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Dalrymple, William, Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India (London: Bloomsbury, 2009).

Nine people. Nine Lives. Each taking a different religious path. This is a modern Indian Canterbury Tales.

A Buddhist monk takes up arms to resist the Chinese invasion of Tibet - then spends the rest of his life trying to atone for the violence by hand printing the best prayer flags in India. A Jain nun tests her powers of detachment as she watches her best friend ritually starve to death. A woman leaves her middle-class family in Calcutta, and her job in a jute factory, only to find unexpected love and fulfilment living as a Tantric skull feeder in a remote cremation ground. A prison warden from Kerala becomes, for two months of the year, a temple dancer and is worshipped as a deity; then, at the end of February each year, he returns to prison.

An illiterate goat herd from Rajasthan keeps alive an ancient 4,000-line sacred epic that he, virtually alone, still knows by heart. A devadasi - or temple prostitute - initially resists her own initiation into sex work, yet pushes both her daughters into a trade she now regards as a sacred calling.

Nine people, nine lives. Each one taking a different religious path, each one an unforgettable story. Exquisite and mesmerising, and told with an almost biblical simplicity, William Dalrymple's first travel book in over a decade explores how traditional forms of religious life in South Asia have been transformed in the region's rapid change. A distillation of twenty-five years of exploring India and writing about its religious traditions, Nine Lives is a modern Indian Canterbury Tales.


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Studies in Travel Writing (journal)
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