A spiritual take

Bhagwan Rajneesh, famously known as Osho, is perhaps the pioneer in making spiritual writings appeal to the senses as much as to the intellect.

His words, bursting with life and colour, simultaneously spoke to the body, mind, heart and soul unlike the heavy, sombre style of literature that hitherto confined spirituality to mostly the intellectual realm. He made Nirvana pleasurable and attainable, at least in the world of the written word.

Kiran Khalap, whose debut novel Halfway Up The Mountain, the new edition of which has been released recently, takes the reader to a similar terrain where words with the sheer beauty embedded in them give the reader a glimpse of the mystical sphere of spirituality.

Khalap’s profile mentions that he is an advertising Guru who is also an ex-teacher in an experimental primary school inspired by J Krishnamurthy’s philosophy; a spiritual seeker who is into exploring the field of mind-body awareness and also a passionate rock climber.

That’s good enough to arouse enthusiasm for his book given the genre he is writing in, and he doesn’t disappoint.

The book is about a young woman, Maya, who turns her life’s tragedies into gateways to ultimate freedom. The daughter of a rebel who defies society to follow the Left-Hand-Path of spirituality, Maya is constantly subjected to heartache as she is abandoned by her loved ones, until she awakens to the strength of her true essence hidden behind the illusion of pain.

Khalap makes it ample clear in the beginning itself that as an author his strength lies in his superior ability to turn words into poetry. In the dream-like ambience he creates with his words, he slips effortlessly into the skin of Maya the woman, the daughter, the wife, the victim, the friend and the mother.

He explores the deepest recesses of his protagonist’s heart with an impressive empathy rare for a male author.

The Atmashatakam (six verses about the Self), penned more than a thousand years ago by the great Advaita philosopher Shri Shankaracharya, forms the foundation on which Khalap builds the structure of his story. Manobuddhi ahankaar chittaani naaham, na cha shrotrajihva…

Chidanandarupahhh shivoham, shivoham (I am not mind, or intellect, ego or consciousness. I am neither hearing nor speech. I am pure bliss…’)

The absolute wisdom contained in the verses of Atmashatakam is meant to dispel illusions (maya) of worldly attachments and to remind the soul trapped in the human body that it is nothing but pure light and bliss.

The essence of these verses are ‘tattooed on the skin of Maya’s subconscious’ at a tender age, thanks to her father who wants her to walk the path of freedom just like himself.

“Promise me, you will not forget what I taught you…you will always be happy…like a goddess…chidanandarupah…even without me, without anybody…promise me?”

When he leaves her choosing his spiritual path over his attachment to her, Maya receives her first lesson in the transient nature of earthly bonds, a lesson she is forced to practise often in her later life.

And the pain of separation becomes the leitmotif of her life which ultimately drives her to shatter the illusion of suffering and discover the true liberation within herself.

Khalap strings together the rest of his characters with their sole purpose being that of preparing Maya to align with the essence of the Atmashatakam. Maya’s husband Ravindra finds his muse in her as she inspires him to explore his talent as an artist, but finally abandons her suspecting infidelity.

Krishnarao Khare is the aging poet admired greatly by Maya, but an unplanned overnight stay in his house destroys her marital harmony beyond repair. Pankaj, Maavshi, Varun, Sanjay and Sandhya are loyal friends and soulmates whose love sustains her through the uncertainties of life.

Maya’s resolve to rise above attachments is put to one final test when her son Sharan chooses to pursue music and is refrained from seeing her till his learning is complete.

The second-person narrative enhances the intense, dramatic style of Khalap’s writing as he leads the reader through every nuance of Maya’s emotional and spiritual journey.

Her strength, insecurities, pain, love, conflicts — all are dissected minutely and stirringly.
“You return home like a traditional couple, he ahead, you a mere afterthought in a patriarchal society.”

“The dusk-smeared mountains have tucked up their skirts after a hot day, to air their quilted cellulite.”

Lines like these only add to the joy of reading Halfway Up the Mountain.

However, what strikes as a sour note in the book is the imbalance between Khalap’s excellent talent for poetic prose and his monochromatic presentation of some of his characters. One of the casualties of this flaw is the narrative believability itself.

For example, the depiction of Maya’s husband Ravindra’s growth from being a signboard painter living in a chawl in Mumbai to a celebrated artist in Paris is far-fetched, to say the least.

Except for Maya, all the characters remain insufficiently explored and beautifully blurred in the background.

But the shortcomings notwithstanding, Halfway Up the Mountain is a seeker’s tribute to the art of seeking and finding. It has enough heart to touch some deeper chords in the reader.

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