This is our second review of a book by the same author. The first review is here for the book entitled JUNGLEZEN SHERU and we strongly request our readers to read as our basic methodology of book review is presented there.
This book is titled CARVING A SKY – A Perspective on Life.
The book is about a train journey and the perspective becomes immediately clear when we find that a dialogue is going on to keep us engaged as soon as the train starts or our reading starts. The dialogue is between a monk and a young man and they both board a train from Kolkata. Destination : you shall forget after few pages or you will not care.
The journey now expands in space (geography spread in time) and time (historical time) as the author deploys the autonomy of the Art of Narration and we slowly get out of the local space-time. This very process appeared to me providing a foretaste, a satori as Zen monks call a hint of ecstasy, of what the title says – Carving a Sky.
The young man (or the disciple as he slowly becomes ) is the narrator of the journey and the narration runs in three layers : the local time inside the train, the time outside the train where the young man was happy/successful/hopeful and the time when he will be confused/estranged, the Time outside of all times. The greatest virtue of the book is not to become uni-dimensional nor biased in treating these separate mode of times. The book treats the relish of eating a biriyani and that of explaining tanmatras and other very deep and profound aspects of existence with the same level of kindness and care. Without this narrative care, the book would have been simply a “spiritual manual read to pass time in a train journey”
As a reader, I found a distinction which was hammered, chiseled and brought to life is the difference between life and philosophy of life. It is tempting and not unjustified to consider the monk a symbol of timeless India and the young man a symbol of contemporary India, but the greatest virtue of the book is keeping the reader in a willing suspension of disbelief. Not only we find that the monk shares contemporary time but the young man also has his share in other times.
Many spiritual books on Hindu scripture project a “world-weariness” and “rejection” of the only tangible, although fragile and ephemeral – our own life with its tangible and sensory connections. This projection may be the matured fruit of an engagement with the same thing that it tries to transcend, i.e. the life we live. However, if we start the book of life from its final pages to a person who has just entered life, the project will not find much takers. I think many spiritual traditions of our country and of other climes and times became disconnected with those who are at the entry point of life. Not because those traditions did not have anything to offer but they started teaching higher mathematical truths to kindergarten students exposed to arithmetic alone.
Carving a Sky avoided this pitfall at the cost of voluntarily losing some of the authority that scriptural texts generally command, at least, still in India. There is a demonstration of this aspect when some Maoist insurgents meet our monk and the young man in the train as they journey through the Chotanagpur plateau.
But we love the monk of the book for this. He has voluntarily and consciously left his garb of authority and that made the dialogue free and open-ended – subjected to doubts, questions and anxieties.
We find this dramatic device in one of the most authoritative manuals of Life, ever attempted by Man or God – The Bhagavad-Gita. The recorder and speaker of the Gita’s supreme and enduring genius lies in masking the Omnipotence of Lord Sri Krishna till the very last. The first and second chapter of the Gita would have lost its tremendous poetic and human impact had the viswaraup-darshan happened at the early stages when the dialogue was friendly in tone.
Temperamentally, I am that type of reader who is not only interested what is said but equally interested as how it is said, I mean the literary quality. The book has charmed me. The authors prose style is what I envy. To write in small sentences and yet keeping the narration coherent.
Postscript : The author is doing a significant work and presumably his approach to communicate scriptures through books of such design might invite criticism from some more conservative and orthodox quarters – within and without.
However, we may rejoice at a more exciting phenomenon happening through the book – the ancient scriptures seems to be relevant for our Lives. To take liberty with a famous uttering : “The greatest incomprehensibility of scriptures is their applicability in vastly different ages.”
Carving a Sky, Harper Elements, by Samparpan, INR 199