Despite being told never to judge a book by its cover, I was drawn to the book by what the cover said, " In Search of the Sacred in Modern India". I was not disappointed. William Dalrymple offers an interesting book about nine lives of faith. But, before I turn this into a book review, let me get to the point. One of the stories in the book is about a Theyyam artiste from North Malabar. Theyyam is a dance form where the artiste enters a trance and in a sense, the Gods inhabit his body. Reading that piece, I was transported back to a land and time of magic. Reading that piece, fond memories of a forgotten yesterday flitted past my eyes. You are so disconnected now with the yesterday that you feel like a tourist in your own land.
The world has changed drastically in the last few years. Our aspirations and accomplishments have taken us on a journey in time and space. We have moved quite a distance away from the stories of our childhood. We have been busy building our own new realities. We have been busy painting that picture perfect life. We have a list of places to visit and another of things to do. We have embraced progress, we have progressed beyond the limiting beliefs of yesterday, beyond the superstitions of yesterday. And then you read a story like the one about the Theyyam dancer and you realize that your have left behind more than just your superstitions. You have left behind your imagination, you have left behind your wide eyed wonder, you have left behind your belief in magic. And as you journey back to that magically superstitious, yet real world of yesterday, you feel like a tourist in your own land.
I am reminded of the time when we trembled in front of the Velichappadu, the oracle and soothsayer possessed by the spirits. I am reminded of the Puram, the big temple festivals where the elephants are dressed in their gold head-plates and the Gods are swaying on top of them. I am reminded of the pomp and grandeur as colorful umbrellas are choreographed in synchronous motion atop the elephants. I am reminded of the big tree where Yakshis, the evil spirits are nailed to after they are exorcised in the temple. I am reminded of the family deity being called upon to name a child, about mysterious letters forming a name and appearing on a simple bowl of rice. I am reminded of the magic. Call it pagan, call it superstition, I am reminded of the unreal in a very real world that intrigued me, that charmed me, that scared me, that fascinated me. And then again, I realize that I have become a tourist in my own land. I have progressed so much that I stop believing in the magic. I see what my eyes show, I hear what my ears receive, I feel what my touch perceives. I am a prisoner of my senses. It might seem senseless to many, but beyond yonder, there is magic. And shaken out of the senseless, you notice you are a tourist in your own land.