(Book Reviewed by Barun Roy for ‘The Himalayan Beacon’)
BOOK REVIEW: The Master Director
Author: Thomas K. Shor
Publisher: Harper Element, India
No. of Pages: 295
Price: Rs. 499
The Master Director, a book authored by Thomas K. Shor, a Boston based author and published by Harper Element, an imprint subsidiary of Harper Collins is a fascinating journey into the lives of both the author and Gurudev Karma Wangchuk, a Buddhist Spiritual Master based in a small village, near Darjeeling, India. The book was never planned, much as the author points out when he lands in India in the midst of chaos and shadowy settings of the Mumbai Airport. It was an outcome of the twists and turns of meeting unexpected people and ending up in unexpected and often unforgiving situations. Indeed, when the author finds himself at a small tea plantation in Sikkim having escaped the violent political agitation in Darjeeling Hills, he feels spiritually emboldened. Further, when an unknown individual invites him to his house and offers to seek an audience for him with a ‘Reincarnated Buddhist Monk’ a ‘Tulku’ highly venerated by both the Buddhist and Hindu populace, he feels blessed.
Thus it so happens that Gurudev Karma Wangchuk enters in his life, or as the author puts it, he enters into the grand stage of ‘The Master Director’, who seems to direct not just the mere lives of his followers but also the divine workings of the entire cosmos. Of course, as an educated, scientifically oriented Westerner, the author is bemused. He is bemused both at the numerous followers who seem to be ready to do anything for their ‘Master’ as well as the ‘Master’ himself who, by his own, often strange, mysterious and even childish ways hold sway over them. To the author, when the ‘Master’ readily invites him to accompany him to his home in Tukvar, a small village surrounded by Tea Gardens near Darjeeling, it is both an honour and a privilege but at the same time a potential distraction, which might ultimately end up diverting him from indulging in his philosophy of wandering aimlessly, tastefully and deftly, getting lost perhaps in the pristine surroundings of the Himalayas, so that the true self is revealed. But much as it would be, he finds himself often seemingly incapable of pulling himself apart from the ‘Master’. Thus begins a long and intimate relationship between the author and the ‘Master’.
The ‘Master’, it seems, is much like any great spiritual leader embodying the wisdom of the ancients, but at the same time he is also much like a child, a young boy, who is quick to act in a hilarious manner and joke and humour or even tease those around him. The author with extraordinary honesty details the time he spends with the ‘Master’, questioning the ‘Master’ on the issues of Philosophy, Spirituality, Divinity and even politics. It so seems the ‘Master’ is not just embroiled in Spirituality but his followers are very powerful, often corrupt politicians who rule over Darjeeling Hills with an iron fist. Issues steadily crop up after the author is told, much to his surprise, that the ‘Master’ is the ‘Master’ of many shady people who had unleashed violence, corruption and political impropriety in the small picturesque hills of Darjeeling. The author, convinced that a spiritual leader of any standing should not have any dealings with such shady character, confronts the ‘Master’ and even ends up antagonizing most of the youths which make the ‘Master’s’ entourage and are extremely devoted to him. But the ‘Master’ tells him that while he had the responsibility of tending to his flock, he had the added responsibility of tending to those who had strayed. Strangely, the ‘Master’ does not shrug or flinch when he points out that the most powerful and the most corrupt among his political followers had have strayed. He however, he also points out that because they had have strayed he had has to try to bring them back to the flock. They who had have strayed could cannot be abandoned much like any more than the children who stray cannot be abandoned by their parents.
The book unravels many interesting facts about Spirituality, Philosophy and Religion in vogue in the Eastern Himalayas. It also dwells delves into the interesting often violent political uprisings in the picturesque hills of Darjeeling. The author does seem to have stumbled on the beauty and tragedy of the very being of Darjeeling Hills. While it is beautiful and serene, it hides the dark underbelly of corruption, political instability and violence. However, in all this the hills also reflect a spiritual side to it and perhaps blessed by the Gods themselves, the people in the hills never seem to be much bothered by all the problems they face. They are still jolly, optimistic, given to merry making and treat life much like a blessing that it really is.
The book by no means seeks to blatantly glorify Gurudev Karma Wangchuk and though it is based greatly upon the author’s interaction with him, it is as critical of him as it is of the general sociological, political and economic factors that surrounds the Darjeeling Hills. The author has maintained a balanced approach and has succeeded in offering to his readers a rare insight into the spirituality and polity prevalent in the Eastern Himalayas.