A hermeneutic engagement with Maithili folks allow this book to hinge upon the notions of living and dying in the contemporary world despite the admission that medicine, insurance, market and media may condition human experiences. Amidst the binaries of union and separation, rigid religion and fluid faith, popular and folk, modernity and tradition, central to this book is the pluralism of cultural script(s) and their philosophical musings on living and dying, folk philosophy, cultural subversion as well as reconciliation. Predominantly sung by women, the folksongs of Mithila are woven around calendar of events, rites of the passage, and everyday life situations. The cultural scope of sound and sight thu conjures a fusion of epistemology and ontology, knowledge and existential being, the classical-Sanskritic-textual and the folk-subaltern-oral. Straddling the particular context of Maithili folksongs and the generic aspects of folk world view, steering across Hinduism, tradition and modernity, and folklore in the age of mechanical reproduction, this book contributes to the sociology and social anthropology of, inter alia, folklore, religion, gender and mythology. Moreover, this makes for a contribution into sociology and social anthropology of death in South Asia.
Dev Nath Pathak teaches Sociology at the South Asian University, New Delhi. His current research interest focuses on the popular and performative cultural politics in South Asia. His publications include Intersections in Sociology, Art and Art History: A Conversation with Parul Dave-Mukherji (2016) and Performative Communication: Cultural Politics in South Asia (forthcoming). He is the reviewing editor of Society and Culture in South Asia, Journal of Department of Socology, South Asian University.
Nachiketa was very unhappy to witness his father’s ethical decline, as his father KingVajashrava was donating unhealthy cows to the priests, who had offered services in the yajna (sacrifice). The unhappiness of Nachiketa in the Kathopanishad-one of the ancient texts of wisdom in India---seems to be a nuanced expression of any growing child at any juncture in the history of human civilization. Tocut the tall claim to size, Nachiketa’s dissatisfaction on his father’s cunningness is alike the critical sense of any growing child. In the story, a son questions and resists an allegedly deviant father. Thus anguished by his son’s unrelenting query, the father uttered the words which perhaps wrote Nachiketa’s destiny. The child had to set on a journey to meet the god of death. The travail eventuated into a meeting with the god, after spending a long time knocking at the door of the god’s abode. The clever and kind god allured him with many glittering gifts the mortals cherish. But, Nachiketa only wanted answers to questions that could enable him to understand the mystery of life and death. The winsome innocence and disarming curiosity of the learner worked out, and the god relented.
This famous story from the Kathopanishad, narrated from my personal memoirs, was always in the backdrop of the research behind this book. My retelling of this tale serves me the purpose of making a statement on the self-reflexive underpinning of this work. Reflexivity is a radical necessity in Sociology to bring the self of the researcher on the anvil of interpretative analysis. For me, reflexivity is also an inherently psychoanalytical process in which the personal and public intersect through the discursive acts. In many ways, a retelling of this story constituted my reconciliation with biographical tumult, episodes of my personal tryst with the event of dying. Not that like Nachiketa, I found absolute answers to questions pertaining to living and dying, I never witnessed a corporeal entity called the god of death. Instead, death to my ‘significant others’, to borrow a phrase from the lexicon of social psychology, happened with due accompaniment of suffering. But, there was a Nachiketa mode, so to say, at work when I had to make sense of the death and dying amidst emotional upheavals. Every time, somebody died, I vicariously experienced my own death, something anthropologists have discussed as couvade syndrome in a different context. Simply put, it was an empathic experience of dying with the dying. It all occasioned a rationale for a quest, technically called research, on which this book thrives.
Dying is an extreme form of separation. The other myriad variations of separating may be equally potent and pertinent for the invocation of Nachiketa. I do not claim to be Nachiketa incarnate, but I believe anybody approaching the issue of suffering, separation and ending with simmering conscience is likely to take a Nachiketa-route, consciously or otherwise. Be it the ethical decline of a father in a ritual performance of sacrifice, or the father’s willingness to die following the death of his wife, there occurs the moments of crises whereby agency shelters in liminality. The liminality becomes the womb of a research/quest, to know the unknown, even though the unknown remains as chimerical as before. Embarking upon such quests is perhaps an essential part of being even though the pursuit of knowing the unknown is only partial, and at best delusional. Walking down the corridor of the A.I.I.M.S. in Delhi, on several occasions built up for me a phase of ‘neither here nor there’ 9the betwixt about which anthropologists have deliberated). It was no less than an emotive drama under the dictate of some divine conspiracy. The cruelty of the divine conspiracy is inexplicable and hence not a morsel for simple romantic imagining. Running around to have my father diagnosed with kidney failure and deciding on his behalf to put him on a regular dialysis was almost like nudging myself along with him towards the abode of death. Asking my father insistently to generate some life-force (the Freudian notions of Eros,against the death drive of Thanatos) and live for me for a few more years, and getting to see in response his helplessly blank face with moist eyes, happened to be an impetus for the eternally curious Nachiketa.
**Book's Contents and Sample Pages**
Item Code: NAP974 Author: Dev Nath Pathak Cover: HARDCOVER Edition: 2018 Publisher: Primus Books ISBN: 9789352902156 Language: English Size: 9.50 X 6.50 inch Pages: 268 Other Details: Weight of the Book: 0.5 Kg