Excursions Of A Bibliophile

What are u reading these days?

Archive for August, 2008

On Chesil Beach – Ian McEwan — A review

Posted by Vish Mangalapalli on August 25, 2008

In one of my more confident moods, I am prone to view life as a series of “rites of passage”. First day at school, the entrance test, starting in a hostel away from parents, getting to know a girl, falling in love, first kiss, first job and salary, marriage, sex, children, illness, grand children, witnessing death — all these have their idiosyncratic demands as rites of passage. Commonplace as they may appear, the impact they have on different individuals is different. Looking back one may think of them as being easily manageable and that often they are attributed with extra importance than they merit. Yet, I think, they carry with them the power of present which is difficult to shake off. Some people take the impact in their stride and some never recover from the impact. In a way, how one reacts to the transition through these rites of passage while exercising control on ones ego not only define a person but to a large extent the course of his/her life itself

Over the weekend I completed reading Ian McEwan‘s “On Chesil Beach” and to me this short novel is yet another demonstration of the breadth McEwan‘s writing capabilities.”On Chesil Beach” is a brilliant depiction of failure of people to handle some important rites of passage and how strong personal egos prevent reconciliation and the unplanned consequences that it can lead to. Edward and Florence are the two main characters in “On Chesil Beach” who fall in love as students — he an ardent student of history and she an equally ardent student of classical music — spend considerable time with each other before their marriage and get married in very happy circumstances. Yet things go horribly wrong on their honeymoon night not only with the actual experience of consummation but also on account of the clash of the strong personal opinions that they hold about consummation and expectations on the general nature of physical relationships between a man and a woman. Florence leans towards a platonic relationship with Edward or that is the impression that she gives Edward. From Edwards angle this is completely unacceptable. Thus begins the deterioration in relations, drift from one another and distance between Edward and Florence. In fact the drifting is so drastic and swift that while reading through I could not help feel sorry for both Edward and Florence. Any feeble hopes of a reconciliation and rapproachment are snuffed by the strong ego of Edward and misunderstanding of Florence’s intentions and her confessedly genuine helplessness. Neither party makes an attempt to reconcile. Florence decides to devote her life to her passion for classical music and becomes quite successful over a period of time and Edward drifts from one thing to another, one relationship to another but still manages to have a moderately succesful career as a music shop owner. Edwards own desire of writing books on lesser known personalities of history remains unachieved. Towards the end McEwan makes Edwards say: “….. he had never met anyone he loved as much, that he had never found anyone, man or woman, who matched her seriousness. Perhaps if he had stayed with her, he would have been more focused and ambitious about his own life, he might have written those history books..when he thought of her, it rather amazed him, that he had let that girl with her violin go. Now he saw that her self effacing proposal was quite irrelevant… all she needed was the certainty of love, and his reassurance that there was no hurry when a lifetime lay ahead of them…. Love and patience — if only he had had them both at once — would surely have seen them both through…. this is how an entire course of a life can be changed — by doing nothing“. But by then it is too late for both Edward and Florence

I was not that affected when I first read the book but later on when I reread a few of the important pages, it dawned on me that McEwan was discussing some of the fundamental issues that can dominate aspects of human relationships e.g. Does love stand as an insurance to the biological shortfalls in a marital relationship? Will it? Can it? Should it? Can there be an agreeable compromise? If so what is it? Can one bear the consequences of a road taken? Can one stop thinking about the possible outcomes had an alternative approach been adopted? These uncontrollable human conundrums are the crux of the book. What makes the book very appealing is that McEwan manages to place the story of Edward and Florence in those momentous decades of forties to seventies when England has seen a fundamental shift in societal values and cultural mores. To a certain extent it appeared to me that these changing norms and mores provide Edward and Florence the necessary support and sanction to carry on with their lives in a manner they deem fit. McEwan shows enormous skill in situation building, characterisation, sharp psychological sketches and brilliant felicity with language

I was in two minds after reading his Booker Prize winning “Amsterdam” as to how much he rightfully deserved the fame that was bestowed on him. However, reading “On Chesil Beach” has moved me forward on the path of conviction of his capabilities as one of the talented writers (that I am aware of) writing in English today. May be his other well known books like “First Love, Last Rites”, “In Between Sheets“, “Enduring Love” and “Atonement” would firmly deliver me at the doorsteps of a clear conviction

Posted in Book Reviews | 2 Comments »

