I have seen the books of William Dalrymple stacked in many book shops.
But somehow never felt so keen to read his books. Always had a thought that this might be one of those books that Western writers come up with about India in a manner that never impresses me.
I was pleasantly proved wrong by this book Nine Lives. Its a travelogue on the live of nine people as the title suggest. It captures the unchanging aspects of Indian life amidst the ever changing modern life. These lives are frozen in a time completely different to the prevailing modernist epoch.
It is just a great strength of our country that we accept so much different lives to flourish and there is no single prescribed path that our tradition mandates. Here are the things that worked for me in this book ,
1. The book is sincere in what it tries to capture, I never felt any tone of condescension to the lives it is capturing which is usually the case. The accounts are thoroughly researched , each life account begins with an incident, captures the historic root of the life and then uncovers the person in a manner we start to feel them real.
2. The lives capture the essence of our tradition, it includes a Jain nun who in her renunciation and sacrifices tries to attain moksha in the other world , to the Bauls of Bengal whose moksha lies in the song and dance and everyday beauty of the life at hands.
3. The conversations that the author has with the characters are one of the high points of the book. Be it the sthapathi in Swamimalai who speaks about the god taking over the artist in the act of sculpture. Or the conversation with the Sufi Saint on the teaching of Sufi Islam and his message of tolerance and peace. They capture the essence of the book and are really poetic.
4. The lives are also conflicting in a way with the epoch of the current times. Everyone who has choose this life are a rebel and in a way are facing the pressure of the times. This is captured well.
5. It captures the underlying humanity of India.