From California to Georgia in six weeks, on an ancient Ford Torino
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Narmada is a stunning and intense portrayal of a river that reveals not only an artistic attention to detail but a profound contemplation of life, culture, history and religion, all intertwined with the story of of one of India’s most sacred rivers.
The book details Vegad’s long pilgrimage following the Narmada — never once crossing the river but traversing the length of it on both banks. He constructs the course of the river through a series of vivid descriptions and elegant metaphors, once describing the Narmada as progressing from “an age of stone” to an “age of sand”, as it leaves the mountainous gorges and enters the plains. In one phrase he conveys the timelessness and geological majesty of the river. The book sometimes reads like a painting, a series of impressions that euphorically exults in the natural world. From the sparkling purity of the Narmada, to the swirling smoky colours of a kirtan in an isolated village, Vegad evokes the river’s mysticism and power.
The book is also accompanied by the author’s paintings, which augment the already vivid imagery that the writing develops. Narmada is, though, far more than a descriptive travelogue, as every sight and sound encountered along the journey inspires the author to greater contemplation. Whether he is debating the origins of beauty (divinely endowed or slowly evolved?) or the changing face of religion (should pilgrims follow only the Narmada or its new canals as well?), Vegad fills his book with thought-provoking anecdotes and revelations that challenge preconceptions.
The book also has a tragic relevance as it provides a memorial to the lands, people and customs that are drowned following the creation of the Sardar Sarovar project. This gives the descriptions a fragile intensity, as the reader is made aware of the transient nature of all this beauty and mourns its passing. At times Vegad does seem melancholic but generally he maintains an admirable pragmatism — he predicts that the region will “bloom with riches” after the dam is built.
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