Author Ashvin Desai beats cancer with book on mysteries of life

By Madhusree Chatterjee, IANS

New Delhi : Seventy-five-year old Ashvin Desai, father of Booker prize winning author Kiran Desai, released here Sunday his debut book “Between Eternities: Ideas On Life and Cosmos”, a slim non-fiction volume on the cosmic riddles that have been puzzling humans for centuries.

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The author, who was diagnosed with cancer barely three months ago, says the book is a way of overcoming the pain of his disease. It has been cooking in his mind for the last 15 years.

“A bubbling stream once reached the desert, and found that it could not cross it. The water was disappearing into the fine sand. The stream said, my destiny is to cross the desert, but I see no way. The voice of the desert says the wind crosses the desert and so can you.

“Allow yourself to be absorbed in the wind, said the sands of the desert. The stream protested that it would lose its individuality. You cannot remain in any case the same stream that you are today. So the stream crossed the desert by raising itself into the arms of the wind,” writes Desai in his new book.

Just out of therapy after spending a month in the intensive care unit of a hospital, Desai has given himself up to the natural flow of life to be borne aloft like the desert stream. “I am on chemo but I feel fit as a fiddle, probably up to a drink. But my doctors would not let me,” the mischievous writer with a ready wit and “typical corporate manners” told IANS here.

“Just after I finished editing the last chapter of my book three months ago, the first signs of cancer appeared,” Desai said.

Desai has another book lined up with his publishers Penguin, but “there is no way I am going to tell you about it,” he laughed. Desai raises several disturbing posers in his book, questions that probably haunt him. “The biggest problem,” he says with a laugh is “whether there is a god or not. Is there a universe at all?”

Answering himself, the author muses: “If there had been no man there would have been no god at all. It is through man’s involvement that the universe becomes conscious of itself.” It is principally the human being that then brings the universe into existence and the creator into possibility.

Ashvin, a physics honours graduate, spent several years in Britain before returning to India to work in “corporate management”. “I have dabbled in almost everything from finance, marketing and management in companies like Burma Shell,” says Desai. It was only after returning to India that the author, an avid music lover and voracious reader, was seized with a “sudden surge of creativity” and decided to pen a book on his philosophy of life.

“It was almost 15 years ago. I was sitting on the terrace of my home at Hauz Khas late in the evening, looking at the stars. And I told myself your life is nearly over and you haven’t made any worthwhile attempt to find out what is going on, let alone do anything about your soul. Is there a god, is there a soul? What about the universe, how did it arise?” Desai said. He started investigating Sufism, Upanishads, metaphysics, music and cold logic. It culminated in the book.

The author, who is still searching for the answers, is a man of radical ideas. “How can there be one super cosmic force when the two basic theories on which the superstructure rests, Einstein’s theory of relativity and quantum mechanics are at variance with each other?” the writer replies when asked if he believes in one power that governs all.

Non-fiction as a genre appeals to Desai senior unlike daughter Kiran who made her mark with fictional masterpiece “The Inheritance” which won the Booker prize. “It feels great to see my father out of the hospital, reading excerpts from his own book. Till a month ago, he was in the hospital. But in spite of his ill-health, he would ask me if I had seen the cover of his book,” Kiran told IANS.