The Story of Darjeeling
Author: Basant B. Lama
Price: Rs 150.00
On 7 September 2008 The Story of Darjeeling: The Land of the Indian Gorkha by Basant B. Lama was released in Kurseong. Some of you know Basant Lama as the man whose house and land at Siliguri was acquired, i.e. legally taken against his free will, by the government for the Sikkim Nationalized Transport complex. That, of course, has nothing to do with the book but it is being put in as just by way of an introduction.
The 364-page book is a pleasant read. It is spread over 24 chapters most of which are less than 15 pages in length making each chapter a compact unit. This trimness has the advantage that before one realizes a chapter is through one is already on to the next one. It appears that modesty and conscious caution prevented Lama from titling the book as The History… instead of The Story… but history it definitely is. Most history books are of staid pages, dull and laborious to read. The Story…is a pleasant surprise. History writing follows a chronological order and the language is as a rule cold, direct, and detached. Lama’s account is, however, from the guts and so it is often emotive, the language colloquial, it rejects sequential order, and at times it even gets humorous. The combination of these unusual features makes this book immensely readable.
Almost all books on history are generally a rehash of what has been written before and neither Lama, nor anybody else for that matter, can claim full immunity from this phenomenon. However, what puts him apart from the rest is that he has surprises in store. Consider for example his claim that it was the Gorkhas, and Gorkhas alone, who were responsible for the escape of Subhas Chandra Bose to Germany. For the Sikkimeses reader I might add here that amongst these Gorkhas one was a certain Yonzone, personal servant of Subhas Chandra Bose, and he hailed from Sikkim. Another revelation is that the book claims that Netaji spoke fluent Nepali.
It is not my intention lay bare the whole book but let me just say that it is not a text book stuff. The emotive nature of the writing gives a soul to the book and the occasional sprinkling of humour adds a zest and combined they bring about a vivacity which is rare in a topic as dreary as history. Lama traces the birth of the Bengali bhadrolog and its subsequent effects on Bengal, India and the Gorkhas. Events as distant in time and space as the partition of Bengal is recalled and woven into the fabric of Darjeeling’s history.
In conclusion I can safely claim that this book is ‘raw stuff’ and yet it is one of the easiest to read. If you want to read a book with a heart and a bit of humour, and still feel you are reading history then this is the book. For those of you who are interested to know about the circumstances that Darjeeling and the Dooars are currently placed in, how it came about, and possibly what the future holds, this book is an absolute must.
-Dr. Sonam B. Wangyal