A Pale View Of Hills – Kazuo Ishiguro — A review

Posted by Vish Mangalapalli on August 19, 2008

I love reading Kazuo Ishiguro and the more I read his books the more I find him interesting in a very quaint way. I know of no other writer in my limited range of reading who so consistently and so ably handles the theme of “loss” as Ishiguro does. In fact, I think twice before I really take up reading Ishiguro. He disturbs me during the read and also for a long while after the last page is turned shut. One cannot but become pensive. For Ishiguro has that great ability to lead the reader very gradually into a world that is filled with grief and sadness. My initial brush with Ishiguro was through “The Remains Of the Day“. Even to this day I believe it is one of my finest reads and this was followed by “When We were Orphans” and now “A Pale View of Hills

Etsuko – the protagonist of “A Pale View of Hills” is a middle-aged Japanese woman who has come to England long ago with her second husband who is English. She has two daughters – Keiko with her first husband Jiro and Niki with her second husband. Both Keiko and Niki grow up in England and for reasons made unknown to the reader, Keiko commits suicide. This triggers the sad reminiscence of Etsuko’s life of one hot summer in Nagasaki —- a Nagasaki that is recovering from the horrendous impact of the atom bomb. The reminiscence is about a good friend Sachiko and her troubled child Mariko. There are parallels between Mariko and Keiko in terms of a troubled childhood. Sachiko herself has fallen on hard times and finds it hard to make both ends meet. Sachiko is looking to emigrate to USA with the help of Frank whose full identity is never revealed. This emigration in some sense is a form of escape. Escape from a life that has turned harsh and a country that is changing but too steeped in its own traditions and in many ways rigid. In the book Frank is always portrayed as a distant entity and not a human being in flesh and blood. Mariko hates Frank. Towards the end Sachiko moves along with Mariko to Kobe in anticipation of emigration to USA. One never knows if Sachiko finds peace and solace that she longs for. Ishiguro never makes it clear to the readers under what circumstances Etsuko meets her English husband and what happens to Jiro. Using words minimally Ishiguro builds a brilliant contrast between Keiko and Niki and also to a certain extent the varying cultural settings of UK and Japan . Niki is independent and fiercely committed to her freedom where as Keiko’s portrayal is that of a meek girl immersed in herself. In a conventional sense “A Pale View of Hills” does not have a concrete story with a definitive beginning, middle and an end. Ishiguro never allows the reader to get a grip on the flow of the novel. Yet the more I mulled, the more this book appealed to me

First and foremost is Ishiguro‘s depiction of the elliptical nature of the conversations. None of the characters say anything directly. Everything is hesitatingly suggestive. The picture gets painted yet it remains hazy. It is like trying to watch a clear scenery through a glass that has a thin layer of vapour on it

Second, Ishiguro does a great job of building an accurate picture of the Japanese society that is changing. The conversations between Jiro and his father Ogata-san, Jiro and his visiting friends or Ogata-san and Shigeo Matsuda – a student of Ogata-san portray this society and its traditions quite brilliantly 

Third, in what is appearing to be the trademark of Ishiguro, I once again got to enjoy the brilliant first person narration of the story. I am certain that “A Pale View of Hills” being his debut novel, would have made readers take a serious note of this approach to story telling. However, one gets to see this technique approach great heights in Ishiguro’s “The Remains Of The Day” (I will always remember the butler Stevens and his language)

Is “A Pale View of Hills” a faultless novel? I do not think so. In my opinion there are a few flaws. The characters appear devoid of strong emotions. For instance, I never understood Etsuko’s unruffled calm when she watches Sachiko’s effort in drowning Mariko’s kittens. Some of the characters are almost ghostlike. One never gets to know who Frank is, who Niki’s father is and how did he get Estuko to England or why Estuko left Jiro. There is a stoic resignation and emotionlessness in most of the characters.

