Nine Lives – By William Dalrymple

In search of the sacred in Modern India – a tag line to the title holds so true about this book by acclaimed travel writer William Dalrymple. The writer moves across the length and breadth of India and crosses a bit over to Pakistan as he writes about his travel experience of meeting wanderers, monks and artists. The writer never talks as a first person in most of the places in his work but simply narrates the tales of nine unconventional souls seeking divine refuge through their rigorous religious penance, dance, struggle or songs. Most of his protagonists lead a very humble life, not owning any material wealth or harbouring worldly ambitions – their faith has helped them survive to tell their stories through the author and at times it makes you wonder about the worldly rat race that we all are a part of.

Each story takes you to different storyteller, their past & present with no apprehensions of future, lifestyle, surroundings, undying faith in someone more powerful in the universe who has called upon them and given them a peaceful ecstasy which they showcase in their songs, art or dances. The writer takes no sides, doesn’t engage himself too much into dialogue with the protagonist of each story and hence it feels like each story has been penned by different person. The description building on to the story line is commendable and you can literally envision yourself travelling from desert of Rajasthan to rain blessed green Kerala, many times the description makes you feel and experience beats of Theyyam drums to eerie atmosphere of cremation ground. Though each story is different, but the string of faith and divine love holds all of them together and forms the foundation of this book.

As an outsider to India, William Dalrymple has done a commendable work in understanding the beliefs of this land and describing it with utmost honestly and sincerity. The presentation of each story is simple and gives a good understanding about each faith that a protagonist represents helping you relate well with each character. Thing I appreciate about this book is, it has represented many practices of spiritual fervour which are slowly getting lost in the fast paced world of materialism and religious bigotry. After reading the book, I am researching more about practices of Tantra & Sallekhana – want to know about it, go ahead grab this book!

Reviewed by: Ritu Moitra 

The rules, practices and discrimination of this earth identifies her as female, Indian, Sagittarian, HR Professional, Startup owner etc … but she still feels the word Wanderer suits her the best.

Author(s): William Dalrymple
Publisher: Bloomsbury India
Release: 2013
Genre: Fiction/Contemporary
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