Tag Archives: travelogue

Book Review: Following Fish: Travels Around the Indian Coast by Samanth Subramanian

Following Fish Title: Following Fish: Travels Around the Indian Coast
Author: Samanth Subramanian
Publisher: Penguin India
ISBN: 9780143064473
Genre: Non-Fiction, Travel, Food
Pages: 184
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

I believe in discovering books on my own. I do not believe in recommendations because I am scared that most people do not know what I love to read or do not care to ask. It is a fact. Most people just put a book in your hands and tell you, “You must read this.” There is nothing more to that interaction. And yet there are times when I am completely taken in by a recommendation and love it to the core. This was the case with, “Following Fish” by Samanth Subramanian that was highly recommended by a dear friend and rightly so.

“Following Fish” is a lot packed in one book. It is about food and about travel and about empathy and about different cultures existing in one country, which is India. Subramanian travels the length and breadth of the coastal parts of the country and discovers Fish, right from how the process of catching fish goes on to the making and to the cultures that influence this category of “sea food”.

What I loved about the book was its simplicity of language and at the same the core remained intact. Not at any given time does Samanth move or change tracks rapidly. Even his travels were planned and thereby the writing that emerges is fantastic. The writing is easy and not at all taxing. In fact in most places it is even funny given the nature of a travelogue when infused with food at its core. He speaks of tragedies such as tsunamis and he also talks of happy times. In the most basic way, the balance is created and maintained.

My most favourite part in the book, but obviously had to be about Mumbai and its fish. About how fish is revered in the city and what place does it have. What I also found most endearing was the way Samanth combines history with all of this. I am a firm believer in the concept of the past and how it links to everything we are made of, so this worked for me superbly while reading the book. The good thing is that this book reads very simply so and at the same time speaks of so many different things. A read if you love to travel or love food or love both.

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Book Review: Around India in 80 Trains by Monisha Rajesh

Around India in 80 Trains by Monisha Rajesh Title: Around India in 80 Trains
Author: Monisha Rajesh
Publisher: Lotus Roli Books
ISBN: 978-81-7436-913-0
Genre: Non-Fiction, Travelogue, Memoir
Pages: 243
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

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.

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Book Review: Hot Tea Across India by Rishad Saam Mehta

Title: Hot Tea Across India
Author: Rishad Saam Mehta
Publisher: Tranquebar Press
ISBN: 978-93-81626-10-8
Genre: Travelogue, Non-Fiction
Pages: 191
Source: Publisher
Rating: 3/5

A travelogue according to me is the most difficult to write. How can one capture images, beauty, and memories in a book? How much would it take to conjure every detail on the trips that you have made and the people you have met? I always marvel at the skill of writers who accomplish writing a travelogue to the smallest details. I started reading, “Hot Tea across India” on a cold night in December and it was a great experience.

I have always been wary of travelogues written by Indian writers, not for anything else, but for the fact that I feel the details are missing most of the time. So I started this one with trepidation, however all my fears were laid to rest.

Hot Tea across India is a book about tea all over the lay of the country. It is about the author’s obsession with travelling on his Bullet and otherwise and exploring lands, and while doing so drinking tea as he and his friends go along journeys over periods of time. Tea is something which is available anywhere in India. It is almost the staple or national drink of the sub-continent and it is around this that the author weaves his travelogue. Tea as tasted across his journeys. From Manali to Rajasthan to Delhi to Mumbai. The experiences are varied and brilliantly accounted for in this book.

Rishad Saam Mehta was working with Autocar India and it is through them that he took to writing and photography. The pieces are well-written, though not all talk about tea and that’s what one will expect, given the title. At the same time, the writing is very good, especially when Mehta describes scenery and breathtaking Himalayan ranges as he is riding past them or setting camp. My favourite chapters in the book were about food – what is available on the highway roadside eateries to what can be cooked by strangers who become acquaintances and then friends.

Throughout the book, I wondered how good it would be if the book could be substantiated with pictures. That would be a reader’s delight. All in all Hot Tea across India was a good reading experience to start off the year.

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The Masque of Africa: Glimpses of African Belief by V.S. Naipaul

V.S. Naipaul has never captivated me as a reader. He may be a great writer and all of that; however there have been times when he just has not done it for me. I am all for travel writers and what they want to achieve by writing about a particular country and this one is no different.

It almost reminded me of “Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad and honestly one must get away from using that as an analogy and yet I cannot help it. The Masque of Africa struck a chord with me in some places and some places, it just didn’t manage to. The outside perspective has been handled well though in certain places.

Naipaul’s journey across the Dark Continent started from Uganda where he lived for a short while in the 60’s, then to Nigeria to Gabon via the Ivory Coast and then to Ghana, and finally to South Africa. He has met people along the way – doctors, lawyers, teachers, queens, chiefs and friends of friends. The idea of course is to get a glimpse into the African belief and he does.

The complexities and conflicts of their own culture are touched on well, though at times the pondering is far stretched. The sensitivity is commendable though. Africans negotiating their cultural worlds within the modern realm of things and how certain rules can be broken and some cannot.

V.S. Naipaul as one can see during his journeys is dry, irked by the way they behave at times and also sometimes enraged at their humour and yet somewhere down the line he knows them like no one else does.

My favourite part is how people speak so candidly about what they go through and their beliefs. About how a particular race forces their beliefs on them without giving much scope to what they follow and believe.

Naipaul has paid a lot of attention to details right from Uganda to South Africa and how people behave, what they eat, how they see the world, their perceptions and what they decide to adopt and what they wish to leave behind.

This book is a must for people who probably will never visit Africa and see it for what it is. It certainly did inspire me at some level to pay a visit to this country and realize how unseen it is.

The Masque of Africa, Naipaul, V.S, Picador India, Rs. 595