Many people in the world are aware of the river Ganges, the lifeline of India. It is connected with civilizations, agriculture, industry, population, floods, life & death, religion & above all with environment. A number of religious places are situated on the banks of this sacred river. One of them is the famous city of Varanasi. There are many Indian writings about Ganges, but the present book is by a leading contemporary Japanese writer, which makes it worthy of reading. As narrated in this book, five Japanese gather on the banks of the river Ganges (which the author calls the deep river), & tell their stories of suffering & searching. Isobe, after the death of his wife, wants proof of incarnation. Kiguchi, a survivor of horrific jungle fighting in world war two, hopes to bring peace to the souls of his fallen comrades. Numada, who has endured illness & exile from his loved ones, seeks consolation in nature. The river Ganges also unites Otsu, rejected by his Catholic brethren & Mitsuko, who tried seduction to separate Otsu from his religion. Linking the five characters is the tour guide Enami, who shows that acceptance of difficulties of life, may be found in the image of the maternal Goddess Chamunda, & in the embrace of the river Ganges itself. With vivid description of the deep river, & insightful character analysis, the author leads the readers towards his ultimate religious vision. Shusako Endo is a leading contemporary writer of Japan, the recipient of the Akutagawa prize, the Mainichi cultural prize, the Noma prize & honorary doctorates from a number of American Universities.
This book has thirteen Chapters in all. The first Chapter describes the case of Isobe. It is a touching account of the slow death & emotional loss of his wife, whose final words were (quote) I…I know for sure…I’ll be reborn somewhere in this world. Look for me….. find me…promise…promise! (Unquote) It is this faith which makes Isobe travel, looking for incarnation. It also mentions about Shirley Maclaine’s book about previous lives. In Chapter 2, the author writes (quote) the sacred river Ganges purifies the heart. (Unquote). Here the tour guide gives, first hand information about India, its Gods & Goddesses. Chapter 3, 4, and 5 describe the cases of Mitsuko, Numada and Kiguchi respectively. While reading these cases, one is overawed by author’s style of writing, giving a touch of human realism.
Chapter 6 talks about, the events leading to their arrival in Varanasi. Chapter 7 discusses about Indian Goddesses, visits to temples in narrow lanes & beggars etc. in the city of Varanasi, which the author states (quote). …might be called the India within India. (Unquote) Chapter 8 discusses about efforts made for achieving the objectives of the characters. Chapter 9 entitled “The River”, discusses about fortune telling & rugs & also mentions about the assassination of Mrs. Indira Gandhi, the then Indian P.M. on thirty first October, and its effect all around. Chapter 10 discusses the case of Otsu further. Chapter 11 is titled “Surely He hath Borne our Griefs”. In Chapter 12 entitled “Rebirth”, the author discusses about Buddhism, & also beliefs of the Indians about the river Ganges. Finally in Chapter 13, one of the character states (quote)… Though I still don’t know what lies at the end of that flowing river, but I feel as though I have started to understand, what I was yearning for through all the mistakes of my past. (Unquote)
The author states that people come to India, to seek salvation in Hinduism & Buddhism, to moan the loss of their beloved ones, & to seek solace in reincarnation. Many Hindi words have been used in the book, from which it appears that the author has had a deep knowledge, not only about the deep river, but also of the country & its main language. Similarly, some Japanese words have also been used in the book. However at some places, there are mentions of some unpleasant but real situations e.g. beggars, cows squatting on the road, dead people & animals being cremated in the river & the same river water being used for bath. The book has a serene cover design, projecting the depth of the deep river, & a gripping narration. Once started, one would not like to keep it aside till completion. Deserves a reading through.