‘1700 in 70’ by Gita Balakrishnan: Journey of human spirit, complexities : The Tribune India

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‘1700 in 70’ by Gita Balakrishnan: Journey of human spirit, complexities

‘1700 in 70’ by Gita Balakrishnan: Journey of human spirit, complexities

1700 in 70: A Walk for a Cause by Gita Balakrishnan. Rupa. Pages 189. Rs 595

Book Title:

Manisha Gangahar

Only a few people were aware that mere walking could be one’s calling till Bill Bryson published his bestseller, ‘A Walk in the Woods’; even today, many continue to wonder ‘why’ and ‘how’. But then, achievers and champions are made of a different matter and grit. Gita Balakrishnan belongs to this league! Her walking memoir, ‘1700 in 70’, weaves together a tapestry of memories, reflections and encounters that will leave readers inspired, invigorated and somewhat awestruck.

Gita Balakrishnan set out to discover a part of India on foot.

At 53, an architect by profession, the author sets out to discover a part of India on foot, with a particular aim of exploring “design sensibilities intrinsic to the fabric of Indian society”. Supported by eloquent prose and heartfelt introspection, she explores the transformative power of walking, revealing how each step taken has shaped her understanding of the world around and about her own self per se. The memoir chronicles her journey of walking 1,700 km from Kolkata to Delhi in 70 days.

Through an obtrusive narration, raw honesty and keen observations, she invites readers to join her on a captivating journey of endurance and pleasure, socialising and introspecting, shedding light on seemingly simple natural wonders and inexplicable human complexities — all experienced through walking across six Indian states and touching the Capital.

The narrative, which runs as diary entries, is punctuated with well-thought-of and aesthetically designed “showstoppers” — remarkable places, people and organisations that stood out. Her encounters with ordinary people — masons, villagers, activists, daily- wagers, women fetching water — offer a poignant commentary on the complex intersections of identity and provisions, cultural tidings and social norms, while rendering insights into the arbitrary barriers that divide us, and the common humanity that unites us. A vast spectrum of human endeavour is at the core of the narrative, highlighting an array of interactive instances, societal projections, regional and cultural practices and a classic illustration of circumstantial revelations and adaptations. Be it the mud-dwellings of the Adivasi community of Madhabpur, one of the oldest serving architects in Daltonganj (now Medininagar), or the ruins of an old British church at Bishnupur, be it the government school in Jhansi or the female mason in Latehar, the mahua tree, or the restoration contractor Chintamani of Newari, each showstopper stands for the celebration of human spirit and a call to reclaim our ties with the world, the space around us.

The memoir also serves as a thought-provoking exposition on the nature of borders — both physical and metaphorical — and the universal longing for connection and belonging. “While I walked alone, I felt one with the many whose paths crossed mine,” she writes. The author’s candid reflections on loneliness, vulnerability and perseverance remind the reader of the transformative power of pushing oneself beyond one’s comfort zones, even if it means stepping into “a vast unknown”.

While the book serves a rich platter of insights into the extraordinary ordinariness of human spirit through the author’s engagements and observations, some readers would find themselves wishing for more exploration of “architectural” and “design” elements that are merely touched on the surface and hurriedly dismissed, rather than adding depth and richness to the narrative. Meanwhile, a few sections, like ‘Acclimatisation’ and ‘Toilet Tales’, are charming in their own way, the wit and humour are delightful without overshadowing the deeper exploration of human emotions, sensibilities and eccentricities: “And here I was, having to negotiate with a different bed everyday, with bathrooms… I felt no concern or revulsion within me either. This was probably acclimatisation of the highest order for me.”

As she grapples with uncertainties and challenges, she finds solace in the rhythmic cadence of her footsteps, healing of nature and the act itself, while leaving readers with a profound sense of wonder and awe. The book comes across as a saga of not merely self-progression, but a comprehensive take on how things are and how better they could be made, when it comes to concepts of modern living without urbanisation.