29 September, 2020

The Sufi Scotsman

Lapsed monk, tireless traveller, prolific writer, Bill Aitken is completely besotted with India

The Sufi Scotsman

 NOT sense of adventure alone. It was angst that brought Bill Aitken, author and railway historian, son of a Clackmannshire village artisan, to India in 1959. Twenty-five summers, the dubious moral certitudes of a Calvinist upbringing were behind him. Ahead lay the long journey to India where he came in search of answers to the larger questions that studies of comparative religion at Leeds University, the philosophic credos of reigning western gurus a la Bertrand Russell, had failed to yield. There wasn't much to carry on that journey to India by ship, train, oil rig, camel cart and much else: just a backpack, £50, and a host of questions about the mystery and meaning of life. The £50 ran out by the time he reached Varanasi, so he travelled ticket less on the train to Calcutta, his final destination, where through a Scottish connection he landed a job as a teacher at the Birla Hindi High School at the princely salary of Rs 400 a month.

That money helped fund his forays into the Indian hinterland where Gandhi, on whom he'd written his post graduate thesis, had...



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