Julia wakes up one day to find that her father, a renowned Wall-Street lawyer, has disappeared. Just like that. Rigorous detective traces lead her father’s journey until Bangkok, and then there’s nothing. After a few years of grappling with this mystery, Julia comes across an old unsent letter that her father had penned to a woman in Kalaw, Burma, before marrying her mother. Hanging onto the few details of the letter, Julia finds herself in Kalaw, eager to find answers. In the little mountain-village of Kalaw, she learns about her father’s deepest secrets. Her father’s story awes and comforts her, helping her make peace and gain some insight into the Eastern philosophies of life.
It is the notion of most spiritualists that the intellect is far more superior to the senses. Debates rage in the scientific and spiritual community over which is better. The most common answer is – both. One leads and informs the other. The intellect cannot develop without the senses, and the senses are empty without a processor. Although the bulk of the book is about a poignant, tender, idealistic romance, the aspect that elevated the book was the portrayal of the development of some of our basic senses to reach deep within one’s heart and soul. A nuanced sensory skill does enhance the intellect or one’s intuition – provided, the body and mind are in-sync. This insight gives one the clarity to understand the world, and everything and everybody on it, a little better.
The story infuses basic Buddhist principles, most of which are widely accepted by most schools of thought. Seeing is not always believing. It is true that our senses, especially the sense of sight, often muddles our deeper visions. The superficial is more visible than the valuable truths that lie coiled inside layers of the superficial. It takes a special kind of training to tune the senses, to collaborate with all the other senses, to sensitize our probes, to penetrate through all the layers and uncover the essence of everything. Julia’s father learns to see right through to the essence. He uses his senses in the most optimal manner to enlighten his mind and travel to a different place. He shows that the art of intuitive perception can be honed with our army of limited senses.
But this book is not overtly philosophical. The book’s essence is a beautiful love story. It speaks of a mystical, magical, transcendent love that doesn’t drain or inflict misery, despite any number of pangs and pains. It speaks of a completely unconditional love that only uplifts and multiplies true happiness. Is it possible for such unearthly love to exist between two people? Is it possible that the love that we dig deep within ourselves to enlighten and brighten our inner-selves, can be found through another individual? Could another individual truly complete us – down to our core? The tale says, yes. Once you perceive the essence of love – the true warmth and happiness that it provides, you don’t need to be bound to your rudimentary senses to remain happy. The happiness that you gain is permanent within you, radiating you with energy and good-will. It is a love without strings attached, but with another kind of deeper, soulful attachment that doesn’t depend on the senses to be activated. Although it is hard to achieve such a state in our worldly relationships, the story brought back my tucked-away idealism to the fore. And I reveled in it, at least briefly.
The writing is simple and beautiful. It effortlessly streams with lucidity and insight. It gracefully paints the story and the settings. And the characters are surely memorable. But (there had to be a but), there are questions that are left unanswered, and the questions are significant enough to nag the reader. Why did Julia’s father decide to get married to her mother, is one such a question. Why did he not return to Burma earlier, if he had the clarity and courage to differentiate between social mores and the ways of Nature? Some things don’t add up, especially since the story is set in so much idealism. It taints Julia’s father in a shroud of tarnished uncertainty and cowardice, taking away some of the beauty of the story.
Despite the nagging questions, I really liked the book. I really thought this would receive my highest rating, but a few things didn’t align themselves in the end.