The Tribune - Spectrum

, March 10, 2002

A question of nirvana
R.P. Chaddah

Nine Days to Nirvana — A Novel by Sanjay Grover. Life Positive Publication, New Delhi. Pages 386. Rs 295.

SINCE time immemorial, the novel has concerned itself essentially with the depiction of the contemporary world and the analysis of character. Balzac and Flaubert developed a sophisticated analyses of man in society. George Eliot and Joseph Conrad presented subtle moral analysis. Now the technical range of the novel has been extended by the ‘stream of consciousness’ approach adopted by James Joyce, Virginia Woolf and others. Nine Days to Nirvana is an amalgam of all these techniques. Furthermore, it depends heavily on the contents of a diary which assumes the role of an important character and a companion for the female protagonist, Upasana, in the more than 200 pages of the novel. The diary is the warp and woof on which the story unfolds.

The novel is Grover’s first attempt at writing fiction. It took him almost a decade, and the effort shows, to give shape and form to his host of ideas about eastern wisdom, western logic and universal love. This highly loaded polemical treatise makes one think seriously about love, truth, meaning of life, soul, mind and also veils of illusion (which he tries to unveil) which make one short-sighted and prejudiced. Grover is a practicing opthalmologist and is thoroughly acquainted with the backdrop of his fictional exercise — Shimla, the road leading to Shimla through the place of his stay, Solan in Himachal Pradesh.


The novel has a single female protagonist whose present state of affairs — mother’s death in an accident, father’s departure for a foreign sojourn and a perforce stay of nine days at her uncle’s house at Shimla — gives the reader a peep into the mind of this young girl, who is mature beyond her years. All this leaves the field clear for her to do what she likes best:

"She preferred her own company and loved to read and write... and at times I just read myself."

Searching for something to do (she) during his uncle’s absence, she comes across a number of diaries which later change the course of her life. The diaries contain information about her unknown past, philosophy and wisdom of ancient sages and a commentary on their thoughts and ideas by present-day scholars and philosophers — Tagore, Camus, Gibran, Nietzsche, Osho, etc.

Upasana is deeply influenced by the abstract letters, diaries and one-sided discussions. The diaries reveal how certain persons plotted to get her mother involved in an extra-marital relationship, resulting in her birth and then go on to describe an exchange of babies at the hospital. Knowledge of all What this knowledge does to the heroine is what the novel is all about.

This novel sustains itself — on a single major character that of the heroine. The rest of the characters — the servant, the twins, her intellectual mentor and guide Vivek, her one-time lover who never ever appears in person, her uncle father — are all subsidiary. The landscape and splendour of Shimla juxtaposed with the changing moods of the heroine, provides a welcome relief from the otherwise serious, philosophical narrative.

Grover has been successful in clothing his intellectual-mystical-philosophical thoughts in a rich narrative style — Pithy one-liners abound:

"The disowned, I own, but my own I cannot own, nor disown."

"Ghazals are for those who guzzle. And Haiku for those who hike."

"Ignorance is the mother of god and fear the father."

"Life is a ticking time bomb whose fuse is lit from the moment of birth."

This book also contains the beginnings of Grover’s poetic exercises as also of the play The Nine Neins. He proposes to bring out these two books in near future.

A thought disturbs and here it is. It is said that Mahatma Buddha attained enlightenment after meditating under the Bodhi Tree for seven years and got nirvana or salvation much later. Are nine days in the camp-like atmosphere in the secluded house of Mr Anand enough to attain nirvana? The novel ends on the same note on which it began — pain, shock, despair, anxiety.