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Amita Kanekar

Amita Kanekar

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Amita Kanekar is a Mumbai
Mumbai
Mumbai , formerly known as Bombay in English, is the capital of the Indian state of Maharashtra. It is the most populous city in India, and the fourth most populous city in the world, with a total metropolitan area population of approximately 20.5 million...

-based writer, whose well-received debut novel
Debut novel
A debut novel is the first novel an author publishes. Debut novels are the author's first opportunity to make an impact on the publishing industry, and thus the success or failure of a debut novel can affect the ability of the author to publish in the future...

 A Spoke in the Wheel was published by Harper Collins Publishers, India. Kanekar teaches comparative mythology
Comparative mythology
Comparative mythology is the comparison of myths from different cultures in an attempt to identify shared themes and characteristics. Comparative mythology has served a variety of academic purposes...

 at the University of Mumbai
University of Mumbai
The University of Mumbai , is a state university located in Mumbai, Maharashtra, India. It was known as the University of Bombay until 1996 when the city of Bombay was renamed as Mumbai. The affiliated colleges of the university are spread throughout the city of Mumbai and four coastal districts in...

. She was born in Goa
Goa
Goa , a former Portuguese colony, is India's smallest state by area and the fourth smallest by population. Located in South West India in the region known as the Konkan, it is bounded by the state of Maharashtra to the north, and by Karnataka to the east and south, while the Arabian Sea forms its...

 in 1965. She is currently (2006) working on her second novel. She has lived in the U.S. as a child, and also teaches architectural history
Architectural History
Architectural History is the main journal of the Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain .The journal is published each autumn. The architecture of the British Isles is a major theme of the journal, although it includes more general papers on the history of architecture. Member of...

.

Publishing history and plans


Kanekar is currently researching material and travelling for her second novel, on the rebellion of a little known peasant community in the time of the Mughal
Mughal Empire
The Mughal Empire ,‎ or Mogul Empire in traditional English usage, was an imperial power from the Indian Subcontinent. The Mughal emperors were descendants of the Timurids...

 ruler of India, Aurangzeb
Aurangzeb
Abul Muzaffar Muhy-ud-Din Muhammad Aurangzeb Alamgir , more commonly known as Aurangzeb or by his chosen imperial title Alamgir , was the sixth Mughal Emperor of India, whose reign lasted from 1658 until his death in 1707.Badshah Aurangzeb, having ruled most of the Indian subcontinent for nearly...

. Kanekar's first novel about the Buddha
Gautama Buddha
Siddhārtha Gautama was a spiritual teacher from the Indian subcontinent, on whose teachings Buddhism was founded. In most Buddhist traditions, he is regarded as the Supreme Buddha Siddhārtha Gautama (Sanskrit: सिद्धार्थ गौतम; Pali: Siddhattha Gotama) was a spiritual teacher from the Indian...

, A Spoke in the Wheel, has earned favourable reviews. Published in 2005 by Harper Collins India
India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

, the book went into its second impression that year itself.

A Spoke in the Wheel


A Spoke in the Wheel is an epic story alternating between two narratives—the story of the Buddha himself, and his times, told not as frozen legend, but brought to life with historical detail and craftsmanship.

The parallel narrative is that of the chronicler, Upali, a Buddhist monk living in the time of the Mauryan Emperor Ashoka, three hundred years after the Buddha's death.

Upali, an embittered survivor of Ashoka's infamous conquest of Kalinga
Kalinga
Kalinga is a landlocked province of the Philippines in the Cordillera Administrative Region in Luzon. Its capital is Tabuk and borders Mountain Province to the south, Abra to the west, Isabela to the east, Cagayan to the northeast, and Apayao to the north...

, attempts to recover from the horror of war and destruction by writing the "deglorified and factual" story of the Buddha's life and teachings.

This turns out to be a difficult, even dangerous exercise, for Upali is swimming against the tide, at a time when the Buddha's Sangha
Sangha
Sangha is a word in Pali or Sanskrit that can be translated roughly as "association" or "assembly," "company" or "community" with common goal, vision or purpose...

 is poised to rise to immense imperial patronage and splendour under Emperor Ashoka.