Despite these “A Pale View of Hills” is a wonderfully pensive novel and need to be read slowly and with great care to see its beauty in portrayal of loss and grief

Posted in Book Reviews | Leave a Comment »

The Reluctant Fundamentalist — Mohsin Hamid — A review

Posted by Vish Mangalapalli on August 10, 2008

People who create history very often are not the people who suffer its consequences. 9/11 is a classic reminder of this. The “collateral damage” in the form of sharpened identity politics, innocent lives lost, wounded national prides, affected psyches, desparate rage, hunger for revenge and muted voices of moderation have been all too evident for anyone to see. Given the media bias, the  elbow room for views from “other side” has been all too limited and constrained. With the publishing of Mohsin Hamid‘s “The Reluctant Fundamentalist” we have a glimpse into the views from this “other side” thrust into the mainstream literature. “Excuse me, sir, but may I be of assistance? Ah, I see I have alarmed you. Do not be frightened by my beard: I am a lover of America“….thus begins this brilliant monologue of the urbane, controlled, sensible and some times edgy and anguished voice of Changez, the hero of the book. Changez is the self appointed Pakistani host of a visiting American on a dusky evening in a non descript Lahore restaurant. His is the voice of an educated Pakistani national torn by confused loyalties between two nations, a love that is also a personal tragedy and a commitment to show his own resentment through civilized protest and action. The desire for civilised protest results in Changez relocating to Lahore leaving a lucrative career in the high world of Wall Street finance post 9/11

With a degree from Princeton – one of the elite meccas of higher education in US – Changez joins Underwood Samson and Company as a highly paid analyst in their mergers and acquisitions division. While at Princeton he falls in love with Erica a batchmate of his. Erica herself is divided in her feelings to her former boyfriend Chris who is dead on account of cancer and Changez whom she finds polished, polite and accommodating.  On his first assignment at Malaysia, 9/11 takes place and Changez returns to a metamorphosed America. His own feelings towards 9/11 are confused and he admits to his guest in Lahore thus: “But as I continued to watch, I realized that it was not fiction but news, I stared as one – and then the other – of the twin towers of New York’s World Trade Center collapsed. And then I smiled….. and so when  I tell you I was pleased at the slaughter of thousands of innocents, I do so with a profound sense of perplexity….. I was caught up in the symbolism of it all, the fact that someone had so visibly brought America to her knees…..

Yet the feelings of hostility and perplexity are not suddenly developed. Changez’s own stay in the US and his observations of the behaviour of Americans over a period of time prepares him for the anguish and gradual alienation. Consider some of Changez’s observations: “But you told us,” they would say to the Greeks twice the age, before insisting things be done their way. I, with my finite and depleting reserves of cash and my traditional sense of deference to one’s seniors, found myself wondering by what quirk of human history my companions  – many of whom I would have regarded as upstarts in my own country, so devoid of refinement were they — were in a position to conduct themselves in the world as they they were its ruling class … or… Or perhaps it was my ability to function both respectfully and with self-respect in a hierarchical environment, something American youngsters – unlike other Pakistani counterparts – rarely seem trained to do

At Lahore the situation gets further complicated with rising tensions between India and Pakistan. Changez’s own thoughts are: But that night a family banquet was held in my honor, and there the conflict with India dominated conversation. Opinion was divided as to whether the men who had attacked the Indian parliament had anything to do with Pakistan, but there was unanimity in the belief that India would do all it could to harm us, and that despite the assistance that we had given America in Afghanistan, America would not fight on our side. Already, the Indian Army was mobilizing and, Pakistan had begun to respond;convoys of trucks, I was told, were passing through the city, bearing supplies to our troops on the border; as we ate, we could hear the sounds of military helicopters flying low overhead………and ………… all America would have to do would be to inform India that an attack on Pakistan would be treated as an attack on any American ally and would be responded to by the overwhelming force of America’s military…Yet your country was signally failing to do this; indeed America was strictly maintaining neutrality between two combatants, a position that favoured, of course, the larger and – at that moment in history – the more belligerent of them. It is here that I felt that Hamid portrays Changez as a person with a lack of knowledge of complicated contemporary history and relations between India and Pakistan and India’s own feelings towards Pakistan especially that there was a Kargill war which was a sufficient demonstration of the belligerence against India

