Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Rory MacLean and "Magic Bus"


History shows the torch when we lurk in the heat and dust of the dark yesterdays, helping us see the scathes on the faces, bullet-holes on the window panes and blood stains on the walls. Heritage is what we develop surviving the stains of history. Its like a looking at a lotus flower bloomed on the water surface. The glory and beauty is visible from a distance, but none actually sees the roots deep immersed in the mud beneath.

Rory MacLean creates magic with words in this wonderful travellogue, guiding the reader through a different world that existed 30 years ago. Some samples are provided below, and I'm thankful to have the permission from Rory MacLean himself to reproduce part of the text.

In the sixties and seventies, hundreds of thousands of young Westerners took off for India, blazing the "hippie trail" from Istanbul to Kathmandu. This intrepid pioneers left behind their parents' world of postponed pleasure, guilt of Empire and the spectre of war. Aboard the weirdest procession of unroadworthy vehicles ever to rattle across the face of the earth, they reached for a new kind of  life, and because the first movement of people who travelled to be colonised than to colonise.

"The trail across Asia is narrow and there's  only one road, one way to go," wrote Douglas Brown in the conclusion to his 1971 guidebook. "When it broadens out in India, and you see the hundreds of cities marked in a very small area of the map, you will have at last the chance to go wherever you want, and find a place to rest and get into a way of life that will satisfy you. The one path has become many."

Those paths spin out from this room like the threads of a vast spider's web. In a thousand departure lounges, a fresh generation of Intrepids stands on the brink of the world.  Like them, I am a foreigner, an open hearted sole traveller, spiralling out from where I was born, curious for the world and taking nothing for granted: not belonging, not possessing, at home in my skin and reinventing myself at every border. Moving on.

That's our legacy from the sixties. Not simply 'this now life...this here life.' Not just the new expense of being. But living both in the moment and in the mind, stirring to understand -- and to express-- how it feels to be alive. The momentum of the sea marks off the days. Autumn makes way for winter. A bird nests under the eaves. The party people move on to Yangshuo, Saigon and Cairns. I stay behind in this packaged paradise watching jet streams criss-cross the azure sky.

This book is not just a travel book sharing MacLean's experiences. This is an experience in itself, a fruition of maclean's effort to relive the "hippie" life seeking nirvana, interacting with some of the original Intrepids himself. The brief glimpses of history and political background of the countries on the way (and also their religious and social spectra) are all in themselves MacLean's vivid attempts of reliving this experience. Yet, the reader never feels the heat and thrill of an investigative journey. "Magic Bus" thrives on MacLean's efforts to bring forth the life in each city he passes through as clear as possible, while trying not to be too verbose in his narration.

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