Thursday 7 March 2024

i came upon a lighthouse


Title: i came upon a lighthouse
Author: Shantanu Naidu
Illustrations: Sanjana Desai
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers India

“i came upon a lighthouse” is a book about the most unique, unusual, and unlikely friendship between an octogenarian (Ratan Tata) and a twenty-something author (Shantanu Naidu). The book is as charming as I expected it to be. Illustrations by Sanjana Desai add to the charm.

Though the author says – almost like a disclaimer – that “the pages of this book are the result more of heart and story and less of artistic capability”, the story, which is a true one, reads as smoothly, gently and softly as any good fiction. The two friends meet because of a common trait – their compassion for homeless dogs. And the meeting evolves into a rare kind of friendship where the elder of the friends become a guide, a mentor and a companion-on-call for the younger. And a confidante and an anchor when the latter finds himself alone and lost in an alien land. 

“Everyone has their own layered relationship with New York City. It is a relationship with a living being, an actual person. Each visitor has their own version, their own narrative. Everyone is hustling, trying to make it, whether in life or through the day. It is overwhelming to be on the sidewalk with people who are always anxious to be somewhere. When everyone around you has a purpose in the city, it is lonely to be there without one.”

The beauty of this friendship is in the sweet innocence of the friends and their refreshing candour. Their relationship becomes a subtle, non-intrusive influence in the young man’s life, helping him find his feet in his confused world. That he has access to one of the greatest, one of the most brilliant, minds of India makes the relationship even more special, rather, enviable, to the readers. 

“Why don’t you come with me to the World Trade Center office tomorrow. You can see the slums surrounding the campus from the twenty-sixth floor. It is a disturbing difference, a mismatch of classes. But you can also see how organically they are mapped, how there is pattern to the chaos.”

I am grateful to the author for writing this book for, it brings out the unseen, unknown, and unheard-of (at least to the general public) personal side of one of the most admired and respected citizens of the country. And what I find is less of a surprise and more of an affirmation or a reassurance. 

The friendship of this pair – the youth and the youthful – restores your faith in honest, genuine, selfless friendships where almost nothing stands as a barrier between friends. The aura of their friendship lingers long after you have finished reading the book. You are happy to be caught in its spell, and remain so.

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