Books by Usha Alexander

  • A lone woman travels fearlessly into the jungle to confront the enemy. She holds the fate of an entire world in her hands.

  • When Craig Olsen returns to Idaho to say goodbye to his dying uncle, who raised him, he comes face to face with matters he can no longer evade.

  • "A suspenseful narrative weaves the stories and secrets of two generations into one seamless drama ... a worthy literary journey." —Kirkus Discoveries

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July 01, 2007


Great pictures Namit, as usual.

That statement by Yudhisthir is one of my favorites in the Mahabharat. It was his reply to a sage (I forget who) when asked to name the most puzzling human behavior.

I have a question about the burning ghats of Varanasi. Sujatha has just posted a sensible article about eco-friendly practices and consumption. The burning of the dead too is a service industry. Has there been any thought given to re-vamping the ghats to adopt the more efficient electric crematoria instead of the wood burning funeral pyres? Or will that amount to sacrilege? It is happening everywhere else. I mean, one still has the privilege of being burnt on the banks of the adorable Ganges but without leaving a giant "carbon footprint" as the eco-jargon goes.

Thanks Ruchira. Sujatha’s post is sensible indeed (embellished by her trademark cynical humor :-).

The Indian government has installed an electric crematorium (EC) right by the burning ghats and some people use it, mainly because it is cheaper. As is the case the world over, people are most reluctant to tinker with their big rites of passage rituals, and Varanasi is not exactly rippling with tradition breakers. One complaint is that rituals are harder to perform in the EC setting. What more, it also reportedly breaks down at times. Imagine, too, a power cut at the wrong time! A good number of those who cremate their dead on these ghats have recent memories of burning wood for cooking or heating, and the only carbon footprint they might comprehend is the one that stains their pots and chapatis.

As you know, most electricity in India (also in the US) comes from carbon fuel (coal), though thermal power plants surely create less of an environmental footprint per Joule than these wood fires. The world needs to urgently migrate to nuclear reactors for electricity, like the French.

I agree completely with the nuclear power suggestions. Fast and furious education needs to be underway to dispel the terror associated in the public mind with Chernobyl and Three Mile Island.

And oh! I don't expect the run of the mill visitors to the burning ghats to be concerned (or even aware of) "carbon footprint." The party I had in mind is the government of India or at least that of Uttar Pradesh.

I have some questions. Why are dead little kids, dead pregnant moms and dead lepers, ect. put into the river without burning? I love what you say about death not being morbid but part of life, a part that ought to, as you say, inform our everyday choices. At the age of 54 I am beginning to make friends with the reaper. He is not such a bad fellow. It helped a lot to see the movie Frida with it's Dia del Muerte and all that. Being Texan the Mexican culture is by way of being second nature, easy for me to understand. But I am interested in what still is in my mind the far-flung commonwealth cultures. My favorite authors are all UK and I think of all you guys as so sophisticated.

Thank you for your kind remarks, Lorna. Yes, despite Varanasi’s fame as a hippie destination and its guidebook images, nothing quite prepared me for the intense spectacle on its burning ghats. Not a bad place for a little attitude adjustment. As to why some people are not cremated, the logic derives from some very old beliefs. One expression of it appears on ">this page under A Funeral.

Upon having read "A Funeral," whoa, that is so cool! Very not afraid of death. I like that very much.

Thanks so much for this article and beautiful photos, what a pleasure!

But wait, it looks like your spell-checker has betrayed you! In the first paragraph describing the burning ghats there's a switch between the words "deceased" and "diseased." These loved ones you're describing seem very pessimistic.

Thank you again for your wonderful work, I'm going back to reading now. :)

Thanks, Robin. Good catch, I've fixed it.

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New Book by Namit Arora

  • The Lottery of Birth reveals Namit Arora to be one of our finest critics. In a raucous public sphere marked by blame and recrimination, these essays announce a bracing sensibility, as compassionate as it is curious, intelligent and nuanced.” —Pankaj Mishra

Shunya Website

Namit wins 3QD Arts & Literature Prize 2011

Namit Arora's India Photo Archive