Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India
A lot of us would kill to have a job like William Dalrymple’s. Travelling across the world, writing about it and getting paid (handsomely?). Not to say that that’s all he does. Dalrymple is also well known as a distinguished historian, a respected journalist and an intelligent literary critic. But at heart, he remains a traveler.
Which brings us to his recently published Nine Lives – In Search of the Sacred in Modern India. It is, essentially, a travel book about his journey to explore the history, mythology and reality of the India’s spiritual DNA. It compiles his conversations with nine individuals who live beyond the bright neon lit landscapes and tarred wide express ways of the “emerging” India. All of whom are on a quest for the larger meaning of life. Not a spiritual treatise in the conventional sense, Dalrymple craftfully embroiders the conversations with his observations and insights, making prose sound like poetry.
There is a portrait of a Dalit from Kannur, who becomes an incarnation of God for the Nampoothiri Brahmins as a Thayyam dancer, otherwise earning his living as a manual laborer in a prison. Another of an educated and attractive nun of the Jain faith peacefully starving to death as her passage for redemption. Of the vagabond woman of Bihari origin, now Sufi mystic in Pakistan. There are more such portraits, all real characters from life. Each has it own unique story, a common thread being the single-minded dedication of the protagonists in their respective pursuits.
Though the book does come across as one from the point of view of a westerner, in awe of Oriental exoticism, William Dalrymple is not judgmental. The narrative is an unbiased, “as-it-is” account; sensitive and empathetic, not catering to the western prejudices of imagery.
Read it if you want to explore the “un-headlined” India from your bedrooms. The only better way is to set upon a journey yourself.