of dis­as­ter

The Herald - Arts - - Books -

monastery a long time ago but is suc­cumb­ing to the bot­tle again just as the prom­ise of per­sonal sal­va­tion is within view.

The tri­an­gu­lar dy­nam­ics be­tween th­ese char­ac­ters are out­lined from their dif­fer­ent perspectives, with a sin­gle episode of­ten get­ting three takes. This is al­ways in­trigu­ing, never pre­dictable, as De­lahunt suc­ceeds in mak­ing each voice dis­tinc­tive. But for all its care­ful con­struc­tion, this is less a plot­ted story than a novel of in­sight and ideas, per­cep­tion and phi­los­o­phy. Rarely have the prac­tice and pit­falls of med­i­ta­tion been de­scribed so ab­sorbingly, ei­ther.

Vis­ual ob­ser­va­tions of In­dia abound, some­times up­lift­ing, of­ten dis­turb­ing. A cliched sub­ject is of­ten trans­formed un­der her gaze: “At an in­ter­sec­tion a beg­gar child left an im­print of his hand on the taxi win­dow. The palm print was like an X-ray of long­ing.” At the same time, The Red Book ques­tions where the We s t ’ s d r iv e to “un­der­stand” In­dia be­comes some­thing closer to voyeurism, and where West­ern guilt per­haps ceases to be gen­uine. “All emo­tions are colour-coded,” Fran­coise says. “My mother’s house was filled with the beige emo­tion. Don’t ex­pect too much and you won’t be too dis­ap­pointed.” It would take an ex­traor­di­nar­ily ex­act­ing reader to be dis­ap­pointed by this red book.

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