Sunday, 14 December 2014
Book Review: Wisdom of the White Mountain by Kandathil Sebastian
A human being born at the bottom of the Indian caste ladder is almost certainly doomed for the rest of his or her life. So it seems to the case for Thomas, a fair-skinned dalit Christian boy whose real father is upper caste landlord Shivaraman Nair. Being a Christian is of little use since upper caste Christians shun him. His dark-skinned foster father hates him since it is obvious to everyone that he is not the real father. His biological father is ashamed of his existence and plots to wipe him off the face of the earth.
Those who succeed in life, those who become rich and famous, those who make a lot of money, are not necessarily those who have worked hard or are extremely intelligent. Providence or sheer luck, if you will, plays a big role. So it seems to be the case with Thomas, or Thoma as his fellow villagers call him. Escaping from the jaws of death, Thoma, along with his friend Balu, runs away from his native village and makes his way (inadvertently) to the big city (Kochi) where he falls in the lap of a gang of hit men, who like him and adopt him. Just as some people are lucky with games of chance, Thoma is lucky with adventure. From the gang of hit men, he ends up with a group of Islamic fundamentalists, who too decide to help him and use him for their own ends. Thoma sees a lot of violence and his journeys take him to Pakistan and Kashmir.
However, lady luck does not desert him. Towards the end of the novel, Thoma achieves material success, though his riches are on account of his becoming an ascetic. A pretty western woman is willing to satisfy him sexually, for her own ulterior motives. However, Thoma doesn’t care for wealth or comfort anymore.
Kandathil Sebastian’s novel Wisdom of the White Mountain, the second in his Mountain Trilogy, is not merely the story of Thoma and his escapades. Rather, it asks profound questions about the purpose behind human existence and examines the root cause of sorrow in the world. Sebastian’s first book, Dolmens in the Blue Mountain, was more about the severe damage caused to the western ghats by human intervention and exploitation.
Written in simple English, Wisdom of the White Mountain conveys to its readers the immateriality of wealth and riches and the importance of peace of mind, something Thoma looks for everywhere and achieves only towards the end.
Wisdom of the White Mountain runs to less than 200 pages and I finished it is a couple of two hour easy sittings.