It is during this time Changez goes onto an assignment in Chile to value a book publisher and there he meets a Juan Batista who opens his eyes to a different kind of reality when he tells Changez the following: … He nodded; he lit a cigarette and took a sip from his glass of wine. Then he asked, “Have you heard of the janissaries?” “No” I said. “They were christian boys,” he explained, “captured by the Ottomans and trained to be soldiers in a Muslim army, at that time the greatest army in the world. They were ferocious and utterly loyal; they had fought to erase their own civilizations, so they had nothing else to turn to…. The Janissaries were always taken in childhood. It would have been far more difficult to devote themselves to their adopted empire, you see, if they had memories they could not forget.. It is this with troubling insight and his own reflection on his situation Changez returns to New York in midst of his assignment with a potential sack awaiting him. At one point he says: I resolved to look about me with an ex-janissary’s gaze – with that is to say, the analytical eyes of a product of Princeton and Underwood Samson, but unconstrained by the academic’s and the professional’s various compulsions to focus primarily on parts, and free therefore  to consider the also the whole of your society – upon my return to New York. Seen in this fashion I was struck by how traditional your empired appeared. Armed sentries manned the check post at which I sought entry; being of a subject race I was quarantined and subjected to additional inspection; once admitted I hired a charioteer who belonged to a serf class lacking the permissions to abide legally and forced therefore to accept work at lower pay; I myself was a form indentured servant whose right to remain was dependent upon the continued benevolence of my employer. Thank you Juan – Bautista…. for helping me to push back the veil behind which all this has been concealed!

On top of all this America’s behaviour in the world also rile Changez quite a bit and he at one point says: ..but it seemed to me that America, too, was increasingly giving itself over to a dangerous nostaligia at that time. There was undeniably something retro about the flags and uniforms, about generals addressing cameras in war rooms and newspaper headlines featuring such words as duty and honor…. what your fellow countrymen longed for was unclear to me — a time of unquestioned dominance? of safety? or moral certainty? I did not know — but they were scrambling to don the costumes of another era was apparent….. or…………It seemed to me then – and to be honest, sir, seems to me still – that America was engaged only in posturing. As a society, you were unwilling to reflect on upon shared pain that united you with those who attacked you. You retreated into myths of your own difference, assumptions of your own superiority. And you acted out those beliefs on the stage of the world, so that the entire planet was rocked by the repercussions of your tantrums, not least my family, now facing war thousands of miles away. Such an America has to be stopped in the interests not only of the rest of the humanity, but also in your own

Given that I am an Indian, I found it difficult to accept all the views that Hamid puts forth through Changez. Notwithstanding those personal biases, I think “The Reluctant Fundamentalist” is a brilliant and moving book and paints a grim picture of the psyche of an affected Pakistani national caught in the tidal waves of contemporary events that affected the entire muslim world

Two aspects of Hamid’s writing that I liked in the book are, firstly, the styling of the monologue.  It is on this I am willing to hazard a guess which is that the polish of Changez’s language is a derivative of the highly polished cultures of muslim families steeped in tradition of speaking refined Urdu at home

Secondly, there are many places in the book where Hamid brings out the differences between the ethos of sub continental Asia and West quite appealingly. Consider what Changez says when he pays the bill for the meal: You wish to pay half ? Absolutely not; besides, here we pay all or we pay none. You have reminded me of how alien I found the concept of acquaintances splitting a bill when I first arrived in your country. I had been raised to favour mutual genorosity over mathematical precision in such matters; given time both work equally well even to a score…… Or…..There is great satisfaction to be had in touching one’s prey; indeed; millenia of evolution ensure that manipulating our meals with our skin heightens our sense of taste — and our appetite, for that matter!….. Or………It is remarkable indeed how we human beings are capable of delighting in the mating call of a flower while we are surrounded by the charred carcasses of our fellow animals — but then we are remarkable creatures. Perhaps it is in our nature to recognize sub consciously the link between mortality and procreation – between, that is to say, the finite and the infinite – and we are in fact driven by reminders of the one to seek out the other

All in all “The Reluctant Fundamentalist” is a sensible and thought provoking read. I was disturbed for a while after reading the book and more than anything else I thinkI stand sensitised to the anguish and hurt sentiments of an affected muslim of the contemporary times.

A worthy shortlist for the 2007 Man Booker Prize

Posted in Book Reviews | 3 Comments »

The Great Railway Bazaar — Paul Theroux — A review

Posted by Vish Mangalapalli on August 8, 2008

The more I read the more I am convinced that Travel Writing can assume protean forms and provide delightful entertainment to readers. Eric Newby, Paul Theroux, Pico Iyer, Jack Kerouack, Bruce Chatwin are some of the writers that I know who made enormous contributions to this genre of literature. While V.S.Naipaul is considered to be a modern day pioneer in travel writing, I think he went beyond the conventional boundaries of travel writing and created what I would call as Travel Writing ++ to include accute observations, sweeping abstractions of history, biting criticism of and critical commentary on the societies that he travelled through

