Nicola Barker’s ‘The Cauliflower’ opens a Pandora’s box of conversations on Sri Ramakrishna

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Nicola Barker, it seems, is like that only.

“This many brilliantly unhinged of British writers does whatever a ruin she likes,” is a admiring outcome opposite a board. And, going by a usually book of hers we have examination so far, and that too usually since of a subject, we can't yet agree.

Improbably called The Cauliflower it comes finish with a purebred streamer pointer of a orderly encircled small-caps R staid discreetly during tip right, unequivocally many a partial of a title. Why? A poser that stays one compartment a end.

True, there is a cauliflower in evidence, roughly nearby a finish of a 323-page loosely packaged book, yet with a bit partial during best. Even a “circa 1855” Indian swift, “quite stupid and rarely collision prone,” plays a distant some-more thespian purpose as it hops, skips and flies around with a small camera trustworthy to it and provides a minute outline of a newly non-stop Dakshineswar Kali Temple formidable on a hinterland of Kolkata until,


And so it goes. Sizzling, sputtering, fizzing, compartment a unequivocally end. A sequential comment that is determinedly not chronological, intercut by exclamatory italics, haikus, slapstick comedy, sound effects, ellipses, questionnaires, standalone punctuation marks, emoticons (yes, smileys), educational prattle, author’s interventions in a third chairman – a imagination boggles during a immeasurable array of outlandish inclination a author has marshalled to describe an comment that is educational and mystifying, waggish and exhausting, all during a same time.

Yet, a some-more wise form for a extraordinary theme that Nicola Barker has selected for her latest charity is tough to imagine: a bizarre and high life of Sri Ramakrishna Paramhansadeva (circa 1836-1886).

The guru “who does not wish to be called guru” yet ends adult trend-setter for all modern-day gurus; a Brahmin who straightforwardly trod all roads to God, even Islam, and kept a mural of Jesus in his room; a clergyman whose familiar, witty interactions with his statue achieved larger eminence from his visit epileptic fits aka samadhi or trance; a saint who did not turn a sinner for visiting playhouses and zoos; a father who would rather ceremony his mother as a enchantress than share a marital bed; a unenlightened nation who took Kolkata’s Western-educated bhadralok by charge (and continues to intruigued intellectuals to this day).


The cover of Nicola Barker’s book. Image courtesy: Amazon.

It’s a story each Bengali picks adult by perfect osmosis, nonetheless such is Nicola Barker’s ability that The Cauliflower (which might or might not weigh usually a unfeeling that did not determine with a mystic’s weak, pompous stomach) still enthralls.

Barker has never been to Kolkata yet has been “fascinated by Sri Ramakrishna” for many of her life, she says in a Afterword. “This novel,” she writes there, “is a tiny (even pitiable) try to know how faith works, how a bequest develops, how a devout story is written.” She is not a initial to do so yet her unconventional, whimsical, drum coaster float of a book is utterly distinct all a educational and theological treatises that have been created on this many startling devout personality with his many idiosyncrasies and ecstasies, his many miracles and oracles.

Still, Barker is too shrewd to be unknowingly of a pitfalls ahead. Hers might be a novel yet it is after all peopled with real-life characters with names and places unconditionally unchanged, some of whom are treated as God in this partial of a world. Its dizzying literary pyrotechnics notwithstanding, it is also meticulously researched and is utterly true to tangible happenings.

And therein lies a catch. When it’s a matter of faith, who’s to contend what is or is not a fact? Especially in a nation like India where sacrament brooks no disproportion in interpretation? The Wendy Doniger partial is still too uninformed in memory for anyone to consider otherwise. And fluttering a word “novel” might not utterly help, as Salman Rushdie will bear declare to.

Cut to Nicola Barker:

“Winter 1881, during a Dakshineswar Kali Temple. Sri Ramakrishna finally gets to accommodate a one chairman he has been watchful for HIS WHOLE, DAMN LIFE!!

(Suggested subheading: True Romance! Uh, oh. Although, gulp! Not with his wife…)

What follows underneath this section streamer is an comment of a ancestral assembly between a 45-year-old saint and teen Narendra Nath Datta, who will one day turn Swami Vivekananda, footman series one of Sri Ramakrishna and owner of a Ramakrishna Mission. So, is a author observant what we consider she is? Well, she has already determined a guru’s adore for cross-dressing by “his shadow,” his nephew’s all-knowing insights on his Uncle that is one of a vital voices of a book. This is simply carrying a indicate to a judicious conclusion.

