On a Voyage with the Greats takes you on a journey with three great leaders of India. Satyendra Singh literally takes you on a journey with Swami Vivekananda, Mahatma Gandhi, and Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. No, it is not their life journey, but a crucial journey that was turning points in their lives. Remember, all three of them were travelers whose lives can be told through the lens of their travels.
The author has chosen one journey for each of these leaders. He in fact invites the readers to hop in and join in the journey. Before that, he sets the context of the travel and gives you the background of the person. If you are wondering why? Well, these are tall personalities and we see them with all the aura that their personalities carry. We are aware of the work they did for India’s independence and its re-awakening. So, it is important to travel back in time, when they were not as celebrated, but they were on a path to become great as we would know them.
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Once you are with a young Vivekananda at the Port of Bombay on way to Chicago, you have to let go of what you know about them. You go through his up and downs, you feel his anxiety and you understand his dilemmas. However, at some point in time, you realize that you and most ordinary people would have given up and he did not. That is probably what sets him apart from us. What seems divine intervention, never comes easy, it tests you more than anything else in life.
In the case of Mahatma Gandhi, we all know about the humiliation he faced in South Africa. It is usually one sentence or a para or a quick scene in films. What we rarely understand is the journey he was undertaking, the reason for humiliation, and the context why no other Indian living in South Africa so far resisted. We mostly miss the reason Gandhi took a job in South Africa despite opportunities available in India. I do not agree with the author’s Kala Pani Taboo mention, as it has no historical relevance with the maritime history of India and global trade records. The details of Gandhi will amaze you. At the same time, the gravity of the situation draws on you.
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Neta Ji’s journey is as dramatic as his life and life after death continues to be. Can you imagine him traveling in a submarine, changing submarines in the middle of the sea, and escaping British forces all around? His journey skirts India as he travels from Germany to Japan along with one companion. His focus and determination come through in what he does on this claustrophobic journey.
There is a lot of trivia in the book like the first two journeys started just a few days apart. Or, the fact that trade fairs or exhibitions are the places that connect people across different worlds. You would enjoy reading it.
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The narrative is conversational that takes the readers along with it. Editing could be a bit better, there are common errors. There are lovely illustrations in the book that help you visually travel to the modes of transportation used. It is interesting to see that almost all possible modes available then from a horse-drawn carriage to submarines were used in the journeys documented. Maps also help you see the scale and geographical location of these journeys. Incidentally, none of these journeys are in India.
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Great research by Satyendra Singh. He has included a long bibliography for those who are curious about the rest of the journeys by these men. This is how history needs to be read, studied, re-written, and discussed.
Read On a Voyage with the Greats.