I was very keen to read this highly acclaimed Indian author, Dhiruben Patel, after I came across a review of her book Kitchen Poems in the Sunday papers. I tried hard to locate that book and efforts are still on, but thought I would read this Sahitya Akademi award-winning work in the meanwhile.
This is a translation from the original Gujarati and let me say at the start that I would have like it better if the prose had fewer grammatical errors, and if I were in a more philosophical mood! It was more a question of timing than anything else I guess. Having said that, I did enjoy the read and the short length (184 pages), meant I had finished it before it got repetitive or boring!
The story is about Ishan, a ‘sannyasi‘ or monk, who returns to his family after years away, due to circumstances that arise at his ashram after the passing away of his Guru. The book is mostly Ishaan’s internal dialogue with himself, as he navigates the choppy waters of his return, made so by the initial disdain and incredulity of his very worldly family, and later on by their intrusive greed & hunger for fame by association. As he is shuttled from one brother’s house to another, and then to a third (this time a disciple’s), he ponders the meaning of life and love, the nature of attachment and the trappings of society. Interestingly, solace and succor come from the children in the book as they often do in real life! They seem instinctively to understand his need for solitude, his inability to make small talk, his desire to stay aloof, or rather, restrict his interaction with humanity to the minimum, so as to avoid attachments and resultant complications. They allow him to be himself, afford him space, and accept him for who he is, which in turn draws them closer to him than their parents can ever hope be.
I was happy with Ishaan’s choice in the end. It was one that I was egging him towards and one that felt right to me. It wasn’t in my opinion, an easy one to make. The characters in this story are quickly identifiable and understandable as is Ishan’s vacillation as he tries to follow the path set by his choice of lifestyle in an alien world. Early on in the book he compares himself to the character ‘Trishankhu’ – a term which is now used to describe a middle ground or a compromise between ones goals or desires and one’s current state or possessions. As he tries to come to terms with being an outsider both in the world of his past and his present, it seems apt. The Gujarati title ‘Agantuk’ meaning ‘Outsider’ again seems apt. In contrast Rainbow at Noon, that seems to imply an impossibly rare occurrence, seems more fanciful although I suppose renunciation in our day and age is pretty darn rare!
I cannot however shake the feeling that read in the original Gujarati, this book would be better, more powerful in its message, such as it is. Or perhaps it’s just as I said before a question of timing! Love the cover design however 🙂 Read if you are into philosophy and enjoy debating those eternal questions, “Why am I here?” & “What’s the point of it All?” Here is a passage that I feel illustrates Ishan’s dilemma and the essence of the book,
” The sight of the gardener mercilessly clipping and pruning the hedge often made Ishan close his eyes. Every act of uprooting and severance was repugnant to his soul. Who were we to determine that a sapling was mere weed and worthy of being uprooted and thrown away? His point of view in this regard had not changed since childhood. The inevitable experience of beauty, resulting from seeing a pretty garden cultivated with concern for comeliness, was nonetheless a reality. He lived calmly in the midst of several such paradoxes.”