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ECSTASY by Sudhir Kakar


by Sudhir Kakar

Pub Date: June 24th, 2002
ISBN: 1-58567-210-6
Publisher: Overlook

From India, Kakir’s second (The Ascetic of Desire, 2000, not reviewed) tells turgidly of a young Brahmin’s growth into a guru.

Writing as an outsider about mysticism, Kakir offers a simple plot: one boy grows up to be a holy man, then another follows in his footsteps. The first, Gopal, starts out in the small village of Deogarh, 30 miles north of Jaipur, in the 1930s. Cursed—though he’s also gifted—with androgynous physical traits (breasts, a beautiful singing voice), Gopal never fits in with his peers, but he is highly sought after as a singer at religious ceremonies. After a strange encounter with a travelling tantrik, Gopal is overcome by spiritual madness and his mother takes him on a healing pilgrimage to Balaji. There, he comes under the eye of a travelling older sadhu named Madhavacharya, who becomes the boy’s mentor and takes him into the monastery at Galta. After some feeble monastery intrigue—another monk wants to modernize and tries to oust Madhavacharya—Gopal sets out to live alone in a life of selfless contemplation. Eventually he encounters Nangta, a.k.a. “The Naked One,” a more powerful sadhu than Madhavacharya, who becomes his guru. Years later, in the independent India of the 1960s, Gopal, now a full-fledged elder known as Ram Das Baba, finds a promising youngster named Vivek, who he thinks could take his place. One day after meeting with Gopal, Vivek plunges into mental confusion: “His mind was in turmoil as he cycled back to the city. He could not understand what had happened. Was that awful emptiness and the utter disconnectedness of things a revelation of the secret of the universe? Or of deep structures of his own psyche? Was it some kind of suggestion implanted in his mind by the Baba?” Similar passages, unfortunately, are characteristic of the whole.

Hazy and unrewarding.