Seema Bhaskaran reviews Renuka Narayanan’s Learning from Loss (Published by Juggernaut Publications, 2023)
The book Learning from Loss by Renuka Narayanan narrates 20 tales from the lives of reputed saints who accomplished immemorable feats by overcoming their struggles in life. The tales though far-fetched in time are relevant to any milieu and render moral support to any human being facing losses related to the separation of partners, parents, children, or loved ones. These are tales of suffering and struggle due to losses transcended to creativity in the form of music, devotion, charitable activities, and philosophical and spiritual work.
Renuka Narayanan, the author writes on religion and culture. She was editor of religion, Arts, and culture for the Indian Express and Hindustan Times. She is the author of several books. She weaves the stories one from the other and the narration floods memories of childhood when these interesting tales were told by grandparents. The moral courage was heightened.
We encourage you to buy books from a local bookstore. If that is not possible, please use the links on the page and support us. Thank you.
Glimpses from the thread of tales
Nikasha, the mother of Ravana on hearing of Rama’s Jalasamadhi in Sarayu, laments for her son’s killer,” O Rama, my life came out of its darkness because of you. She thought I wanted to die after my sons were killed. But strangely I also wanted to live longer only to know what you would do. I have no wish to live now but I realise I cannot run away from life now.
I will live on until my time comes thinking of you. The thought of you helped me live through my grief. I wanted to be worthy in your eyes even if you knew nothing of what I tried to do. Who will cure me now of the grief of your death.”Learning from Loss by Renuka Narayanan
This is the powerful narration of a woman who stood by justice against her own son’s deeds and strived to protect Sita, whose rights were violated. Rare are such glimpses in the history of courage.
“Living in Loss” is the narration of Devahuti’s life in seclusion in the forest and she bears her loss through sublimation, caring for the precincts, and engaging in the cultivation of the garden. Looking for love is Dhruva’s story immortalized as a North star or pole star pining for his father and immersed in deep meditation till he attains his goal.
Jujube Girl is the story of a young girl selling her fruits and receiving the attention of a prince. She is married to him and there is a sudden change in status leading to arrogance and later, she is deserted by the prince. This leads to self-introspection and a desire to change her status through literacy and education. Karambai of Puri is the story of the early 17th century, she battles the losses of her children and survives by feeding pilgrims and considering the idol of Krishna as a baby. She immerses in the task of feeding pilgrims and this devotion and this devotion relieves her from sorrow.
Jana Jaswant’s ordeal is the story of a man who lives selflessly with selfish sons who prevent their father from stopping his donations and even move to the extent of murdering him. Shocked by his children’s behaviour, he forsakes his relationship with his sons and engages in charitable activities.
Ananda and Samila are the story of the Buddha in a different incarnation. He refuses to marry and to convince his parents, he asks for an image of a girl to be sent around to find a girl, alike the statue. But a girl is found and he is forced to marry. He lives life as an ascetic and she lives the same life as a true companion. She always follows the same path of penance and meditation. Finally, she passes away and he is lost in the depression of the vacuum created.
Renuka Narayanan’s Storytelling
Eknath lost his parents at a young age and he sought recourse in Krishna and his stories to overcome depression. Ranjit Raya lost his daughter as she submerged in the river after his taunting words and impulsive retort. He overcame the agony by building a school in the village and educating girl children.
Ravan’s mother, Kaikasi advises her son not to conduct any battles or fight against Rama and let Sita go. Surdas, visually challenged, orphaned, and attacked by everyone faces alienation and despondency as a child. Derided and scorned by the community he overcomes the pain and struggles to become an acclaimed singer and writer of verse.
Ahalya waits as a stone, cursed for experiencing desire as her husband forsakes her for meditation. Gods deceive her by disguising him in the form of her husband and she escapes her curse through Rama but suffers years of abandonment. Tukaram sublimates from his failure in his personal life as he discovers Vithoba and God.
Recommended Reads: Guru: 10 Doors to Ancient Wisdom and Ancient Spirituality
Baiju Bawra, the musician famous faces several trials and tribulations in his life as he meets God. Nala and Damayanti’s life is troubled where Damayanti is deserted by her husband as he falls into the allurement of playing dice and losing everything. Finally, he learns to play with dexterity and earns everything back.
Hari Narayanan, pompous about his knowledge loses his wife and his child and gets saved by a man who knows the art of swimming. He understands the meaningless, pompousness, and arrogance and he learns to make things and understands the importance of doing it. Tribanga Swami lived up to 150 years due to extraordinary yogic powers. Due to the loss of his parents, he spent several years in pain and depression. Then he realises God through meditation.
The stories sear through the psyche and render inconsolable power and strength to surmount any sadness in the form of separation, and losses and make life meaningful. The stories are from different epochs with a variety of protagonists as diverse as men, women, disabled, and in different states of life beginning from childhood to old age. The circumstances are extremely varied but the stories are woven through the common thread of all protagonists having suffered separation and pain.
Have you read this powerful collection of lessons from our Gurus? What do you think of it? Drop a comment below and let us know!