‘One Life to Ride’ Takes Readers on a Choppy Journey Through the Himalayas

Annie Castellani


A travelogue exploring the roads, landscape and people of India from a motorcycle is fertile ground for an exalted mind trip kindled by the pages of a good writer. And so, One Life to Ride, Ajit Harisinghani's debut novel chronicling his nearly 2,000-mile ride through his native country carries much promise. A certain type of excitement hits from the moment you pick up this book, as you anticipate a wild adventure reminiscent of On the Road, the iconic tribute to the sublime and limitless quests.


Despite these expectations – or perhaps because of them – Harisinghani's narrative never really gets out of first gear. Instead of manufactured suspense about what lies around the bend, the reader longs for richer, more expansive stories that really get to the essence of the author’s relatable spiritual journey and the awesomeness of the scenery he encounters. Aside from a few literary and physical detours, this does not happen.


The trip begins with some familiar images of India. These include a smiling statue of the elephant god Ganesha, jackfruit and betel nut trees, mongrel dogs, cups of chai, and perilous toilet adventures -- which Harisinghani covers over several pages with a vigor rarely replicated in the rest of the book. Along the way, the author paints a quaint picture of his middle-aged musings and longings, but his story lacks the exuberance that the title and topic elicit.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

There are moments of brilliance, like when Harisinghani explores the awe-inspiring Himalayan region of Ladakh and depicts an evocative environment peppered with Buddhist symbols, invigorated by high altitude, awakened with sunlight, and quieted by moonlight. The bookend images of an evening ritual at a Hindu temple and instruments of prayer meticulously packed in a fellow traveler’s briefcase are also gems. Like shooting stars, however, these vignettes rapidly dissolve into a too familiar sky. The instant you recognize their greatness, they are gone.


Harisinghani might have been better off writing a book of short stories so he could delve deeper into his intriguing subjects without the obligations of continuity. He teases denser tales at times, like when he reminisces about an amusing stopover at a peacock-infested camp. But these instances are also short-lived.


A collection of short stories would inevitably focus less on Harisinghani’s anticipation about his own journey -- an approach which might not be as enjoyable for him. Yet, it would hold more universal appeal and captivate a wider audience. In the end, the prose and perspective in One Life to Ride are simply too plain to sustain the few truly magical moments.


Author Bio:
Annie Castellani is a contributing writer at Highbrow Magazine.


Photo: Vir Nakai (Flickr).

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