This is a patronage that will sustain Buddhism
Buddhism
Buddhism is a religion and philosophy encompassing a variety of traditions, beliefs and practices, largely based on teachings attributed to Siddhartha Gautama, commonly known as the Buddha . The Buddha lived and taught in the northeastern Indian subcontinent some time between the 6th and 4th...

 for over a millennium and help it reach out to half the world's populace.

A Spoke in the Wheel is a story of the Buddha and his disciples—among them an ordinary monk plagued by many questions, and an extraordinary king who seemed to have all the answers and was bent on unifying Buddhism's many schools of thought and making Buddhism his state religion.

Kanekar, who teaches comparative mythology
Mythology
The term mythology can refer either to the study of myths, or to a body or collection of myths. As examples, comparative mythology is the study of connections between myths from different cultures, whereas Greek mythology is the body of myths from ancient Greece...

 at the University of Mumbai
University of Mumbai
The University of Mumbai , is a state university located in Mumbai, Maharashtra, India. It was known as the University of Bombay until 1996 when the city of Bombay was renamed as Mumbai. The affiliated colleges of the university are spread throughout the city of Mumbai and four coastal districts in...

, has said that she began writing her novel on the Buddha in 1998, as the first step in a personal quest to understand India's forgotten social and political revolutions, the historical conditions in which these movements were born, what they achieved, and how these achievements tended to get lost over time in myth and legend.

In a statement released about the book Kanekar says she has seen the Buddha as a "historical figure who lived in the foundational epoch of Indian civilisation, whose life and struggle are now almost completely lost in myth, and whose ideas evolved to mean very different things to different people, yet continue to resonate with an all-inclusive and rational message of peace even today, 2500 years after they were first propagated."

Research


Research for her novel began at the Jawaharlal Nehru University
Jawaharlal Nehru University
Jawaharlal Nehru University, also known as JNU, is located in New Delhi, the capital of India. It is mainly a research oriented postgraduate University with approximately 5,500 students and a faculty strength of around 550.-History:...

 in New Delhi
New Delhi
New Delhi is the capital city of India. It serves as the centre of the Government of India and the Government of the National Capital Territory of Delhi. New Delhi is situated within the metropolis of Delhi. It is one of the nine districts of Delhi Union Territory. The total area of the city is...

 over one extended Diwali
Diwali
Diwali or DeepavaliThe name of the festival in various regional languages include:, , , , , , , , , , , , , popularly known as the "festival of lights," is a festival celebrated between mid-October and mid-December for different reasons...

 vacation, under the initial guidance of Prof. Kunal Chakraborty, of the Centre for Historical Studies at the JNU
JNU
JNU may refer to:* Jawaharlal Nehru University* Juneau International Airport in Juneau, Alaska...

.

She has said the work involved "intensive reading continued for over a year" before Kanekar began to write, "diffidently, not sure at all about how it was going to turn out". Her goal was "to produce something readable, especially about a period so long ago, especially for a modern television watching generation."

Kanekar has said: "The initial idea was to write a book about the Buddha; the choice of the novel-form came later." She describes herself as an "avid novel-reader". This was also because she wanted the book to "be read by as many people as possible, not only academics and Buddhists."

But the writing became more difficult, and Kanekar took four years to complete the work.

Early life


Kanekar was born in Madgaon (Margao
Margao
Margao and commercial capital of the Indian state of Goa. It is the administrative headquarters of South Goa district and of the Salcete taluka.- Etymology :...

) in Goa
Goa
Goa , a former Portuguese colony, is India's smallest state by area and the fourth smallest by population. Located in South West India in the region known as the Konkan, it is bounded by the state of Maharashtra to the north, and by Karnataka to the east and south, while the Arabian Sea forms its...

 in 1965 and lived in Navelim
Navelim
Navelim is a census town in South Goa district in the Indian state of Goa. It is located outside the city of Margao.-Geography:Navelim is located at...

