Journey inwards
Reviewed by Ashok Kumar Yadav

Maya: A Novel
By Dr Ruby Gupta. 
Pilgrims Publishing.
Pages 272. Rs 350.

THIS book fictionalises an enigmatic belief that this world is nothing but an illusion in itself. Alluding to the main tenet of Hindu philosophy, Ruby Gupta has succeeded in wrapping the entire concept in a fascinating tenor. Even the title page is topical and signifies the delusion the book is all about.

Little doubt that the journey of the protagonist of the novel, Viren, who travels from India to the US and back to the newly formed state of Chhattisgarh, epitomises the voyage to the soul. His journey focuses on transcendental yoga and meditation as a panacea for all the ills of society.

Maya, the lead character, stirs the consciousness of the protagonist that unfolds the intricacies of many a riddle in the process, like author’s own firming up that there are no "aliens" and that an "intelligent life" exists only among human beings. She proclaims that enlightened gurus like Buddha, Mahaveer and Sai Baba tried to ameliorate the sufferings of the masses and cheered them up in their own style. She also subscribes to the view that people are unhappy since they tend to choose to be so.

The book instantly transports the reader to a mystical world when Viren heads straight for Khudia’s old fort that looks more like a "seated elephant". It is here that he actually begins his unconscious journey into the self—a quest to understand the existential angst. This is a larger connotation of the title that is thematic. The news of his uncle Brij Mohan Aggarwal’s death brings Viren to Raipur, the capital of Chhattisgarh. The forced sabbatical from his high-pressure job as a software developer in Sunnyvale California propels him to an expedition where his agonising past continues to confront him.

His mother had committed suicide as his lecherous father used to humiliate her, curse her, her being a dumb doll for forcing him to celibate. He wanted "a full-blooded woman, not someone like his mother". His mother sums up her poignant circumstances thus, writing poetry, "I am called the fairer sex and the better half but the reality is that I am the one who is raped, used and abused".

Viren hates his father. He recalls when he had sketched a beautiful picture of flowers while sitting in the lawn, expecting a word of appreciation from his father. But he is scolded for being a coward and not venturing out to play. When his father marries and takes Revathi, a voluptuous woman to her mother’s bedroom, Viren feels like "stabbing them both". What an emotional eruption!

In the backwaters of India, he finds himself juxtaposed between two different worlds. In the midst of this, Viren meets a beautiful but mysterious Maya who stays alone in a dilapidated fort in the "middle of nowhere". He falls for her like he had fallen earlier for Ritika and Laura, but Maya does not allow him to come that close. She teaches him different yogic kriyas to explore the passage to peace. She dwells about the creation of this universe and the role of human beings therein. Viren is wonder-struck whether Maya is real or a mere fantasy or a witch. She teaches him how to read other’s thoughts and converse even sitting miles away. In fact, he sees her messages on his laptop often. However, the enigma is further compounded when his friend, K.C. Mehta, arrives from the US looking for him and in his laptop finds the notebook all blank. The novel concludes with KC himself heading for the old mesmerising fort.

The author, initially a student of science who later switched to creative writing, has the knack to keep the narrative in tight grip and one does not stop but finishing the 272-page novel in one go. Her earlier works are Khushwant Singh: Reality and Myth and A Collection of Short Stories.