I received this book, Run of the Mind, by Vijendra Rao, to review and frankly, I was not expecting much. Many of the writers I read on the net are ok, but many are also flawed in some way or another. Plus, I am hard to please as far as writing goes, being a severe critic, especially of my own work, the result of which is a chronic case of writer’s block.
So, I was expecting no more than a mediocre to average text. When I received some advance reviews of this book, raving about a “literary genius” and “the voice of the new India” and “a great writer”, I was still cynical. I figured these were friends of the authors who were engaging in the usual hyperbole, and I don’t like hyperbole in book reviews.
But when I started dipping into this book, I was just stunned. This was some really fine writing here! As I turned the pages, I was often dazzled by his style and a glimpse into a brilliant and wise mind at work. Various influences come to mind, including Milan Kundera. At his best, Rao can actually be compared with Kundera.
There was something else here, metaphysical wisdom, the wisdom of the ages, the wisdom of the India. We here in the West can get awfully arrogant. But when it comes down to it, people are the same everywhere.
And when it comes to the really important questions in life, the philosophical questions about morality, the meaning of life, death, the timeless truths of the human experience, all of our Western science has really taught us very little. For centuries, Christianity was actually a block on the study of the deepest questions of our existence.
But in the East, where Buddhism and Hinduism encouraged spiritual exploration rather than thwarting it, I think humanity has progressed further on the metaphysical wisdom scale. As modern science tests out such Eastern mysteries as yoga and meditation, we are learning that these funny folks with dots on their heads and thousands of Gods have really been onto something all of these centuries.
As one who believes in the superiority of the West, I found this book a humbling experience. Even most Leftists are ethnocentric. Reading Run of the Mind and seeing how the Indians have done an end-run around the scientific West in terms of wisdom and gleaning the meaning of the timeless essences of the human experience was a challenge to my Western ethnocentrism.
I came away with a new-found respect for India, a much-maligned society that combines, paradoxically, outrageous poverty and oppression with the wisdom of ages.
Rao is an Indian journalist from Mysore, a large city in the state of Karnataka, in the South of India. He is a Hindu and a bit of an Indian nationalist, though not of the Hindu ultranationalist type. He is a Brahmin, but is not a casteist.
In this book, we see the injured pride typical of Indian and Chinese and Arab nationalists, the pride of what were once the greatest cultures on Earth, since surpassed by the West.
High-caste Hindu nationalists like Rao tend to be hostile to British colonialism, but that feeling is not universal amongst Indians. The Brahmins were insulted when the British told them their culture was backwards and demanded that they change it.
On the other hand, lower-caste Indians and especially Dalits often think colonialism as the best thing that ever happened to India, for it directly attacked the caste system as cruel, backwards and uncivilized. As you can see, hostility towards British colonialism is not universal at all amongst Indians.
Rao’s book is a series of essays he wrote for Indian papers that he worked. Given the often-dazzling prose, it is amazing that he often banged these out in the hour or two before work at the office in the morning.
Although gourmets of fine writing like me can appreciate this book as merely an exercise in great writing, most non-Indians are likely to find this book alienating. The subject of most essays is situated in modern Indian society, with references to Indian politicians, actors, musicians, authors and Hindu Gods. If you don’t know these topics, you lack a frame of reference.
The subjects of a number of these essays are located specifically within modern-day Mysore and Karnataka. For these reasons, I feel that this book will be of most interest to Indians, especially Indian expats in the US and Britain, and in particular those from Southern India, especially those from Karnataka and Mysore.
On the other hand, anyone who appreciates metaphysical and philosophical wisdom and wonderful prose may also want to dip into this delightful book, as one savors and admires a glass of fine wine.
Rao, like many great writers, is not an easy writer at all. Hemingway he is not. Quite a few times, I found myself having to reread sentences to figure out what he was trying to say. Those who enjoy stimulating their minds with mental puzzles will appreciate the workout, others may just be frustrated and put the book down in exasperation. Depends how one likes one’s prose.
Run of the Mind is unfortunately available only as an e-book at the moment, but it is still an affordable $12. Rao’s work is as good as, and often better than, many authors crowding the shelves of our American chain bookstores. This author deserves to be bound, published and on a shelf. Interested publishers and agents may contact Rao via me through the email address on this blog.
