Thursday, August 31, 2006

A Life Less Ordinary

Think of the world "traveller" or better still, "explorer" and let your stage be the entire globe. What are the names that come to your mind ? Amundsen, Peary, Marco Polo, Columbus, Vasco Da gama, Ibn Batuta, Fa-Hien.......

Ever heard of a certain James Holman? Chances are that you have not. Yet, clocking about a quarter million miles and coming to contact with about 200 different cultures, he was and remains history's greatest traveller in the truest sense of the word. Add to this the fact that he was completely blind and you have before you the most daring, astonishing lives ever lived.

He was known simply as The Blind Traveler--a solitary, sightless adventurer who, astonishingly, fought the slave trade in Africa, survived a frozen captivity in Siberia, hunted rogue elephants in Ceylon and helped chart the Australian outback. James Holman triumphed not only over blindness but crippling pain, poverty and the interference of well-meaning authorities (his greatest feat, a circumnavigation of the world, had to be launched in secret).
Once a celebrity, a bestselling author and an inspiration to Charles Darwin and Sir Richard Francis Burton, the charismatic, witty Holman outlived his fame, dying in an obscurity that has endured--until now. (from A SENSE OF THE WORLD

Priced at close to a thousand Rupees, it would be the most expensive book that I bought. Yet going by my book buying instinct for the last three years or so, which is to buy completely random books without any pre-conception solely based on the book cover, title and blurb, I thought I would take the plunge. I can't and I won't even attempt to write a book review here. That's way out of my league and instead of making a complete fool of myself I would rather refer you to the website of the author, Jason Roberts who, through his marvellously researched book has tried to accord Holman his due as history's greatest ever traveller.

Poet, doctor, lieutenant, traveller; few men before or since must have lead such a charmed life.
"I see things better with my feet." said James Holman and so he did, embarking on a journey of the globe and experiencing it in a way the sighted could only dream of. For him, his blindness was not a handicap to be pitied upon, it merely meant finding a different way to sense the world. He rode horses, studied medicine in the University of Edinburgh, climbed up Mt. Vesuvius to witness its famous eruption circa 1821, climbed the masts of ships, travelled across Siberia right upto the Kamchatka Peninsula, made friends with natives and in the process visited every inhabited continent on the planet.

He knew no foreign languages, had almost no money, and carried little more than a primitive writing machine--yet he also had a prodigious memory, hyper-acute remaining senses and vast amounts of
personal charm.

As the author found out, there is very little information available on James Holman anywhere in the world. Comparison of the Wiki entries of Holman ( with that of Marco Polo ( is just an example.

There's a famous quote saying "Life should be big, not long" . To me the life of James Holman epitomises this. I won't try to dish out what the book taught me or meant to me personally. Just getting to know about such a life was prize enough for me. Read this excerpt from the book and who knows you might also be prompted to go ahead and read the entire story, one of a life lived to the fullest.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You may not be aware but modern historians believe Marco Polo's tale is a hoax.