One Life to Ride by Ajit Harisinghani

One man, one bike, all the way from Pune to Ledakh and Kashmir.

From the moment I saw the secondary title A Motorcycle Journey to the High Himalayas I had a feeling what I might be in for. Indian English is renowned for its obsession with alliteration and hackneyed, archaic phrases and with the usual Indian grip on reality, the publisher elected to include reviews on the inside cover from a brigadier (retired), a scientist, a dermatologist and a student.

The tale, however, is a pleasant one. Ajit Harisinghani drives his motorbike alone for a month from Pune up to Ladakh and across to Jammu and Kashmir and with a genuine love of his country, he’s fun to read. He’s lived in America and is an open-minded stoner who likes to live well and enjoys roughing it once in a while. He gets into his fair share of scrapes and while his chatty diary style causes on average one wince per page, One Life to Ride is an easy and entertaining read.

Harisinghani loses his way from time to time in flights of fancy so typical of Indian writing but then redeems himself with an earnest humility and a love of the magical and mystical that India throws into his path. As when he meets a traveling fakir who is on his way on bicycle to… Mecca! When asked if he thinks he’ll make it the fakir declared his soul is already there.

Harisinghani is also on the nerve when he writes about the violence of Partition when a million died as Pakistan split from India. He’s quite eloquent when it comes to human suffering as later on when he meets some scared Indian soliders guarding the road in Kashmir.

‘For the first time I understood the soldier’s sacrifice for his country. Paying with his life for those who use nationalism or religion to keep the human pot of misery boiling.’

One Life to Ride could have done with an editor to take out the flat jokes and all the exclamation marks but Ajit Harisinghani is fun company and there are enough surprises in the book to make it worth reading. It may not the be the ultimate motorbike journey but it’s rare to read a book about India by an Indian that gets anywhere near ground level reality. One Life to Ride does.