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Of 'Better Angels of Our Nature'


G.K. Arora

NEARER HEAVEN THAN EARTH: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF BOSHI SEN AND GERTRUDE EMERSON
By Girish N. Mehra
Rupa and Co., New Delhi, 2007, pp. 815, Rs. 995.00

VOLUME XXXI NUMBER 12 December 2007

The birds flying home in pairs Through the soft mountain air of dusk- In these things there is deep meaning, But when we are about to express it, We suddenly forget the words. —An ancient Chinese poem Extraordinary lives demand extraordinary books to describe them. This, then, is an extraordinary book by Girish Mehra to narrate the life story of two immensely gifted individuals whose lives traversed several continents, were defined by the most unusual turning points that formed a pattern of meaning as life went on, and were less about achievement and more about what could not be grasped by conventional standards of measurement.   It is not standard biography, though there are elements and structure of one, or a book of popular science to analyse and explain the work of a leading plant physiologist of India and a devotee of Vivekananda, nor an account of the doings of an intrepid American explorer, publicist, author and editor, and lover of thoughts, artifacts, and the poetry of human civilizations, but an exploration of their inner lives both before they met and after they came together to give their own unique stamp to the institution called marriage.   The author was a privileged observer for part of the time but had the good fortune to be accepted by the Sens as family and to be vouchsafed their innermost thoughts and feelings. He draws freely from the source material provided by Boshi and Gertrude but has his own insights into the marvellous rhythm of their lives that spread the aura of peace and harmony far and wide.   Boshi Sen, born in 1887 in a family that traced its lineage to five centuries of Sanskrit learning, was named Vashishwar, meaning a sage or a rishi, by his scholarly father who had great hopes of him. He showed early promise but the family fell on bad days when his father died when Boshi was only twelve. He struggled, scraped, went hungry but did not give up. In 1911, he graduated in science. But before he received his degree, he had undergone a life shaping experience. He was asked by Sister Nivedita, an Irish-English disciple of Vivekananda, to look after Sadananda, another disciple of Vivekananda, who was ailing but who had what it takes to realize true selfhood. It was spiritual training at its arduous best.   It was a major turning point in Boshi’s life. A demanding apprenticeship ...


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