Sunday, November 26, 2006

Excerpt from New Yorker story Homer In India: The Oral Epics of Rajasthan by William Dalrymple...

India's population may not be particularly literate--the literacy rate is sixty percent--but it remains surprisingly erudite culturally, as Wendy Doniger, an American Sanskrit scholar, has pointed out. Anthony Lane noted in this magazine in 2001, in the aftermath of the attacks on the United States, that the people of New York again and again compared what had happened to them to films: "It was like 'Independence Day'"; "It was like 'Die Hard'"; "No, 'Die Hard 2.'" In contrast, when the tsunami struck at the end of 2004, Indians were able to reach for a more sustaining narrative than disaster movies: the catastrophic calamities and floods that fill the Mahabharata and the Hindu tradition in general.

As Doniger puts it, "The myths pick up the pieces where philosophy throws up its hands. The great myths may help survivors to think through this unthinkable catastrophe, to make a kind of sense by analogy."

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