The Quest Motif: A Reflection on the Spiritual Journey of a Seafaring Soul in Rooh written by Lakshmi Saravanakumar, in Comparison with The Alchemist and Siddhartha

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Miss Riophilla Alfred

Abstract: Every journey takes a man to a destination. Every spiritual journey takes a soul from darkness to light, from the unknown to known and from ignorance to wisdom. It is the journey that happens within the self called inward journey. Throughout the phases the theme of such journey or the quest of a soul has been pivotal in literature. In this paper, in descriptive analytical methodology the researcher attempts to identify the manner in which the quest motif is portrayed in the novel, Rooh written by the author, Lakshmi Saravanakumar. This paper also tries to draw a line in comparison with two other novels, The Alchemist and Siddartha in the portrayal of the same motif.

Keywords: ignorance, journey, quest, self, wisdom

Introduction

‘Who is man?’ and ‘What is meant to be human?’ are the questions to which great philosophers and anthropologists still seek answers. The search for human identity has been the subject of great literature, art, philosophy and anthropology throughout the ages. It has been central to every religious tradition. It forms the foundation of all great mythologies as well.

The quest-for-self motif in myth and literature symbolizes the absolute necessity of radical, defiant, creative change in the individual’s life – in the life of any culture. Especially in literature, the object of a quest requires great exertion on the part of the hero, who must overcome many obstacles, typically including much travel. The object of a quest may also have supernatural properties, often leading the protagonist into other worlds and dimensions. The moral of a quest tale often centers on the changed character of the hero.

Along with the ancient quest tale, Homer’s Odyssey, many such stories set out their primary characters to “seek their fortunes”. The most famous – perhaps in all of western literature – centers on the Holy Grail in Arthurian Legend. Despite their perils and chances of error the protagonists succeed their quests to find out their destination, the spiritual transformation rather than the objects. Writers often motivate characters to pursue these objects by meanings of a prophecy that decrees it, rather than have them discover that it could assist them, for reasons that are given.

Along the same lines, the novel The Alchemist written by Paulo Coelo is about various journeys explained through situations about the quest for fulfillment of destiny of the protagonist, Santiago. This is the story about this shepherd boy who yearns to travel in search of worldly treasures extravagant as any ever found. Likewise the novel, Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse deals with the spiritual journey of self-discovery of a man named Siddhartha. It tells the tale of one man’s journey to find that all-elusive idea of enlightenment. The seeker, Siddhartha, is placed in the time of The Buddha and actually meets him, hearing his teachings first hand.  Surprisingly, Siddhartha chooses not to become a disciple of The Buddha, but instead attempts to attain the Ultimate Goal on his own.  Siddhartha finds what he seeks and then returns to civilian life, living among ordinary people as an “enlightened one.” The contemporary Indian writer, Lakshmi Saravanakumar’s novel Rooh depicts a story of a man in search of treasure and ultimately he finds the true wisdom. This paper analyses in depth the quest motif and the philosophical and spiritual values it speaks of in comparison with that of Coelho and Hesse.

An Overview

Lakshmi Saravanakumar’s Rooh is an epic of love that chronicles a metamorphosis of a man named Jothy. It is a tale of love where charisma changes a vagrant into a saint and thus the layer of platonic love is unwaveringly constructed, deconstructed and reconstructed throughout the story.

The love is constructed in the story as Jothy’s fellow companions inflict constant mockery and disdain at his variant feelings of his gender. Having been despised and deserted by the entire world he seeks vengeance but only to realize that it is all in vain. His weak and feeble body and his powerlessness at a certain point make him believe in a miracle. There comes the character, an angelic Rabia, as a vessel of love pouring to heal not only his physical wounds but also his mental sores and spiritual flaws.

The love is deconstructed when this pure fraternal or maternal love takes a turn in Jothy into a dark passion, an incestuous desire, namely an Oedipal Complex towards Rabia and Devi, his sister consequently. To punish the beast in him, the beauty, Rabia deprives him of her nearness and bid an infinite distance from her being. The same occurs when she learns that he plays a role in her husband’s death.

