Travel offer the thrills of impromptu encounters and the pleasures of unpredictability, provided one is ready for it.Boondoggles got me thinking That the book was less about the idiosyncratic views of the noted British poet, painter and print-maker but more on the curious adventures of a Canadian professor from his extensive travels, which accrued to him on being a scholar on the noted genius, eased my task of engaging with the book. For the raconteur extraordinaire Jerry Bentley, boondoggle meant being paid for doing something which he wanted to do anyway. Lady luck played generous on him!
Travels offer the thrills of impromptu encounters and the pleasures of unpredictability, provided one is ready for such forays. Jerry was undoubtedly ready, armed with the talent of creating research pretexts to travel to the far corners of the globe. Converting such travels into smart writing is no less challenging; the reader must find the mosaic of personal experiences and encounters engagingly relatable. After all, it is not the stating of simple facts but what the reader can make out of it. Boondoggles is an edited volume of the diary entries of the travels of a restless professor by his daughters, Sarah and Julia, who found a reflection of beauty and empathy in their parents approach to life worth sharing.
Jerry helps the reader go back in time, from the 1950’s to the 80’s, when most of his travels were made. The world may have dramatically transformed over a short time, though. Back in the 50s, Jerry could not share a room with his wife Beth, both in Brussels and in Paris, as her maiden name was not matching in the passport. What’s more, getting the front desk at the hotels to read the amendment at the back of the passport was futile. Unlucky has a subjective connotation, as relationships between couples, straight or otherwise, draw multiple meanings today.
Boondoggles give the reader the liberty to read the book in parts, as countries offer distinct social and cultural underpinnings to reflect upon. It is partly a book of adventure as the author traveled across continents with his young family in tow. To learn from a bear-researcher in Norway the art of coming out unscathed from wild bear encounters is gut-wrenching but educative. The book has lots on offer even on countries that a reader might have been to, as Jerry noted: ‘joy comes not from the fact but what you make of it’.
Perhaps what makes this book different from other travel writings of the kind is its treatment of the situations and encounters, swinging between plain anecdotes and curious reflections. That goes to its advantage too, as a reader can find quite a bit enmeshed between lines. Among many, I was particularly intrigued by Jerry’s interpretation on the versatility of how a lungi is worn in southern India. It is not without reason that it is worn floor-length, knee-length, thigh-length or even shorter. Could it be a kind of emotional flag, flying at half mast or full-mast, reflective of its wearer’s mood? Amusingly, it could be anybody’s guess!
Boondoggles makes for interesting reading, reflective, amusing and educative. However, the shorter boondoggles could have been excluded, and the academic endeavors held back for another volume. It would have made Boondoggles a slimmer book with diverse flavors.
Boondoggles: Travels of a Restless Professor
by G E Bentley, Jr.
Friesen Press, Canada
Extent: 297, Price: $ 17.63.
(Sudhirendar Sharma is a writer on development issues based in New Delhi, India)