Paradise lost

Lead review
Last Updated : 18 February 2012, 13:24 IST
Last Updated : 18 February 2012, 13:24 IST

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A riveting tale of adventure, intrigue and devotion, ‘A Step Away From Paradise’ sets its own leisurely pace, culminating in a sedate climax, notes C V Aravind.

It is a hidden land, not to be found on any map. Begul Demeshong, a paradise on earth described in 12th century Tibetan tradition, where the cloak of immortality descends on the denizens, where wealth and riches abound, and where wants and diseases are conspicuous by their absence.

It is to this Shangri-La that a learned visionary lama, Tulshuk Lingpa, desires to take his followers, for he alone has been ordained by the divine forces to open the gate. Photographer-author Thomas K Shor, in a seminal work, A Step Away From Paradise, pieces together the story of this fateful mission, which sadly turns out to be fruitless with the lama himself perishing in an avalanche.

The book is by no means a page turner, it sets its own leisurely pace, culminating in a sedate climax. However, the authenticity of the tome is hardly in doubt as Shor has done his homework well and has gleaned all the facts from those who were close to Tulshuk Lingpa, including his only son, Kunsang, and the survivors of the ill-fated mission.

The main protagonist Tulshuk Lingpa, whose name literally translates as ‘crazy treasure revealer’, comes across as a committed chieftain who brooks no dissent, a man who can work miracles and inspire abiding and unquestionable faith in his disciples. With his
interpreter Wangchuk, a grandson of Lingpa in tow, Shor tracks down the other lamas who had placed their trust in their leader and in their voices, records for posterity this strange obsession for finding a stairway to paradise, one of humanity’s oldest aspirations.

Although the book is woven around Lingpa, there are several other men and women whose stellar and invaluable roles in the mission have been highlighted. Among them, the most moving story is that of Seshe, the sister of Lingpa’s khandro (consort), who later becomes his khandro and is blessed with a special, intuitive ability to see images in the burnished brass of a ritual mirror. She too is gravely hurt in the mishap that costs Lingpa his life but still retains her faith in her leader who had taken them to just within a step to paradise.

Lingpa’s mission earns him the ire of two monarchs — the kings of Nepal and Sikkim — who fear that he might wean their subjects away. They threaten to put him in jail but Lingpa evades them and finally undertakes his mission with his trusted retinue. Shor turns to a historian, Saul Mullard, who had done a lot of research on the tight knot of Tibetan history, and provides nuggets of information to the readers on the enigmatic lama. Geshipa, the living wizard who shared a close association with the lama, and Lama Tushi, the head of the monastery established by Lingpa, are two other characters who shed a lot of light on the lama’s mission.

Padmasambhava, also known as Guru Rinpoche, the man who established Buddhism in Tibet, a revered figure for the lama and his men, also finds a mention in passing references. The author’s keen eye for detail, his determination to unravel the mystery of the enigmatic Kulshuk Lingpa, have all embellished the book which is indeed a riveting tale of adventure, intrigue and devotion.

In his epilogue, the author introduces his readers to Raju, a reincarnation of Kulshuk Lingpa, who lives with his wife and children far far away from the land where the lama lived and died. Raju, the author avers, had discovered that he had been blessed with the ability to cure people a la the lama but decides to steer clear of his path. The brief sketches of the dramatis personae and a glossary that deciphers the vernacular terms will aid the reader in fathoming the intricacies of the tale better.

The book, which is a fascinating account of a little-known charismatic figure whose beliefs would challenge even the most sceptical minds, is also a commentary on the recent political history of Tibet and reveals a facet of Tibetan Buddhism that is not very popular. The book is richly illustrated with photographs of the locales and personalities who figure as principal characters.

Thomas Shor, with an academic background revolving around comparative religion and literature, who has won acclaim for his yen for unusual stories and has travelled the planet’s mountainous realms, has this time around traversed the length and breadth of the Indian Himalayas with the avowed objective of ferreting out stories that remain hidden in the depths of the historical maze. Shor, who has already made a name with his maiden effort Windblown Clouds, a story on his travels in India, is certain to make waves with this book too.

Published 18 February 2012, 13:24 IST

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