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Pilgrimage: One Woman's Return to a Changing India Hardcover – January 1, 2000

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Editorial Reviews Review

Pramila Jayapala rejected her indigenous Indian culture when she was a young child, having been taught and raised in Western schools and ideology. For years, Jayapala held this uncomplicated opinion: "India repressed and backward, America creative and advanced." But after working a soulless job in investment banking and marketing, she finally came to realize that "there was a woman within me, waiting to emerge, a persona that included a complexity of new images of homeland, identity, life values, and work."

Eventually she left Seattle, Wash., where she had worked, to embark on a two-year pilgrimage through India. Japayala takes us on the underground tour--letting us see this complex and spiritually fascinating country through Western eyes but with a native guide. She openly questions the feminine and class restraints of India, yet somehow she never becomes self-righteous or didactic. Through this brave, unflinching voice we find a mentor for self-discovery as well as a model for how to know and question our own homelands. At its core this is a global manifesto in which Jayapala recognizes that spiritual growth is the only way to bring about social and political change. But at its heart this is a dynamic spiritual memoir as Jayapala continually returns to her personal journey, including the gripping crescendo--a miraculous story of her son's premature birth in Bombay. --Gail Hudson

From Publishers Weekly

Born in India, raised in Indonesia and Singapore and educated at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., Jayapal received a grant from the Institute of Current World Affairs to revisit her native country and write about her observations on contemporary Indian society. Jayapal, who holds an MBA and has experience both in the private and nonprofit banking sectors, is most enlightening in this collection of essays when combining her professional expertise and personal observation in order to comment on the theory and progress of development in India. For example, in Kerala, which has been long hailed as a successful model of development, Jayapal explains that the same forces of unemployment, corruption and gender discrimination are at work as in other "less developed" states, just in less obvious ways. Jayapal has a fine ear for listening to others and supplies impressive examples of both successful and unsuccessful development efforts by organizations and villages. "Development groups often installed technologies without explaining to villagers what they were or how to maintain them," charges Jayapal at one point, then continues, "I became increasingly convinced that the most important factor in any development effort is listening to those who will live with the consequences." Less intriguing are her more personal remarks, which are bloated with dull truisms, such as "Little is black and white in India" and "One is challenged every day to look at life not in absolutes but in relatives." These blemishes aside, those interested in economic and social development--particularly women's issues--would be well served in taking up this volume. (Mar.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Seal Pr (January 1, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1580050328
  • ISBN-13: 978-1580050326
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,369,898 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Pyne on February 7, 2003
Format: Paperback
Make no mistake: behind her Indian roots (name, appearance, etc.) the author is yet another Westerner, and the underlying tone is undeniably "us (Western) and them (Indian)".
However, her being of Indian origin, there is little room to doubt her empathy/outrage for the grim socioeconomic inequalities that persist in modern India. Her discussions on the bureaucratic failures in implementing the state policies, such as in education, are bold, forthright, and true to a great extent.
On the flip side, beware of her Indian connection. This book is NOT an "insider's view", but someone with mostly Western sensibilities coming to terms with what modern India has to offer - good or bad. She seeks not to "write simply about the sensational and the negative" (p73) about India, but has often done precisely that, albeit in a *sympathetic* tone. She stays in several states, yet surprisingly little observation of the regional heritage (handicraft, folklore, cuisine...) - deriving out of the amazing cultural diversity of the local populace - is made.
Yet, from child-labour to ojhas (shamans), it's backwardness aplenty; replete with graphic details of gutter-pigs (p64), down to listing the varieties of Lucknow's beggars (p66) and Varanasi-bathers' undergarments (p162), to some of the "64 ways for ghosts and pisachas (goblins) to be created" (p156)!!
Note for the serious reader: her takes on spirituality are amateurish, although honest, where Adi Sankaracharya is reduced to a mere "saint", Kabir to just a "poet", and Santana Dharma to "right living". Her few-day digs at Vipassana or Ramana-ashramam is more tourism than spirituality.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Angha Childress on April 22, 2000
Format: Hardcover
One of the few books that capture the complexity and beauty of India in these changing times. Pramila Jayapal describes today's India honestly and objectively but with an understanding heart. A thought provoking book and a great read.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By S. Seetharam on December 12, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Pilgrimage is a fair and honest assessment of some of the social issues faced by the people in India, especially women. Ms. Jayapal experience is conveyed to the reader in simple but not simplistic manner. I felt like her companion through her journey. She openly acknowledges her own strengths and weaknesses and those of Indian society. She does not judge issues as right or wrong, she knows the readers are intelligent enough to decide for themselves. The strength of a person and a society is the ability to look inward and realize that there is good and bad everywhere. Pramila Jayapal is a person of such remarkable strength. As someone who has lived half of my life in India and half abroad, I was able to identify with Pramila. Reading this book was both an emotional and a spiritual experience that I enjoyed.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 27, 2003
Format: Paperback
The author is a self-proclaimed "feminist"; this identity is too overbearing for her to interpret her observations of a strange country (sorry, but not really her "home" - she doesn't even speak any Indian language, including her mother-toungue Malayalam, the language of Kerala) with the respect and sympathy it deserves, especially since the author is not an expert on the topics her statements cover (e.g. spirituality).
Often she is utterly naive in trying to somehow make a point, such as this one in her chapter on Kerala: "how nice it was to find a temple devoted just to women godesses, where even men prostrated themselves in front of the goddesses." Even as a "feminist" point (?), this is unbelievably silly for a country with thousands of daily-worshipped goddess-shrines.
Her interactions with the social activists and groups, as they appear in the text, are very much tourist-like. Still she is at least much less biased and flawed than the likes of "May You Be the Mother of a Hundred Sons: A Journey Among the Women of India" by Elizabeth Bumiller. If you really want to read about the true position of women in Indian Society, read Madhu Kishwar. Not this.
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