Sleeping on Jupiter
A Novel
Anuradha Roy
Three older women take off from Calcutta to go to the temples at Jarmuli. It is a vacation for them, but also a religious pilgrimage, for the village is the site of several temples - - - both Jain and Hindu.

Vidya is the organizer, Latika her "giddy" friend, and Gouri Ganguly - - - the older one, certainly plumper and most absent-minded of them all. Gouri will get lost several times during their days in Jarmuli, in the crowds about the temples, driving her friends to distraction in the process.

On the train, they meet the twenty-five year old Nomita Fredericksen from Norway. Gradually, as we get further into Sleeping on Jupiter, we will learn more about her life. Nomi was orphaned by the war, grew up near Jarmuli, was taken into a temple of the guruji, famous beloved master of many, but revealed here as scandalously attracted to young girls. He forces himself on Nomi, but, by her twelfth birthday, she manages to escape and ends up in, of all places, Oslo.

She has returned to Jarmuli to help in the making of a film, and, presumably, to make her peace with her traumatic time in the hands of the guru.

But Nomi is so screwed up that she fails to communicate with anyone, least of all the reader; certainly fails to make peace with anyone (mainly, herself). She ends up with the son of Latika - - - Suraj - - - but he is yet another screwed-up drugged-and-bored character, hiding from his mother, one of the three ladies visiting the Sun Temple.

He eventually tries to kill himself by drowning in the ocean in front of Jarmuli, but can't even pull that off. He is saved by four fishermen in a boat, and one of the few laughs in the book comes with "the fishermen cackling about their lousy luck . . . After an entire night at sea all they had caught was a man."

    What's a man good for? Can you eat a man. Can you fry it and feed it to your children? . . . If not a fish a woman was a better find. If you fish a woman out of the water you can lay her or sell her or set her to work. But what use is a man? If you had netted a man you might as well throw him back in.

Suraj's relationship with Nomi, what little there is of it, comes to a screeching halt when, back ashore after his lousy suicide attempt, and with little provocation, she starts slashing at him with his wood-carving tools, driving him from their hotel. He runs bleeding onto the beach, falling into the hands of someone who sounds suspiciously like the guruji, the two of them eventually disappearing together into the sea.

Even when the guide Badal rescues Nomita from being alone at the Sun Temple at night, she high-hats him. And Badal himself? His problem is that he has fallen in love with a young street urchin by the name of Raghu (who loathes him, steals from him, and finally dumps him). Badal appears, disappears, and seems to have little if anything to do with whatever plot the author has managed to scrape up by this time.

The story in Jupiter is a muddle - - - at least for this reader. Here we have the three ladies, who are neither funny, nor lively, nor interesting . . . just bored with each other (and their lives). And when we are not yawning through their antics, we are stuck with Nomi, Suraj, Raghu and Badal who are hardly anyone's idea of the Original Happy Campers. "Only connect," wrote E. M. Forster (in one of his novels not about India):

    Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer. Only connect, and the beast and the monk, robbed of the isolation that is life to either, will die.

Well, as far as I can see, there ain't no connections here inside nor outside of the temple. Our characters are mostly competing to see who can be the more isolated, if not the most tedious. The oddest element of Sleeping on Jupiter is that "only connect" only seems to apply to the naked sexuality represented by the varied, raucous, and often riotous carvings on the walls of the Sun Temple.

Despite the author's references to "Jarmuli," there is no place by that name in India. But from the constant asides on the erotic sculptures that surround our frantic pilgrims, author Roy is evidently referring to what Wikipedia reveals as The Khajuraho Group of Monuments, "Hindu and Jain temples in Madhya Pradesh, about 175 kilometres (109 mi) southeast of Jhansi. They are one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in India."

    The temples are famous for their nagara-style architectural symbolism and their erotic sculptures. The temples have several thousand statues and art works, with Kandarya Mahadeva Temple alone decorated with over 870. Some 10% of these iconographic carvings contain sexual themes and various sexual poses. . . . The vast majority of arts depict various aspects the everyday life, mythical stories as well as symbolic display of various secular and spiritual values important in Hindu tradition. For example, depictions show women putting on makeup, musicians making music, potters, farmers, and other folks in their daily life during the medieval era. These scenes are in the outer padas as is typical in Hindu temples.
During the course of the book, much is made of the hypocrisy of the many religious travelers who come to pretend to worship, surrounded as they are by these lusty figures. But a peek at photographs of the Khajuraho shows a rather jolly bunch of folk enjoying themselves far more than the characters in Sleeping on Jupiter, or, by extension, the hapless reader. The sculptures certainly beat the listless lust that twenty-first century peeping-toms seek out on the internet, filled as they are with so many joyless conjoinings.

I suspect that if the gawkers at Teledildonics or SexTech chose to take a week off and do a bit of temple gawking in, say, Jhansi, they might be convinced to cheer up a bit, if just for an afternoon in these sunlit corridors, surrounded by unblushing statuary telling many merry myths of these lusty Hindi gods surrounded by their lusty (and lovely) Hindi goddesses.

--- Pamela Wylie
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