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Hemis is an exploration of life and its various complexities

Life&More September 28, 2018
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Rajkumari Sharma Tankha

At first glance Hemis, Madhu Tandan’s latest novel, appears to be a simple story of marital discord. To escape the daily fights with his wife Swati, the protagonist Ajay, plans a trip to Ladakh, a trip that he feels would give him much breathing space and also some time to think through about his relationship. But a few pages into the book and you realise it is not as simple a love story as it seems. It is much more than the story of a couple facing midlife crisis.

Set for the most part in Ladakh, the story travels to the city only when Ajay thinks about his past life — his close friendship with his colleague Akanksha, his falling in love with Akanksha’s close friend Swati, his life after marriage and how a few innocuous comments led Swati to believe that he is cheating her with Akanksha, who happens to be her own childhood friend and the one who had introduced her to Ajay!

While Ajay is certain his faithfulness is beyond question, yet it has upended his relationship with Swati. With his marriage at risk, Ajay decides to go for a trek in Ladakh, only to be stranded, as the region experiences severe floods. Much against his wishes he is forced to seek shelter at a remote monastery, the Hemis Monastery. And it is at this place he understands the true meaning of love and the spirit of life. The author, through Ajay’s conversations with the monastery abbot (Rigzin) and another inmate (Anna), has touched upon various aspects of life.

But it is not just one story, there are a couple of more tales intertwined in the main one. Through the life of Rigzin, Tandan tells the story of many Tibetans who are forced to leave their country and take refuge in India, thanks to Chinese Army that enforces its rule upon the Tibet. Through the story of Anna, a research scholar, she talks about the burden one can have of a dead loved one. Anna has come searching for a lost manuscript on the “missing” years of Jesus Christ; a manuscript that would cause a great upheaval in the Church and among Christians, for it would prove that the years that Jesus went missing from Galilee were spent in India, learning from Hindu scholars. The book also throws open many questions regarding his crucification and resurrection.

The flood brings three altogether different people close, each of whose lives is marked by an absent “other”. While the abbot and Anna try to resolve the issue Ajay is facing in his life they also get vital insights into their own lives in the process.

Hemis is an exploration of life and its various complexities but nowhere does it get any preachy or boring. In fact, the author has thrown vital nuggets of deep knowledge while the abbot and Anna talk about different life situations viz

Nothing is insolvable, you just have to persist…
pain you could bear because it often had to do with body. But suffering was anchored in mind…
it occurred to him that no person or event had betrayed him, his own expectations had…
happiness can only be found within…

There are many sentences like these that makes the reader sit up, take notice and ponder. In fact, somewhere the book does connect with our individual lives and the dilemmas we face daily. But one doesn’t have to look outside to resolve one’s dilemmas, it says, “you have to connect with your heart to understand what the universe is trying to tell you”.

Written in lucid and simple English, the book is a treat for all book lovers, particularly those who are looking to understand the meaning of life and our connections with each other. But I didn’t like the way the book ended — Protagonist Ajay returns to monastery in the end; four weeks of living in the monastery makes him abandon his wife whom he professes to love! In fact, Ajay’s character is quite flawed, he has a strong emotional attachment with Akanksha but he is ‘floored’ by Swati and marries her and when Swati accuses him of having soft “feelings” for Akanksha he scoots off to Leh for trek where he finds Anna and decides to be with her!

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