Shourie, trying to keep his own torment aside, sets his laser-pen through the prism of his wife Anita's anguish. Her beauty is a marginal fact: this book is, partly, a narrative of her character, courage, and above all her love, all of which have been tormented by a feckless fate. They have a spastic son, Adit, who is now 35, but lives outside time. The bond between parents and child is a boundless, almost mystic, love; and if its price is unbearable for an outsider, how benumbed must be the hearts of Arun, Anita and Adit? Adit's limbs are helpless; his heart is full, and fully conscious. So answer the rage of Shourie if you have the audacity to do so: "He (Adit) loves everyone. Everyone in the family loves him. His maternal grandmother, Malti Shukla, was his life. He is ours. And...God just does not stop pounding this helpless, defenceless child. And then Anita goes down with Parkinson's.
Every faith knows that it must offer some rationale for the illogic that sways this life from the rationale we have absorbed, internalised since creation. Christianity believes that this world is a consequence of crime and punishment. Adam and Eve disobeyed the Almighty, lost Paradise and nurtured this capricious world. But who is responsible for punishment without crime? Adam condemned us all with his fatal step from original innocence to original sin. But has divinity abandoned this logic for human existence? Why are the sinful blessed with laughter? When has the threat of hell deterred Adam's child from evil? Which doctrine explains a hell on earth for the innocent?
Islam has the promise of justice in eternity, when Allah shall resolve the inequities of this arbitrary span from birth to death. Only the atheist believes in death; for a Muslim death is a pause in the continuity of life. The Quranic funeral verse is simple: from Allah we come, to Allah we go. But is there a radical soul who, on the day of judgment, will perhaps ask a question or two himself? The priest told him to fear God, the sufi asked him to embrace divinity: what should a spastic do?
Hindu philosophy is more nuanced. It takes the cyclical view of pain, and offers purification as an answer. Even the villain has a soul seeking release from villainy. When Krishna destroys the mischievous Shishupala by cleaving him from head to foot with a flaming discus, Shishupala's soul flings itself at the feet of Krishna "for even the enemies of the Lord go to salvation by thinking wholly upon him".
The human answer to this conundrum is trapped in contradiction. Shourie recalls Mahatma Gandhi's indictment of the victim after the Bihar earthquake of 1934, which left 30-foot chasms broad enough for four elephants to walk through. D.G. Tendulkar, Gandhi's biographer, quotes the Mahatma on Bihar: "I share the belief with the whole world-civilised and uncivilised-that calamities... come to mankind as chastisement for their sins...I regard untouchability as such a grave sin as to warrant divine chastisement" (Harijan, February 2, 1934). But the quake had no caste system. It did not spare Dalits.
Shourie's God is a croupier at the roulette wheel, indifferent to those whose number spells misfortune.