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Friday, Nov 22, 2019

Like leaves tossed in the wind

Dominic Franks’ account of cycling from Bengaluru to Delhi is a story of finding oneself and realising lost dreams

books Updated: Sep 14, 2018 21:45 IST
Prerna Madan
Prerna Madan
Hindustan Times
Come rain or shine: The joy of cycling.
Come rain or shine: The joy of cycling.(NurPhoto via Getty Images)
237pp, Rs 295
237pp, Rs 295

Those who aren’t athletic or sporty cannot easily understand the thrill of a challenge. At first it may seem odd that anyone would choose to toil willingly. But most journeys or self-imposed dares are deeper than that.

Dominic Franks’ travelogue of cycling from Bengaluru to Delhi in the Nautanki Diaries isn’t just a finish line to victory. It’s a quest to conquer the drifter in him. “I was like one of the guys in the movies who never left college because they were too afraid of the realities of the working world, too happy with playing make-believe kings in sandbox castles,” the author concedes in the prologue. Millennial often fall prey to this pervasive sense of isolation and the desire for self-discovery. For many, including Franks, these are good enough reasons to leave the city behind.

The notion of travel for fulfilment isn’t original; books such as Eat Pray Love and Under the Tuscan Sun have perfected the formula. Still, Nautanki Diaries rolls down hills and highways, and into spectacular sunsets and occasional rains in a way that makes the book worthy of attention.

“Even then, I had vaguely imagined myself as a drifter. In truth, that was the sum of my ambition – I wanted to be a mote of dust, a shimmer of star, a bubble of spume – here one minute, gone the next, like dry leaves tossed in the wind.”

It is no small triumph to write 237 pages on cycling. Franks keeps his journey alive by stumbling into Utopian villages, talking to men who left everything to plant forests and telling the reader about the contented nights he slept under the light of the stars. These unplanned detours, non-believers would understand, are the reason people do what they do, including cycling thousands of kilometres.

Author Dominic Franks
Author Dominic Franks ( Courtesy Rupa )

The comedy of Franks’ narrative is another incentive to read Nautanki Diaries. The absurdity of the author lovingly speaking about emptying his bowels near tranquil lakes and his naïve encounter with sex workers will make you laugh. But the best of his humour is evident in Franks’ filial relationship with his Hercules cycle, rightly named ‘Nautanki’.

Read more: Bicycle diaries

Although the story takes the award, the language is sometimes inconsistent with the tone changing gears from philosophical to comic without warning. I occasionally wished for fewer adjectives and more eloquence in the telling of a journey that was uniquely Franks’.

Despite these minor flaws, the book – stripped of the glamour of luxury travel – is not just the story of a man who pedalled into towns and though landscapes; it is a story of finding oneself and realising lost dreams. It takes courage, and a little bit of insanity, to pick up a cycle and go wandering. Luckily, there are those like Dominic Franks who write to inspire.