Friday, August 3, 2012

The Liquid Refuses To Ignite by Dave Besseling

Title: The Liquid Refuses To Ignite
Author: Dave Besseling
Publisher: Hachette India
Pages: 336
Price: Rs 395
Genre: Non Fiction / Travel / Memoir
Rating: 7/10

Our expectations from a book are different just as our motivations to read a book are. For me, a travel book offers an opportunity to experience the unknown, meet new people and explore new places, while also relishing the stereotypes of familiar territories sometimes. Travel books are interesting on many levels.

I was reluctant to start this book for a while. The cover page, the illustrations, the back cover, were not giving away much. I have this fear of not liking a book after starting it, because I do not like to abandon a book midway.

Honestly speaking, I liked the book in parts. I liked the parts where the author provides insights on the places, makes witty analysis on certain socio-cultural aspects, pursues his spiritual curiosity, and shares interesting experiences. But the parts which were replete with drugs and booze had nothing much to offer or entertain or enlighten (and those run for quite a few pages)! May be those were the times of self discovery or indulgence for the author, but for readers like me, it does not offer much.

The author is well-travelled. He is not running away from anything but travelling has become a way of life for him. He gets an itch to move on after he spends some time in a place. Though in later pages he also shares his fear of ending up lonely and aimless at forty!
This book captures the author's experiences in Varanasi, Tokyo, Amsterdam, Prague, Kathmandu, Chiang Mai, Luang Prabang, Manali, Kashmir, Malavalli, Delhi, which are interesting and diverse; but not necessarily related to the place. From attaining enlightenment while sipping a glass of lassi to discussing the technique for garbage disposal with fellow American Renee in Varanasi; from exploring his potential as an artist in Amsterdam, Tokyo and Berlin to seeking spirituality in Meditation Retreat at Chiang Mai, Thailand; from missing the 'action' in Kashmir to discovering the hash business in Manali; from analysing the types of gawkers to questioning the life of a three year old lama who 'would have no childhood, no adolescence and no choice'- this book offers many such interesting experiences and thoughts.

He does not completely avoid the cliches of a western tourist though, like how filthy Varanasi is, how dirty and disease-prone is Ganga, how everyone stares at the western tourists, the honking, the crowd, lack of respect for privacy and so on.

This part-memoir, part-travelogue has a fresh voice. It is sometimes effortlessly funny, sometimes philosophical, sometimes analytical, even mushy. The part where he analyses different kinds of gawkers, and his elaborate categorisation of different types of public scratching of crotch is hilarious.

In the 10 years of exploring the world; exploring his talents as an artist; introspecting about 'the Great Unmeaning' every now and then; indulging in drugs, booze, sex; loving, leaving and moving on; pursuing spiritual curiosity; the author provides a window to his interesting life.

I stumbled upon his interview where he explains the cover page illustration. He sees himself and Dr Heagney, his sort of alter-ego and travel companion, as two babies on the lap of the pregnant universe, still unable to understand it!

And finally, here are some interesting lines from the book:

"Of course if everybody who died here were freed from the cycles of reincarnation, one would have to assume India's Hindu population would be decreasing, and such a dip in orthodox numbers would be bad news for the Bhartiya Janata Party."

"...the Bhagvad Gita as well as the Ramayana and Mahabharata are soap operas that incite in me out-of-character housewife like cravings for things like boxes of bon-bons to savour while the stories are told."

"What makes India a spiritual place is not the idols or the gurus, but the everyday shit you just have toblet go of, make peace with, or surrender to."

"Calvin Klein, the lamas, the treehouse baba and the Thai abbot are all in the same business. Behind the robes and te fragrances and the pretty-boy face-men, they're all selling the same thing, Emptiness and Need - the answer to Emptiness and Need."

P.S. I was thrilled to find a mention on the author's blog too. 

Image source:


  1. Definitely not my type of book :)

  2. Smita - As far as I know your type, No :-) When I was writing my thoughts on the book, I wanted to be cautious as to put the picture clearly. Everyone likes different kinds of books. I liked it in parts but some may love all of it! I just hope I did justice.