesha) or mythological structure (looping frame narrative and emphasis on dialogue), her chastising of Tharoor implies disapproval of Chandra's novel since his work exhibits "the irreverence of Shashi Tharoor's interpretation of Hindu religion" (221). …

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