Creative Narratives
Monideepa Sahu
ADI SANKARA AND OTHER STORIES by Susan Visvanathan Papyrus Scrolls Publications, 2018, 215 pp., 595
December 2018, volume 42, No 12

The title of this book may lead readers to expect a collection of short stories based around the life and work of Adi Shankaracharya, the great saint and mystic of yore. However, two of the three novellas in this collection are unconnected with the Shankaracharya. One story is set in medieval Europe. It is told by the grief stricken mother mourning her little son, whose heart is buried in a cathedral. The last story is different from the other two since it is about the experiences of a young Muslim woman in contemporary India, and the social and cultural restrictions she has to deal with in her quest for a mental space of her own. The author offers an imaginative interpretation of aspects of three distinctive faiths. The subject matter and the style of all three stories mark this out as a well-crafted and researched book full of complexities and creative interpretations.

The first story ‘traverses through the philosophical literature, on … Adi Shankar and provides a delicate balance between biography and fiction. It uses abstraction as its mode of telling the story. It does not use chronology or linearity in its formal aspect, but feels free to shift between location, where dream, time and geography coalesce to announce the percolation of the past into the present, or vice versa.’ Very little is conclusively known about the Adi Shankaracharya as a man and historical figure. He did indeed walk on this earth. The mathas and other religious institutions he founded, the texts attributed to him, his footwear revered in a shrine here, the deities and codification of rituals established by him elsewhere, stand testimony. Visvanathan presents an imaginative rendering of what may have been.

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