, a nearby village, till the age of two, before leaving for the US and subsequently for Mumbai
Mumbai
Mumbai , formerly known as Bombay in English, is the capital of the Indian state of Maharashtra. It is the most populous city in India, and the fourth most populous city in the world, with a total metropolitan area population of approximately 20.5 million...

 where she lives today, teaching architectural history at the Kamla Raheja Vidyanidhi Institute for Architecture at Juhu, and Comparative Mythologies at the University of Mumbai
University of Mumbai
The University of Mumbai , is a state university located in Mumbai, Maharashtra, India. It was known as the University of Bombay until 1996 when the city of Bombay was renamed as Mumbai. The affiliated colleges of the university are spread throughout the city of Mumbai and four coastal districts in...

.

Her father Suresh Kanekar was jailed twice by the then Portuguese
Portugal
Portugal , officially the Portuguese Republic is a country situated in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula. Portugal is the westernmost country of Europe, and is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the West and South and by Spain to the North and East. The Atlantic archipelagos of the...

 government for his participation in the movement against colonial rule. Her maternal aunt was Mitra Bir
Mitra Bir
Mitra Bir was a freedom fighter and educationist from Goa, who was sentenced to twelve years in jail at the age of 22 when the region was a Portuguese colony. She later went on to open schools for girls at Margao, Verem, Kakora and other locations in Goa, as also centres for adult and vocational...

, freedom fighter and educationalist, who was sentenced to twelve years in jail at the age of 22, and later went on to open schools for girls at Madgaon (Margao
Margao
Margao and commercial capital of the Indian state of Goa. It is the administrative headquarters of South Goa district and of the Salcete taluka.- Etymology :...

), Verem, Kakora and other locations in independent Goa, as also centres for adult and vocational education for women, before her death in 1978. Mitra was married to the late Madhav Bir, member of the Goa legislative assembly and Gandhian. Kanekar's maternal uncle, the late M. V. Kakodkar was also active in the campaign to open temples to all in Goa the 1960s.

Second novel, Satnami revolt


Presently Kanekar is working on her second book, another novel, this one on the Satnami revolt in the time of Aurangzeb
Aurangzeb
Abul Muzaffar Muhy-ud-Din Muhammad Aurangzeb Alamgir , more commonly known as Aurangzeb or by his chosen imperial title Alamgir , was the sixth Mughal Emperor of India, whose reign lasted from 1658 until his death in 1707.Badshah Aurangzeb, having ruled most of the Indian subcontinent for nearly...

. The Satnamis were 17th century followers of Kabir
Kabir
Kabīr was a mystic poet and saint of India, whose writings have greatly influenced the Bhakti movement...

's radical social ideas, a small and short-lived peasant community that eschewed caste
Caste
Caste is an elaborate and complex social system that combines elements of endogamy, occupation, culture, social class, tribal affiliation and political power. It should not be confused with race or social class, e.g. members of different castes in one society may belong to the same race, as in India...

, religious and gender divides.

They rose in revolt in 1672 against the economic exploitation of the time, and managed to set up their own administration in a few towns and villages south of Delhi
Delhi
Delhi , officially National Capital Territory of Delhi , is the largest metropolis by area and the second-largest by population in India, next to Mumbai. It is the eighth largest metropolis in the world by population with 16,753,265 inhabitants in the Territory at the 2011 Census...

 before being crushed by the Mughal
Mughal Empire
The Mughal Empire ,‎ or Mogul Empire in traditional English usage, was an imperial power from the Indian Subcontinent. The Mughal emperors were descendants of the Timurids...

 armies.

This forthcoming book tries to recapture this convergence of Bhakti
Bhakti
In Hinduism Bhakti is religious devotion in the form of active involvement of a devotee in worship of the divine.Within monotheistic Hinduism, it is the love felt by the worshipper towards the personal God, a concept expressed in Hindu theology as Svayam Bhagavan.Bhakti can be used of either...

 ideology and class revolt, which arose against the backdrop of the rich mercantilist era of the 17th century, a time when Mughal India seemed at its peak of wealth and power.

Kanekar has said that "the experience of writing it has been very different from the first, mainly because there are far more historical records and sureties for the background of the Mughal period than the Buddha's time, but hardly any materials on the protagonists; the Satnamis are almost as unknown and unheard-of as the Buddha is a legend."

