Multiple Lives

By Sunil Kumar

In the idea of Hindustan; there is a mystery wrapped inside an enigma; a cocoon of “if’s” and “buts”. Today, I write about “Nine Lives”; a book on the mysterious undercurrents of Indian existence. It is easy to dismiss this as a typical “firang” take on exotica; the way most British documentaries, television serials or books generally are. But; it also gives us an insight into the idea of India; how wonderfully diverse it still is and the precious little most of us know about it.

Hindustan HJT-16 Kiran II

Visit Hindustan HJT-16 Kiran II (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The British Indian Empire and surrounding coun...

Visit The British Indian Empire and surrounding countries in 1909 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Patriotism as a feeling is also relatively limiting; but it somehow gives one a sense of identity. But in the daily crassness of existence; where superficialities and generalization is the order of the day; “Nine Lives” can temporarily connect you with the spirit.

The author crisscrosses the subcontinent; from Kerala to Sind, Himachal Pradesh to Bengal. The country and the world have a million tales to tell; but for this book; there are Rajasthani folk singers, Sindhi Sufi shrines, a Tibetan monk, Baul singers et al. I doubt if any of these “Indians” would be as frank with their fellow countrymen; as they usually are with foreigners.

Tales are usually told off the cuff in our nation. So while some of us are reticent; there are many who would yak for a considerable amount of time about all and sundry. Modern geopolitical events; such as the Chinese occupation in Tibet; the dangerous radicalization of Pakistan are again reinforced with the life stories of the people in this book.

Talking about the southern Punjab and the Sind; the dangerous coexistence of the Sufis and Wahhabi Islam is discussed. Multan(Mulasthan); an ancient Hindu city existing from antiquity, home to the Sun and Prahlad temples, and the originator of Sanskrit as well as the Sind in its current form are mentioned. Where once rich kings and gold mudrikas ruled the roost; there is a spectre of desolation. We learn of the Urs, guns and the institutional excesses. Despite attempts at obliteration; the Hindu origins of all these places remain.

When he travels to West Bengal; the author meets with the wacky and artistic Bauls; and discovers the remnants of an ancient tradition. In Kerala; dichotomies are explored; including the stranglehold of religion, orthodoxy and the turf war between different political parties.

Parvathy Baul-12

Visit Parvathy Baul-12 (Photo credit: ramesh_lalwani)

To be fair; appams and other Indian delicacies including “nans” and “rasgullas” also make an appearance when the author attempts to unravel the more profound underpinnings of “desi” life. In the “mind-crushing” confines of urban civilization; where aesthetic impulses are bastardized by association with material “men and women”(this includes all of us and me); this narrative helps to somewhat bridge the gap.

Enlightenment at a distance!



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