Nine Lives – A Book Review

Author: William Darlymple

Price: Rs. 399

Nine Lives

I had been wanting to read a William Dalrymple book for a long time. But the thickness of his travelogues combined with the miniscule font always kept me away. Until, I came across “Nine Lives”. And I am so glad that I did.

Nine Lives is a simple, lucid, unbiased, non judgemental and rich account of a variety of arcane religious cum spiritual practices told through the lives of people practising these, whom the author met in the course of his travels. It is a refreshingly different narrative in the sense that it presents the bare facts but not in the dry manner so as to put off the reader and not unnecessarily embellished so as to render them unbelievable or questionable.

The stories chosen are unique, strange and engrossing, giving the reader a peek into the varied traditions and rituals still being practised in the India rapidly striding towards modernisation resisting the urge and pressure of uprooting them to give way for a newer, “modern” world.

Not being from the nation which he writes about gives Dalrymple an opportunity to stand back, detached from the bias towards or against any one creed, and ask, observe and write from the perspective of a curious bystander. The touch of personalisation through brief but relevant accounts of how the author came to know the people whose stories he writes and how he furthered these aquaintances to allow them to share their secrets with him, give the much appreciated connection between these seemingly unrelated stories.

What stands out in the book is the uniqueness and heterogeneity of the characters and their lives, very much relatable to the ancient and diverse India that all of us have read and thought of, however, it is squeezed in temporally and spatially to an unbelievable existence of here and now, a sort of mirage, only much more real and much more mythical. This is the mirage the reader is led into, to wander, right from the introduction by Dalrymple, of a Sadhu who is a manager by education and of Tapan Goswami, a feeder of skulls and a father of two ophthalmologists practising in New Jersey.

The Nine Lives are those of a Jain Nun, a Theyyam Dancer, a Devdasi, a Bhopa, a Sufi Saint, a Tibetan Monk, an Idol Maker, a Tantrik Couple and a Baul. I read these stories with keen interest and astonishment and despite trying hard, I am unable to chose any one favorite. I highly recommend this book for you to make your own decision about the same. Happy Reading!!

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