Books, alas, don’t always come in the right order. Having recently reviewed Oliver Craske’s excellent biography of Ravi Shankar, I found myself wishing that I could have read Finding the Raga before undertaking that task. Amit Chaudhuri, well-known Indian novelist and essayist, is also a singer and a musician, but not just any musician. Thoroughly-versed in both Indian and Western classical music, he also has a wide experience of Western popular genres (particularly American folk music), Indian film music and the songs of Rabindranath Tagore.

The 19th-century Indian poet Mirza Ghalib always evoked strong opinions about his literary worth. An early 20th-century critic proclaimed, “India has just two scriptures or divine gospels, the holy Vedas and the poetry of Ghalib.” Meanwhile an anonymous Delhiwallah  quipped: “I get the verse of Mir[1]Mir Taqi Mir 1725-1810, Ghalib’s most illustrious predecessor but Mirza’s just too odd. Maybe he gets himself, or maybe only God.”

Notes   [ + ]

1. Mir Taqi Mir 1725-1810, Ghalib’s most illustrious predecessor

Behind or beside the great male spiritual leaders are great women, so we are told, although it is usually the case that their lives and deeds are often relegated to secondary importance by androcentric religious constructs put in place by those who come afterwards. For example, Jesus has two Marys (his mother and Magdalene), Muhammed has his principal wife Aisha bint Abu Bakr, and Buddha (Siddhartha) has Mahaprajapati. There are, however, many stories written about these women, and the often sparse historical records, if they exist at all, need to be fleshed out by these accounts, many of which, however, contain a great deal of  imaginative fiction as well as kernels of truth. They form what Garling herself  terms “a crazy quilt,” that is, numerous fragments based on what Tracy Cochran calls in her foreword “threads of instinct, intuition and common sense.” In the case of Mahaprajapati, we do not have even the kind of history which may be extracted, say, from the synoptic gospels, apocryphal writings (there is a Gospel of Mary Magdalene) or the various Islamic sources depicting Aisha as a scholar, judge and even military leader. 

Hilary Byrd is a depressed and disgruntled English librarian from Petts Wood in southeast London. Frustrated with the changes in his library over the past twenty years—digitalization and moms’ groups that take the focus away from print books and exacerbate his depression—he plans a trip overseas to clear his mind and to show himself and his sister, Wyn, who has become his de facto caregiver, that he can forge out on his own. India is relatively inexpensive, so Hilary chooses it on the basis of affordability. India also exudes a certain romanticism for travelers of a nostalgic disposition.