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Title Climbing Chumundi Hill
Author Ariel Glucklich
Subtitle 1001 Steps with a Storyteller and a Reluctant Pilgrim
Publisher Bantam
Publish Date 05/07/2004
ISBN 0-553-81535-0
Binding Paperback
Synopsis Religion scholar Glucklich (Sacred Pain: Hurting the Body for the Sake of the Soul) presents 30 ancient Hindu folktales, slotting them into the contrived story of an unnamed American biologist in South India. While walking barefoot near the sacred site of Chamundi Hill (simply because he wants to dry his wet sneakers), the narrator meets P.K. Shivaram, a retired librarian, who mistakes the biologist for a pilgrim and takes pity on his tender foreign feet. As they approach the 1,001 steps leading to a 12th-century Chamundi temple, the "tiny wrinkled man in brown polyester pants and worn out rubber thongs" distracts the biologist from his aching feet by telling him pilgrimage stories. The rather preachy riddles and fables, some of which are translated from Sanskrit for the first time, feature casts of kings, demons and talking animals and deliver pat moral lessons. The narrator and librarian dissect each tale on a metaphorical journey to Nirvana-a technique that feels irksomely artificial-and Glucklich dumbs down his American narrator (says the narrator to his guide: "First Shiva, now Vishnu-you know, I never could figure out your complicated polytheism"). In a few instances, Glucklich presents meaningful reflections: "No event in your life is a simple objective fact. It always means something to the memory-processing mind." Still, the flashes of substance feel isolated within a narrative that struggles to reach enlightenment.