Book review: Himalaya, an Anthology edited by Ruskin Bond and Namita Gokhale
This is more a brief take than review.
In high places
Every book I read which fixes its focus on the Himalaya mountain range, as well as the world`s highest peak Everest, further feeds my fascination with the mountains, with that mountain.
This book is a varied collection of mountain tales from some highly acclaimed and accomplished writers, some unlikely names included, like Rabindranath Tagore, Jawaharlal Nehru, the emperor Jahangir, Heinrich Harrer, Edmund Hillary, Peter Matthiessen, Stephen Alter, Ruskin Bond, Jim Corbett, Bill Aitken, Amitav Ghosh and their ilk. Which means, it starts off at a distinct advantage, and the reader knows she is in for a lovely read.
This formidably talented lot of writers opens a window each, a window that looks upon the majesty of the mighty mountains, and reveals a series of montages, of terrain where metal spoons stick fast to your lips; where you see fata morgana, mirages that can uplift or shatter your spirit; where blizzards of under 30 degrees C could well seize the breath in your lungs; where people look at the plains as a lower world; where the rain, far from falling, rises up from lesser heights, blown up in sheets from the valleys below; of remote fastnesses where B`on monasteries still stand; where people struggle with the business of staying alive, each and every day; where frail foreign women go live and meditate in a cave for 12 years and sturdy foreign men almost cross the Yeti`s path; where Muslims of Kashmiri origins drive trade caravans into the Tibetan highlands; where we are given a new take on the piles of prayer stones found across the mountainous reaches; where one could pitch a tent in the dry bed of a rivulet in the early evening after a hard day of climbing, and suddenly be washed away at night by the rushing (snowmelt) waters; where the soldiers stationed on Siachen actually pray to the helicopters who bring food and medicine to those trapped in duty on the icy wastes of this cruel glacier..
The tones vary, and range from faintly irreverent : I did not see Mount Everest …before me…but I did not care because I think that mountains that are as high as that are disagreeable: Mark Twain.\
The faintly boastful : I had borne the burden and heat of the day more than anyone and was as fresh as paint: Aleister Crowley.
The cautiously respectful : …we were on dangerous ground. On this very steep slope (the east face of Everest), the snow was soft and deep with little coherence: Edmund Hillary.
The momentarily despairing: Ten thousand feet below us was the avalanche-strewn Kangshung Glacier, coldly and impersonally waiting to receive a toppling cornice or a careless climber…Time lost its meaning and the great slope turned into an eternal and endless nightmare: Edmund Hillary, again.
Revelatory, as when Bill Aitken asks us to take a closer look at the image of Vishnu at Badrinath, and reverent: The roles of earth and heaven are reversed. While normally the sky appears lighter than the landscape, the sky here is dark and deep, while the landscape stands out against it in radiating colours, as if it were the source of light. Red and yellow rocks rise like flames against the dark blue velvet of the sky.
Oh, there are photographs too but the text sweeps all in its path with its lyrical movement.
If you are an armchair mountaineer, you will read and relish this book. If the Himalayas is your distant but palpable Zen space, you will buy, read and keep it with you. It`s as simple as that.