Tuesday, March 11, 2014

A Strange Kind of Paradise

The breeze moved gently through the leaves of the peepul tree. And the leaves sighed in the comfort. The sound of temple bells are heard in the distance. And a faint dust arises and the cows huddle to pastures.

A village man leans against the hard bark. In a slow paced soft voice he narrates history. The words wrap round us. And all of us who sat on the stone platform around the peepul tree feel comforted by the stories he weaves.

Some of them are true and some more dreamy. One never knew where fact ended and fiction began.
He tells us about a man with four names.

  • Chen Hui was born in China in about 600 AD he says. And I conjure in my mind ... a sallow face, long tight plait, thin legs and lean body... basically a nondescript young man.
  • Actually you must have read about him in your school books. There he is listed as Hiuen Tsang he explains. And my eyes brighten. I have pictured Hiuen Tsang during my impressionable school days as a neat man with a long retinue of soldiers and helpers. A traveller who came, saw and documented. Though I was never sure why he did so.
  • He travelled to India where he is more popular as Tripitaka he says. The man who came to study the three caskets of manuscripts on Buddha. And I conjure in my mind a monk, wise and graceful. Also a little fiery and determined.
  • Now the official spelling of his name is changed to Xuanzang, he tells us. And there is a pop in my head. The name means nothing to me. It conjures no image. I am shattered.

Stories change without warning. Now he is talking about the British Raj. And my wanders and when I return we learn about St. Thomas and his no-sex even for married couples tenet.
He shows us interesting pictures and what I thought was his fiction comes alive as fact.

This is how I feel while I read a book by Sam Miller. A Strange Kind of Paradise. I still have a long way to go to finish it. But I think this is a book I will come back to again and again. A book that I will talk to!!


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