“ You know, Marisa, it is a real pleasure to impart knowledge to someone who is eager and has a thirst to learn. I will be only too happy to teach you all I know, step by step.’’
“ Just be good and disciplined kids and follow your heart in what you want to do in life. I can only help in igniting the spark in your heart.’’
Brian’s book on caves is structured as a series of chats with a group of youngsters after their visit to a cave in Meghalaya, the Indian state best associated with caving.
To me, the above mentioned paragraphs sum up my own impression of Brian.
There are very few like him in the Indian outdoors. In these days characterized by the specific highlighted to overshadow the whole, it is very difficult to find a mind given to appreciating the whole. I add – in our times of greatness while still young, knowing the whole is a time consuming process. Caving for Brian, could have easily reduced to technical skills, high adventure and apartness by what all that means – much like advertisements of adventure these days. That’s all we care for; life in single dimension, climber on vertical face.
Brian’s story is different.
When I met him in Shillong some years ago, Brian came across like an oddity in the regular outdoor spectrum. Already feted for his contribution to caving in India, he was still explorer at heart, someone who saw caving as the sum total of an experience spanning skills to science to the sheer grandeur of nature. Plus, he was articulate, down to earth and hardly like so many others adventuring for distinction. Not to mention – he made good wine. I came off happy to have met somebody who was multidimensional, someone who represented the whole as opposed to specific highlighted at the expense of the whole. There was an unmistakable maturity in the meet-up. Maybe – and here I am guessing – that’s a product of being pioneer. For Brian’s entry into caving not only signalled a leap in the scale of cave exploration in Meghalaya, caving also struggled to coexist with rising environmental threat to Meghalaya’s caves, courtesy mining. With that threat hanging as Damocles Sword over the very medium he fancied, Brian was likely forced to learn the subject from all angles. If so, his mind was perfect for the job. As the book shows, Brian’s awareness of a cave straddles the many aspects that make a cave what it is. I should also mention that I know of few persons in the Indian outdoors, who pursued their case (in Brain’s instance, protection of Meghalaya’s caves) all the way to the Supreme Court, even if it was to eventually lose the battle (please see the August 2013 post in Outrigger: The Caves of Meghalaya).
Given this backdrop, I think Brian was cut out to write this book. A lay reader wanting to know more about caving couldn’t have asked for a better author in terms of experience in the subject, love for the subject and willingness to be evangelist for it. Brian leads the reader on through stalagmites, stalactites and siphons to gear used for caving and on to simple dos and don’ts for safe cave exploration. Strictly from the perspective of book review, it is a slightly inconsistent book beginning as easy, informal narrative but becoming trifle textbook like over the last quarter. It could have been better edited. However for all its minor shortcomings, Brian has successfully presented us with caves in general and Meghalaya’s caves in particular, all the way from the natural chemistry forming them to the myths and legends man wrapped them in. It is a wonderful effort in a country yet to adequately notice the speleology in its midst.
Our knowledge of the outdoors, the Indian outdoors and adventures therein, will be incomplete without this book on caves.
(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai)