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MORE REVIEWS: Stepping Up To Power & A Room At A Time * Blue Angel

by Pramila Jayapal > Seal Press > $22.95

Pilgrimage chronicles the two tumultuous years, from 1995 to 1997, that author Pramila Jayapal spent traveling through India with the help of a grant from the Institute of Current World Affairs. Journeying through villages, meditation retreat centers, ashrams, cities, and a hospital (where she gives birth prematurely to her first child), Jayapal records the challenges of living in a society struggling to balance tradition and modernity.

Jayapal, who was born in India and educated in the West, swings from romanticizing to criticizing the country as she encounters a wide range of Indians. These include exploited Adivasis (tribals), an award-winning poet and founder of a women's shelter, and corrupt priests in the temple city of Varanasi in northern India. Through her conversations with people such as her landlord, an environmentalist friend, women college students, and the two children she employs as household help, Jayapal sheds some of her preconceived ideas about the country. In her meeting with the college students, for example, she discovers that despite their trendy Western-style jeans and platform shoes and their bright hopes of becoming lawyers and engineers, most young women are still trying to find a place within the framework of traditional Indian society. Ultimately, Jayapal's observations and meditations transform her desire to "own" her Indian heritage. "In understanding India's influence on me, I no longer needed to try so hard to maintain it," she sums up. For the reader, however, the moving essays that helped bring Jayapal to that resolution paint a vivid picture of India today.

--Hema N. Nair