Those who have read Dalrymple's earlier books would find this book definitely edgy. Interestingly edgy. The book deals with nine distinct personalities each very different but each experiencing a situation - which has no basis for rational understanding or scientific analysis. Individuals depicting not just the major religions of India but also little known sects as well.
There is the Jain nun who ritually starves herself to death (albeit over a period of
two years)to a well digger who belongs to a very low caste and who will not even be touched by upper caste Hindu Brahmins, except for the period when he dons the masks of a god to dance Theyyam in Kerala.During this period he is revered by the same people who will ignore him for ten months of the year. We then see a Buddhist monk whose very religion preaches ahimsa (non violence) who felt he had no choice but to renounce his religion to fight the Chinese in Tibet, and a Bihari Muslim who has ended at a Sufi shrine in Pakistan.
Dalrymple himself calls these people crazy but crazy as not afflicted with a mental illness. Crazy as a people apart - people who are exceptions to the rule, who are rare in modern India as they seem to combine the wisdom of an ancient religion and philosophy and have adapted it to suit their present day needs and the needs of those around them.
The book explores nine different lives and lets the life of each individual speak to us - it shows us the variety of religious beliefs (which may be quite surprising for some readers) it also depicts how religion has not only survived in modern India but actually flourishes and far from depleted places of worship, temples, and mosques and religious festivals are very much part and parcel of the daily life of most Indians - much loved, and looked forward to. The book shows how modern India handles the secular and the religious not allowing one to completely annihilate the other and to live in balance.
Dalrymple has surpassed himself with Nine Lives. His other books are a tad historical and enthrall anyone who has a love for the East. This book enthralls you to the point that once this is over, you want to learn more. One point however, which seems slightly off key is that Christianity in any form(despite the sizeable number of Christians in India) is not touched upon - maybe Dalrymple has his reasons and one of these days a book may probably tell us why.