Thursday, December 31, 2009

Nine Lives

I hadn't read any books of William Dalrymple before this, which was probably for the best. I approached this book as a fresh one by another author without being prejudiced by his earlier writings.

'Nine Lives' appealed to me from the time I heard about it in the media. Here was a book that spoke about searching for the sacred in the modern India. At the same time I was skeptical that the book would dissect India and its religious beliefs and present it from a view point of a Westerner thereby making it sounds spiritual or worse still comical. And so I started the pages with trepidation.

Suffice to say 'Nine Lives' is one of the best books that I have read in a long time - especially about India. William Dalrymple shows why he loves India so much as he approaches each subject with an open mind and presents the religious belief in a neutral manner. He does not put his views on the subject matter but rather presents it as a learning experience informing the readers about the belief, giving a backgrounder of the same and taking us on a journey of the person in question.

Starting from the first story of the Jain Nun and the concept of Sallekhana he captures your mind. The book presents various facets of India's lost religious cults and masters which - I am embarrassed to say - even I didn't know of. I've learnt a whole new face of India which I was unaware of.

From spirituality of the Jain munis in 'The Nun's tale' to overturning the oppressive caste system in India for a brief moment of time in "The Dancer of Kannur".

From explaining how religion was viewed in a sexual form in India and the challenges of latter day prostitution in "The Daughter's of Yellama" to showcasing how 'illiterate' villagers of Rajasthan can remember and sing the wonderful 5,000 couplet epics in "The Singer of Epics".

From bringing to life the real background of the Runa Laila hit song 'Dama Dam Mast Kalandar' and introducing a Bihari lady in Sindh Pakistan in "The Red Fairy" to the absolutely amazing story of the Tibetan monk who took up arms to fight for his motherland and presenting the true angst of the Tibetan folks on the China invasion in "The Monk's Tale".

From showing us how God's idols are made in "The Maker of Idols" to the amazing story of the sadhus in the cremation grounds of Tarapith in Kolkata in "The Lady Twilight" and the Bauls of West Bangal in "The Song of the Bling Minstrel".

From one part of India to another William Dalrymple takes us through a journey of exotic India and presents facets of India that we may not be aware of. The best part is that it really does present India in its true form - not in a spiritual India or a comical India or a yoga-istic India but in its true form.

I highly recommend this book to everyone - Indian or not - to understand what India's religions are about, especially the so called exotic ones.

I rate this 5/5!

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