Thursday, January 22, 2015

A journey worthwhile


When I came across this book in The Hindu newspaper (dated May 31, 2014 -Book review), I barely knew I would hit upon a splendid compendium on travel, one of the best books in non-fiction category I have read.

Travelling in, Travelling Out - A Book of Unexpected Journeys, carefully compiled by Namita Gokhale, published by Harper Collins, priced at Rs 599, offers great read for its full length of 250 odd pages. As the book's name suggests, the subject dealt with is travel but the 25 essays written by different   and eminent authors are not mere travelogue entries. 

The book opens with an introductory note that provides a gist of what is in store in pages to come. The first essay The Idea of Travel : From place to place and thought to thought is by one of my favorite authors - Devdutt Pattanaik who can be accredited with all I know about Hindu Mythology and my penchant for it. Picking up cues from Hindu gods and myths, Jain Tirthankara and Buddha, Pattanaik explains how travel acknowledges the impermanence of things and constantly embraces the unfamiliar.

The next two essays are by authors from abroad - Ashok Ferrey's The Maharajah of Patragarh and Marie Brenner's A Retreat to Holy India, unique in content and narration style but plagued by preconceived notions about India, harbored by authors that one might have to take a little incredulously. 

Mayank Austen Soofi (In search of Lost Time), Bulbul Sharma (Travelling to the Hills in Search of Myself), Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck, Queen Mother of Bhutan (Village on Treasure Hill) and Ipsita Roy (Bhangarh: Of Darkness and Light) play the role of cicerone in their essays. Mayank talks of how Nainital has changed over time in an interesting fashion. Shaya, a small hill village in Himachal Pradhesh teaches Bulbul mighty things and shapes her life. The Queen Mother of Bhutan provides us with a beautiful insight into life, religion and culture in her country, our lesser known neighbor, more precisely details of Nobgang located in Punakha valley. Ipsita who heads a Wiccan Brigade takes you on a supernatural ride to Bhangarh, historical and haunted ruins in a town between Jaipur and Alwar, Rajasthan. 

MJ Akbar's The Land Of Seven Hundred Hills transports us to Saranda Forest, Singhbum District, Jharkhand and he covers a myriad aspects, geography of forests, culture and life of tribals here, administrative politics, even a bit of philosophy, a many-in-one package much like his columns in newspapers.

Rahul Pandita's Hello Bastar, an extract from his book of the same name, provides the quintessence of Maoist movement, what attracts the Adivasis to their cause and movement and how a guerilla zone has formed spanning five states. 

A House for Mr. Tata by Mishi Saran unravels so much about Mr. Jehangir Bejan Tata, his family home in Shangai at No 458, Wulumuqi North Road, the Avan Villa, his family's journey interspersed with changing political scenarios in China; easily the best essay in the book; I would like to read it again and again to unearth more details. There are photographs by Dayanita Singh of Durga Puja Pandals that come with an adjoining note by Ms.Gokhale. Aspects accompanying travel like taking a passport size photo (Aveek Sen's Lost without a Trace) and getting strip searched in an airport (Advaita Kala's Fear of Flying) blow into essays not so fruitfully. The lull that follows the best piece in the book ends after Ali Sethi's The Foreigner's Situation and Jerry Pinto's F for Dharavi. 

Aakar Patel beautifully elaborates what it means to migrate to Mumbai to a commoner in his Moving to Bombay. Beauty in India by Aman Nath is  a collection of tiny, well written newspaper snippets. Wendell Rodricks proves he knows his subject well when he meticulously details out all about Konkan coast, its language, demography, geography, history, food and culture. 

Many of us might have heard of the Gonds in Madhya Pradesh but how many of us know about their art form, how well it is embedded in their every day living and about its pioneer, Jangarh Singh Shyam and his sudden demise in a foreign land. Nishi Susan traces the journey of Jangarh's Kalam in her essay Gond art

I am sure many have travelled to Tirupati, at least once. But how many of us actually know the names of seven sacred hills that nestle the rich lord's abode?  Kota Neelima in her essay Tirupati describes many facts which we fail to take note of amidst crowd, chaos, confusion and frenzied push-pull accompanied by Jaragandee utterances. Saba Naqvi makes us venture into the fierce man eater's terrain - the Sunderbans and speaks of a Muslim Goddess who guards this territory. 

Urvashi Butalia's The Persistence of Memory presents travel account of Bir Bahadur Singh, one of the many who fled his home in Pakistan during partition, who decades later visits his homeland and meets his childhood friends; truly, a heart wrenching account. 

One is startled to know that there is a tiny Indian corner tucked away in Jerusalem in Navtej Sarna's The Door to His Hospice was Never Closed, a wealth of information that spans from Muinuddin Chisti to his disciple Baba Farid, leading us from Ajmer in India to Mount of Olives, valley of Hinnom, Herod's gate in Israel; a clear favorite for me in this book after Mishi Saran's essay.

Manosi Lahiri in her account Maps for all Times provides good lessons in cartography explaining when early maps were made, when these were refined, why these were made so rigorously, easy enough for a lay man to understand and appreciate. 

For a book that has been excellent all along, the end is not so appreciable. Sans the last essay- Armchair travels by Namita Gokhale, the book would have delivered the same effect; safely said, Namita should have remained content in compiling essays for this book rather than pen down one on her own.

Overall, there are many reasons why one should buy this book -

1) Twenty five different authors write down some great stuff in 25 essays, different authors imply different perspectives. Each piece of work is much like a central piece in a newspaper. These are not conventional travelogues that deal with where to stay, what to eat, what all to see but provide rich information of many aspects that encompass travel.

2) Perfect for "read an article a day" sorts, say while commuting back from work or at bedtime or after your baby goes to sleep.

3) The book ends with a note on contributors which provides wonderful information on each author, their areas of interest, their literary works some of which might interest you and provide directions for future reads.

4) If you are looking for an amalgam of history, art, culture, language, geography - all in one, this book is a perfect choice.

As a mother of a two year old kid, my travel is of limited scope; restricted, preferably, to places where a home like set up can be recreated with ease. Travelling in, Travelling out fills up the void in that scope, it really took me on a journey worthwhile. 

1 comment:

Kalyan Chandrasekharan said...

Hey..very nice book review. If I had known couple of days ago, would have scouted the book fair for it. Some very unique places covered in the book I guess... Will definitely read this. The collection of 25 essays reminds me of the book on Dravid - Timeless Steel.

So my book fair purchase this year was a collection of 100 sorry stories from different author like Munro, O.Henry, Dickens and Chekov. I really want to get back to reading n writing big time. Keep blogging, it's a great motivation for me.