NEW DELHI: When author Aatish Taseer first came to Benares he was 18, the Westernised child of an Indian journalist and a Pakistani politician raised among the intellectual and cultural elite of New Delhi.
Nearly two decades later, Taseer leaves his life in Manhattan to go in search of the Brahmins, wanting to understand his own estrangement from India through their ties to tradition.
And he comes out with "The Twice-Born - Life and Death on the Ganges", a deeply individual and acutely perceptive book revolving around questions of culture and politics that are going to define our future as a nation.
"What have I tried to do here is to use the world of the Brahmins of Benares as a prism to capture the deeper tension of our culture wars.
Not just in India, but all those places where town is pitted against country, heartland against coast, tradition against modernity, and where the quest for authenticity is tearing society apart," Taseer says.
"I felt I needed the reduction in scale: that, counter-intuitively, the closed world of a temple town on the Ganges would allow for a widening of perspective," he says.
The book, published by HarperCollins India, will release on October 22.
Publisher Udayan Mitra says about the book, "Set in Benares, 'The Twice-born' is the remarkable account of a personal journey to understand today's India, and truly a book for our times."
Known as the twice-born - first into the flesh, and again when initiated into their vocation - the Brahmins are a caste devoted to sacred learning.
But what Taseer finds in Benares, the holy city of death, is a window on an India as internally fractured as his own continent-bridging identity.
At every turn, the seductive, homogenizing force of modernity collides with the insistent presence of the past, the publisher says.
From the narrow streets of the temple town to a rally in Delhi, among the blossoming cotton trees and the bathers and burning corpses of the Ganges, Taseer reconciles magic with reason, faith in tradition with hopes for the future and the brutalities of the caste system, all the while challenging his own myths about himself, his past, and his countries old and new.
Taseer, son of late Pakistani politician Salman Taseer and Delhi journalist Tavleen Singh, is the author of books like "Stranger to History", "The Way Things Were", "The Temple-Goers" and "Noon".