Look Back In Wonder
By Desmond Doig
HUMOUR, paint-brush detail and a spell-bound narrative that crisscrosses the subcontinent and evenbeyond to Africa and Europe, mark this collection of Desmond Doig's columns through the years. From being there when the Dalai Lama emerged in NEFA dodging the Chinese en route to Tezpur, with the entire assorted foreign media dogging his heels, to his first meeting with Pandit Nehru as a teenager in Delhi and on the Yeti's trail in Nepal with Sir Edmund Hillary as leader, Doig really saw it all. And for us who didn't, whose lives are so helplessly interwoven with all the pus of technology, his active description of an era that we can but live only in the world of words and imagination, breathes an enchantment beyond the ordinary.
Especially, when it moves at an average speed of almost two anecdotes a page, the bulk of them with the then famous or whom fate later dogged with fame. There is this brush with Tenzing Norgay, who hadn't then climbed the Everest but had come tantalisingly close to it with the Swiss expedition. Doig questioned him on what he wanted most in life and Tenzing replied without hesitation: "A small house with three rooms and perhaps a verandah." One of the rooms to display his expedition trophies.
Much of the writing has to do with Doig's infatuation with Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan and Sikkim. Calcutta, too, which served as a kind of base camp for his forays into the Himalayan region.
There is an interesting episode about how easily he sailed through British customs with a chimpanzee he befriended in Africa. Much different from the way quarantine laws are enforced in Britain now, what with illogical fears of rats dancing through to the isle via the Euro-tunnel.
To some, maybe, Doig's access to the focal point where things were happening on the subcontinent had to do with his skin, but for thousands of his fans it is only the aroma of romance and adventure that wafts from his words.