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And The Art Of Mobikes

The travels may have been exciting. The travelogue isn't.

And The Art Of Mobikes
Riding The Ranges
By Bill Aitken
Penguin Rs 250; Pages: 271
CHAPEAU! A man well in his 60s dares to ride a motorbike well in its 30s through the Himalayas and the Western Ghats. That's about it. Bill Aitken's extraordinary 10-year journey must have been full of high points—physically and psychologically. Riding the Ranges definitely is not.

Aitken keeps dealing with stereotypes: religion in India and Nepal, the advantages of riding a bike, the evil of technology. It seems like Aitken wrote his book from a large distance in terms of time and mindset. There's little that you can feel, smell, or hear in his report. What the naturalised Indian offers instead is a constant self-reflection. On his Scottish roots, his career as student of comparative religion, his way of life. The reader is faced with the difficulty—it's probably one the writer faced himself—of deciding what this book is about. It can be as easily a traveller's guide, a medicine handbook, a demographic study on India or a 'how-to' book on motorcycles.

The only interest is that the book allows the reader to study the mind of a long-term traveller. As the Scotsman pointed out: "I am just a hack who writes from the heart." In the book's first sentence, Aitken says: "Travel writing has always been acceptable, one imagines, because it liberates the chair-bound if only momentarily." Sad to say, Riding the Ranges doesn't have the power to liberate, however adventurous in his mind the person might be. Yet, the book has a kind of self-irony. Aitken talks about his "relationship" with his two bikes. One, a 1965 Jawa 250, he calls Mary Poppins because of its unpredictability. After a long trip on this motorised dinosaur he admits: "Only a motorbike can match the definitive expression of mortal disenchantment: a pain in the ass." He's not talking about his book.

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