It is reconstructed when the ardent love for the woman and her renunciation destroy him and he becomes devastated. Abandoning all, he starts wandering in the wilderness and he forgets the world around him and finally becomes a sage. His individuality merged with all-pervading reality or God. Nature, the winds and the waves obey him and he could subdue the diseases. Reconstructing her divine love, on her realization that she has nothing to lose but something to find, Rabia comes in search of him and finds him. She is struck with the stark reality that he no longer belongs to her; he now belongs to the whole world. For him the absolute bliss or treasure is achieved.

Comparison

Similar to the plot in the novel, changing in form, R.K.Narayan’s The Guide also describes the redemption and transformation of the protagonist, Raju, from a tour guide to a spiritual guide and then one of the greatest holy men of India.

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho talks about the quest for treasure of life or the Personal Legend. Akin to the protagonist, Santiago in The Alchemist, Jothy embarks a journey he already envisioned, to find out a treasure. Coelho and Saravanakumar emphasize the fact that miracles only happen if you believe in miracles. Ultimately, in his journey he loses what he has but finds out what he really is, his true self, the Personal Legend.

In the novel, Siddhartha, with a spiritual desire that cannot be quenched by the things of the world, or even his traditional religion, Siddhartha, again echoing the life of The Buddha, leaves his security behind to become an ascetic religious seeker – a shramana. To quote from the novel,

 “Within himself Siddhartha had begun to nourish discontent.  He had begun to feel that the love of his father and the love of his mother and even the love of his friend Govinda would not forever after delight him, soothe him, satisfy and suffice him. He had begun to surmise that his venerable father and his other teachers, that these wise Brahmins had already conveyed the majority and the best part of their wisdom, that they had already poured out their plenty into his waiting vessel, and the vessel was not full, the mind was not satisfied, the soul was not calm, the heart was not stilled.” (p.14)

Siddhartha seemingly has everything he could want – wealth, beauty, and power – but finds himself discontent with the best life has to offer.

Thematic Concepts

The tool that Saravanakumar took to describe the thematic concept is Islamic mysticism called Sufism. As a philosophical approach it emphasizes the journey of self-knowledge, a journey which enables the individual to discover his stable reality and ultimately the reality of religion. The true self or the “I” in Islam is equated with the Divine. That’s why Islam prophesies ‘whoever cognizes the true self has cognized God’.

Rumi, a Sufi mystic asserts that for reunification with its origin that human soul needs to develop a strong relationship with God and human beings. To love the Creator one needs first to learn how to love His creations. While Rabia is the manifestation of loving His creations, Jothy is the testimony of the Sufi principle that says ‘the closest place to gain access to the absolute knowledge is within one’s own self’. Jothy has become the light, the light of the world.

In western philosophy, Socrates sums up all his philosophical commandments into ‘Know Yourself’. Know yourself through experiences. In her travelogue of spiritual speaking, Eat Pray Love, Elizabeth Gilbert states “We search for happiness everywhere, but we are like Tolstoy’s fabled beggar who spent his life sitting on a pot of gold, under him the whole time. Your treasure–your perfection–is within you already. But to claim it, you must leave the buy commotion of the mind and abandon the desires of the ego and enter into the silence of the heart.”

Techniques

About the narrative techniques of the book, alternative chapters of dual timelines capture the attentiveness of the readers. Setting the scene with myth and mystery with centuries of difference in two different plots, Rooh is the story of magical realism. With highly poetic yet simple sentences, Saravanakumar has painted a realistic view of the contemporary Indian society adding magical elements to it.

The repetitive imagery of the cosmic symbols such as river, sea, stars and rain empowers the storyline. At his highest, the imagery of fish turned into a growling cheetah with ferocity dying with the deception of mirage is the perfect depiction of foreshadowing what was about to happen to the protagonist at the end. The embedded metaphor of a seafarer also adds flavor to the underlying theme, understanding life as a voyage of challenges.

Conclusion

Thus, Lakshmi Saravanakumar has portrayed Rooh as a testimony of love, a call for mankind to love and to be loved. It is also an awakening for human souls for the spiritual enlightenment to find the true self of the individuals, to become one with nature and to merge as Oneness with God. In its deeper philosophical stance with full of spiritual insights Rooh itself is a treasure for everyman to read in his lifetime and with no question, it is an immense portrayal of the quest of a soul by its author, Lakshmi Saravanakumar.

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Riophilla Alfred –
Lecturer,
Department of English Language Teaching,
University of Jaffna,
Sri Lanka
email – [email protected]

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