“A beautifully rendered epic journey . . . . The novel works on many levels and excels at them all.” —New York Journal of Books
In this captivating and surprising novel of spiritual discovery—a No. 1 bestseller in India—a young American travels to India and finds himself tested physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
Max Pzoras is the poster child for the American Dream. The child of Greek immigrants who grew up in a dangerous New York housing project, he triumphed over his upbringing and became a successful Wall Street analyst. Yet on the frigid December night he’s involved in a violent street scuffle, Max begins to confront questions about suffering and mortality that have dogged him since his mother’s death.
His search takes him to the farthest reaches of India, where he encounters a mysterious night market, almost freezes to death on a hike up the Himalayas, and finds himself in an ashram in a drought-stricken village in South India. As Max seeks answers to questions that have bedeviled him—can yogis walk on water and live for 200 years without aging? Can a flesh-and-blood man ever achieve nirvana?—he struggles to overcome his skepticism and the pull of family tugging him home. In an ultimate bid for answers, he embarks on a dangerous solitary meditation in a freezing Himalayan cave, where his physical and spiritual endurance is put to its most extreme test.
By turns a gripping adventure story and a journey of tremendous inner transformation, The Yoga of Max's Discontent is a contemporary take on man's classic quest for transcendence.
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.10(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.30(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected proof***
Copyright © 2016 Karan Bajaj
Max’s mother died the next day, finally free from the kidney cancer that had spread to her uterus, bladder, liver, bones, and lungs over the past three years. A week later, Max and Sophia held her memorial service at the St. Ann’s Episcopal Church. They briefly considered holding the service in the St. George–St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church in Spanish Harlem, but his mother hadn’t identified with the Orthodox faith, just as she hadn’t fasted at Lent or sought any Greek family in the United States. “Talking of past is like two birds sitting and knitting sweater. Fool’s daydreams. You think only of future,” she had said in her halting English whenever Max and Sophia asked her too many questions about her childhood. Not that it mattered. Orthodox or Episcopal, everyone ended in some spot under the earth. At least she had died a natural death. A life not cut short by a shooting or an overdose was a minor blessing in the projects.
On his way back from the Columbus Circle subway station after her memorial service that evening, Max saw the Indian food cart guy from a week before standing on a small stool in front of the open-air cart, still naked from the waist up. He was scraping snow from the cart’s tin roof, a look of complete absorption on his face. Max hesitated, then removed his overcoat and walked up to the cart, shivering in his sweater.
The man saw Max and smiled. “From the other night, yes?” he said, getting off the stool.
Max nodded. “I came to give you this.” Max handed him the overcoat. “It’s very cold here.”
The man laughed and his eyes lit up. “Thank you for caring, sir, but I am not in need of a coat.”
“Please. Just a small gift from my sister and me. It’s not safe to be like that in the winters in New York.”
“Indeed, sir, that is very considerate, but I am very fine in deed,” he said. “Please believe me when I say I can buy a coat for myself. I have been in America for one whole month, but I have not felt cold here. It is much colder where I come from.”
Max put his coat back on and huddled closer to the warm cart. “I didn’t know it was that cold in India,” he said. “I mean, you are from India, aren’t you?”
The man nodded. He pulled a mug of water from the metal tank under the grill surface and washed the grill.
“India is a big country, sir. I am from the mountains, up, very far up in the Himalayas beyond Kashmir, where people rarely visit,” he said. He splattered oil on the grill. “Will you have some thing to eat, sir?”
Eight PM. Max was restarting work the next day after a week off, and he hadn’t slept well for several nights. But he felt like talking to someone who didn’t know of his mother’s death and wouldn’t offer unwanted condolences and homilies.
“A falafel gyro,” said Max, stooping and moving closer to the cramped, warm cart interior.
“Sit, sit, sir,” said the man. He wiped the stool outside the cart with a dry white cloth. “You are tall for my small cart, sir.”
Max sat on the stool. “I’m tall for every cart,” he said. “And please don’t call me sir, I’m Max. Max Pzoras.”
He smiled. “Indeed,” he said. “My name is Viveka.”
