Rama, as he stresses throughout his story, is a Brahmin, that is, a member of the Hindu caste of priests, teachers, and scholars. Indeed, Rama the scholar steadily pursues not only his doctoral studies but also his study of the Truth, wherever it might lead him. He is striking for his gentleness and kindness, as well as for the nameless unhappiness burdening his life. “Something had just missed me in life,” he says, “some deep absence grew in me, like a coconut on a young tree, that no love or learning could fulfil.” Rama embodies the universal search for meaning and self-knowledge, a quest which has a particular urgency for him, since the need to approach self-awareness is fundamental to Hindu belief.
Rama’s conviction that woman can only find her God through man, however, is a belief likely to exasperate the Western woman reader, and it is symptomatic of Rama’s problems with Madeleine. She is, simply, too Western. Beautiful and golden-haired, she seems to be a prototypical Western female, even to her slightly comical fear of bacteria in the Ganges River. She is a college lecturer and a lapsed Catholic who, at the time she meets Rama, is also an avowed atheist. Her studies of Buddhism, meant initially to bring her closer to Rama, ironically drive them further apart. Though Madeleine eventually becomes a practicing Buddhist, Rama points out that “one can never be converted to Hinduism.” Her independent conversion, in fact, represents two...
(The entire section is 434 words.)