x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Sensitive portraits

In this brilliant travelogue, Dalrymple steers clear of cliché and tells nine riveting tales of faith and religious practice in contemporary India.

"Numerous are the cliches," William Dalrymple writes, "about 'Mystic India' that blot so much writing about Indian religion." In this brilliant travelogue, Dalrymple steers clear of cliché and tells nine riveting tales of faith and religious practice in contemporary India, each one a sensitive and careful portrait of the complex entanglements of modern life and traditional worship. There is the Jain nun who withdraws from her prosperous merchant family and renounces material wealth and, eventually, life itself; the maker of idols, whose family have produced brass icons of the gods for hundreds of years - but whose son wishes to quit the family business for a career in computers; the Dalit labourer who plays a Hindu god in an annual ritual and is revered in turn even by Brahmins; and the Buddhist monk who once renounced his vows of non- violence to fight against the Chinese army.

Unlike the many authors determined to impose their own categories and ideas on the complexities of the "New India", Dalrymple proceeds with a confident modesty: his task is to listen and record, and he does both beautifully.