VIVEKA TOOK FALAFEL from one of the stainless steel containers on the shelf and put it on the grill. The falafel sizzled. Just inhaling the hot metal smell made Max shiver less. Viveka broke the falafel gently with his tongs, snowflakes falling on his naked back.
Max shook his frozen fingers. “You must feel at least a little cold,” he said.
Viveka looked up from the grill. “Oh, me, no, not at all, sir,” he said. “If you live in cold weather for long, your body changes. And I am nothing. The Himalayan yogis sit in their caves wearing nothing for months even when the temperature drops to thirty or forty degrees below zero—much, much lower than here.”
“But that’s just a myth,” said Max. “No one has actually seen them.”
Viveka put the tongs down. He raised his eyebrows. “Why, I have, sir. Indeed I have. Every day for years and years.”
“Up in the Himalayas?” said Max. Viveka nodded.
“Can anyone see them?” said Max. “Just like that? You hike up the mountains and there they are sitting in the caves?”
“Oh no, no, sir, very much the opposite. Indeed, the yogis do not want contact with people,” he said. He began chopping the onions again. “I grew up in the Himalayas, but I did not even see them until the army posted me up on Siachen Glacier, the highest military base in the world, more than twenty thousand feet above sea level. You could get there only on helicopter. There were just some of us in the Indian army station, a few Pakistani soldiers across the border, and the yogis sitting meditating in the caves nearby. It was a miracle how they got there on foot.” He shook his head. “Very unusual people, sir. Indeed, I did not even understand the things I saw in those years until much later.”
Max didn’t fancy hearing about more religious nutters after listening to hymns praising God’s infinite mercy and justice at the memorial service that day. But he was vaguely interested in meditation, as were some others in the private equity firm he worked at on Wall Street.
“What are they meditating on?” said Max.
“These are things I do not know very well, sir,” said Viveka. “Why are they at the top of the Himalayas? Why don’t they live in a more comfortable place?”
“The silence, the solitude, is necessary for concentration,” said Viveka.
“Concentration on what?”
Viveka picked up a bottle of tahini. “They believe—and it is not my belief, sir, so please do not misunderstand me—that the whole world exists in opposites: up and down, cold and hot, darkness and light, night and day, summer and winter, growth and decay. So if there is birth, age, suffering, sorrow, and death, then there must be something that is unborn, unaging, un ailing, sorrowless, and deathless—immortal, as it were. They want to find it. Not just believe in it on faith or scripture, but see it facetoface.”
Max leaned forward on the stool, curiously moved by the words. “And do they find this thing?”
“I do not know, sir, but I’ve seen things with these very eyes that would make one believe almost anything.”
Viveka added the tahini to the falafel. The mixture sizzled. A drop of hot oil splashed on Max’s neck. He welcomed the burning sensation, a brief respite from the wind. Viveka mixed red and white sauce into the falafel with a large spoon, scooped it in a pita, and handed it to Max.
Max took a bite. “Very good,” he said. “You were talking about the yogis?”
Viveka hesitated. “My daughter’s husband grew up here in Queens. He tells me not to speak of such things in this country, sir,” he said.
Max put his paper plate down on the top of the beverage cooler. “Please tell me. I want to know.”
Viveka splattered more oil on the grill. He fried falafel again, though no new customers were in sight. “I don’t know, these yogis were superhuman, like God more than men, sir,” he said. “All Indian soldiers selected to go up to the high camps of Siachen had grown up their entire life in the mountains. On top of that, we were put through a year of survival training and a team of psychologists monitored us when we came back. And yet none of us had even a fraction of the yogis’ powers. We walked up and down the ice in our five layers of clothes all day to keep warm. But the yogis just sat in the caves, their eyes closed, meditating, and they would come out once in ten, fifteen days, wearing nothing but a loincloth. They walked barefoot in sixty or seventy inches of snow and we used heavy snowshoes with crampons imported from Russia. Yet their feet were quicker, surer than ours. Like machines their bodies were, not human at all.”
Viveka turned off the gas. The cart was cold again. Max shifted on the stool and tried not to fidget in the cold.