Novel's setting


Kanekar's first novel is set in 256 BCE (before current era), some three centuries after the death of Buddha and four years since the "terrible battle of Kalinga
Kalinga
Kalinga is a landlocked province of the Philippines in the Cordillera Administrative Region in Luzon. Its capital is Tabuk and borders Mountain Province to the south, Abra to the west, Isabela to the east, Cagayan to the northeast, and Apayao to the north...

". Upali, a monk and embittered survivor of the war that made Emperor Ashoka the overlord of virtually the whole of India, hates the emperor intensely. Yet, to him Emperor Ashoka, the "self-proclaimed Beloved of the Gods", entrusts the task of putting the Buddha's life and teachings down for posterity. Kanekar's story tells of an Emperor set on a new conquest—that of Dhamma.

Author's comment


This leads to a "search for the Buddha and a struggle over the past". In Kanekar's words: "What really was the Buddha's message? Ascetic renunciation? Universal salvation? Passive disengagement? Tolerance—even of intolerance? If his message was a critique of violence, how did it come to be championed by the most successfully violent autocrats of ancient India? These are questions that begin to surface among the Buddha's followers, fearfully and then angrily, to be viciously debated even as Dhamma rises to glorious imperial patronage, a patronage that will sustain it for over a millennium and reach it to half the world's populace."

Kanekar calls hers "a story about the Buddha and his disciples, among them an ordinary monk, one of the questioners, and an extraordinary king, who seemed to have all the answers". She says it is also about how the movement called Dhamma was born, spread, changed lives and got changed itself.

In her book, Upali's chronicle—a deglorified, fictional account of the life of Buddha—alternates with that of Upali's own life during the reign of Emperor Ashoka and including both these parallel narratives with a wealth of historical detail and philosophical debate.

Media comment


Indian national newspaper The Hindu
The Hindu
The Hindu is an Indian English-language daily newspaper founded and continuously published in Chennai since 1878. According to the Audit Bureau of Circulations, it has a circulation of 1.46 million copies as of December 2009. The enterprise employed over 1,600 workers and gross income reached $40...

said: "... the book draws from Indian history to such good effect that one can't help wondering if things actually did happen this way. Another interesting aspect of the book is the dismantling of each legend associated with the Buddha. Life in the Magadhan Empire is also portrayed with an eye to historical accuracy. Quotes from Ashokan edicts... which we know of as history but couldn't really relate to... now come alive with a new imagery..."

Outlook
Outlook (magazine)
Outlook is one of India's four top-selling English weekly newsmagazines. Like many other Indian magazines, it is reluctant to reveal its circulation, but the 2007 National Readership Survey suggested 1.5 million copies...

magazine from New Delhi wrote: "Amita Kanekar's novel about Emperor Ashoka and the Buddhist monk Upali... successfully captures the stress and strains of monastic life, and brings alive the centuries following the death of the Buddha. when his teachings were taking the form of a canonical corpus... While many historical fictions make only references to real history, the present one doesn't... An interesting mix of erudition and historical imagination..."

Deccan Herald
Deccan Herald
The Deccan Herald is a leading English-language daily newspaper distributed in the Indian state of Karnataka. It is published by the Printers Private Limited and has a number of editions in Bangalore, Hubli, Mysore, Mangalore and Gulbarga....

of Bangalore
Bangalore
Bengaluru , formerly called Bengaluru is the capital of the Indian state of Karnataka. Bangalore is nicknamed the Garden City and was once called a pensioner's paradise. Located on the Deccan Plateau in the south-eastern part of Karnataka, Bangalore is India's third most populous city and...

 commented: "Amita Kanekar's debut novel, A Spoke in the Wheel, is an attempt to strip away layer by layer such fanciful stories surrounding the Buddha and reveal him as an ordinary man who had an extraordinary approach to his problems. The novel has an interesting structure... Throughout the book Amita presents issues of ethics and socio economic relationships that are relevant even today. The narrative is rich in detail and every aspect of life in those ancient times stands out vividly before the reader."

Publication data


A Spoke in the Wheel by Amita Kanekar is published Harper Collins India in 2005, and priced at Rs 395 (in India). Printed Pages: 447. First edition paperback new 13 cm x 20 cm. ISBN 81-7223-574-7 LCCN 2005323538
OCLC # 60862064

External links