Book Title: Another Sort of Freedom: A Memoir
Author: Gurcharan Das
Whether he writes a novel, a play, a newspaper column or a memoir, the core of Gurcharan Das’ work is the self and his own life experiences. From his earliest memories of Lyallpur in Pakistan, where he lived in a large joint family, to the trauma of Partition and the family’s move to India, leaving behind a prosperous life to start all over again, Das captures the outer world through a deep dive into his past and inner self. His parents — a mystic engineer father who was a devout acolyte of the Beas Radha Soami sect and his mother, a true-blue Punjabi survivor who wants success and thrusts her ambitions on Das — appear in both his fiction and his memoirs as very vivid characters.
Apart from his immediate family, Das appears most influenced by his stint in Harvard, where he was fortunate to hear and learn from some of the most famous philosophers who taught there in the Sixties and Seventies. Their profound influence and his introduction to the Vedic texts and Sanskrit, the language of the gods, made him a seeker of truth and meaning all his life. He flitted through many successful assignments, both here in India and abroad, but his restless soul was never really satisfied with mere material success. Despite reaching the top of a corporate career at a very young life, Das always sought more. Life is not just for living, he remembers his father saying to him, but for gathering experiences and learning from them to become a better human being.
Early in life, he discovered a taste for writing and whether he analyses the Indian economy and political trends or whether he writes of his own struggles with finding his true calling, Das falls back on the classic arc of life described by the sages as the four stages: dharma, arth, kaam and moksha. Those who have read his earlier ruminations on the difficulty of being good will see that he looks at life as ‘not this, not this’ (neti-neti), but something far beyond. This memoir thus describes another sort of freedom and one which he still seeks, something even beyond moksha. A lightness of being perhaps?
Interesting as this journey is and his admirable honesty in examining his own shortcomings and frailties, there are certain areas where the reader will sense that Das does not like to probe those wounds that bind him in chains of guilt and regret. So while it is possible for him to see where his near ones, friends and colleagues fall short of his expectations, there are curtains drawn about certain relationships mentioned as important but never analysed fully. One can understand that no writer can expose others to the world outside, yet this leaves one puzzled how this confessional can hide the writer from his own self. Written fluidly and engagingly throughout, this memoir can be read slowly or in one gulp and then again for more.