'Materialism, spiritualism co-exist in India in extremes'
The first thing one notices about writer William Dalrymple is his astonishingly blue eyes. The expressions in those eyes are a product of the travels undertaken in those far-flung unknown places, which are considered mystical and perilous by most of us. His latest travel book, ‘Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India’ that deals with nine marginalized people (also representative of nine different religious paths in India), is already topping the bestsellers list.
Dalrymple, who was also one of the directors of ‘the biggest literary event’ – Jaipur Literature Festival, met Nabila Habib
and Shivangi Singh
and discussed his quest for spirituality in India.Q: First of all, congratulations on the success of this festival and your book, ‘Nine Lives’, which is already topping the charts. Do the nine people, on whom the book is based, know how successful the book has turned out to be?
A: Yes, all of them are aware of the fact and two of them are in Jaipur. I would not have managed the book without their co-operation. All the stories in the book are of about 20,000 words each and to write 20, 000 words on someone, you need to spend quite a lot of time with him or her. Q: You undertook such dangerous journeys for ‘Nine Lives’. Weren’t you scared as you explored the unknown for your book?
A: I have never been threatened my entire life. I have lived in India for almost 25 years and I have only once been robbed in a train. So, I wasn’t scared at all.Q: Your book is about the search of the sacred in Modern India. How spiritual do you think is India?
A: I think you have to be very careful here. For example, some people in my neighborhood in Delhi are some of the most brutally materialistic people I have ever seen in my entire life, anywhere in the entire globe. One cannot generalize that Indians are essentially spiritual.
There are, however, some very interesting spiritual people in India. Also, there are some fabulous, interesting and profound spiritual traditions. Buddha took the path of enlightenment because of the prevalent materialism in his age. I think materialism and spiritualism co-exist in India in extremes. Q: The readers are curious to know that what you are writing next?
A: Well, for the first time in my life I am confused. I don’t know whether to write a travel book or a historical novel. I would love to do a book on Kerala. I would love to do a book on British India. But I am not sure, as of now.Q: What do you think of the Jaipur Literature festival this time?
A: The festival was even better than the last time. Last time, the venues were jam-packed during the weekend. But this time, even on weekdays, we had capacity crowd. We had to undergo three years of struggle, financially as well as the other way. Last year, we got things right and there was word-of-mouth publicity that’s why the festival got bigger.Q: What is the central idea behind such events?
A: Our aim is to not only to allow readers the opportunity to interact with established and new writers, but also with those who are unknown and whose works he personally admires.