Book Review: One Life to Ride
Ajit wrote One Life To Ride quite some time back. The actual road trip happened much earlier. My guess – 2003 or so. That explained some of my discomfort with the context, as things have changed dramatically in the last few years, and more and more people are doing these road trips. Now, for a true travelogue/ journey book, should this time factor matter? It should not. Because good travelogues are timeless.
Ajit, a speech therapist by profession and a traveller at heart, has undertaken many road trips across the country and elsewhere. One Life To Ride is based on his road trip from Pune to Ladakh and Jammu.
The book starts with an interesting back story of Jeremy D’Costa and Dr. Ajit Harsinghani. The book D’Costa gives to Ajit (Keynote by JRD Tata) and their conversations about the road set the context of Ajit’s roadtrip. The travelogue is written in two parts – the preparation and the journey till Delhi, and beyond.
Ajit religiously takes you on a pillion ride through his journey. Not much of a conversationalist in real life, or at least on this ride, you spend a lot of time looking at places and people through his eyes. Not your typical 20s and 30s biker, Ajit took this trip well into his 40s. That also brings a reasonably mature perspective to the trip, or at least the reflections on life. Ajit has interesting anecdotes to share, and manages to reflect on his earlier journeys a bit as well. He uses diary entries to bring the past to the present. Some of the more fascinating anecdotes include the Sufi on cycle, the rice-daal meals on a loop, the stay at Tsering’s house at Hunder.
The bar for such books is set quite high. One needs to read Bryson’s books or Guevara’s Motorcycle Diaries, or a closer to the subject Zen And The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance to appreciate the quality of content in this genre. These books are as much a socio-culture narrative as they are about the place and the journey.
Ajit’s book falls short of being either a highly insightful travelogue, or a highly informative travel book. Moving back and forth between the personal space and the immediate surroundings, the observations made in the book are, for most part, superficial. Also, the book (at least now) is so outdated that none of the information catches you by surprise. There are no off-beat trails to be found, nor novelties to be discovered. It reads like notes from a personal diary.
The book does maintain an even pace and is not boring. Also, coming from a 40+ year old gentleman, it brings a different maturity and perspective to many events and places. Though, by the time it ends, I was left with the feeling that I was sitting in someone’s drawing room and he was telling me about his trip, the roads he took, the people he met, the places he stopped at. You would happily gulp down the stories with coffee (or wine). But not all good conversations make a good book. It is not a book that you would dislike, but it is also not a book that you would recommend.
Funnily enough, in the inner pages of the book, Fingerprint! Publishers have this printed – “this is a work of fiction…”
p.s. A map at the beginning would have really helped the book!
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