In the very recent past, I happened to read two books – Aghora, At the Left Hand of God by Robert E. Svoboda and Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India by William Darlymple. Both very different books by nature, and leaving a very different after-effect in the reader. I shall elaborate.
Aghora.. (first of the trilogy) is a book written with an intention to shock, admonish and attempt to show the reader the path to spiritual enlightenment. The experiences described in the book are in Vimalananda’s own words (who accepted as his disciple the author). The first person narrative offers a perspective and a path to understanding the true nature of the universe. The tone of the book, however, is one of criticism. In spite of the defensive statements proclaiming that none of the text should be considered as Truth, but only to be referred to as a guide in exploring one’s spirituality; it still comes across as a comment on how much we have degraded as a society (especially due to Western influences). I don’t think I will peruse this series, I did not enjoy reading it, and I don’t think I am going to take a book to be my Guru, especially one that in my opinion tries hard to be sensational.
Nine Lives.. felt like a wonderful book to me. One thing I like about William Darlymple’s writing is that, he does not write about India in the manner of “exotic foreign land”, and neither does he write about it as a “third world country with rampant poverty”. He writes about it the way an Indian would (much like an insider’s view), admiring at times, exasperated at times, but the voice of the author feels genuine. The book in itself is a journey across the Indian subcontinent, with the author meeting people on seemingly different paths to understand the divine. There is a Theyyam dancer from Kerala and a Baul from West Bengal. We have a Buddhist monk who fled Tibet, and a Sufi saint who fled India. The tone of the book is gentle and inviting, allowing the reader to come to his or her own understanding. The voice of the author is unobtrusive, he lets his characters take centre stage.