A collection of hand-painted images seen on rickshaws that line the streets of Dhaka, Bangladesh
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Every year a score of Enfields plough across the Moreh plains to Leh and Khardung La. On top of the world’s supposedly highest road, the riders can afford to take a bow from a real sense of physical achievement. But only this solo account of Ajit Harisinghani’s, I find, delivers the definitive mood of inner joy that overcoming such a challenge releases. Books on motorbike travels (with the possible exception of Che Guevara’s) tend to be read mainly by riders on the lookout for hard information rather than deathless prose. Ajit’s book opens to a full nine pages of critical acclaim suggesting that, at last, we have a motorbiker who can communicate the addictive properties unique to the two-wheeled freedom-bestowing machine. “Riding alone, one can think in the singular,” avers the author of this singular book. A professional speech therapist, Ajit is above all articulate and the demands of his profession have helped him understand why the Almighty gave us two ears and only one mouth (for dal-bhat!).
This is a rare book because, as the title hints, the rider is on the road to enlightenment. In lean elegant prose, he makes Robert Pirsig’s cerebral Zen motorbike classic seem passé. One Life to Ride is a humane study by an author in command both of the nuts and bolts of his 350cc partner and of a guaranteed formula to get the rest of us out of our self-ordained rut. Freedom, which ought to be life’s choicest gift, remains like the scent of deodars, tantalisingly out of reach for most people. The book’s success is in bringing that elusive scent within grasp of the reader’s armchair. He does this skilfully by so boosting the feel-good factor of riding that most of our fears are allayed. My only crib is that the itinerary would have been even more dramatic done in reverse since entry from Zoji La is more arresting as is exiting from Bara Lacha La. Descend to the Lion river by the Jalebi Bends from Lamayuru and the chances are your level of consciousness will be raised even without the assistance of Old Monk. The clockwise circuit also guarantees the reader climaxes with the radiance of the Ladakhi void instead of post-Ayodhya Kashmiri disgruntled voices. Wonderfully sensitive to human shortcomings, the author pays a warm tribute to the lonely jawans in their dangerous postings, “paying with their lives for those who use nationalism or religion to keep the broth of human misery boiling”. I only hope this appeal to the educated citizen to discover the joy of manual involvement will attract a much wider audience than that made by yet another pilgrim to the Void 2,500 years ago.
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