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From past lives to born again

books Updated: Jan 22, 2010 21:55 IST
Jairaj Singh
Jairaj Singh
Hindustan Times
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Return to Almora
R.K. Pachauri
Rupa - Rs 395 | Pages 402

Much like climate change, spiritualism is much in demand these days. It turns out that both these subjects are close to R.K. Pachauri’s heart. So, here’s a book from the chairman of the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in his avatar as a writer of fiction.

Pachauri narrates the remarkable tale of Sanjay Nath, an ordinary but saintly entity who is introduced as a precocious child in Nainital at a time when the place was a small summer retreat for the British escaping the heat of the plains of north India. The pace of the novel picks up as the three-year-old Sanjay makes strange statements that point to the child’s previous incarnation in Almora. This coincides with a fracas between his teacher-father and a British army general that causes the Naths to leave Kumaon and the novel’s focus shifting to Sanjay’s formative years.

The most memorable chapters in Return to Almora are the early ones. After spending a few troubled years in school, Sanjay enrolls in an engineering course at the Benares Hindu University where a string of experiences changes his course of life.

Eventually, he evolves into a venerated guru in America. It is here that we follow him — and his fertile mind — as he scrambles in his first encounters with love, lust, inebriation, folly and ultimately, of course, a deep spiritualism within.

It is in America that he prospers as a guru. But apart from the ‘fantasy quotient’ that Pachauri peppers his tale with (for instance, Sanjay hearing voices that keep instructing him), the protagonist doesn’t so much turn into a preacher as a
journeyman. Even if the reader accepts his answers regarding the higher questions of life, one isn’t convinced that Sanjay is satisfied.

Return to Almora succeeds in establishing a certain creative faith in matters spiritual. You could say that Pachauri has brought us closer to nature once again, but this time through a different route.