By Suma Varughese
Adventures. Meditation. Life
An anthology edited by
Ruskin Bond and Namita Gokhale
Speaking Tiger Publishing Pvt Ltd,
INR 599; 444 pages
This massive tome, or should we call it Himalayan enterprise, is expectedly fascinating for it brings under one roof significant excerpts from the world’s most renowned books and authors on the great Himalayas, unarguably the world’s highest and most sacred range of mountains. The Himalayas are of compelling interest to explorers and adventurers as well as to sages and seekers. The book, therefore, devotes a section to each. The third category called Life accommodates that which does not fit in the other two. Although I have not read the book fully, the excerpts that I have, are enthralling.
The section called Adventures has excerpts from Heinrich Harrier, author of Seven Years in Tibet, Mark Twain, who spent some time in Darjeeling in 1896, Edmund Hillary (who conquered the Everest) and Tenzing Norgay.
Most of them grippingly narrate the harrowing difficulties of navigating the terrain and the many adventures they fall prey to. Heinrich Harrier’s account, titled The Worst Trek of All, leads in this genre, as it chronicles the travails he and his companion get into while attempting to travel illegally from India to Tibet. In addition to braving -30 temperatures while ill-shod and clad, they were also harrassed by wandering dacoits who preyed upon the nomads and pilgrims of the region. Edmund Hillary’s account of his historical climb is no less compelling. “My solar plexus was tight with fear as I ploughed on. Halfway up I stopped, exhausted. I could look down 10,000 feet between my legs and I have never felt more insecure,” he writes.
Narrative after narrative testifies to the tremendous courage and doughty grit of these Europeans as they meticulously study and make notes of the terrain, while pushing their bodies almost beyond human endurance. The section on Meditation also talks of gruelling exploits, save that here it is the inner terrain that seeks to be subdued just as much as the outer terrain is endured.
In Just a strand in Shiva’s hair, Arundhathi Subramaniam writes about her Kailash yatra under the guidance of Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev.
“Each time it feels like agony to put the next foot forward, each time it feels like my lungs are going to burst, I focus on him…If he is my guru, he has to ensure I make it… And I find… I am able somehow to take the next step…”
Perhaps it is Swami Vivekananda that puts both the inner and outer experience of travelling in the Himalayas in balance. “Many times I have been in the jaws of death, starving, footsore, and weary… I would sink down under a tree and life would seem (to be) ebbing away… At last the mind reverted to the idea: “I have no fear nor death; I never hunger nor thirst. I am IT! I am IT! The whole of nature cannot crush me; …Assert thy strength, thou Lord of lords and God of gods!… Arise and walk and stop not! and I would rise up, reinvigorated, and here am I, living, today.”
The Himalayas challenge you just as much as they redeem you. This splendid book is worth reading and mulling over.