Three Men in Sea: Wonders of Human Endeavor, Historical Mysteries, and Nature’s Bounty is a travel book that not only tells you where to stay and go, what to do and how to behave when you journey to Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Sri Lanka – it is a lot more. This is because the author looks beyond the physical as he relates his experiences in a trip that takes him and his two friends back to mystifying kingdoms and brutal wars of days long gone. Sometimes humorous and at other times highly informative, this book is invaluable to travellers who seriously want to experience these countries, and also find out what makes their people spiritual, proud, resilient, independent, dignified, brave and graceful. One of the tips he gives to his readers is not to plan too much but be open to adventures because an unplanned side trip could become one of the highlights of the sojourn.
Endowed with remarkable powers of observation and meditation, the author, after graphically describing every experience of his, gives expression to his profound thoughts on it running it into a subject of universal interest. Of the triumvirs who toured the five countries, Mr. Ashok Masillamani has briefly recounted his experiences in a well – bound volume of about 400 pages of which the last hundred pages though not thematically connected, delve deeper into the history of Dravidians and the advent of Aryans. Of the several remarkable portraits of political leaders, army men, tourist guides, bartenders, dancing girls, ladies in massage parlours, strange and frightening old men and women, some are touching and unforgettable.
The swift narration includes several serious and solemn discussions though punctuated with humorous statements and hilarious anecdotes. Coverage of Cambodia, with Angkor, Baphuon and especially of Angkor Wat is perfect in as much as they are detailed to the core. Any reader of this chapter on Cambodia will have a feeling that he reads the history of that country. Reference to Pol Pot reminds us of the period of that blood – soaked tyrant. There is a passing reference to land-mine in the essay but pity it is that the poor country is not yet free from that curse, despite continuing de-mining operations. Ancient kings of Cambodia are referred to in some detail but there is no reference and the status enjoyed if any either by the late Norodom Sihanouk or by Prince Ranarith.
The sharp eye the ‘Trio’ exhibited throughout the trip; while relishing natural beauty makes me wonder “Did they enjoy the trip too?” However, the ability shown by the ‘Trio’ in showing us the architectural wealth and historical background all the time needs to be appreciated. This travelogue, therefore, possesses good value as a guidebook, while reflecting truly what the author mentions- ‘Wonders of Human Endeavor, Historical Mysteries and Nature’s Bounty’ of the places covered by this. Strikingly well written with an academic approach, and with good illustrations showing many areas of rich cultural wealth, this can act as a book of reference for those visiting South East Asia.
What a marvelous adventure you three had! I loved being part of it, even if from a distance. Your words and pictures bring the experiences you had alive to us armchair adventurers. I especially loved Chapter 2, where you visited Cambodia, especially the Angkor region. What magnificence is there! While I had read accounts of Angkor Wat and the other ancient ruins, your account and pictures helped me get a much better understanding of, and appreciation for, this remarkable place. I like the way you give the reader a key at the beginning of each chapter, letting us know where we were visiting at that point. The beaches were incredible, and I really envied your snorkeling adventures. You are a great tour guide, quirky, eloquent and fun to listen to, but you didn’t get a picture taken of your
disarray after squeezing through the tunnel in Vietnam.
A tail-end piece of Ceylon’s history is a brief sketch but loaded with adequate information on Sri Lankan atrocities on innocent Tamils which is rightly compared to that of Pol Pot in Cambodia and that of the genocide of Tutsis by Hutus in Rwanda. In spite of U. N intervention and identifying the war crimes under bloodthirsty Rajapakshe, hurdles are put to lighten the gravity of atrocities. Not known whether the genocidal activities triggered by him will go unpunished. Even though hardly convincing to certain scholars, the author’s affinity to Tamil and to Christianity, in particular, is evident when he calls Tamil as the primordial tongue. He traces its origin to the story of Adam and Eve. However, he rightly grows eloquent and exhilarating when referring to the numerical system and fractional values practised by ancient Tamils. Resourcefully the author marshals all the points historical, linguistic, cultural and even anthropological to establish the ancientness of Tamil.
A sporadic touch of narrative technique as in encountering a crocodile in a boating jaunt is rather thrilling. In places where the author so nicely speaks of swaying palm fronds, dancing waves of turquoise waters and powdery white-sand add natural beauty; he may easily be likened to a landscape painter. Equally effective is the narration of the ferocious Tsunami that gobbled men and materials at Galle in 2004. In about eighty pages in the Aftermath, though unconnected to the theme and title of the book, the author glows with pride and happiness to point out the ancientness of Tamils. As an example his statement that Tamil is 7000 years old is a very farfetched claim, so far unheard of. He is right infrequently referring to the hegemonistic tendency and trickeries of Aryans and their cunningness which is passed man’s thought. In its totality, this section seems to be a complex mixture of hearsay, opinion, truth, history, mythology, and exaggeration. Desirable, it would have been, if the author has leisurely edited the mumbo jumbo chapter and chronologically arranged the matters to the pleasure of himself, the writer and the reader.
“The big temples were built by Dravidian Kings and noblement, As they consecrated the Sanctum Sanctorum, they invited the Brahmins for the services. Initially, the Brahmins were appointed for the cleaning and upkeep of the temples. This work was offerred to them because they did not have any type of hard work. This is how they started maitaing the Sanctum Sanctorum and doing the Poojas and other rituals pertaining to temple worship.” The exposing of Brahmins, is, justifiable and is so repeated and reiterated time and again. That particular sect is no longer that much authoritative and class-conscious, due to the decades-old social reforms of revered Thanthai Periyar. The author who profusely quotes Dr.Ambedkar on many counts against Brahmins does not make even a single reference about Periyar who was equally ferocious in condemning their die-hard caste system, within which they are privileged well above the all in the society.
The inclusion of the beautiful photos really enhances the book and entices the reader to think about visiting South East Asia in the future. Personally, I love to travel as well and I appreciate the historical background that the author meticulously included. I cannot imagine a reader who will not gain something from every part of it. Kudos to author Ashok Masillamani for a well researched and informative book on travel!