The Sublime Homecoming, by Mukesh Eswaran.

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Summary: The life of Michael Pearson, an American scientist, falls apart when his wife accidentally dies. His search for a way to deal with his grief, which takes him to India and back, leads him to spirituality. Since he firmly accepts Darwin's theory of evolution, he is skeptical of the validity of the claims of spirituality. But Socratic dialogues with an enigmatic man in India and his subsequent life-experiences compel him to gradually rethink his position. This novel traces Michael's arduous odyssey to self-discovery in a secular life, ending in a crisis that decidedly resolves his doubts about the compatibility of spirituality and evolution.

The Sublime Homecoming serves people who would like the teaching of nonduality delivered as a linear, well-manicured novel, in the tradition of Hesse's Siddhartha, Somerset Maugham's The Razor's Edge, and Robert M. Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

Read Chapter 1:

The Sublime Homecoming

A Novel by Mukesh Eswaran


Years later, Michael would look back on this day as one of the most momentous in his life. For on this day the beginning that would lead to a radical shift in the inclination of his thoughts made its quiet entry. He soon would start questioning, for the first time, the most basic premises of his life. Never again would he view either himself or the world in quite the same way. But today, he had little idea of this.

When he awoke, the slanting rays of the sun were streaming in through the window. He sat upright, rubbed his eyes, and then slid along his berth to peer out. The train was passing farm fields lined with coconut trees and the occasional date palm. A few farmers were already in their fields, getting a head start on the day’s tasks. There was no visible growth in the fields, which made Michael wonder if the farmers were there on this limpid December morning to sow seeds for the winter crop often grown in this part of the world. In the backdrop a range of luminous hills sat in lofty detachment, like gods indifferently witnessing the trials of toiling humans.

As the train from Madras meandered on its approach from the east, the hills and the fields receded and the window framed a distant view of the suburban outskirts of the twin cities. The countryside gradually gave way to clusters of houses, with their rooftops glistening in orange light. Michael’s destination was approaching. A tenuous hope stirred in him, easing his mind a bit.

His knees and legs were stiff. His berth was not long enough and so he had slept curled up all night. Most of the passengers in his compartment were still asleep. He tried to stretch his legs by walking briskly—as briskly as was possible in a fairly full compartment that was rhythmically rocking as the train moved along the track. His clumsy attempt put a smile on the sleepy face of a child watching him.

He finally gave up on the exercise and sat down. On the floor beside his neighbor’s berth lay a basket containing food, fruit, and a bottle of water. On top of these was a magazine with its pages fluttering. Its glossy cover displayed a picture of a hill station nestled in snow-covered mountains. The gentle rhythm of the train soon dimmed Michael’s awareness of the immediate surroundings and drew his thoughts to an often-replayed conversation.

“I think I could teach even you how to ski, Michael. Are you absolutely sure you can’t come with me?” Jenny said. Michael had just loaded his wife’s suitcase into the trunk of the taxicab.

“We’ve been over this,” he said. “You know I can’t leave now. I’m already late.”

“There’s enough food in the fridge for a week. You needn’t cook at all if you don’t want to.”

“I’ll be so busy that I likely won’t have time for anything other than work.”

“You mean you won’t be pining for me?” Jenny said with mock coyness.

Michael smiled. “Have a great time, Jenny. Call me from LaGuardia after you’ve checked in.” He kissed her goodbye. Jenny waved to him as the cab pulled away. She turned around in her seat, her brown hair fluttering across her face, and blew him a kiss through the rear windshield.

The train screeched to a halt at Secunderabad station and Michael instinctively pressed his feet against the floor to avoid slipping off his berth. His eyes fell again on the magazine’s picture of the mountains with snow-covered slopes, and he became conscious of an intimate ache waiting to welcome him.

This was his stop. He stood up and reached for his luggage. Some of the passengers peered through the windows to see which station it was; others, ready with their luggage, quickly made their way to the nearest exit. Since the train was scheduled to stop at this station for only a few minutes, boarding passengers were as anxious to get on as those disembarking were to get off. The logjam irritated Michael. Wouldn’t it make more sense, he thought, to let those disembarking get off first? He sat down again.