The Run of the Mind e-book can be purchased here, at White Cottage Publishing, for the moment.
The best way to give you a feel for this book is to excerpt some wondrous tidbits from it, reprinted below:
- The more the ego is sought to be dressed with the robes of exclusivity, the more naked it stands.
- Why does wisdom elude us? Just when we have felt we are ascending, we slide. It is a tempting need of the soul to fly free of the body that has got habituated to harlotry. All of us are accustomed to hosting such transient nobility as our mind’s guest.
- It is he in whose mind nobility has found a permanent home that gets through the life’s examinations. Is it any wonder than that the number of candidates succeeding in this tedious examination is so few? The examination is undoubtedly tough, but it is an examination where we are allowed to be accompanied by the guide.
- Belief in the mortality of doctors is a sure way of gaining freedom from the fear of death. In this state of fearlessness, love of life sustains the will to transit into non-life.
- The rat race for power has wiped out the ideological distinctions of our political parties and reduced their leaders to one mangled mass of unidentifiable bodies without life, soul or character. … the need felt in secular circles (of intellectuals, not politicians) for propagating secularism has the similar potential to reduce India to a land of cultural zombies, uniform in their lack of distinctness.
- Mysteries appear most enchanting when not disrobed of the shroud of non-inquisitiveness. Probing quest of the senses and the mind divests phenomena of their element of mystery and parades them shamelessly as naked facts, insipid shreds of information and commonplace knowledge.
- Greed kicks reason out of its habitat.
- Mangoes don’t seem to smile any more. Or, do they? They pluck the fruits and incubate them. Why young mangoes, even children hasten to maturity prematurely these days. They are plucked from their childhood and subjected to treatments with a view on the yield.
- Absence of commercial activity means not only innocence and longer life, but also no knowledge or need for arithmetic. Where there is no arithmetic, there is no counting. No counting results in birthdays not being kept track of. Where there are no birthdays, there are no annual reminders of the wear and tear of life. The time one gains by merging with nature is both relative and absolute.
- Time, like light, exists as both wave and particles. We don’t feel that the person who borrowed money from us has done us justice in returning the amount in installments, whereas his timely repayment in one large chunk – just the way he borrowed it from us – gives us immense satisfaction.
- This is the difference between living in a city and living on the countryside. Time, broken into so many fractions over the day, and over a life span, does not mean the same when spent in a village in its undivided whole.
- LIFE, the eternal journey through space and time, also seems a race against them. Much of man’s inability to be elsewhere when he wants to be, and his sheer mortality, are both absolute limits that space and time place on his existence.
- Man, in turning the middleman in celestial transactions, has put a spoke in the water cycle’s wheel.
- Knowledge is the veil of the ignorant.
- The torch that the heart holds out to light memory lane is not bright enough to illuminate the path. It is like an arduous drive in insufficient light through an unpaved way on a moonless night.
- Sorrow has lost its intensity. The mind pathetically attempts to relive those intense moments. Like the woefully futile effort of the lover to maximise the benefit of coition; like the banal attempt of an incomplete soul to reap a higher quality of meditative yield.
- How we crave for solitude and when solitude is granted, we take liberties with ourselves! We drop our guard and shed all inhibitions. We become our true selves. When we are alone we have nobody before whom to guard our image.
- The heavy payload of sin is launched on to the space vehicle of solitude and with the power of our greed as the fuel, is dispatched on to another orbit, outside our mind. But, the guilt is all the time circling around us like the satellite propelled by the negative energy that we keep emitting all through our lives. Thievery is a very private act. Solitude is its only accomplice.
- Modern existence has left us with malnourished sorrow, a peculiar state characterised by a sense of latent incapacity for feeling. It is not happiness alone that we always feel is not enough; the shallowness of our experience of sorrow leaves us unfulfilled as well.
New Year resolves are marked by a pronounced denial of warranty. The dead weight of the discarded resolutions is lighter only than the guilt that their discarding induces. Drinks are gulped less in celebration of ushering in the New Year than in downing the guilt associated with the celebration of nothingness which, every preceding year, to most of us, would mean.