Friday, February 3, 2012


"Kabira khada bazaar mein, liye lukati haath
Jo ghar bhaade aapno, challe hamare sath."

"Kabir stands in the market, staff in hand,
He who can burn his home, can come with me."

Kabir, Indian Mystic, 15th Century
So says the introduction to Sepia Leaves, Amandeep Sandhu's first book. Aman, of the effortless spirituality, who understands that it is in the seeking that one is truly alive. Aman, the wanderer, who teaches you detachment, and connection, in the same breath. Aman who is both a flowing in, and a flowing away.

Aman, whom you crossed paths with in a rather unexpected way. At the end of a long job interview where we strayed into many non-work-related topics, he insists that you have to stay in touch, even if you do not accept the job offer. You who understand such intensity, such spilling-over, went for the release of his first book, Sepia Leaves, a searing account of his childhood growing up with a schizophrenic mother.

You who re-discover this review you wrote for the book, a long while ago, and wonder yet again, at his resilience to plunge into life, again and again. To narrate more stories of those who have no voice. To let the world in with such deep kindness while learning to walk the long lonely path of the pilgrim. 

“We who need to constantly classify, know, "figure out" so that we can be secure in our grasp of the world, tend to dim certain dimensions of the people we meet so that we "understand" them better. Aman's strength is the ability to keep all the dimensions of his characters equally in the light, as people are originally meant to be seen, before we adjust our lens on them and dim the edges.

His relationship with his mother, who lived in a world where our understanding can never penetrate, is a very powerful lesson in going beyond our narrow definitions of love. You wonder how many of the "strong" relationships we see around us will survive such tests. At the end of all the detailed descriptions of her unpredictable and often violent behaviour, after all the fire Appu walks through, this is what stays in your mind when you close the book:

"I stroke her hair. She does not cry, nor do I. I stroke her hair out of habit as I have done for so long. She has always been my child, though I am her son."

Sympathy is the sentiment you expected to feel. But something bordering on envy is what you are left with."

Aman, who has just met you twice, but comes with a huge bag of Keenu oranges for you from Punjab, and remembers to meet you each time he passes through Bangalore. Aman who honours you by seeking your feedback on his writing, his ideas. Aman, to whom you can ask in agony how it is possible to ever find a balance between letting the world in, and the need to protect oneself, Aman who understands pain.

"How do you protect yourself? I don't know Asha. Do I protect myself? I do not even know that. But I do see myself layered like an onion, by the time I get to one point of exposure I realise there are other concealed points. To think about it my way, it sort of becomes a game where something is eternally elusive and all hunts yield results which don't quite nail the self."

Aman, who tells you that “the only thing that elevates us from our insignificance is our capacity to love.” Aman, whom you agree with, so much.

Thank you, Aman. And happy birthday. Because you were born, and because you live, and because you drew me into your world so warmly without waiting for permission, because you called me friend after meeting me just once, I return to the knowledge that "there's a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in", every time I forget.

An interview: 'Engaging With Life, Amandeep Singh Sandhu':

'Sepia leaves' is available on and

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