|CHASING THE MONK'S SHADOW |
By Mishi Saran
Price: Rs 495
In The Oxford History of India, Vincent Smith said, "It is impossible to overestimate the debt which the history of India owes to Hiuen Tsang." To this day schoolchildren in India learn of this Buddhist monk, whose name is spelt Xuanzang in Chasing the Monk's Shadow. In 629 a.d., at the age of 29, he set off on an 18-year journey to India, the birthplace of Buddhism, to learn more of the original sources of his belief. He kept a meticulous record of his extraordinary travel from China, through Central Asia and across Afghanistan to the Punjab and all the major Buddhist sites in north India, before heading to Assam and then around the peninsula-from Bhubaneswar to Kanchipuram and then up to Gujarat.
In India, Xuanzang found Buddhism already on the decline in the face of a resurgent Hinduism, and had to defend his Mahayana Buddhist beliefs against the more protestant Hinayana sect. Hailed as a sage before he left his homeland, he grew in stature, sustained and motivated by his faith and his profound religious quest.
Mishi Saran, an NRI journalist and scholar of Mandarin Chinese, is in contrast devoutly secular and modern. Her motivation is adventure, historical interest and a love of India and China. Setting out alone, she manages to follow in the sage's footsteps with surprising accuracy, describing what she finds in those ancient places.
Looking for traces of Xuanzang 1,500 years and a Cultural Revolution later, Saran is still able to locate a direct descendent of the Chinese traveller's elder brother, the graves of his parents who died when he was young as well as his own remains, including the spot where his begging bowl was buried. The library built to house the 657 sutras he brought back from India still exists and is in the care of Buddhist monks. Many texts which Xuanzang studied and translated are now known only from these Chinese versions. Saran also finds scholars in Beijing who tell her that to understand China one has to understand the ancient Indian influences which shaped it. One even calls Xuanzang "the spine of China".
The flow of ideas could not be obstructed by the Great Wall of China standing between the nomadic horsemen of Central Asia and the Han Chinese. The emperor forbade Xuanzang from crossing into those dangerous lands but the sage muffled his horse's hoofs and escaped into the Gobi desert where he wandered without food and water for five days before stumbling on an oasis.
Saran's own journeys by train and road are not so dramatic, but many of the areas she travels are still remote. And through the account of her experience, she threads the ancient and modern worlds together. In the process Xuanzang no longer seems a distant figure and the Nalanda of Lalu Yadav's Bihar is clearly linked with the centre of learning when Harshavardhana ruled north India.
|RITES OF PASSAGE |
By H.M. Patel
Price: Rs 695
As Partition secretary, H.M. Patel saw in close quarters how agreements were made in the midst of a bloodbath and how order was restored post-Independence. The chapters have the weight of a historical document.
|THIRST OF A MINSTREL: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF GANESH PYNE |
By Shiladitya Sarkar
Price: Rs 295 Pages: 88
The reclusive painter who portrayed death, darkness and ephemeral bliss in tempera, Ganesh Pyne created a vibrant, modern idiom for Indian art. Sarkar analyses the man, the master and his oeuvre.
|HISTORICAL DICTIONARY OF BANGLADESH |
By Craig Baxter and Syedur Rahman
Price: Rs 595
A ready reference on the country. It covers the A to Z of Bangladesh's people and places, history and politics-from the Agartala Conspiracy Case to Ziaur Rahman and Khaleda Zia.