Long back, almost 20 years ago, someone I do not remember now, told me that this book was a really good book. It was one of those long boring summer vacations when I found a copy of this book at my cousins place. Summer vacations, though now nostalgic, used to bring a sense of ennui and boredom back then. Since I had nothing better to do, I picked up the book to read and read a few pages. It was a story about a Seagull. Now, a seagull is an alien bird to an Indian bred in a landlocked city. The funny thing was that the seagull was trying to learn different nuances of speed flying. I read a bit further but it didn't really appeal to me. It was a fable and birds were talking. I didn't read it further.
Over the years, I still heard about the book. Though one copy of it was lying at our house in Bhubaneswar, I never picked it up as somehow I thought that this book was overrated.
During my vacation early this year, I was in a reading spree. I found this book in a shelf at our house in Bhubaneswar and decided to give it a go. I had to read it completely once and then give my judgement.
And here is my summary and review.
Jonathan Livingston was a Seagull who was living with a flock of over 4000 birds on a sea shore. Seagulls have their primary aim of life pretty well defined. It is to eat. So they spend most of their waking time flying after fishing trawlers and fighting for a small fish or bread thrown by fishermen. But Jon was different. He was not interested in wasting his life running after food. He did not want to be part of the rat race. He wanted to perfect his flight. So, he spent all the time practicing and discovering new ways to fly.
But the other seagulls did not like his antics as he was not confirming to the expected behavior and norms for seagulls. So, they make him an outcast. Thus, he goes away from the flock and lives alone on his own. There he continues his practice and becomes an expert. Due to his superb flying skills, he is able to catch different types of fish and insects and relish them.
Jonathan spends many years in solitude. He grows old. He looses some of his strength due to old age. Then one day, he falls in his flight. Though the author doesn't say that Jonathan dies, but the reader can understand it.
Then Jonathan reaches a different shore where there are 2 suns. He finds a few seagulls there. They are all experts in flying. They welcome him to his fold. He learns various other tricks there. He gets an elder Seagull who becomes his teacher. He teaches him various new things. He says you learnt travel in space. Can you learn to travel in time? Can you learn to travel at speed of thought? The elder Seagull teaches Jonathan the new ways. One day he declares that he has to go as he has to continue his own learning further. Asking Jonathan to focus on love, he vanishes.
Jonathan spends some more time in that space and slowly he longs to find other seagulls who are trying to learn superior flying skills. He goes back to the shore where he was born. A little away from the shore, he finds a few seagulls who are trying to fly fast. He tests their skills. He is satisfied that they have learnt many tricks. He becomes their mentor and teaches them many new skills.
Few more seagulls join. They all are outcast from the flock.
One day Jonathan decides to go to the flock. His students also follow. They display their skills. Most seagulls in the flock are appalled. A few follow them and become new students.
Jonathan tells his students that their bodies are nothing but thought. They are not able to understand it. One day, his first student, Fletcher dies. Jonathan meets Fletcher after his death. Fletcher understands the meaning of bodies being thought. Jonathan tells Fletcher that it is time for him to leave and further his own learning. Fletcher becomes the new teacher for those seagulls who are eager to learn more.
There are many lessons from this story. Now, I understand some of the deep meaning in this story.
1. Focus on perfection and a higher goal in life.
2. Complete dedication to goal ignoring nay sayers and obstacles will help achieve it.
3. All limitations are in mind. One can even transcend the all distances of space and time back and forth in time, move at speed of thought.
4. Love for all is the highest goal.
I think a single reading may not be enough to understand the book and extract all the lessons. It has to be reread.
When I read the book during the initial part, I was having an ambiguity in my mind on the book. My mind was scientifically questioning the contents of the book. The author said that the Seagull was flying at 90 miles per hour or say 214 miles per hour. I was asking, how did the bird know it? Later I realized that the author had taken some literary liberty and we as a reader need to ignore that and focus on the core message.
The author has used quite a lot of flying and acrobatic terms which may not be understood by the common reader. But they are not required to be understood as long as you get the message. Some of the messages are very philosophical and are difficult to decipher. In the book, there are many pictures of seagulls flying. I felt that those were not necessary part of the book as such. While reading the book, I was continuously thinking about an animated movie with this story. I wonder if anyone has made one on it.
Overall, I liked the book and it's idea. All the messages may not be accepted by a questioning mind. But, being a short book, it is worth a read.