A way through the world

My blog this week is about the No 12 bus route in south London, possibly because I recently re-read Kim, Rudyard Kipling’s great Indian novel about the adventures of an old and innocently-pure Tibetan lama and the boy Kim, a knowing street orphan, who form an odd alliance while making their way along the Great Trunk Road, which stretches for fifteen hundred miles from Calcutta to Kabul, and constitutes, says Kipling, “such a river of life as nowhere else exists in the world”.

The road, when we are introduced to it, is built on an embankment to guard against floods from the foothills, so that Kim and the Lama walked “along a stately corridor, seeing all India spread out to left and right. It was beautiful to behold the many-yoked grain and cotton wagons crawling over the country roads…it was equally beautiful to watch the people, little clumps of red and blue and pink and white and saffron, turning aside to go to their own villages, dispersing and growing small by twos and threes across the level plain. Kim felt these things, though he could not give tongue to his feelings, and so contented himself with buying peeled sugar-cane and spitting the pith generously about his path.”

The descriptions of the Great Trunk Road, unusually in descriptive writing, are truly thrilling and reminded me of the No 12 bus route because both are vibrant and diverse and riding on the top of a double-decker bus in south-east London must have some similarities to striding along a ridge on the great Indian plains.

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