It wasn’t long before the stationmaster blew his whistle and waved his green flag. The train lurched and started to gather speed. Michael grabbed his suitcase and rushed to the door. He squeezed past those struggling at the doorway and fell with his luggage onto the platform. He lay there for a moment, sprawled on the ground, watching the train pull away from the station. He looked up and saw a sea of brown faces. What was he doing in this strange place? Taking a deep breath, he got up, brushed himself off and sought his way to the exit.

As he walked along the station’s platform he invited persistent stares. He was still too new to the country to have become inured to such overt stares. Perhaps, he thought, it was because of his fair skin, auburn hair, and blue eyes. But it surprised him that, though the British had left India only in 1947, foreigners were still viewed with such curiosity in 1963.

When he neared the exit, a man using his hands to propel himself along the railway platform approached Michael. The man had no lower limbs; only short stumps in their place. He used his hands for legs and swung his body to move forward. On his hands were leather contraptions that served as shoes for his palms. The digits of most of his fingers were missing—the man was a leper. There were hideous lesions below his eyes, and his lower eyelids could not close. The wasting flesh of his cheeks gave off a stench that made Michael’s stomach heave.

The leper slowly released his right hand from its leather contraption and pointed it at Michael. Peering through their sockets in his paralyzed face, his eyes held Michael’s for a few seconds. Michael backed away. Brushing past coolies and solicitous hawkers, he thrust his ticket into the hands of the ticket collector at the exit and staggered out of the railway station.

As soon as he stepped out onto the street, he was accosted by a horde of tonga drivers, all hoping to take him to his destination.

Tonga to the ashram, sir?” asked a young driver in English. Michael, still shaken after his encounter with the leper, nodded vigorously. With a broad smile the boy led his foreign client to his vehicle, wading his way through a throng of people bustling about in the area. The tonga had barely enough space for one person with luggage. The young driver climbed into the front seat and cracked his whip over his horse. The tonga groaned and started moving.

Michael pulled a slip of paper out of his wallet and looked at the address scribbled on it: 27 Tyagaraja Road, Kabirpet. According to the map in his travel guidebook, Kabirpet was a small suburb of the city of Hyderabad, but it was much closer to its twin, Secunderabad.

“How did you know where I wanted to go?” Michael asked the tonga driver.

“Not hard at all, sir. All English sirs coming to Hyderabad are going there. All English sirs coming here are going to see Swami,” the boy replied.

“What’s your name?” Michael inquired.

“Gopal, sir,” the boy replied.

“How did you learn to speak English?”

“Wendy ma’am was teaching me. She is English teacher in St. Ann’s School. My mother worked in ma’am’s house—cooking. You have a big house in your country, sir?”

“Not very big. Four rooms.” Seated outside the exit gate of the station premises, Michael saw a few beggars with upheld arms, seeking donations. Only then did it occur to him that the leper on the platform was probably only seeking alms with his raised palm.

“Four rooms! That is big house! You have car?”

“Yes, I did have one.”

“You have a good job?”

“Yes, I did have, before I left to come here.”

“People are saying England very rich.”

“I’m from America, not England.”

Gopal nodded. “If you have good job, big house and car, why you come here?”

Michael opened his mouth to reply, but he didn’t quite know what to say. He had difficulty articulating the reason even to himself. Why had he come to India? He vaguely recalled hearing someone say that one’s best decisions sometimes were the hardest to articulate, but he dismissed this as a ludicrous claim.

“Does Swami speak English well?” Michael asked instead, wondering how much Telegu he would have to learn in the coming months. He reckoned that the man spoke some English but was not sure just how much. He wished he had made more inquiries about this.

“Yes, he is speaking English well, sir.” The boy was eager to inform Michael about Swami. “Swami came here many years ago,” he said. “At that time, Kabirpet was very small village, sir. After ashram was made, many people coming here to see Swami. Other people coming to Hyderabad and Secunderabad and living here, thinking this is holy place. Even some business people opening shops here, thinking Swami is lucky.” Gopal continued speaking for a while in this vein. The kid spoke of Swami, Michael thought, like he was a regional treasure that tourists might put on their checklists of things to see while in the vicinity. The boy seemed to find in the approval of Westerners a source of national pride.