So she does, in her jerky, devious way. There is so many going on in a book that this unequivocally is not a large deal, not for a story being told, yet it is there.

“Late Dec 1883, a Dakhineswar Kali Temple.”

“The Master (who will not be called Master) is in his room, collapsed on his bed, tears copiously, still ideally wandering with adore for Narendra Nath Datta. A faraway devotee, Bholanath, is holding his palm and perplexing to ease him:

“Bholnath (concerned): ‘But is this suitable behaviour, Master? To turn so unsettled since of a elementary kayastha boy?’

“Sri Ramakrishna (briefly staunches his tears for a moment, thinks intently, hiccups, and then, during full volume):


It’s not that a Paramhansa’s affinity for his male, mostly immature masculine disciples, his yearning to see them, his zeal to feed them with his possess hands, splash their cheeks, place his feet on their physique and identical acts of earthy cognisance are unheard of. The guru himself done no tip of it. But it has to be, we are always told, seen in a informative context, that this was utterly normal in nineteenth century Bengal, that they were trusting expressions of his blissful love, zero more. Try giving it a homosexual inference and see what happens.

Or ask American educational Jeffrey Kripal, author of Kali’s Child: The Mystical and a Erotic in a Life and Teachings of Ramakrishna, published by a University of Chicago Press in 1995. Based on his PhD thesis created underneath a organisation of Wendy Doniger (yes, there she is again), it is a psychoanalytic investigate of Sri Ramakrishna’s life formed on Freudian presuppositions. It maintains that a guru’s visionary practice were caused by restricted homosexual tendencies that he himself did not recognise. He criticised Ramakrishna’s diagnosis of his mother as misogynistic and even indicted a Ramakrishna sequence of utilizing biographical papers to censor this truth.

In 1996, a American Academy of Religion awarded Kali’s Child a History of Religions esteem for a best initial book of 1995. But it was frequency famous in India – until Jan 1997, when The Statesman published a full-page examination of a book by another US-based yet Bengali academic, Narasingha Sil, underneath a rubric “The Question of Ramakrishna’s Homosexuality”. It finished with a difference that a book was usually “plain shit”.

The Statesman trembled. Outraged letters, write calls and termination notices flooded a princely Kolkata paper. Of a 39 letters it published, all from this city, usually one had examination a book. Yet, their defamation of a author – “sick,” “diseased,” “perverted,” etc. – was unanimous. The biggest madness was indifferent for a journal itself for giving faith to a book that “should not have been overwhelmed even with a span of tongs,” “deserves to be thrown into a dustbin,” “filth,” “trash,” “garbage,” and so on.

The Statesman surrendered. ‘Now Let It Rest’ was a title of a Feb 18, 1997, editorial that read: “In a past fortnight, this journal has seen some-more greeting from a readers than as distant behind as memory serves … [Kripal] has been questioned on his certification and a peculiarity of his research… The biggest critique has however been indifferent for The Statesman – for carrying authorised a editorial settlement to be dangling by edition a examination of such a book during some substantial length… we concur this, a visualisation went askew.”

Soon there were reports of a direct for a anathema on a book, with one comparison proxy pleading that a supervision of India “take adult this matter with a US supervision and ask it to stir on a publishers to nullify a announcement of ‘such trash, totally abandoned of a clarity of history’.” Nothing happened yet Kali’s Child is not mentioned in respectful circles in India, inside or outward academia. The criticisms opposite it, that a book’s conclusions were arrived during by mistranslation of Bengali, disagreement of Tantra and injustice of psychology, might be good deserved. But a jagged greeting to it had positively small to do with a educational consequence or miss thereof.

A nation that still sees homosexuality as a crime, where a Bill to decriminalise it is laughed out of Parliament, whose religious-turned-political leaders do not cringe from dubbing homosexuality an misconception can frequency be approaching to aspect a godmen being embellished in rainbow colours. It will not be startling therefore if “the many adventurous square of storytelling to seem in English this year” fails to make it to India during all. It hasn’t yet, yet it’s been out in London for roughly dual months now.

India would be a healthy rising pad for a book on such a theme one would think. But then, a publisher, William Heinemann, is partial of a Penguin-Random House behemoth. Penguin has already had to crawl to Dinanath Batra’s diktat and determine to pap all unsold copies of Doniger’s The Hindus – An Alternative History. They might be twice bashful now. Unless of march it fits into someone’s electoral calculations and afterwards The Cauliflower will turn a mega articulate indicate – for all a wrong reasons. Literary consequence – who cares about that in India? That’s for a birds, and “sickularists”.