Consider an account of the wonderful rock of Tanjore:
"Above the immense plains of this country of Tanjore, and
above the bushy kingdom of palms, which stretches out like the
sea, a huge detached rock rears its head; standing sentinel, as
it has done since the beginning of time, over a region from
which it has seen the forests spring and the towns and temples
grow. It is a geological oddity, a whim of some primeval
cataclysm, and looks like a helmet or a prow of some Titan ship
half submerged in an ocean of greenery."
But then Loti
is not making an effort to impress. Neither is he writing for a
reader other than himself. His is a very personal account, full
of his own impressions of whatever he sees, writing beautifully
about what he feels. What he pens down in the end is an almost
emotional outpour. What is remarkable is his ability to express
the interaction between his surroundings and his inner self.
silence reigns once more, but this time it is pervaded by a
nameless melancholy that was not there before. The thought
crosses my mind that it is the 31st of December 1899, and in a
few hours this century, which was that of my youth, will pass
away forever. The stars above my head pursuing their almost
endless course fill my thoughts with dreadful notion of
eternity, and of our moth-like existence; and the death of the
present century and the birth of the succeeding one, which will
be my last, seem to be insignificant nothings when one thinks of
the endless terrifying flight of ages."
Limited in its
scope, the work is basically focused on Lotiís experiences of
the limited places he visited. Starting from Ceylon to the
Palace of Maharaja of Travancore, where he was a guest at the
Palace, Loti moved to Tanjore, Madurai, Golconda, Hyderabad,
Madras, Udaipur and ended bookís journey at Benaras. So why
bring about a new paperback edition of this book? And for whom?
Not even in the coffee book category, as a reference book, the
present work can be used very marginally by historians and
sociologists working on the early twentieth century, and one can
think of many works of the same period which need to be revived
and which would serve a much useful purpose today, if reprinted
and made accessible.
This over 200 pages of six
chapters effort by Loti is now both outdated and out of fashion.
Even to a historian, constantly on the look out for new sources,
this book disappoints. And for traveller to India, a readymade
complete day-to-day guide to India would serve far better. The
words used in the book have acquired new meanings since and so
has the country he chose to capture in his travels. Pierre Loti
in the beginning of the last century did his bit to give the
world the impression of India being a country of snake charmers
and other worldly sadhus, there is no justification other
than trying to revive that image in bringing out another edition
of this work.