Nine Lives and a Summer Requiem

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Nine Lives by William Dalrymple

In a land where gods and goddesses abound as do their stories, Dalrymple’s search for the sacred in Modern India still throws up interesting threads. From tantric rituals in cremation grounds, houses lined with skulls to the frenetic energy of Sufi dancers, the author underlines how faith in chosen gods keeps lives chugging.

The nine lives documented bring forth different facets – a nun trying to forgo the bonds of friendship, a Buddhist monk seeking penance, ritualistic sacrifice and the inherent caste dynamics in the Indian society. This latter divide is laid bare through the lives of dancers and ballad singers, who as the vessels for divine energy, become an object of reverence for the Brahmins and upper castes, albeit for a while. The lives also represent two distinct ways of seeking the divine – the idol makers, who spend days carving the perfect sculpture compared to the wandering nomads, who sing of the gods being held within.

Each course, different, but led with the same conviction. Hearing the clarion call of the god, after a life of strife or simply following family traditions, men and women embracing the sacred. But despite forming the bulk of their identity, these individuals don’t seek to impose their ways. To them, it is but a way to their own salvation. Peppered with historical references and Western anecdotes, their lives take on a depth that makes this book more than just a sum of nine lives.

 

IMG_20190417_092342_BokehSummer requiem by Vikram Seth

“We two have lost each other, you and I.

Why could this not wait till our love could die?

Poor pointless relic bent on staggering on

When courtesy and passion both have gone…”

Turning the pages of Summer Requiem, one flits from a love that is all but dissipated to one that still burns bright. Words flow in remembrance of days spent, citing relics – the pictures, towels, chairs, the name – that string the memory along. Days of despair, sometimes longing, other times acute pain coupled with magnolias and poplars, parrots and blackbirds, cicadas and swans. Each page, a recollection, an introspection that deepens the more you run your eyes through the verses. Haikus and sonnets that speak of dreams and wars, and verses that still implore one to love. Neither an ode to beauty or love in the physical sense, Seth’s words are an examination of the metamorphosis that takes place once love happens and the trail it leaves behind.

Ps: I’m a reading slump, and hoping to revive the habit with bi-weekly posts about books.

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