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Travel Light – Naomi Mitchison

by Venky

(Image Credit: http://www.goodreads.com)

At the outset, I wish to gratefully acknowledge Tim Herfkens for leading me onto this wonderful book and an even wonderful author, and to Sabitha Karri for penning a poignant review. While yet another review might not add to what has already been eruditely articulated by the revivalist and his acolyte, not writing one would sadly detract from recognising the magic of an unsung hero, a travesty in itself. Hence here goes!

Travel Light is as much a book for children as are The Fables of Aesop, The Jataka Tales, The Panchatantra, and for a more contemporaneous company, The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. The Scottish author Naomi Mitchison would have been a household name, but for the paucity of a credible illustrator who could have breathed striking imagery thereby making an absolutely wonderful philosophy come to light, and consequently, life. For ‘Travel Light’ is not just a fantastical allowance to the limits of imagination. It is paying reverential homage to leading a life characterised by contemplation.

Halla at the time of her birth is destined for material greatness. The daughter of the first wife of a Nordic King, the future Princess unfortunately becomes a victim of avarice and destiny. Listening to the vile pleas of his second wife, the King decides to abandon Halla to the mercy of the jungle. However Matulli her nurse assumes the shape of a bear and ferrets Halla away to the deepest confines of the wild, where the little girl is brought up by a horde of bears. She learns the language of the animals and just when she is getting settled into her new family, is passed over by Matulli to Uggi, a ferocious yet gentle dragon. The dragon ‘fireproofs’ Halla so that she is not scorched by the perpetual flares, fumes and flames that constitute both the normal business and occasional extra-curricular activities of the dragons.

The story of Halla in itself is neither particular nor peculiar. What is extraordinary is the precocious pearls of wisdom hidden behind the rib-tickling humour, introspective poignancy and striking practicality. Every escapade of Halla is an unforgettable exercise in learning the vicissitudes of life. And as is the case with little Halla, we also come away much the wiser. Dribbles, droplets and trickles of wisdom permeate every Chapter of this magnificent tale. Even Richard Bach’s formidable messiah Donald Shimoda would accord his genuine and wholehearted approval to both the methods employed by various teachers of Halla and the manner in which the acolyte assimilates and absorbs every tenet that is offered to her.

Halla experiences an incremental transformation as enlightenment assails her from various and unexpected quarters. She becomes kinder and softer, effervescent and eager. From Halla Bearsbain, who cavorts with blazing innocence with a bunch of bears to Halla Godsgift who saves the helpless and the hapless, Halla maintains a remarkable equipoise of detachment yet never rending asunder the bonds of attachment.

It’s injustice of untold proportions for a book such as “Travel Light” to remain the preserve of a clutch of book clubs and rabid fantasy afficionados. Naomi Mitchison deserves her rightful place in a select pantheon that is the prerogative of the likes of J.R.R.Tolkien, Ursula Le Guin, and J.K. Rowling. As ardent book lovers, it becomes the duty of each one of us who has read this absorbing work to spread its efflorescence far and wide. In an era characterised by seamless digital connectivity this should not be such an insurmountable ask.

Also here’s fervently hoping that an illustrator picks up the task of providing the requisite pictorial accompaniment to Mitchison’ s work so that it can adorn libraries spanning continents. The general norm is to ignore the living and consecrate the dead. Scorns are for the living and statues for the dead. Let us at least fulfill this part of a futile atonement by granting an author of a mindboggling 90 books her deserved due. A due which she did not receive even after spending 101 hopeful years on Planet Earth.

As Halla herself would have gently and wistfully exclaimed “we are surely better than this!”   

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