Do Not Believe in God, Till You Experience Him by Mukul Kumar
The title of this book by Mukul Kumar made me pick up this book for reading. I had earlier read another book by the same author – Onsite Opportunity. I knew he writes primarily from his own experience. You get what he has seen or gone through. Of course, the story is presented as fiction, but if you are an avid reader, you can easily see that there is just a very transparent veneer of fiction. Every single thing in the story comes from author’s own experience. Having said that, I know most authors write from their own experience, where else would they get stories from. However, most authors would add different layers of their imagination and make it a unique story.
In this story, Mukul Kumar talks about his experience with a spiritual organization. And the organization that he places somewhere in Spain in the story but the location is not really relevant. He takes you through his own experience of falling for a newspaper advertisement during his student days. He assumes he is on a spiritual path while he was on a slavery path. And he lies, he begs, he borrows, he steals but he keeps paying this organization in the name of his spiritual journey. In the end, when it becomes too much to handle he quits. I guess it is after a few years of quitting, he pens down this book.
You can still see his fear of the organization as he never mentions the name of the organization, he never mentions the tortures he himself went through – he only mentions the ones he saw others going through. He never discloses the teachings except for a complete slavery to the owners of the cult.
The book begins well, there is a lot of drama – at first, it gives an impression of being a science fiction. Cut to next scene and you are in a family drama in rural Bihar where men can still have multiple wives without many issues. This part probably is the best-written part of the book. At some point, the author introduces himself as the child of the family that even bears his own name. This is where the book becomes juvenile. The daily rants of an average child growing in India aspiring to be an engineer to work in the software industry.
His daily diary style writing of his student days gets as boring as it can. Imagine reading the daily account of how much money was spent on what and which meal in the hostel has what to eat. This is the first place where I saw someone praising hostel food.
When the cult enters the protagonist’s life, I kept waiting for something extraordinary to happen. The narrative was lost between the bus rides in Delhi. The protagonist enters a college, passes out and then starts working all the while focussing on the Center – the word he uses for his cult. It is hilarious he even establishes a center in Bangalore and tries to recruit people just like he was recruited once in Delhi.
This could have been such a powerful story of how many cults operate in the world, had the author chosen to make it an insider story like the author of Dance of Durga did. It could have given the story of what makes people follow these cults and what they go through once they are in. In this book, the author wants to tell the story without sharing any insights.
Writing is very different in different parts of the book. It looks like multiple editors worked on the script. 3-4 parts of the story stand independently. They do not string together. Even the language is very different in each – incoherent. I did not relate to the title of the book after reading it. Is that what the author wanted us to take away? Was it just a title that a market research algorithm said would work the best? Is this a memoir or fiction? At no point, it feels like fiction as the element of imagination is totally missing.
I understand the author, Mukul Kumar, saw or experienced something that he felt is a story that needs to be told. However, it looks like he was not yet ready to pour his heart out. He left out the soul of the story that would have carried his message across.
Take your call.