Major F. Yeats-Brown

THE MAN of the MONTHThe lives of a Bengal Lancer
[Viking Press, $3.00]
MAJOR YEATS-BROWN had apparently no motive in writing his book other than telling a good story. This alone is refreshing in a time when India is a continual source of argumentation. Commissioned to the 17th Cavalry of the Indian Army some twenty-five years ago, the author traces his career until his retirement, a few years after the war. The result is something approaching an autobiography, and a book of great charm and fascination.
Major Yeats-Brown joined a regiment of a type which has vanished from the Indian Army list. Then stationed on the turbulent Northwest Frontier, he experienced that state of semi-war endemic in those parts. Regimental life suited him, for he is a man of wide sympathy.
He has no sneer For the clerk who overwhelms him with files and precedent and order, and there is none of that conventionalized tyranny of which so much has been made in recent books on India and which experience of the country tells one does not exist.
Major Yeats-Brown’s descriptions of sport in India have no equal. He shares with the reader his dismal feelings while knocking the polo ball around before a polo final, and his forebodings when riding to pig, that most exciting of all dangerous sport. Crack polo player, first-rate spear cavalry officer, he is not the man one would suspect of leaning toward the contemplative life, but hard bodily exercise merely formed a basis for excursions into philosophy.
Feeling that there was more in India than, sport and soldiering, he set himself to investigate that aspect of Hinduism known as Yoga. He set about his quest of the ideal without affectation and with simplicity and friendliness.
He journeyed in pilgrim spirit to Benares and there took up his task in face of the suspicion that he sought a purely subjective exaltation as an end in itself. This suspicion will always attach itself to the Westerner in search of this knowledge. Domination is at the back of his mind and the objective is foreign to it.
The war broke in on the author’s studies and it was not long before he found himself a prisoner in Turkey. There he practised what little he had learned of V Oga, - breathing exercises and the like, —and achieved some measure of spiritual and mental removal from the body. In the meanwhile he formulated plans and succeeded in
very practical escape which resulted merely in his life being transferred to a cellar in Constantinople.
After the war, Major Yeats-Brown was able to renew his researches in Yoga. How much exactly he achieved is not precisely stated, but at least he got into deeper water, one would imagine, than he cares to admit. The book ends on a somewhat indefinite note, and one is left with a feeling of disappointment. One would like to journey further with him and to enjoy vicariously his carnal sports and his spiritual exercises without their very definite discomforts and disadvantages. There are few who would care to try sitting in the hot weather in the dust and smell of Benares in the cross-legged position or to perform with one’s body any other of the painful physical antics necessary to complete spiritual detachment .
The book has rare qualities of wit, humor, and unusual knowledge for anyone to enjoy, but for one who had the honor of being shouted at by the author in the mud-walled riding school of the 17th Cavalry in Rawalpindi, it has more than mere enjoyment. To the junior officer the author presented little of the yogi. To us he was squadron leader. Whatever he made of the other world, he has done much with this.