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BOOK REVIEW
[ BY D. DAVE ]

"Hinduism: Beliefs & Practices"
AUTHOR: JEANEANE FOWLER

Hinduism: Beliefs & Practices

A Great First-Book on Hinduism!
What is Hinduism? Fowler believes that there is no one phenomenon which could be called Hinduism, for it is "a rich variety of beliefs and practices... It is a religion of all possibilities." She views Hinduism as it is - a way of life, an Indian phenomena - and covers all you need to know about Hinduism as concisely as possible. The book seeks to take the reader across the major aspects of the religion through a picture of the variety of beliefs and practices that make it up.

Hinduism, says Fowler, "reflects the multiplicity of shades of human aspirations in the religious and spiritual dimensions of existence." The reader while going through this book, the author suggests, "needs to travel with an open mind, exploring the dimensions of Hinduism like completing a jigsaw puzzle and not prejudging the effect until the last piece is in place. And the best way to travel is without baggage for it leaves one free and unhindered..." This is perhaps the best way to approach such a subject.

This book does not overstress the philosophy of the religion, but revolves around the everyday expression of Hinduism, as a way of life. The result is a book, which is perhaps the best introduction for someone who has no prior knowledge of the religion. It is also a stable stepping stone for the student of religious studies, and an eye-opener for the practicing Hindu. In sum, of all the basic books on Hinduism, Fowler’s book is perhaps the most balanced introduction to the religion.

It has 16 chapters divided into two parts, The Hindu Way of Life and History and Tradition. It also includes a glossary of Sanskrit terms and a select bibliography. 

Nine Strangers, 'One Amazing Thing'

One Amazing Thing

Poet, short-story writer and novelist Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni cut her teeth listening to her grandfather tell tales from the ancient Indian epics — the Ramayana and Mahabharata — by lantern light in his Bengali village. This storytelling legacy shines brightly in her entrancing new novel, One Amazing Thing, in which nine people in the passport office in the basement of the Indian Consulate in San Francisco are yoked together by fate when an earthquakes hits.

Uma, a sharply observant graduate student awaiting a visa to visit her retired parents in "shining India," mistakes the quake’s first tremor for a cable car. She notes the sour-faced young Indian woman at the reception desk, gatekeeper for the passport officer, and the others in the waiting room: a Caucasian couple in their 60s; a young man, about 25, whom she takes for Indian (Tariq is, in fact, Muslim-American and unsettled by how he is perceived after Sept. 11); a Chinese women with her teenage granddaughter. Divakaruni writes: "It was not uncommon, in this city, to find persons of different races randomly thrown together. Still, Uma thought, it was like a mini U.N. summit." As the quake hits with full force, Divakaruni moves effortlessly from one character to another, and across a spectrum of raw feelings: panic; pain; antagonism; selfishness. She reveals intimate details and sensual reactions so vivid you feel as if you’re with each of them in the room. The survivors are held together by the guidance of Cameron, a lanky, African-American Vietnam vet, who times his suggestions — gathering bowls of water from the bathroom sink, sharing the little food they have, keeping their feet above the floor when the place begins to flood — to the intervals between the five remaining doses on his asthma inhaler. Page after page, tension escalates. As the group grows desperate, the men begin to tussle. "It was like their very own Lord of the Flies," Uma thinks. To calm them, she challenges each to describe "one amazing thing" that has happened in their lives. Divakaruni embeds the last two-thirds of her novel with narrative gems that bring the nine survivors back to the bedrock of human connection. Trapped strangers are transformed into a chorus of Scheherazades, offering up tales of loss and love, and betrayal and redemption, to illuminate the gathering darkness. 

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