Irrespective of me being single or with a group – I get alone (not lonely) when I travel. It induces an irrepressive solitariness that makes me completely alive. Thoughts race quite fast and with a heightened sense of clarity. I therefore now made it a habit to use the time on long distance travel to cud chew some of the important and vexing questions of my life and the world in general. And I found this unfettered self reflection healing and cathartic.  In that sense occasional travel for me is a refreshing activity. Maybe the motivation in past for pilgrimages could have been due to this refreshing feature of travel. But as Bruce Chatwin said in his classic “The Songlines” — A Journey can be a fragement of hell. Diametrically opposite but valid views

To me the single most appealing aspect of Travel Writing is the freshness and startling unexpectedness of the perpsectives that the writers bring forth on a society, culture, people, places and times that they are transiting through. As perennial insiders we develop fairly static views of ourselves and our surroundings. For travel writers there is no such constraint. The certainty with which they make their observations is to a large extent transient and yet as views and commentary of a time and place gone by they can be great documents worth looking at by posterity. For example, Naipaul’s views on India and the Muslim nations of Iran, Pakistan, Indonesia and Malaysia may have sounded prophetic for a while but today India is an enormously different picture of what Naipaul may have thought it would be and so is the case with the other countries that he so confidently commented about

It is in one of these recent long distance travels, I have had the opportunity of reading Paul Theroux’sThe Great Railway Bazaar“. Simply put “The Great Railway Bazaar” is a journey that begins in London snakes through Europe to reach Turkey and then proceeds onto Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Srilanka, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, Japan and culminates in Russia. But why the reference to bazaars? What does it signify? The bustle, the interaction and the constant buzz of activity is a characteristic of a bazaar and the same is true for a train too — In a brilliant opening Theroux says the following about the bazaar nature of trains ” I have seldom heard a train go by and not wished I was on it. Those whistles sing bewitchment: railways are irresistible bazaars, snaking along perfectly no matter what the landscape, increasing your mood with speed, and never upsetting your drink…anything is possible on a train: a great meal, a binge, a visit from card players, an intrigue, a good night’s sleep and strangers monologues framed like Russian short stories…. I sought trains and found passengers“.  With this kind of a opening one finds it very hard to resist the subsequent reading

So what have been the most appealing aspects of this book? I guess there are many but a few really stand out

First is Theroux‘s ability to understand the constantly changing mental aspects and behaviour of the traveller affected by travel itself. Consider the following when Theroux writes: “Anybody else here?” It has not occured to me that I would have company; the conceit of the long distance traveller is the belief that he is going so far, he will be alone – inconceivable that another person has the same good idea orExtensive travelling induces a feeling of encapsulation; and travel, so broadening at first, contracts the mind” …….   or……… “Starvation takes the fun out of travel, and from this point of view the Orient Express is more inadequate than the poorest Madrasi train, where you exchange stained lunch coupons for a tin tray of vegetables and a quart of rice” …. or…..The conversation, like many others I had with people on trains, derived an easy candour from the shared journey, the comfort of the dining car, and the certain knowledge that neither of us would see each other again. The railway was a fictor’s bazaar, in which anyone with patience could carry away a memory to pore over in privacy. The memories were inconclusive, but an ending, as in the best fiction, was always implied

Second is Theroux’s ability to observe a country or a place and depict the essence of it. Travelling through Iran, Theroux writes “It is an old country; everywhere in the gleaming modernity are reminders of orthodox past – the praying steward, the portraits, the encampments of nomads, and, on what is otherwise one of the best run railways in the world, the yearning for the baksheesh….Money pulls the Iranian in one direction, religion drags him in another, and the result is the stupid starved creature for whom woman is only meat. Thus spake Zarathustra: an ugly monomaniac with a diamond tiara, who calls himself ‘The King of Kings’, is their answer to the government, a firing squad their answer to law ……………or the wonderful dismissal of Swiss landscape “At ground level the train passed fruit farms and clean villages and Swiss cycling in kerchiefs, calendar scenes that you admire for a moment before feeling an urge to move onto a new month” ……..orThere must be something in the Japanese character that saves them from the despair Americans feel in similar throes of consuming. The American, gorging himself on the merchandise, develops a sense of guilty self consciousness (do they? are they? will they ever? – Theroux is being generous in attributing good sense to a nation that is consuming close to 50% of the world’s resources with abandon): if the Japanese have these doubts they do not show them. Perhaps hesitation is not part of the national character, or perhaps the ones who hesitate are trampled by the crowds of the shoppers — that natural selection that capitalist society practices against the reflective… The Japanese have perfected good manners and made them indistinguishable from rudeness ……………orAsia washes with spirited soapy violence in the morning. The early train takes you past people discovered laundering like felons rehearsing – Pakistanis charging their sodden clothes with sticks, Indians trying to break rocks (this is Mark Twains defintion of a Hindu) by slapping them with the wet Dhotis, grimacing Ceylonese wringing out their lungis….Watch a Tamil going over his teeth with an eight-inch twig and you begin to wonder if he isn’t trying to yank a branch out of his stomach – tongue in cheek but brilliant observations

