I read books. I really do. I just don’t hold on to them. But this time, I am going to make an exception. And I am going to make this exception for the debutante- Monisha Rajesh- an Indian origin journalist based in London. Currently employed with The Week- UK she is a second generation emigrant of India and she makes it pretty evident throughout the book. Perhaps, the single most factor that makes this book an interesting read. An outsider’s inside outside perspective.
‘Around the India in 80 trains’ is a travelogue, capturing Monisha’s trials, tribulations, distress, excitement and finally her triumphs of completing 80 train journeys across India, while the journey captures Monisha’s self-discovery through the lens of Indian railway network.
To cut the long story short, this book describes- how Monisha and her family uprooted from Sheffield to Madras, in a bid to remain connected with the ‘Indian roots’ only to return with a severe heart- ache over ‘soap-eating rats’, ‘corruption’, ‘organ-selling’, ‘severed human heads’, etc. However, like any flowing river who keeps flowing with a hope of finding its identity in the large ocean, Monisha returns after two decades to India, embarking on an adventurous journey discovering her roots through 80 trains mapping 40,000 km the circumference of earth.
With an aim to lift the veil on the mysterious stranger friend, the Indian railways (Introduced by Britishers to India. Thank heavens for that. And oh yes, the largest civilian employers in the world), takes Monisha and her atheist friend ploughing through sunrises, sunsets, drifting like a cloud from one state to other, flowing like a river from one city to another village, crawling through muddy, paddy fields to climbing mountains. Hopping from one luxury train to a toy train to a hospital train on wheels, to a crowded palpitating and sweaty passenger train, soon Monisha and her friend uncover their beliefs, about culture, etiquette, poverty, social mores, god and attaining nirvana. On the tracks, they also see and hear amusing colorful stories of Indian people, Indian society and the much ridiculous ‘India shining’ lie.
And to tell you the truth, reading the book is a more of a deja vu. Having known snoring males, to naked kids on train berths to the much obnoxious women, whose only business is to get you married, makes you cringe. A few stories of really helpful people and the grandeur of Indian networks carrying more than twenty million each days, makes you smile.
Upvote: Overall the book is damn neat. Humorous, witty and really makes you question the so called ‘India shining’ image that the elite of the country constantly perpetuate. The language is utterly simple. More than often the book is fast paced and that makes it unstoppable.
This book will make you want to experience the Indian railways. Yes, I want to travel in the Indian trains now. 😉
On the downside, this book saddens you and put across a stark question- Is there nothing good about India? The book also ridicules the concept of urban India, arguing that the real India exists in its downtrodden beliefs, customs and social mores. It forgets to understand the complexity of this country, where the rich exists along side with the poor. In the rich, there are good and bad. Amongst the poor, there are people who crib, while there are some who enjoy living a modest life and have nothing to do with worldly measures of education and a good life.
All in all,, my recommendation for the book is- Read it! You can’t miss this one! 🙂