Book Review ~ Nothing is Blue
History and astronomy are always considered poles apart, but physist Biman Nath considers them as opposite sides of a coin. In his debut novel “Nothing is Blue” he has blended the two in a unique mixture, with the Nalanda University in its backdrop. Set in the ancient seat of learning, the novel deals with the travels of the famous Chinese traveler Xuanzang (Hiuen Tsang) in Nalanda and its surrounding area.
Set in the background of Nalanda the novel has the mysteries of Harry Potter. Vivid description of Nalanda with its long flights of stairs and dark corridors can well remind a Harry Potter reader of Hogarths. The tantric rituals practiced secretly by Kushala and his friends in Nalanda have something in common with the dark arts practiced in the hidden corners of Hogarths.
Nath’s novel also has the thrill of Dan Brown’s “Da Vinci Code”. The tantric Buddhist cults have remarkable similarity with that of Opus Dei described by Brown in his best selling novel.
Although a work of fiction Nath has uniquely blended his fictional characters of Ananda, Kushala, Ratnakar along with historic characters of Xuanzang, Shilabhadra and also with the legendary mythical characters of Khona and Mihir. It reminds one of Rushdie’s “Enchantress of Florence” where the author has uniquely blended the fictional character from far of land into the court of Akbar along with the real life character of the emperor and his nine jewels.
The story deals with Ananda, a young boy from a typical Bengali peasant family. A brilliant student Ananda joined Nalanda – the biggest seat of learning in ancient world. Although initially reluctant to send their son to a far off monastery, Ananda’s parents finally gave away under the pressure of Ananda’s local teacher.
Even it was not easy for Ananda to adjust to the monastic life of Nalanda. He soon found his room – mate Kushala, was part of a secret tantric cult and he himself got attracted to a widow in the nearby village, who came from his native land. But soon things started to change and under the guidance of Xuanzang Ananda flourished in academics.
Ananda also accompanied the Chinese scholar in far of travels in India, which took him to Tamralipti (Tamluk), Kamrup (Assam), Kanyakubja (Kanauj), Ujjayini (Ujjain) and many other far of places. Nath has taken great care in describe the travel itineraries in utmost details transporting the reader not only in space but also in time.
It is also a book on astronomy Ananda’s favourite subject. It deals with the mythical female astronomer Khona and her theory of moving stars and zodiac and the shifting of calendars, leading to festivals being celebrated on wrong days. Nath, himself an associate professor of astro – physics in Raman Research Institute, Bangalore has explained these complex astronomical problems with great simplicity.
A book of this nature has the capability of transporting the reader far beyond the limits of the book, this is where “Nothing is Blue” lacks. The references and bibliography are not at all up to the mark. The map describing Xuanzang travel is very small and lacks the details. The bibliography, which comes under acknowledgement, should have been listed numerically.
The glossary of places is very short and lack the details. The book describes the travels of Xuanzang and Ananda to Tamralipti and Raktamartika Vihar in Karnasubarna. According to Xuanzang travel accounts both these places are located close to each other. But recent archeological excavations have confirmed the existence of Raktamartika Vihar of Karnasubarna far from Tampralipti. The remains of Karnasubarna are located in the present day Murshidabad District, while Tamralipti lies in the costal regions of East Mednipur. Sadly Nath has missed out on this note.
Although the book mentions the travels of another Chinese traveler Faxian, who traveled in India a hundred years earlier than Xuanzang but sadly he has been left out from the glossary of persons.
In spite of all odds Nath’s novel has the capability of taking the reader in a virtual journey both in time and space. We sincerely hope that the second edition will come up with a detailed enlarged map, a better glossary of people and places and finally a bibliography in numerical order.
About the Author: Biman B. Nath is an Associate Professor of Astro Physics of the Raman Research Institute, Bangalore. A man of diverse interest Nath has several publications on popular science both in English & Bengali. He is a regular contributor to the prestigious Bengali magazine Desh. He has also contributed articles for The Hindu and The Telegraph. A talented artist and his sketches accompany many of his publications.
Title: Nothing is Blue
Author: Biman B. Nath
Publication: Harper Collins
Book Cover: Biman B. Nath’s Facebook Profile
Author’s Photo & Sketch by Author: http://www.nothingisblue.com/