The Immortal Ring
Pradip Bhattacharya
THE RING OF TRUTH AND OTHER MYTHS OF SEX AND JEWELRY by Wendy Doniger Speaking Tiger, New Delhi, 2018, 395 pp., 899
July 2018, volume 42, No 7

Mention of the ring evokes four names: Kalidasa, Wagner, Browning and Tolkien. Rings are embedded in Doniger’s psyche starting with the gimmel ring her father gave her mother inscribed, ‘REF to SHU’. Baffling! That referred to her favourite volume of the 1911 edition of the Britannica. Then there is Doniger’s own wedding ring which she retained even after divorce. No wonder she returns to explore its symbolism a decade after completing her mythic quartet with The Woman Who Pretended To Be Herself in 2006. While Browning’s and Tolkien’s rings do not feature, those of Kalidasa and Wagner receive detailed treatment.

Ten chapters highlight different functions rings perform in myth, literature and cinema, functioning as recognition clues. There are marriage (and adultery) rings, rings fished from the sea, rings in Ramayana and Mahabharata, rings of forgetfulness in medieval romances, the Siegfried ring, clever wives using rings to trick alienated husbands into impregnating them, the vexed issue of the rape of the clever wife (one of whom almost rapes her husband).

The concept covers circular jewellery beginning with Marie Antoinette’s notorious necklace. The ninth chapter discusses jewellery in English literature and the last investigates if diamonds are, indeed, a woman’s best friend. She shows how marriage, jewellery and faking ‘are joined at the hip’, sprinkling the entire investigation with personal anecdotes that lend an engrossing, intimate touch to the writing, with puns enlivening the reading.

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