1969 was a remarkable year. The wounds of the big wars were finally healing. The fruits of the (post war) strong rebuild efforts were ripening and the baby boomers had just started making an impact. The Beatles had exploded on the pop scene while on the other side of the Atlantic, Jimi Hendrix was stretching the guitar envelope. The peace movement was in full swing and environmental consciousness was gathering pace. Space race had begun and was to reach its climax the very year. It was a time when it was felt that the world had finally come together and humanity was taking giant steps towards progress. Growth and prosperity was in the air. It was the best of times, it was the bestest of times.
For Pakistanis though and others in the subcontinent, it was an year that marked the start of a romance. It was the time when a journey was made by an individual who collated his experience and distilled it in a book. That person was Mustansar Hussain Tarrar ( Yes a mouthful tongue twister indeed) and the book was “Niklay Teri Talash Mein”. A book that is considered one of the most popular and ground breaking travelogues in South Asia.
To this day, the book is as refreshing as it was when it was first published. And for many Pakistanis, their first insight into Europe was through the window this book opened.
In the early spring of 1969, Mustansar picked up his rucksack and hitchhiked his way on a passage across west Asia and Europe. Starting from Lahore through Kabul to Istanbul and finally trundling into Europe. He than crossed the English channel and finally reached the end of the line at the Lake district (England). His exploration took him to 17 different countries. Interestingly he bucked the trend of the time, he was an Asian that went upstream of the hippy trail.
His description of the trip is not just a venture in the unknown that fascinates the inner child, but is a detailed account of art, culture and history. Unlike the modern day travelogues, his draft did not just point out places for photo opportunity but captured the spirit of each location. His skilful use of language portrays the scenery very vividly and yet his articulation is short and crisp at the same time.
Very strategically, the book has not been written in a chronological order. It begins with the description of return leg first. The reader is taken by surprise as it is almost fashioned as a novel of a thriller genre, that heightens the sense of anticipation. It keeps the reader engaged not by bombarding information about locations but by presenting multitude of possibilities when travelling on a shoe string budget. Travelling light, unbound of any itinerary.
Mustansar has encapsulated the free spirit of the swinging 60’s. Being a vagabond at heart, his casual stroll in the unknown that always landed him in an amicable environment highlights the peaceful and carefree nature of the time. Reading the book in this day and age, it is this feature that particularly stands out. He makes the world feel borderless, safe and tolerant. A world that yearned for peace and finally had it.
His description of Kabul of the times for instance is extremely fascinating. Unlike the besieged city that we know today, Kabul was ahead of its time in 69. It was far more modern and trendy than even present day Lahore. As Mustansar has recorded that due to its strategic position, Afghanistan was seeing massive investment by the Russians in the north. The road network in the south was being laid by the Americans. While Sweden and Germany had taken the lead in the reforming the education sector.
It was while the author was on a canal boat in Holland, that man set foot on the moon. He was in Scandinavia when the mid summer festival began.
Be it the culinary treats of Iran, the majestic view of mount Ararat, the tranquillity of Greek islands, the purity of Alps or the sublime landscape witnessed through orient express, he keeps his audience hooked with his delightful description and an eastern perspective. The grandeur of Champs-Élysées, the wilderness of Black forest, the love of art in Amsterdam every location has been credited its due share with expressions forged by a master wordsmith.
“Niklay Teri Talash Mein” not just a book but an experience
What makes the book more interesting is not just the commentary on places but the human experience. His inclusion of the interaction with people and has been written with care, that avoids stereotyping characters.
For instance, his encounter with a conman in Kabul, his stay with an artist friend in Holland or the French lady he met on his way to England all provide unique perspective into different cultures.
Throughout the book Mustansar has inserted parables that enhance the richness of his text by providing the historical significance of different locations.
The journey that was taken almost 45 years earlier takes you back to simpler times and is a testament to the potential of humanity’s assimilation . It is an aspiration to the world that is getting increasingly fractured. Perhaps it portrays the authors own vision of a better world that transcended culture, boundaries and religion.
Even today, Niklay Teri Talash Mein is a book that that provides escapism for many who are less privileged and less daring. And more interestingly it does that without fiction.
The book is published by Sangemeel publishers, Lahore. Every chapter is adorned by a sketch made by the revered artist, Sadequain. For generations of Pakistanis, it remains the book that kindled the spirit of tourism and adventure.