A. Madhaviah (1872-1925)

In my first blog post on ‘fact and fiction’ I mentioned three groups of authors for whom fictitious conversion narratives seem to have been particularly productive: Christian Missionaries, Europeans residing in India and – perhaps this may come across as a surprise – the Indian Hindu elite. I want to compare the novels Mimosa and The outcaste which I blogged on in previous entries to a novel composed by an Indian writer, who intellectually engaged with Christianity but never gave up his Hindu religion:

Clarinda, A historical novel, written by A. Madhaviah, a Tamil Brahmin educated at the Madras Christian College was first published in Madras in 1915. Through his characters, Madhaviah juxtaposes the Indian, Brahmanical tradition with the European, Protestant tradition. The heroine Clarinda, brought up in a Brahmin family and later attached to a Protestant British soldier, in the course of the novel overcomes both traditions and develops high moral values of her own. Clarinda eventually receives baptism, but she remains in the margins of both the Christian and Hindu realms. In the end it does not matter to which tradition she belongs. It is her almost saintly conduct of life, that she cares for the poor and needy, which earns her love and appreciation.

Like European Christian authors of fictitious conversion narratives, Madhaviah builds his story on a ‘real’ case, and he discusses various religious and moral issues. However, his perspective on Christianity and conversion is markedly different, since he proposes to overcome the flaws inherent in all religious traditions. The novel Clarinda, like the other mentioned novels, focuses on an individual’s unique life. The story is peculiar, however, because it brings into dialogue two religious perspectives. In his narrative, Madhaviah builds up and subsequently deconstructs the religious edifices of Hindus and Christians. The figures who interact with the main character Clarinda bring up the discrepancies between noble teachings, ambiguous human behaviour and bigoted zeal. In contrast to the ordinary linear model of conversion that projects the trajectory from ‘heathenish’ ignorance to Christian enlightenment, Madhaviah’s narrative has a dialectic structure. Clarinda finds refuge from violent Hindus in a Christian environment where she is again deceived, and eventuelly overcomes both religious traditions.