THE SILVER PILGRIMAGE by M. Anantanarayanan


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In this novel set in medieval India, the characters are vaguely reminiscent of Candide: a heartless young prince, sent on a pilgrimage by his father, to learn of the world's joys and evils; his friend Tiloka, and a wise- but sometimes too human-purohit. But what happens is an odd mixture of bawdier, more primitive kinds of picaresque adventure tales; dialogues in Indian philosophy; and some modern cracks by an Indian at English culture and his own. The purohit enters the story when Tiloka and the Prince are captured by bandits and escape with the aid of the purohit and the prince's new bandit-bride, Valli. The four go on together. There is a fascinating argument on doctrine with a man-eating demon, in which the purohit comes out best; a low-comedy interlude with a bad Tamil poet; a low-farce take-off on Hamlet and Macbeth- occasionally hilarious; rather impressive descriptions of a saint, and of Benares- full of burning bodies, the city where the faithful come to die. And always, set against descriptions of the classic hierarchies of gods, myths, are apparently equally classic Indian bed and bathroom jokes. This chaos of extremes, conveys, a remarkable sense of a teeming country in which life and death are inextricably mixed; interesting, to those who speculate on the reasons behind Indian philosophy. But the book is somewhat private in its animosities and form.

Publisher: Criterion