Wednesday, September 14, 2005
My bibliophilic friends have for long derided me for having escaped this Hermann Hesse book. Siddhartha, is a learned Brahman’s son—intelligent and handsome, who musters up the wisdom to relinquish all and become a samana, a wandering ascetic along with his bosom pal, Govinda. They meet the Buddha one day—Govinda decided to join His flock,and Siddhartha mopes, having realized the futility of his ideals.
He returns to the material world—embraces the pragmatism of a businessman who teaches him profits and accounts, and the pleasure of a courtesan. Midway through this unfamiliar life, he disgustedly discards a mindless hedonism and resiles to pursue a ferryman’s trade, hoping to learn from the river. His son, through the courtesan returns as does his old friend Govinda. They let the son go at the ferryman’s behest to charter his own path and the Wise One remains, by the river, ruminating, observing, learning, seeking.
Hesse intends to reduce the precepts of what his protagonist refutes, jettisons, absorbs and internalizes to a minimalist quantum of comprehensible material, stripping away the pointless layers of mysticism and intrigue. In that, he succeeds. The messages of one having to seek out his own truth from within, and that Wisdom cannot be passed on to another are expressed with lucidity and clarity.
Sadly, the central theme of the book is reflected in the directed but shallow journey through the discursive events of Siddhartha’s life. While his angst and confusion are visible, his passage from one stage to another manifest; the protagonist’s floundering search for meaning and understanding envelops Hesse too, and his writing never really lifts itself beyond a cursory walking on the waters of the Self and Truth.
He touches many aspects and settles on none. Even his depiction of Siddhartha’s quest and turmoil is strained and constricted and he is more comfortable deploring the foibles of human life and conditions rather than demonstrating it for the reader. An over-simplification, then with the imminent likelihood of the literary tourist avidly singing laudatory paeans to the delights of Simla, while the glorious distant Himalayas stand aloof and smile in the snow.
A 7 on 10 !