The Romance of Alexander is attributed to Callisthenes of Olynthus, who was the court poet of Alexander the Great and had accompanied Alexander to his expedition to India. German writer Peter Pannke says: ‘After the Bible, it was one of the most-read books in the Middle Ages, circulating in more than 80 versions all over Europe.’ He also argues that it was inspired by Kathasuritsagar. Beyond the veracity of this statement, what remains a fact is India, since then, has been a constant source of curiosity for Europeans. India is a myth, a reality and a fantasy for many. It is difficult to capture the spirit, history and imagination of India between the two covers of any book.
Now, for the first time, Come Carpentier de Gourdon’s Memories of a Hundred and One Moons reveals that impossible exploration of India in its length and breadth. Unlike, social scientists, who would pursue material evidences to write a word about this country that strongly believes in the tradition of smriti (memory) and shruti (oral transmission), Come had the rare chance of tapping in different resources including textual references to make his memoire a true treasure house of India as it’s imagined by its own people and foreigners. This travel book emerges out of the fond memory of the writer. In his own words, this travelogue is ‘about lndia as it appeared to me in the 1970s and 80s but also about India as it might have been at various periods as far back as traditions and scriptures allow us to peer into the deep ocean of its past.’
From Vedas to Arthasastra, from Indira Gandhi to Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, from Shiva to Sheikh Nizamuddin, from Sankaracharya of Kanchi to the Shaivism of Kashmir, from I K Gujral to H H Dalailama, everyone and everything seems to appear in this assiduously written book, deeply embedded in the historical context of India, and of the world. Their entry in this ocean of memories is not in the way we imagine them in public domain, they come as persons made of blood and flesh, as events or first-hand experience. This is the genius of Come, he doesn't do name droppings, he draws the invisible architecture of India as we see it today, with contextual mention of its architects and builders. He talks of Indian spiritual tradition not in awe but in its mantra (energy), yantra (vehicle) and tantra (roadmap). Spread over 15 chapters, Memories of a Hundred and One Moons takes you to every nook and corner of the country. It takes to us to the treasury of ancient knowledge and wisdom, and it takes us to the palaces of our kings and shrines of our great saints. It talks of India at the juncture of geopolitics from ancient times to the present day.
Lokesh Chandra, the present Chairman of Indian Council Cultural Relations very aptly writes in his foreword to the book, ‘Crossing Central Asian lands, the multi-cultural Gandhara, a fleeting passage through Pakistan glancing at Greek historians, watching Taxila in ruins father and son come to the cradle of the Vedas. This recount overflows with landmarks and ideas connecting centuries.’
In the preamble of the book, the author states that his father was a philosopher and an orientalist and undertook this Expedition Dhannan. Come Carpentier de Gourdon was born in the Canary Islands (Spain) educated in the US, Europe and India. He has been involved in many forums and establishments that are shaping our world today and also authored From Indio to Infinity. The reviewer wondered to call him perhaps a rare breed of truly ‘global’ in terms of his training, life and experience in our globalised world, until he found a better introduction of the author from Lokesh Chandra’s foreword, ‘The circumflex accent in Come indicates the dropping of the ‘s’ of Cosmos or the Greek kosmos, which means ‘order, world, universe’, as well as ‘ornament, decorate’ whence comes the word ‘cosmetic’. His mindscape is superb display of the universal, cross-cultural cosmetics.’ Let's delve ourselves into the ocean of memories to experience the cosmic galleries.
The author is a Delhi-based writer and recently published
Sufism: Its Spirit & Essence.