Friday, November 20, 2009

Empires of Indus

One more young girl I'm falling in love with - Alice Albinia - merely in her late twenties and the writer of the best travelogue I've read ever - that's "Empires of Indus".

People who haven't read the Bengali travelogues of Kalkut, (pseudonym of Samaresh Basu), they are anyway deprived of a genre of travelogues which mix a travel experience with passion and emotions derived from the past and present of the people around. At the end of the reading you just become a part of the place. You identify yourself with the people you just read about. You become a part of the history of the place you just read about!! The real life characters and the backdrop become a mystical novel - a piece of fiction which you have problems to believe that they are real!! After reading "Empires of Indus" I just felt as if I've traveled along Indus from Karachi to the source in Manas Sarovar, traversing through a history of three millenia and witnessing the rise and fall of so many civilizations along its banks!!

The river Indus not only gave the name to India (rather the entire Indian subcontinent or South Asia), it gave all her identities and religions and cultures. Starting from the ancient Persia in the west to the eastern most boundaries of Indian sub continent Indus has its influences spread across histories and geographies in various forms. Indus has been one of the cradles of civilization of the world. For a greater part of the history of Indian subcontinent Indus has been at the center of all activities. It was at the center of Indus Valley Civilization, the earliest Aryan settlements in India and the Rig Vedas - the first book written by humanity, the invasions of the Persians and Alexander the great and even the first Muslim invasion and the subsequent spread of Islam in India. But sadly the river lost most of its significance in the Indian subcontinent in subsequent times. Alice has tried to revive the lost glory of Indus.

Alice traveled from the mouth of Indus in Karachi to the source, traveling through some of the most dangerous areas of the world infested by militancy and lawlessness and the most unfriendly terrains. Most of the times she has traveled through Pakistan and a little bit of Afghanistan and India (Jammu & Kashmir). Not that has always traveled along the banks of Indus, but Indus was always at the center of her adventures. Where ever she went she mixed with the local people, tried to understand the local culture and tried to unearth many untold histories. She took the path that Alexander is believed to have taken during his not-so-successful conquest of India. She went to the places where the mystical Aryans are believed to have left their only physical marks in the forms of graves spread across a heavenly abode where the three highest mountains of the world - Hindukush, Himalayas and the Karakoram - meet. On her way she discovered the unfolding of a number of empires and civilizations. Metaphorically the Indus comes to life and speaks of the empires along his course!! The most enchanting thing about the book is that the present and the past are mixed so well at every point that the reader never gets bored with the serious history that she deals with. No reading of history could have been so interesting and thrilling.

Most importantly if Western people read this book they may get a totally different perspective of Pakistan which is now midst of all wrong things. It's high time that people within and outside Pakistan take a different perspective of their own culture and history and get things on right track. Indus is not only important to India, but also to Pakistan. Indus stands for a unique and rich culture and civilization that has made the entire Indian subcontinent one of the most sought after places in the world. The book is a reminder of all of that!!

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