Narayan is the child of an American mother and a Gujarati father who grew up with three biological siblings -- Maya, Rahoul, Deven -- an adopted sibling, Tashi, and a cast of gurus and "urugs" (her family nickname for guru wannabes) in Bombay. Her parents had met and married while her father was a student in New Mexico and the family moved back to Bombay with her maternal grandmother, who occupied the neighboring cottage in Juhu. Her mother's artistic and spiritual interests draw an assortment of hippies, urugs, and gurus to their family home. Additionally, her paternal grandmother, Ba, is also very religious, believing in miracles and visions. The many visitors in search of spiritual fulfillment draw her brother, Rahoul, into his own spiritual quest and Rahoul, an aspiring artist, abandons formal schooling and joins an ashram. Through Rahoul, the family encounters Baba Muktananda and his disciples, Old Swamiji and Young Swamiji. Between the three swamis, they shape Rahoul, "Maw" (the mother), and young Kirin, in their understanding of religion and spirituality.
While the mother and children experience different ashrams and gurus, the father, "Paw", steadily descends into alcoholism. Father's drinking and Mother's excessive spirituality lead to the family's break up and much of Kirin's narrative also includes the painful and steady destruction of family life and wealth. Rahoul and the Swamis in many ways step into the role of the absent father and help shape Kirin's passion for scholarship, writing, and storytelling. Intertwined with the humorous stories of swamis are also candid accounts of Kirin's search for "normalcy." Her struggles with her peers and their perceptions of her eccentric family, her sorrow at the destruction of her parents' marriage, the development of her spirituality, her passion for stories, and her strong relationship with her brothers make up this very compelling memoir. While it is Kirin's perspective on family life that emerges in this narrative, it is also a tribute to her brother, Rahoul, a sensitive, intelligent, artistic young man who struggles with his spirituality, his sexuality, and his artistic vision, and eventually dies of AIDS. Rahoul Contractor is, in many ways, Kirin Narayan's muse.
Narayan's memoir is a remarkable read and a unique one in that it offers us a deep and personal look at bicultural life and Indo-Americanness from a perspective not often present in other narratives of the South Asian American diaspora.
Book Description: In 1969, young Kirin Narayan's older brother, Rahoul, announced that he was quitting school and leaving home to seek enlightenment with a guru. From boyhood, his restless creativity had continually surprised his family, but his departure shook up everyone-- especially Kirin, who adored her high-spirited, charismatic brother.
A touching, funny, and always affectionate memoir, My Family and Other Saints traces the reverberations of Rahoul's spiritual journey through the entire family. As their beachside Bombay home becomes a crossroads for Westerners seeking Eastern enlightenment, Kirin's sari-wearing American mother wholeheartedly embraces ashrams and gurus, adopting her son's spiritual quest as her own. Her Indian father, however, coins the term 'urug' -- guru spelled backward -- to mock these seekers, while young Kirin, surrounded by radiant holy men, parents drifting apart, and a motley of young, often eccentric Westerners, is left to find her own answers. Deftly re-creating the turbulent emotional world of her bicultural adolescence, but overlaying it with the hard-won understanding of adulthood, Narayan presents a large, rambunctious cast of quirky characters, from her grandmother Ba, who enjoys visits from Hindu deities, to such urugs as Bhagwan Dass and the Cupboard Swami. Throughout, she brings to life not just a family but also a time when just about everyone, it seemed, was consumed by some sort of spiritual quest.
Interweaving family stories and mythology, My Family and Other Saints is a poignant reminder that the stories we tell are at the heart of the bonds that tie a family together, no matter how far afield our journeys may take us.
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