Monday, November 07, 2005

Book Review: 'The Age of Kali' by William Dalrymple

(This is a book review of William Dalrymple’s ‘The Age of Kali’ written as an assignment for a corporate training workshop. I enjoyed reading the book and recommend it to anyone interested in learning more about India; the review only takes a swipe at the book because the assignment explicitly required me to write a negative review.) 

A Preface to 

The Age Of Rama

The Age of Rama is a collection of peripatetic essays about India and a distillation of many many years of traveling all around the Indian subcontinent. But to tell you how I came about writing it, I have to begin even further back.

Long ago I wrote a book called The Age Of Kali. Like the book you hold in your hands, that too was a loose collection of essays of my travels in India. I had wandered India on a nomadic basis for over ten years and penned down my observations. 

Most of the stories I wrote resonated with the feeling most Indians I met seemed to have. That we were facing anarchy on a scale hitherto unknown. That Kali – the goddess of destruction – had the world firmly in her grasp.

The book did well, won me numerous awards and I pretty much forgot about it. But as I discovered in time, that wasn’t quite the end of it. I had set into motion events that sucked me in like a whirling tornado.

It’s been really long, so I don’t remember if it was a dream or if I did actually meet this man. He introduced himself to me as Chiranjeevi. He told me he was the one and only eternal human, the one destined to live through all the 4 ages described in the Indian epics – Sathyayug, Tretayug, Dwarkayug and Kaliyug.

Time has blurred my initial reaction to this revelation and I won’t even attempt to bother you with the details. What I discovered soon enough was that he was indeed speaking the truth. And if you think that was incredible, you’ve got to hear what happened next.

This Chiranjeevi hung around with me – popping in and out of my life – whenever he felt like. He had found a copy of my book and had spent some time leafing though it. He dropped by whenever he felt like and elucidated on what he thought about it. He disagreed with much of it. And he didn’t hide that fact.

So what did he disagree about? He thought I had the age of Kali thing all wrong. He explained to me the cyclic nature of things in Hinduism. That for a Golden Age to exist there also has to be a Dark Age. That for good to exist there has to be the bad. And that you can’t talk about any age as if it’s for eternity. Nothing is. I think it was Buddha he quoted when he said, “Everything that’s born will die.”

We argued the point. And I, in my infinite ignorance, may have stepped too far. Because he got furious and to prove his position, he recommended to the Gods that I too be made immortal like him. That I join him (I suspect he was looking for companionship) in his unending journey as punishment for having made that elementary mistake in my book.

That was about 9,573 years ago. The age of Kali (I mean the age not the book) ended soon after. Followed by the rebirth of the entire world in the Sathayug. This age lasts for only an instant but seems like eternity.

And then came the new age of Rama – an age that’s supposed to last 10,000 years. The age in which this book is set. The book mirrors and is closely parallel to the Ramayana, an epic which details the lives and times in the same age of the previous cycle. There wasn’t much that was different in the new cycle. There was untold prosperity wherever you went…but hey, you’ll find out more about that soon enough.

Looking back, I think The Age Of Kali might have benefited with a question mark strategically placed at the end of the title. And if I had done that, I might not have ended up writing this book and you probably won’t be reading it now.

William Dalrymple

June 11,578 AD

Chiranjeevi aka Hanuman

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