Of monks and love

There has always been a hypothesis that Jesus Christ was in India during the years the Gospels find him missing in Galilee—from when he was 13 till he turned 30. But, in 1894, Russian journalist Nicolas Notovitch claimed that he had seen at the Hemis monastery in Ladakh a manuscript giving details of the missing years of Jesus—that he was in India. Notovitch’s claim was as fake as much of today’s fake news is, and he even confessed to having cooked up the evidence he adduced.

Looking for that manuscript in the Hemis monastery is Anna, who otherwise is researching on different ways of meditation practised at different monasteries. Ajay Kapur, the protagonist of Madhu Tandan’s novel Hemis, is one of the many people stranded in a monastery, when floods play havoc with people, places and life in India’s mountain desert.

In that monastery they meet a monk who loved a married woman. And, other characters from a world of monasteries, all too familiar to Madhu, who had lived in a monastery for seven years. There is an interplay of life, spirituality, religion, meditation, and the mysterious aspects of Tibetan Buddhism.

Tandan analyses dreams, and has presented papers on them at international conferences. Not surprisingly, there are a lot of dreams, imagination and visualisation in the novel, which is her third book. And, through this maze, there is a finale for Ajay’s troubled marriage, Anna’s guilt over the death of her husband, and hints of how the monk who loved a married woman dealt with the situation of not being able to forget her, or his monkhood.

Whether it is a novel around life’s philosophy or its sexuality, depends on the prism through which one is looking. But, love is the main theme in the darkness of the monasteries, with inner lights aglow. And, there is the mystery of the ancient manuscript, to add an element of thrill.

Hemis: A Novel

Author: Madhu Tandan

Publisher: HarperCollins

Pages: 291

Price: Rs 399