Travel classic Waters Close Over Us

Avtar Singh believes that Hartosh Singh Bal's book --Waters Close Over Us-- (2014), talking about the life and culture that revolves around the river Narmada, deserves a wider recognition
Travel classic Waters Close Over Us
Travel classic Waters Close Over Us

This strange, genre-defying book by Hartosh Singh Bal hasn&rsquot really received the recognition it deserves. In part, I think it&rsquos because it defies the expectations of both readers and reviewers. It is simultaneously a story of a &lsquoparikrama&rsquo of the Narmada and an erudite examination of the religiosities of the people along the river&rsquos banks. It discusses &mdash in its effortlessly scholarly way &mdash art, sociology and the different takes on anthropology that have informed discourse along the river&rsquos length, while remaining a politically-freighted commentary on what is happening to it now, and in India at large. Bal is at home discussing Kabirpanthis and the Upanishads, Elwin and his progeny, Gond art and the Delhi salons that enable its dissemination.

Through it all, he keeps his engagement with the place, the earth that he feels he&rsquos rooted in. To me, it is the ambition of the endeavour that is of interest. This is no collection of impressions. He&rsquos not explaining a world to an imaginary readership. As he moves through this riverine world, he encounters himself, again and again, and doesn&rsquot shirk the contact. The river, the Narmada herself, provides the backbeat to one of the most breathtaking quests you&rsquore likely to read.

Avtar Singh is a writer and an editor whose latest book is Necropolis

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