Gondwana: A Journey to the Centre of India
Year of Publication: 2009
Price: HB Rs 500, FB Rs 300
HB 81-8157-853-2 (8181578532)
FB 81-8157-854-9 (8181578549)
About the Author:
Lahar Singh, or John Beaumont Ash, was born on 16th December 1947. He passed away on 31st January 2008. Gondwana was published posthumously.
Ash was multi-faceted. He was a linguist, a photographer, a writer, a historian a lover of people and a lover of communication. He first came to India in 1973 and traveled to the Muria Gond village of Saratpur. He learned Gondi and gradually became a part of the Gond community. It was here that he was given the name, Lahar Singh.
In 2002, Ash started a travel company called GreenGondwana that takes small groups of visitors around selected areas of Chhatisgarh and parts of Madhya Pradesh and Orissa. GreenGondwana takes pride in promoting ethical tourism: for Ash, it was of primary importance that the ethnic group he lived with was not exploited, but treated with sensitivity, equality and respect.
Ash’s friend, Sophie Hartman, edited and collated the manuscript of Gondwana. She says:
“Gondwana was left very nearly complete, with its wonderful plot and historical interludes, and with the endings all tied up, but John hadn’t quite done with it, some chapters hung unfinished and there was a small confusion around one or two of the characters. I have had the joy and the honour of piecing together a quilt whose wonderful design was not my own, I have shed a little, added almost nothing, and I sincerely hope that I have sewn the whole together in a way that has followed John’s intentions. If there are faults, they are mine.”
“Deep in the forests of central India a leaf moves soundlessly, affording a better view of the small clearing below. The shadowy green space, speckled with early sunlight filtered through tall dark trees, is filled with people. They sit on the ground, knees up, or squat on their haunches, making an imperfect circle shoulder to shoulder, eyes fixed on the hard, dry earth, ignoring each other.
High in the branches of an eighty-year-old sal tree, the tall deciduous hardwood Shorea robusta that supplied generations of railway sleepers to an empire, the tree beneath which the Buddha was born, the watcher is invisible from below.
His dark skin and crimson loincloth blend seamlessly into the bark of the great tree. The white cloth that serves as his turban is well-hidden in the undergrowth below, along with his axe, a gourd of fresh palm toddy and his only shirt. Beads of red, white and blue cross his forehead, holding his long hair tight against his scalp. Beads of black, green and gold fall from his neck across a tautly muscled chest. Tucked in his waistband is a crude catapult with a pouch of small rounded stones, like shot from an ancient blunderbuss, but deadly against a variety of tasty birds.”
A novel in 2 parts, 22 chapters