I enjoyed reading Leela Prasad‘s Ethics in Everyday Hindu Life: narration and tradition in a South Indian Town (which, I think is the same as Poetics of conduct: oral narrative and moral being in a South Indian town).
Prasad’s writing brings to life on the pages the people she is describing: after reading the book, one feels as if one knows Dodda Murthy, Chayamma, Vijaya, Lakshmidevamma, Shastry, and Ajji personally. There are also a couple of places where I found the book moving — the experiences of Dodda Murthy in Sevashram and the experiences of Lakshmidevamma’s first pickle making exercise. The book is also filled with lots of very interesting anecdotal details: the ones I liked best are about the explanations for the presence of a leopard in the town and the sensitivity of Dodda Murhty about narrating a sad incident and drinking milk after such a narration.
The book also talks about the Ashirvada tradition of Sringeri. A form of Ashirvada is practised in my place too– however, it takes place only at the conclusion of the 12 days and one year mourning period after a death. In this ceremony, the priest and the elders talk about the care given by the heir (both physical and ritual) and the responsibilities that the heir has to fulfill towards the family and the local community to fill the hole left by the deceased member. However, the Ashirvada process described by Leela is more elaborate, has a poetics of its own, and more importantly, is performed after even religious ceremonies –not just on completion of the mourning period.
On the whole, a very nice and interesting book; a book that I might also revisit; a book that I have already recommended to a few people (including my father). Strongly recommended if you are interested in anthropology or religion or both.