'It is not death that is at the misery it is birth'
Siddharth Gautam, prince of Kapilavastu and heir to the throne, has e very thing. Yet he is dissatisfied. The fundamental problem of suffering, dukkha, bothers him. He leaves home, renouncing crown and family, and becomes a wandering seeker. Siddharth finds gurus to guide him, practices extreme asceticism – at one point nearly starving himself to death – and then rejects everything, for the knowledge he seeks constantly eludes him. He then meditates, and one epiphanic night, enlightenment comes to him, the startling insight into the human condition which makes him the Buddha.
The Dhamma Man explores, sensitively and with great objectivity, Buddha as man – as son, husband and father. And even as Sarang tries to understand the effect Siddharth’s renunciation of the world had on his family he celebrates Buddha, who not only launched a religion but has continued relevance today, more than two millennia after his death.
Richly imagined and refreshingly original The Dhamma Man is a whole new way to read the story of Buddha.
Vilas Sarang was born in Karwar and educated in Mumbai and at Indian University. He has taught English literature in various countries and was head of the English department in Mumbai University for several years. His short stories have been collected in Women in Cages and his novel Tandoor Cinders was published in 2008. He has also published two collections of poetry: A Kind of Silence and Another Life.
Books about Buddha are plentiful. Most of them are scholarly to varying degrees; some indifferent, some excellent. Among the excellent ones, I would count Hans Wolfgang Schumann’s The Historical Buddha. Even with the excellent ones, I experience a vague dissatisfaction. Not that the books fall short in some way; the convention of the scholarly book reins in the author. At a moment of intensity or drama—especially of implicit drama-the scholarly writer is hemmed in by a sense of propriety. It is at such a moment that the sensitive reader wishes that the narrative had been handed over to a novelist. There are quite a few moments in the life story of Buddha where one strongly feels so. But among the books on Buddha, novels are few; you can count them on the fingers of one hand.
I realized that writing a biographical novel is a delicate job. The objective and the subjective have to be blended with care and skill. For instance, I ventured into the first person as long as the protagonist was ‘Siddharth’; but, once he became the enlightened Buddha, it was obvious that it would be foolhardy to enter into the mind of a person which functions wholly on the supra-normal level.
But the novel form has some elbow room. I have depicted Siddharth’s formative years as a type of Bildungsroman, which it is; but a strict historian would consider it none of his business.
Also, particularly in the later part of the novel, I have liberally indulged in interpretation and at times criticism; the historian would confine himself to historical facts. This kind of expression—a legitimate task of the novelist-gives the story a well—rounded form.
Needless to say, my attitude towards Buddha is that of deep affection, fascination, admiration and amazement; but, not being a Buddhist, I stop short of thoughtless devotion. I believe Buddha himself would have liked such a ‘thinking’ admirer.
I have made some linguistic changes in a book of this kind, which I think were long overdue. Books in English have so far been written by Western scholars, and they have naturally tended to follow Western conventions, especially where spelling and pronunciation are concerned. A stellar example is the word ‘Buddha’, Western scholars always writes it (the Buddha’ (as if he were a thing!). Initially I was loyal to this convention. But then my mind rebelled. Why should we write ‘the Buddha’ instead of simply ‘Buddha’? ‘Christ’ is almost always referred to without ‘the’.
Look around. The definite article does not exist in Hindi, Gujarati, Marathi, Bengali and quite a few other languages. We are quite happy to point to just ‘Buddha’ .We may do the same in Indian English. More amazing is the case of ‘Siddhartha’. Indian writers, even today, write of ‘Siddhartha°. The name is common in India even today. It is written as ‘Siddharth’. Why should we continue with the colonial practice?
Numerous other names have been revised; ‘Shuddodana’ becomes ‘Shuddodan’, 'Asita’ becomes ‘Asit’; ‘Bimbisara’ becomes ‘Bimbisar’; ‘Mara’ becomes ‘Maar’; “Kosala’ becomes “Kosal’, “Rahula’ becomes ‘Rahul’, I hope this practice will continue.
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