My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Got my hands on this book about two years ago when Amazon.in was launched and they were giving away some free Kindle books. Started reading it only when the Goodreads Indian Readers group picked this book as their April 2015 read.
This was the first time I read a travelogue and cannot say if I like the genre. But something about trains and finding more about my country did intrigue me enough that I decided to give this book a shot.
The author narrates how she ends up deciding to take this adventure while in London and all the ups and downs during the extensive train journeys in India. I could relate to some of the trains having travelled on those myself, but they are mostly limited to trains running on the west coast of the country and longer routes towards South India from Delhi. Learning about special trains like Indian Maharaja-Deccan Odyssey, the routes along North-East India and the 4 extreme tips of Indian Railways – Kanyakumari, Dwarka (Varvala?), Udhampur and Ledo – were some of the good outcomes.
Along with the train rides, the author shares personal experiences related to her family, general observations about coming back to India, meeting all sorts of people during the adventure, fights with her companion over his ‘militant atheist’ religious viewpoint and some about discovering herself through Vipassana meditation.
Overall a light read and enjoyable read. 3 stars.
- The author treats the trains as males, which distracted me couple of times as growing in a North-Indian Hindi-speaking household, a train has always been a railgaadi (and hence a female) to me:
His predecessor, the Palace on Wheels, still rolled his old bones up and down Rajasthan’s tracks, but had succumbed to age.
During the day he stood quietly in local stations, being fed and watered by his engineers until ready to leave again.
- My first (really) long train journey was on Kerala Express with my father. This was the first time we had come to South India and spent over 60% of our time traveling in trains and buses visiting all sorts of religious places like Tirupati, Madurai and Rameswaram. I ended up recalling that week long tour while relating to the author’s experience.
- we snaked around the families holding hands through the bars and arrived at the door to A2 as train number nine, the Kerala Express to Kottayam creaked and began to move again.
- Some general observations by the author about India.
Two people had been pushed down the waiting list because of our whims and fancies and I felt terrible—but only for a moment. This was India and this was how India worked.
Each question establishes where the other person sits on the social spectrum: surnames give away caste and social standing; jobs indicate earnings and therefore power, as does revealing where you live. Once they have all the answers, they can assign people to categories and gauge how useful the acquaintance will be in the future.
- And a particularly touching incidence from the author’s Golden Temple visit.
- He raised a palm and reached down to behind the bench separating us, then stood up holding a metal jug and bowl. He began to pour rajma into the bowl and it splattered over the sides as he produced a foil packet and began to unroll a pair of rotis. It was his own lunch. ‘Come.’ The gentleman gestured for me to climb over the bench and I shook my head. ‘Oh, no, thank you, that’s your lunch.’ Ignoring me, he began to clear a patch of bags from the floor then laid down a sheet of newspaper. He put down the food and waved me over. I stepped over the bench and took off my bag as he turned the table fan towards me. ‘You must eat,’ he said, sending a colleague down to bring up some water. I bit into a roti and started to cry.