Thursday, December 10, 2009

My review :Nine Lives

The only book of his that I read before is 'The Last Mughal' and if you have been following my blog you would have realised how totally un-inclined I have been to history and I hate to admit Mughal history.I was almost pushed to read this book 'The Last Mughal' by all in the family (all history lovers!)...and I am so glad I paid heed to them.My fascination to read more about the Mughal history arose after reading this beautifully written book.This book was of the last Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar.His fall from grace,the end of an era.What came across after reading this book was Dalrymple's immense knowledge of history and more so the Indian history.
After reading that book I was eagerly looking forward to his next (I have in the meanwhile read 'Age of Kali' and 'The White Mughals' written by him which are also very well written).So Nine Lives as soon as it hit the stores was bought and read in 2 days flat.With this book Dalrymple has proved himself to be an accomplished travel writer.
This book has nine different stories,as he puts it are tales of the sacred in Modern India. Dalrymple goes deeper and deeper into the landscape of India in order to return with clearer images of the people who live there. And in trying to appreciate their lives, we enrich our understanding of our own, and this is why Nine Lives might well be William Dalrymple’s most important book to date.
The book starts with The Nun's Tale where he explores the Jain religion and also gives us an insight on Jainism through the eyes of a digambara nun.Non-judgemental and sensitively handled.Jainism was also extensively covered by Suketu Mehta in his book The Maximum City

The second story is about The Dancer of Kannur from Kerala the story comes alive through Hari Das who is an accomplished theyyam dancer in the area who during the months from December to February trades his job as a jail warden to a theyyam dancer playing the part of Lord Vishnu.He is a dalit (backward caste)and comes from a very poor background who becomes a temporary god during the theyyam season and gets the kick out of having the brahmins come and seek his blessings during the season.Dalrymple handles the caste divide which is prevalent in Kerala again very honestly without looking down at such practices.Just an in your face account of it.

The third story is The daughters of Yellamma which is personally my favourite.It is so heart wrenching and beautiful.It is the story of devdasis,the women are dedicated and 'married' to a god or goddess and then these women are pushed into flesh trade.This story is of Rani Bai who was dedicated by her parents to god at a tender age of six by the time she turned 14 she was sold to the highest bidder..She continues her life as a devadasi and how she dedicates her daughters to the same practice and ends up losing them to AIDS.
The devadasis are considered auspicious as well and are seen as symbols of fertility in Karnataka.Though there are acts put in place by the government against this practice it still prevails in rural and poverty struck interiors of Maharashtra and Karnataka.

The other stories are also uncovers some facets of India that we as Indians are largely unaware of ...his story the singer of epics is of Mohan the bard (a bhopa) and a village shaman and his wife Batasi.they both are completely illiterate but are few of the last singers who can sing a 4000 line poem by heart!the poem is 600 year old.the poem is performed in front of a phad and the audience is usually the nomadic and cattle herding Rabri caste.His 5th story is from rural Sindh called the red fairyit is the story of lal peri who lives in a sufi shrine.It beautifully explains sufism. There is the monk's tale after that which is the story of a tibetan living in exile in Dharamsala in India.Did you know that some of the tibetans who were living in exile during the 62 war against China were taken into the Indian Army?This secret force,Special frontier force were trained by the CIA and India in a camp near Dehradun.Fascinating indeed!
These stories are followed by equally fascinating tales from different parts of the country there is 'the maker of idols' from Tamil Nadu,'The Lady Twilight' from a cremation ground at Tarapith in Bengal one of the most holy places in India and the home of the great goddess Tara.'The song of the blind Minstrel' is a story again from Bengal its the stpry of the Bauls meaning mad or possessed in Bengali.

Lovely and fascinating stories which show us how rich the Indian culture is and how while forging ahead in the world we as a nation are still bound by our beautiful and fascinating past!!Must read for all Dalrymple lovers!

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