The serene government rest house situated on the banks of the Narmada becomes the place of learning for the narrator. Ancient Hindu education usually occurs in the form of the guru-shishya tradition. Students who sought learning would reside with their gurus who educated them with parables and stories from the epics. The ultimate aim of education and indeed of the whole Hindu philosophy of life was to attain freedom from the cycle of birth and rebirth, to attain nirvana. A River Sutra employs the frametale technique similar to ancient Indian epics such as the Mahabharata and the Buddhist epic the Jataka. The frametale technique is valued for it provides a mode of instruction through stories that can truly bring out the potential of a message. The sixteen stories in A River Sutra are told by different in - text narrators and culminate in the story of the Naga Baba which stretches across the last two chapters. The enduring question through the text remains that about the narrator of the text. The overwhelming feeling is that the narrator remains unenlightened or uneducated by the experiences recounted to him. He remains a passive spectator unable to take the plunge into life. This response seems correct at first. Even Tariq Mia, the mullah, seems to have a better understanding of the complexities and dualities of the human heart than the narrator. The answer is not so simple. The narrator grows to an understanding of the limitations and confines in his own life, he attains knowledge about himself which is the highest form of knowledge in the epic tradition.
For instance, it is Tariq Mia who provides both the narrator and readers of the text with an illuminating and revealing answer. He says to the narrator, "But you have chosen the hard path to knowledge, little brother. Hearsay, not experience" (228). The narrator is aware of his inability to participate in the tortuous living of life. He is baffled by the complexities of the stories he has heard. Stories told by ordinary people who have undergone upheavals in their life and who seem to him to be so like him and yet unlike in the way they have lived their life. The passion with which people have lived their lives, whether it is the passion for renunciation, the passion of a musician for a golden - voiced orphan, the passion for desire itself or the passion of an abducted woman for her kidnapper, with whom she fell in love, is an alien emotion to the narrator. He remembers his life before he came to the guest house. He had been an obedient son; his wife had been a "familiar presence" in his life but he had never felt a "burning desire", desires which simply could not be denied (48).
Each story is told by a person from a different spectrum of life. Each story brings another realm of knowledge and experience home to the narrator. He has to learn secondhand but as mentioned before the medium of instruction used in ancient Indian epics is not of direct experience but of tales and anecdotes whose meanings are revealed through the telling. Revelation leads to enlightenment because questions are not answered but answers are realized by the students through discussion and debate. Tariq Mia, Mr. Chagla, Dr. Mitra and the Naga Baba are the guides who