The Book Carnival


“So my mind touches the lotus feet of Ranga’s Lord, Delights in his fine calves, clings, To his twin thighs and, slowly, Rising reaches, The navel.

It stops for a while on his chest, Then after climbing His broad shoulders Drinks the nectar of his lovely face [Tamil Poem, Chapter 7 of Nine Lives]

There are writers who write and then there are writers who bring their writing to life, drawing their readers from the confined pages of their book to a real life experience on stage. The characters of their story carrying their legendary messages may awaken you to a world never imagined. For this they enrol artists and writers. The book suddenly is no longer a book but a travelling carnival. This approach to books can only be related to the musical practices that were once prevalent in India centuries ago. Age old religious practices where poetry, scriptures and sacred texts were celebrated through the attractive medium of poetry, music and dance extending the life of a text beyond the text itself.

William Dalrymple and Paban Das Baul. Photograph by Andrew Caitlin

William Dalrymple the author of Nine Lives plans to do exactly that and more at the Sydney Opera House during the Sydney Writers Festival on 19th May. The production curated and narrated by William shall consist of the music of the Bauls of Bengal performed by a musician who is well known in the world music genre, Paban Das Baul. Known for his entrancing renditions which are based on beliefs that draw on Vaishnavite Hindu and Sufi Muslim thought; Mimlu Sen writer, singer and musician shall join Paban Das Baul.

Hari Das a practitioner of the Theyyam Dance from the northern parts of Kerala shall invoke an incarnation and transform himself into a GOD like trance. An almost hypnotic practice. Fakirs from Bhit Shah perform their poetry; Susheela Raman, once a sydney resident, now in UK shall bring a touch of modernity to mysticism by singing verses from the 15th century “Thevaram” old Tamil poetry,  giving it a unique modern touch accompanied by UK musician and guitarist Samuel Mills.

Susheela Raman brings the Thevaram Chantings and its Music

William Dalrymple chatted with Sydhwaney from Delhi where he is presently residing.

“It has been a great deal of fun. All of us have become great friends. The artists are highly talented and I love to listen to them during my readings. We have performed in Britain and South Asia in front of large audiences We plan to bring it to Sydney and then later during the year shall be touring the US” he said excitedly in his very British accent. “The person from the book, whose life has been touched most dramatically is the Theyyam dancer Haridas, who accompanies us to Sydney to perform at the Opera House” he says. “But his feet are firmly planted on the ground”. The Fakirs from Bhit Shah perform the poetry of Shah Abdul Latif kept alive by their recitations every night for the last 275 years.

William Dalrymple was born in Scotland but has spent the better part of the last twenty five years or so in India.  Well known and highly acclaimed for his previous bestsellers such as In Xanadu,  City of Djinns which won the Thomas Cook Travel Book Award, the Sunday Times Young British Writer of the Year has been quietly penning away the chronicles of his meeting with nine people, their life, culture, beliefs, faith and religious practices in his recently published book The Nine Lives.

After the success of White Mughals which won the Wolfson Prize for History 2003 and the Scottish Book of the Year Award; The Last Mughal longlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize which won the Crossword Indian Book of the Year Prize and the Duff Cooper Memorial Prize, Nine Lives has been a throw away success all the more for the uniqueness of his subjects and his unique approach to bringing his book to life.

“I have worked towards telling the story of the nine characters through their language, beliefs and life experiences, almost like reflecting it through a transparent glass. That has been deliberate. I personally neither subscribe to nor preach these religious practices but simply choose to state it as it is”.

Nine Lives is the compilation of stories of nine people whom William Dalrymple met in his travels in India and Pakistan since it was first conceived 16 years ago. William Dalrymple presents the life of  a Buddist Monk, a Jain Nun, Mohan the Epic Singer,  Rani the Devadasi,  Hari Das the Theyyam dancer, Lal Peri the Fakir, Srikanda the Idol maker, Manisha the tantric and Paban Baul the Baul singer. The effect of modern India and globalisation on their lives and the challenges they face today steadfast in their beliefs. Paban Das Baul and Haridas and the Fakirs from Bhit Shah are some of the characters from the book amongst other artists like Susheela Raman, Sam Mills and Mimlu Sen who will accompany William Dalrymple in the Show. Nine Lives is not to be missed.


Event 81
William Dalrymple Speaks to Sally Warhaft
21/05/2010 81 10:00 11:00 Ticketed Sydney Theatre
William Dalrymple talks about ‘Nine Lives’ & the contradictions of modern India.


In an interesting interview with Mimlu Sen, writer, musician, singer and dancer from Bengal Mimlu Sen explores the ways of the Baul singers in her book Baulsphere, published under the title of Honey Gatherers in the UK. She says she loves the music of the Bauls their poetry, philosophies and their way of life. The Bauls are not connected to any temple or church. Their verses are not dissimilar to the Sufi Dohas however are unrepetitive beautiful and descriptive. The Bauls practice is a very oral culture which uses rhetorical language and metaphorical references.

In describing the poetry of the Bauls of Bengal,  Mimlu Sen told Sydhwaney that the Bauls believe that the story of love and knowledge rests not in a temple or a church but in the body. Metaphors then relate the body to a Pot of Clay or compare it to a Boat with the Guru as its helmsman, the river as life.  Life is compared at time to a forest, the body with that of an elephant, the Guru the mahoot. The philosophy of the Bauls of Bengal is linked to the almost acrobatic Hatha Yoga.  The tradition of the Bauls was very creative. They took these philosophies and weaved it into languages and dialects inventing their music from one region to another spreading spirituality which they strongly believed was not just to be practised within a sphere of a temple institution or a Church.

Mimlu Sen and Paban Das Baul shall perform at the following events:

Event 186
The Honey Gatherers: Mimlu Sen & Paban Das Baul
22/05/2010 186 16:30 17:30 Free Heritage Pier Upstairs
Mimlu Sen & Paban Das Baul unlock the mystery of the Baul way of life.

Event SR30
The Honey Gatherers: Mimlu Sen & Paban Das Baul
22/05/2010 30 11:00 12:00 Free Riverside Theatre, Parramatta
Mimlu Sen & Paban Das Baul unlock the mystery of the Baul way of life.