I had heard of Monisha Rajesh’s book “Around India in 80 Trains” at the Jaipur Literature Festival. This was last month. I was completely taken by it and had to read it. I had heard great things about it from friends, however was not willing to form my opinion before reading it. I have finally gotten around to reading it and the book and the writing left me speechless and sometimes with a strange smile on my face. When books do that to you, you know that you are with a great read. There is no other explanation and I am aware that it happens to most people. Writers who evoke these feelings need to be lauded – plenty of times if need be.
“Around India in 80 Trains” as the title suggests, is just that. Monisha decided one fine day to undertake these journeys. The thought occurred when she saw an ad/article on how some Indian airlines could now reach 80 cities. So she decided to explore the railroads of the country, through 80 trains with her co-passenger, whom she calls Passepartout (based on the characters in Jules Verne’s book, Around the World in Eighty Days). This book is about their journeys throughout the country.
One might wonder: So what is so unique about this book? There is nothing of significance. However, you are incorrect when you think that. Monisha’s ties with the country are unique and the reader only can come to know of this, if he or she wants to read the book (though she is born and brought up in the UK). It is these ties that make her sometimes question what she has come to love about the country and sometimes also change her beliefs to some extent.
The book is part-travelogue and part-memoir, which makes it even a better read, compared to the other travelogues. The descriptions are wry and sometimes hilariously alive. When she speaks of the people she meets, what she sees, what she breathes and what she eats, Monisha makes you a part of the scenery. You aren’t just a reader then. You get involved in the book. To me, that is the highlight of any writing. The writing is clear and not complex and worked for me superbly. She speaks of religion, of habits, of customs, the way people are and how they think of things. She makes you see your country through different eyes, and for once, I was amazed and ashamed of how little I knew and there is so much to see here. That thought is still germinating and eating me away somewhere.
“Around India in 80 Trains” also makes you see trains differently. The different kinds present in the country and how each of them is so different from the other. As residents of the country, we do not see the charm that they possess (no matter how little at times). In fact, I do not even know how many of us would be willing to undertake such a journey. I for one am so tempted to, sure, after reading the book. It almost feels like something that needs to be done, to experience life and the wonders and sometimes mishaps (as it happened with Monisha in the book) that it has to offer. This was my last read for this month and I am so happy that I ended with this one. It was the perfect icing on the reading cake.