Skip to main content

Featured Post

2023 - The Year That Was

Places impact you for a variety of reasons. And the same place impacts different people in different ways. This is especially true when it comes to spiritual experiences, where every single person’s experience is unique. And personally, every spiritual experience is unique, the same person can have different deeply spiritual experiences at different places, at different times. This thought has emerged because of my own experiences over the years, but especially so this year, with different and unique experiences at various places I have visited recently. I began this year with a visit to Baroda (Vadodara) with friends. It was meant to be a relaxed trip, a touristy trip, with our sons. We enjoyed ourselves to the hilt, but the highlight of that trip was a visit to the Lakulisha temple at Pavagadh. It was the iconography of the temple that I connected with, and I spent a few hours simply lost in the details of the figures carved around the temple. There was an indefinable connect with

Book Review : Cain by Jose Saramago

José Saramago opens the story of Cain with the lines...

“When the lord, also known as god, realised that adam and eve, although perfect in every outward aspect, could not utter a word or make even the most primitive of sounds, he must have felt annoyed with himself, for there was no one else in the garden of eden whom he could blame for this grave oversight, after all, the other animals, who were, like the two humans, the product of his divine command, already had a voice of their own...”

The long sentence, the use of commas instead of full stops, the avoidance of capitals, and above all, the underlying humour, is what I have learnt to expect from José Saramago. That he does so on a topic as delicate and controversial as the Bible, only makes the book an even more delightful read! Cain was the acclaimed Nobel Laureate’s last novel, and in many ways, it is a fitting conclusion to his works.

In the Bible, the story of Cain mainly concerns his differences with his brother Abel, and Cain moves out of the story after he murders Abel and is marked by the Lord. We are told that Cain becomes a wanderer and his descendents are all washed away in the great flood. Here, in this book, Saramago takes the story of Cain forward, showing him wandering the earth, travelling back and forth through time, witnessing the events we have read about in the Bible. He finds himself at various places at various times, usually when something is just about to happen.

He meets Abraham just as he is about to sacrifice his son, Issac. He stops Abraham from doing the deed, since the angels sent by God seem to have been delayed. “Better late than never” says the angel, and Cain replies “That’s where you’re wrong, never is not the opposite of late, the opposite of late is too late”

Sometime later, Cain meets Abraham again, but this time, in the past, before Issac is born. He is witness to the events that lead to Issac’s birth, and he goes on to see the destruction of Sodom. His travel takes him to lands he never knew existed, and he goes back to places he has been to before.

All along the way, he is the voice of reason, of rationalism, arguing with God and his angels about the need for testing his subjects, of the need to destroy them, of the scale of punishment, of the justice of God.

It is interesting to see how Saramago allows Cain the freedom of speech, the freedom of argument, with God himself, over and over again. Cain has been marked by God. It is the mark of condemnation, but it is also the mark of protection. This protection seems to assure him, not just of premature death as we are told in the Bible, but also of freedom of thought and argument with God himself, something which is never seen in the Bible.

The questions which crop up in the book, the questions asked by Cain, as well as the other characters are those we, as rational human beings, have asked ourselves at some time or the other. Haven’t we ever wondered why the Lord tries to test us? Why, when we believe that he loves us all, does he make us suffer?  Yet, the appeal of this book is in the way Saramago raises these same questions, these same doubts, in the words and thoughts of Cain.

From what I have read of Saramago since reading this book, I have learnt that this wasn’t his first attempt at retelling the stories of the Bible. His “The Gospel according to Jesus Christ” was published more than two decades ago, and was so controversial, that he was forced to leave Portugal and settle in the Canary Islands. Cain was his last book, published in 2010, but it is apparent that neither the intervening years nor exile, succeeded in changing his views or chaining his pen. The book ends on a note which makes me wonder if he knew that this would be his last book. As for me, it has fuelled a desire to read more of his works! 

P.S. This book was sent to me for review by Random House India


  1. A beautiful, smart, witty, whimsical, thoughtful view of life as seen by a person who should know. Cain's life was much different then set out in the Bible. Thanks to Saramago, history has been finally set straight.
    I like this site :: Land For Sale in Alaska raw


Post a Comment

Thanks so much for stopping by. Please leave a comment for me so that I will know you have been here....

Popular posts from this blog

Gokarna Part II – The Five Lingams

We continued our Gokarna trip by visiting four other Shiva temples in the vicinity, all connected to the same story of Gokarna. The story of Gokarna mentions the Mahabaleshwara Lingam as the one brought from Kailas by Ravana, and kept at this place on the ground by Ganesha. (See my earlier post- Gokarna – Pilgrimage and Pleasure). However, the story does not end here. It is believed that, in his anger, Ravana flung aside the materials which covered the lingam- the casket, its lid, the string around the lingam, and the cloth covering it. All these items became lingams as soon as they touched the ground. These four lingams, along with the main Mahabaleshwara lingam are collectively called the ‘ Panchalingams’ . These are: Mahabaleshwara – the main lingam Sajjeshwar – the casket carrying the lingam. This temple is about 35 Kms from Karwar, and is a 2 hour drive from Gokarna. Dhareshwar – the string covering the lingam. This temple is on NH17, about 45 Kms south of Gokarna. Gunavanteshw

Rama Temple, Gokarna

To my right , the waves rush to the shore, eager to merge with the sand. To my left, the same waves crash against the rocks, their spray diverting my reverie as I ponder over the beauty of nature, and wonder what first brought people here. Was it this beauty that encouraged them to build a temple here, or was it the fresh, sweet spring water flowing from the hill here that made this place special? No matter what the reason, I am glad my auto driver brought me here. We are at the Rama temple in Gokarna, just a few minutes away from the Mahabaleshwara Temple, yet offering so different a perspective.

Pandharpur Yatra 2023

The first time I visited Pandharpur was back in 2007 . The names Vitthal and Pandharpur, were just names to me. I had heard of them, but that was about it. Seeing the lord standing on the brick, hands on his hips, was memorable, but more memorable was the sight that greeted us as we walked out of the main sanctum of the temple. In the mandap just outside were a group of devotees singing abhangs , and dancing. This was the first time I had heard abhangs , and even almost 15 years later, I can remember the welling of feeling within me, listening to the songs, and how fascinated I was by the sight of the devotees dancing, lost in their love of the Lord. Over the years, as I have read more about Vitthal, and participated in Ashadi Ekadashi programmes at Puttaparthi, that first experience has stayed clear in my mind and heart. Every time I tell my Balvikas students of the saints who sang of Vitthala, it is that experience that I re-live. I visited Pandharpur again, in 2010, but that experie