The Penguin book of Indian journeys, edited by Dom Moraes is a collection of travel essays. It includes essays by some of the best known travelers, writers and journalists like Paul Theroux, Ruskin Bond, Mark Tully, Anita Nair and Bruce Chatwin.
As the name suggests, it is a book of journeys and not just travel. Every story is a unique experience that deals with a different emotion. It is only once you start reading that you realize it is a kaleidoscope, of the colors and contradictions that make India what she is, uneven, unequal and mystic.
The stories emphasize the diversity of India, from the hills of Darjeeling to the beaches of Pondicherry and from the urban noveau riche to the bare existence of indigenous tribes.
Some of those will leave an impression:
- "Death lives in Varanasi" talks about the many people whose search for strength to cope with personal losses and a quest for inner peace brings them to the Ganga.
- "City of Widows" delves deep into the dark, desolate and hopeless lives of the widows in Vrindavan.
- "Bandit king and the Movie star", covers the events around the kidnapping of Rajkumar, leaving you feeling a sense of deja-vu.
- "Mela madness" captures the the sheer variety, madness and accompanying flavours of a village mela.
- "Reports from Orissa" speaks out the grim present and depressing future faced by the cut-off area, a victim of ambitious electric plants and one of the most backward districts in India.
Overall, the tone is always a little glum, which I have come to believe is typical of most stories and travel essays about India, shooting off dark humour, painting a picture of despair and making India appear a nation of people who are hoping against hope for a better tomorrow.
Did I enjoy this book? - Yes, for the style of writing, the insights, the perspectives and the variety.
Would I recommend this book? - Recommended if you genuinely love India for the way she is: uneven, unequal and mystic and can take all the consequences and contradictions of all this with a pinch of salt.
Most of these essays were written between 1970 and 2001. Are they still relevant in modern India? That is for you to find out :)