A River Sutra


I picked up A River Sutra from Eloor Library because the blurb on the back of the book made me feel it is an ideal book for travel.

Well, in a way it is and it isn’t. The book deals primarily with the travels of the soul – yeah, sounds really deep, right 🙂 and not the kind of book that I normally like to try out. But it is written in such a simplistic, and yet beautiful way that I really enjoyed reading it.

In a nutshell, the book is like a series of short stories narrated by one man – a retired civil servant who wants to retire from the wordly life and enter “vanaprastha” – that stage in a Hindu’s life where he renounces his wordly desires and tries to focus on attaining salvation. He chooses to do this by becoming a manager of a government resthouse in a remote area on the banks of the Narmada river.

While performing his regular duties, he comes across various people who flock to the Narmada hoping it will help them resolve their problems. Some of these people include a Jain monk, a woman betrayed by her lover, a man who thinks he is possessed by a ghost, and many more such interesting people. They tell him their life stories, and listening to them, the old man realizes there is so much to life that he never knew of or experienced.

Ostensibly, this book is a compilation of all these people’s stories, but more important; it is a lyrical homage to the Narmada river. Gita Mehta’s descriptions of the places, and the moods of the river are really beautiful. Frequently, she refers to the river as “the source” subtly conveying that it is the source of all life. The book also has some beautiful passages, songs, and poetry that really bring out the beauty and holiness of the Narmada river. Such a pity, that I did not copy it out to share with you 🙁 .

For a reader like me who has always associated the Narmada river mainly with its seemingly never-ending dam issues, it was a lovely opportunity to read and understand why this river inspires such strong emotions amongst the local people.

Last words: I really enjoyed reading this book. It is rather an unusual one and may not always click with everybody; but it is very easy reading and quite short, so I think anyone even mildly interested in Indian writing, specifically Indian mythology should give this a try.

However, some of the stories are quite tragic, so don’t go into this book expecting some breezy easily-resolved stories – you will be disappointed.

While browsing through the web, I found that there is another similar book by Gita Mehta called A Mountain Sutra. Now, I am really curious to find out what that is all about.

Anyone read either of these books? What were your thoughts? I would love to know…

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