There is no denying that successive governments in the Indian subcontinet and Pakistan have failed to provide basic amenities to their citizens. While visiting the Peshwar museum, Theroux comes across a stunning statue of Buddha in granite and then goes onto link the beauty of this statue and the constant and ugly presence of hunger in these two countries in a wonderfully observed paragraph: The most striking piece is a three-foot stone sculpture of an old man in a lotus posture. The man is fasting: his eyes are sunken, his rib cage is prominent, his knees are knobbly, his belly hollow. He looks near death, but his expression is beatific. It is an accurate representation of an emaciated body that I’ve ever seen, and again and again, throughout India and Pakistan, I was to see that same body, in doorways and outside huts leaning against the pillars of railway stations, starvation lending a special quality of saintliness to the bony face

Third, is Theroux’s ability to meet, engage and observe and write about people from diverse walks of life. Consider his encounter with a german drug addict on Frontier mail and the depiction: He had carried his dereliction to a derelict land. He was doomed, he stank to death and his condition was not so different from that of the unfortunates who appeared at the railway stations we passed, gathering for the light and water. There are foreigners who, knowing they are wrecked, go to India to be anonymous in her decrepitude, to age and sicken in the bustees of the East. They are people, V.S.Naipaul wrote recently, ‘who wish themselves on societies more fragile than their own…who in the end do no more than celebrate their own security, or the people who are fleeing their respective countries on the Night Mail to Meshed: They were all going to Australia — the Canadian couple because ‘We didn’t feel like learning French,’ the cockney because London ‘is ‘eaving with bloody Indians’. It must be a sociological fact that prejudice is a more common motive for emigration than poverty or ……..Molesworth turned to the train. ‘I must say I’m not sad to see the back of that train, are you?” But he said it in a tone of fussy endearment, in the way a person who calls himself a fool really means the opposite

At no stage does Theroux let the reader away from his observations of the trains themselves. Some of the descriptions of the trains and their role in the larger scheme of things are the most beautiful topical passages that I have ever read: The trains in any country contain the essential paraphernalia of the culture: Thai trains have the shower jar with the glazed jar on its side, Ceylonese ones the car reserved for Buddhist monks, Indian ones a vegetarian kitchen and six classes, Iranian ones prayer mats, Malaysian ones a noodle stall, Vietnamese ones bulletproof glass on the locomotive, and on a every carriage of a Russian train there is a samovar. The railway bazaar, with its gadgets and passengers, represented the society so completely that to board it was to be challenged by the national character. At times it was like a liesurely seminar, but I also felt on some occasions that it was like being jailed and then assaulted by the monstrously typical…… or………… Indian railway stations are wonderful places for killing time in, and they are like scale models of Indian society, with its divisions of caste, class and sex: SECOND CLASS LADIES’WAITING ROOM, BEARERS ENTRANCE, THIRD-CLASS EXIT, FIRST CLASS TOILET, VEGETARIAN RESTAURANT, NON-VEGETARIAN RESTAURANT, RETIRING ROOMS, CLOAK ROOM, and the whole range of occupations on office signboards, from the tiny one saying SWEEPER, to the neatest of all, STATION MASTER or the wonderful one liner: A train is a vehicle that allows residence; dinner in the diner, nothing could be finer

To sum up “The Great Railway Bazaar” is a timeless classic in travel writing and is a book that I would love to read many times over. A small personal irony is that I read most of the book on a flight. Maybe there is enoromous truth lurking in the rhetorical question that Annie Proulx once famously asked: What are planes but flying reading rooms? How true! How true!! How true!!!

Afterword: Much has changed in the Great Railway Bazaars of India off late. There is an aspiration for modernity, efficiency and provision of comfort. Hope that continues for ever

Posted in Book Reviews | 2 Comments »