The year 2018 marks the fortieth anniversary of the Beatles’ trip to Rishikesh, to stay at the ashram of their guru, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Along with John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr came a host of other celebrities, including pop stars Donovan and Mike Love (of the Beach Boys fame) and actor Mia Farrow.
Amongst them was Susan Shumsky, one of the Maharishi’s earliest disciples. In this memoir, she offers an honest and dynamic exposé about a phenomenal, influential spiritual master and the dysfunctional organization he founded. From her ringside view, she tells the story of what really happened at Rishikesh, encounters with many of the Maharishi’s famous disciples and her own personal journey from hippiedom to meditation under the tutelage of the man who introduced TM—Transcendental Meditation—to the West.
From one birthday to the next, thirteen-year-old Noor watches as her family comes apart. Her father, Mohammad Saidullah, a kabadiwala, loses his job pedalling his bicycle door-to-door to collect household discards; he is forced to join the ranks of those who scavenge in New Delhi’s landfills. Noor’s brother, Talib, works in a call centre; his aspirations for a better life are a constant source of friction. When Talib leaves the family after his father’s further downslide into poverty, and their mother, Ameena, follows him, Noor sees it as further evidence of her mother’s preference for the son over the daughter. Noor dreams of riding a bicycle but won’t allow herself to learn. Not until Noor falls for Ajith, a Dalit boy, is she forced from her place on the sidelines to enter into the fray of her own story.
‘At home, the stream of visitors remained steady. The crush of vehicles caused traffic jams on the road outside, and a traffic policeman had to be posted for the day. Pamphaa made a gesture of mock exhaustion. “So many people to make tea for. Who told you to become so famous?” The ex-Minister snorted. “All vultures. Came only when they heard of my death.” ’
Kuldeep Chandanth, ex-Minister of the Government of Sikkim, leading light of his community, and foul-mouthed, caste-obsessed, ageing patriarch, is in the final siege of his illustrious life.
His clanspeople are helping him in his lifelong efforts to uplift them by opposing his every suggestion, and his three children have refused the responsibility of carrying forward his life’s work. Pradeep, his eldest son—from his second wife—is a feckless engineer with the Department of Village Roads. Pradeep is determined to protect the honour of his department’s lady clerks from the attentions of his half- brother Yograj, a ladies’ man committed to his pleasures. Yogita, the ex-Minister’s only daughter, works in Delhi, and is eternally on the verge of returning to Sikkim to look after him. His servant Pemba is dedicated in his attempts to feel up Ai Doma, the momo-seller who lives next door. And just as the ex-Minister gives up hope from the living, the ghost of his third wife, Sumitra, dead for twenty years, returns to point an accusing finger at him.
Set in Gangtok, The Light of His Clan follows—over days of hail, rain, mist and sun—the ex-Minister as he navigates the treachery of those once close to him, schemes for and against his children, and battles the final stiffening of his bones.
Funny, compassionate, wise, and full of memorable characters, The Light of His Clan is a triumph.
Asian Absences is the contemplative and lyrical narrative of Wolfgang Büscher’s travels across India, Singapore, Nepal, Cambodia and Japan. While in India, he visits an opulent palace and a fever forces him to take refuge in an abandoned hospital for lepers. Later, he embarks on an industrial oil tanker sailing from Dubai to Singapore. On a stormy day, a rickety boat takes him from Thailand to Phnom Penh. In Kathmandu, he joins a group of shamans on their way to the annual sacrificial feast on a mountaintop. He then examines the ‘beautifully odd’ curiosities of Tokyo’s metropolis, before arriving at his final destination, the elusive and mythical city of Shangri-La.
Büscher vividly captures the conflicting emotional and intellectual responses of a stranger in distant lands, evoking both the exotic wonder and threatening otherness of unfamiliar cultures, that repeatedly challenge mythic assumptions about the East.
Asian Absences is a subtle and compelling investigation into the perils and rewards of leaving one’s comfort zone and journeying to unknown lands. By evading simple conclusions, Büscher impels the reader on a journey of enlightenment that is both troubling and beautiful.