Few of us will climb the emerald mountains of Kerala. Or chat with the Maharajah of Jaipur. Or even watch the setting sun ignite the Taj Mahal. That is, unless you join Blank, a young American freelance journalist and Asiaphile, on his very special passage through India.
In Arrow of the Blue-Skinned God, Blank follows the footsteps of Rama, hero of the beloved ancient Hindu epic The Ramayana. Starting at the man-god's birthplace in a dusty northern village, the trail winds clear across this nation cobbled together from dozens of diverse slates. It ends in the lush jungles of Lanka, where legend has it that Rama and his army of divine monkeys waged a terrible final battle against Ravana, the demon-king. Along the way, Blank rubs shoulders with every stratum of Indian society: "BMW Brahmins" and Calcutta lepers, teen guerrillas wielding AK-47s and Gandhi-like swamis, and the omnipresent, exasperating bureaucracy.
Blank uses Rama's tale, excerpts of which introduce each chapter, and its themes (fate, duty, family and faith) as a framework for perceptively examining contemporary India. Delving beneath the colorful exotica, he finds the newest incarnation of this enduring enigma, a country "starting to trade stagnation and peace of mind for opportunity and frustration." (Houghton Mifflin, $22.95)