To laugh often and much; To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child , a garden patch, or a redeemed condition; To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

Book review - 'Chasing the Monsoon' by Alexander Frater


And what a chase it was!

it starts off as a simple story of a British journalist resolving to literally 'chasing the monsoon', that is, physically travelling across India, from Kerala (where the Monsoon hits the Indian mainland) to Cherrapunji in Meghalaya, at that time (around 20 years back) the wettest place in India. It's apparently triggered by Alex's chance meeting with an Indian couple at a UK neuro clinic where he goes to be diagnosed for a neck concussion. But as the author says towards the end: "the seed had been sown not at the National Hospital, in the company of the Baptistas, but a year earlier when I received word of my mother's death in New Zealand. The loss of our second parent fixes us next in the firing line and makes life suddenly finite. It is the moment when we finally grow up".

Such musings of the author continue throughout the book, and lend it a lush, personal touch. The main story is interspersed with tales about the author's early life in a New Hebrides island in South Pacific, before the family shifts to Australia. And while chasing the monsoon across India, the author shares historical tales of the life and times in the places which he passes through - from how trade ships navigated the monsoon waters in 16th century to how Meterologists researched about the reasons and progress of the Monsoon across centuries. In between, the author writes about his travails with the Indian bureaucracy while trying to get a border area permit to visit Cherrapunji (which he gets, finally), his visits to places like a fort in Rajasthan (where the King had had 'artificial rainfall' pavilions constructed!), and interactions with a few friends he makes on the way.

It seems the Monsoon acts as a catharsis for the author, both physically (he's cured of his neck pain) as well as psychologically (he seems to fulfill his father's wish to visit the Indian hill state). As he says towards the end, "I felt younger, stronger, better, curiously at peace... because I... possessed a brief to follow it, I had been rewarded in the way that traditionally it was supposed to reward everyone".

A damn good read on a monsoon day...

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