No life-altering philosophies. No depressing stories. No war crimes or injured puppy pictures. This is where you come at the end of a long day to smile and relax. So sit back, order a refreshing drink and share a laugh with me, your bartender for the evening.
And always remember that age-old, fluorescent green rule of life : An appletini a day keeps the doctor away.


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Book review : Once Upon the tracks of Mumbai



Book: Once Upon the Tracks of Mumbai
Author: Rishi Vohra
Pages: 266 pages
Cost: Rs.175
Publisher: Jaico Books (2012)

The first thing that crossed my mind when I saw the title of this book was the 2010 gangster movie from Bollywood 'Once Upon a Time in Mumbai'. That movie had its moments of romance while also being dark and portraying flawed characters. In that one aspect, I find a similarity between the two - which is a good thing. 
Having gotten used to college themed love stories for a few years now as far as Indian literature is concerned, I was glad to move away from it and see Indian authors moving beyond the typical chocolate boy heroes which you and I have encountered in so many Bollywood films.



Rishi Vohra's protagonist Babloo is no chocolate hero. Labeled as suffering from a very relevant personality disorder ( autism ), he struggles to come to grips not just with the bustling outer world of Mumbai, but also the inner conflicts of his personality and a family that consciously chooses to ignore him while doting on his  more accomplished 'normal' brother. The one girl in the neighbourhood, Vandana, who treats him with respect  is perhaps the obvious choice to be the center of his affections, but he chooses not to reveal his feelings for her. It doesn't help his cause that she finds herself attracted to a third character, Sikander, who may not be all that he seems. Imagine his plight then when he comes home to the news that her parents are looking to get her married to his brother.

'A 'quiet' hero doting after the neighbourhood girl and finding out she's about to be engaged to his brother?'
All this would be enough for a typical chick-lit book. But in Rishi Vohra's fictional world, this is just the foundation for a larger theme - the arrival of the Rail-Man. Have no doubts, this is a mysterious 'superhero' with his own origin story, who fights crime by the railtracks of Bandra and becomes a hero in the city's eyes by foiling acid attacks and murders. Of course, his 'heroism' makes him wanted by the police and this leads to a whole new set of problems for the vigilante.

What binds Babloo, Vandana, Sikander and the Rail-Man ? Who is the vigilante ? Can Babloo overcome his own inner demons and issues and be the man he wants to be for Vandana ? 

The author obviously knows the world that is Mumbai well - it is evident not just in his detailed observations of the railway lines and stations : it is visible in the myriad characters that also form a part of his gallery, in addition to the principal characters. You can see them everyday in your own lives : the taxi drivers, the traders, the policemen, the railway staff and middle class families. And they all have a role to play in moving the story forward.

I liked that there were parts in this story that I couldn't guess or predict easily : that matters when you are looking for fresh content. I personally liked the leisurely pace at which the book starts , letting you know the layout of your characters and their dreams and desires, before the story moves into third gear with the arrival of the Rail-Man. But I can see how some may be impatient for 'the action' to start - in the end, that will come down to individual taste.  
Another unique thing I liked was that you get to see things from multiple points of view throughout the story - the autistic mind of Babloo who aspires to be more yet is content to hide behind his own shortcomings, the 'girl dreaming of bigger things' eyes of Vandana... and the 'hero' Rail Man. The multiple points of view help understand the motivations of the characters and , much like the Mumbai railway lines, carry the characters storylines from very different starting points towards a satisfying final stop. Themes of love, heartbreak, destiny, traditions, hope and becoming who you are - all are cleverly painted over this landscape. You realise that, like all of us,  every one of these characters has their own inner demons and conflicts which they need to overcome from within.

Would I recommend this book ? 
Yes. It is a pleasant one-afternoon read, a good change for those who are getting tired of the traditional chick-literatures with a very unique protagonist. The language is simple and enjoyable, allowing you to focus on the characters and their trials. There is a moral behind the tale that I found particularly relevant in these days where even the slightest flaw in a person tends to be exaggerated. A definite BUY in my opinion.

If you've read the book and would like to know more about the author, you may reach him at www.rishivohra.com