Sunday, August 21, 2011

Nine Lives by William Dalrymple

Read the book out in a weekend – was glad the author took the time to document several people who follow various religious paths in danger of being submerged by the homogeneity of the larger organized religions like Wahhabi Islam and orthodox Hinduism. While I was grateful that those interviewed shared their life stories all of which evoked more than a touch of pathos; I wondered about Mr Darymple profiting off them, but acknowledge a more respectful attitude towards those he encountered compared to his first book- In Xanadu- which I also enjoyed.
A couple of the stories illustrated how the rigid, strait-laced Indian society fostered the extremes that people would go to express themselves- in the first and last stories, children of well-to-do families rejected the conventional ‘safe’ path for the unknown- one embracing celibacy, although supposedly practising non-attachment, was devastated when the companion of 20 years died- and the other engaging in tantric-like Baul practices.
Published in 2009, it documented well the devastation of HIV/AIDS on one family forced to continue in prostitution under the ‘tradition’ of dedicating the young girls to Yellamma/becoming devadasis – applicable to pre-Mugal India, certainly not 21st century ‘Shining India’!
The book was very informative about Sufism and illustrated well the devastation Partition had on the lives of ordinary Indians. The story about the Idol-maker reminded me of the part in Anil’s Ghost where the final part of installation of the eyes is very sacred,  but sadly that tradition is also under threat of the Mass-produced market. Interesting and informative too was the fact that the erotic images/sculptures on the Khujharo temples were illustrating Tantric practices prevalent when the temple was being built.

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