“Perhaps that’s why the animals also never bothered them, sir,” said Viveka. “Sometimes a huge Himalayan bear would sit in front of a yogi’s cave and we would think of firing above it to scare it away. But then the yogi would come out and the bear, this massive, unpredictable creature, would just slink away from the mouth of the cave and sit quietly on the side. It would return only when the yogi went back inside. Again and again I saw this—first with the bears, then with the snow leopards. It was as if the yogis told them how to behave, strange as this may sound.”
Strange, indeed. Not so much the stories but how palatable the idea of living alone at the top of the world figuring out the meaning of life actually sounded.
“What do they . . .? ”
A crowd of young men and women in thick coats and bright scarves came to the cart. Max got up from his stool. The group placed their orders and collected around the cart.
“This cart is the best. I just started coming here,” said a young man in a leather jacket with a black fur collar.
“Have you been to Kati Roll in the Village?” asked a bald man. “Haven’t tried it. Thelewala is good, though. But I like carts better,” replied the man in the leather jacket.
A brunette piped up. “Moshe’s food truck on FortySixth and Sixth is the best.”
“Not a chance,” said her identicallooking friend. “There is a place where all the cabbies eat in the East Village. Pakistani place. Heaven.”
“No way, how did you find it?”
“Just ran into it after Milk & Honey one night.”
“Are you a member? Oh my God, their cocktails are so good.” More discussion followed. Authentic Indian and Middle Eastern restaurants, this club and that, what was so good, what was awesome, who was in the know, who wasn’t, drinking, eating, and more drinking. Max recalled similar conversations—with a date or colleagues after work—and felt disgusted. Wistfully he thought of the desolate moonlike surface of Kilimanjaro, his only climbing trip outside the country. He had always been pulled to the outdoors ever since the track coach at Trinity—the Upper West Side private school to which Max had won a scholarship— had taken him for a longdistance run in Central Park. Something physical had exploded inside Max that day, as though his lungs were thrusting out all of the worry, stress, and chemical waste that caused asthma in almost every kid in the projects. He had run every day since then, slowly ridding himself of his childhood bronchitis and asthma. Later, he’d run marathons and climbed mountains in the Adirondacks, enjoying the feeling of complete suspension in the present, without memory or past. Now, once again, he felt a strange yearning for those solitary, ice-capped peaks, away from civilization with its wants and pains.
The snow began falling again. Max pressed his gloved hands on his wet head and moved closer to the cart. The group found the gyros really awesome so they ordered more, laughing uproariously at their own appetites.
Max shifted in the snow, waiting for them to leave. More people joined them. Their faces blurred with the others. Only the sound of laughter emerged from the snowy mist.
I want to see the unborn, un‑aging, un‑ailing, sorrowless, and deathless face‑to‑face.
Max took a deep breath. More than half of the kids from his elementary school had ended up on the streets. One or two different turns and he also would have been sitting on a newspaper on the ice like the homeless man from the other night. He couldn’t throw everything away.
Max thanked Viveka and paid him when the others finally left.
“Oh no, no, sir, I cannot take money from you. Indeed, you talk to me like a friend,” said Viveka.
“I insist,” said Max, putting the fivedollar bill in Viveka’s hands. His hands were rough and cold against Max’s skin, making Max think of the mountains again. He hesitated. “What happens when the yogis find the unborn, unaging . . . this thing they are looking for?”
“I don’t know, sir,” said Viveka. “But I see the faces of those who stop by my cart here. They’re like the faces of the soldiers in the army and the people in my village. Their smiles are hollow, their eyes are hungry. The yogis’ faces were different.”
“Not exactly, sir, more like . . . silent, complete. Like the mountains around them. Asking no questions, seeking no answers, just certain—as though they knew exactly who they were.”
Again Max’s heart tugged. He took a deep breath. “Thank you for your time,” he said. “I hope to see you again.”
“Indeed, sir,” said Viveka. “Please do not forget your gloves.”
Max picked up his leather gloves from the beverage cooler.” I forgot it was cold for a moment.”
“The body adapts anywhere, sir.”