“Tell me, why do people come to see Swami?” Michael asked, anticipating stories of alleged miracles. “Does he perform miracles?”


“You know, like magical things.”

“No, sir, Swami is not doing anything like that. My mother is saying many people are not understanding him but still coming to see him. That is miracle?”

Michael smiled at the boy’s answer. “No, not quite what I had in mind,” he replied. The boy appeared to have unquestioning faith in the man’s holiness, which to Michael’s mind seemed charming, if irrational. Faith was something that he had agonized over for years. What had it brought him? What problems had it solved? His faith and the suspension of reason that it entailed had brought him neither wisdom nor joy. It had only handed him disappointment.

He watched the city of Secunderabad springing to life in the morning: milkmen on bicycles carrying milk in metal cans, owners of tea stalls pumping their kerosene stoves to get them started, a few rickshaw-pullers eagerly scouting for customers. He saw women sweeping the dirt off the front porches and sprinkling water. Some were laying down with dexterous hand movements beautiful patterns of coloured powder. He wondered what these patterns meant. Did they signal a fresh beginning with a new day? Or invoke the hope of a prosperous future?

He soon learned that the tonga driver’s life was difficult. The boy had to ply his trade for ten hours a day—including Sunday—to earn enough to feed his aging mother, his younger sister, and his horse. No wonder, Michael thought, the kid couldn’t fathom what someone who apparently had everything in America could possibly want in India.

He asked himself, once again, if it made any sense for him to have quit his job in New York to come here. What could a country steeped in poverty, ancient rituals, superstition, and weird cultural norms conceivably offer someone from New York? He shared his young tonga driver’s misgivings about his being here, though for different reasons.

Some strange chants that came wafting through the air caught his attention. He turned his head in the direction of the sound and got a distant glimpse of a procession emerging from one of the by-lanes into the main road. Four men were carrying what appeared to be a corpse on a stretcher raised to their shoulders. A dozen other men were following, chanting something in unison at regular intervals. From the distance, Michael could not tell whether the corpse was male or female. On the chest of the body were garlands of yellow and orange flowers. The somber pallbearers were walking in measured steps heading, he surmised, towards a burial or cremation ground. 

The procession faded from his view when his tonga took a turn, and he settled down to the regular beat of the horse’s trot. His thoughts found their way to a familiar place.

“Is this Mr. Michael Pearson?” asked a solemn voice.


“This is Inspector George Winston calling from Telluride, Colorado.”

Michael felt a surge of fear. That’s where Jenny’s gone.

“Mr. Pearson, I’m afraid I have bad news for you. There was an avalanche here this weekend on one of the steeper slopes, and —.”

“Good God!”

“We fear that your wife was one of the casualties. A search of the rooms in the nearby resorts gave us her name and this phone number I’m calling. Could you come here as soon as possible to identify the body?”

“Yes…yes, of course,” Michael said. He was too stunned to ask for details.

Over a year had passed since he had received this dreadful phone call. A month ago, or even a week ago, he would never have imagined that he would find himself in a strange country where he personally knew no one. But, then again, what did it matter where he was? Grief had isolated him, regardless of the company he kept. Hanging flowerpots, grocery lists, Christmas cards, fragments of Chopin—they all came with a referral from a past with Jenny. Every thought he now had of her awoke a hundred others that made sense to him and him alone. The empathy of others provided so little comfort to him that he usually never bothered to seek it. He alone knew what it had meant to him when Jenny had caressed his face. How could he conceivably share his grief with anyone? His happiness, possibly, for it seemed to be less at the mercy of his individual history. But sorrow? That was his alone—he seemed to own it more than he owned anything else. A man’s sorrow was as unique as his fingerprints.

The tonga came to a stop. The driver turned around and said, “Ashram here. Fare is eight annas, sir.” Michael climbed down with his suitcase and handed him the fare as well as a liberal tip—probably for releasing him from his painful reverie. The boy’s face lit up. “Thank you, sir. Hope you find what you are wanting.”

Michael, trying to smile, nodded but said nothing. All he managed was a resigned shrug. He turned around and faced the ashram of Swami Arulananda.


The Sublime Homecoming
by Mukesh Eswaran.

Order this book at

Thank you.