Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Heat and Dust Project: A beautiful gift from a couple who know their India

My copy
Do you read? Are you a voracious reader? If yes, how many books have you come across that have made you feel old and young at the same time?

Someone had once told me that reading, like writing, is a form of art, and had gone into an elaborate explanation to validate her point. I had argued, but had given in — for her logic, though slightly convoluted, was sound.

The Heat and Dust Project is a reader’s delight. If you are a casual reader, the very concept of the book will blow you away before you click the Order button. A couple gives up on the comfort of city life to travel India on a budget of 500 rupees a day for bed and board.

The fun begins when you start reading, for you had probably not expected it to be this gripping. Before you realise exactly what is going on you have become their co-passenger, have left Delhi ages back, and are trundling through dusty Rajasthan roads that transport you to lands of stories and myths and people and rituals and philosophy.

It is a beautiful book: a must-read for every casual reader like me. The serious reader in you, however, discovers something else as you keep flipping through the pages. It is not your average travelogue. It helps you discover India.

You are aware of the existence of a country called India. You are aware of being a part of her. You have read of her in books and on the internet. If you are an avid traveller, you may have ventured her nooks and corners (and even blogged about your adventures).

But do you know of India beyond your comfort zone? Is a country, her history, her culture, her heritage, her legacy not supposed to be about her people? How do you know a country if her people have not spoken to you of her?

Let us digress here a bit. Open Google Images and type Barmer. The usual clichéd images of camels and deserts will fill your monitor. But what of the herdsmen that appear in the pictures but you choose to ignore? They have stories of their own, handed down from generation to generation, stories ignored by historians and chroniclers and beyond the realm of archaeologists.

Every place has its own inhabitants, who are, in turn, products of the place. Every place speaks for its people. And the people speak for the place. If you traverse across the length and breadth of the country and put the parts together, you will realise that India is more than a sum of her people.

That is precisely what The Heat and Dust Project does: it opens up a gateway for you to India. If the youthful zest of the authors has made you feel young, you definitely finish the book enriched by the erudite narration of the great land that is India.

The narration is one-of-its-kind (but then, so is the book). It would not have been possible without one of the couple. Devapriya befriends the reader. Saurav educates him. And yet, when they bicker during the journey, you realise this is a “them” territory, and leave them on their own.

I have mentioned elsewhere that writing comes naturally to Devapriya. She is an excellent narrator who can keep the reader hooked without making an effort, and is therefore the one who brings the places to life with her vivid description.

Saurav, on the other hand, brings the much-needed punctuation. It would have been a breakneck monotone of a narration otherwise. In more ways than one he tells you of the place and her people; and tells them of you. He forms a chain between the worlds.

In other words, Devapriya sets the pace for the book. Saurav puts a rein on it whenever the book demands. Between them they pull off a fantastic book. There are times when you want to buy them a bottle of water so that they can save 15 rupees; heave a sigh of relief if they get invited by someone and save on a meal; wish Devapriya gets her dose of chocolate pancake; and yearn for Saurav to go on with his narration till your thirst for this country is quenched.

And amidst the heat and dust and grime and excruciating regime, humour peeps in, as does the insatiable thirst for knowledge. And, well, the chemistry that binds them and makes them complement each other without the slightest hint of mush (of which there was ample scope throughout the book).

The Heat and Dust Project is a world of fantasy carved out of reality. But so is India. She always has been. And this is an Indian book written by a very, very Indian couple who, unlike most, know what this seemingly confusing menagerie called India is all about.


I do not like to travel. The trait probably makes me hodophobic. On the rare occasions that I do, I care too much for creature comforts to give in to the completely alien seduction of backpacking. But then, if these little imps keep producing sequels (yes, there will be at least one more) over time...

Monday, May 25, 2015

The Towel Day post

Has the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal been bothering you again? I hope not, for you are too smart, and can dodge the creature easily. All you needed was to lead it to the grandmother of an unsuspecting Vogon — a creature available throughout the vastness of the Universe.

It is that time of the year, when the little blue-green planet — the one about ninety-two million miles from the small unregarded yellow Sun at the western spiral arm of the Galaxy — celebrates Towel Day.

And no, we have given up on digital watches. Even digital cameras. We have taken to selfie sticks instead, which is something, I am sure, even the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal will find stupid.

Consider a return, or a vacation, back to this planet. Together we will travel to rocky promontories to find Electric Monks perched on bored horses; if you insist, we may also plan a trip to Sago Mud Salad; and more.

We rarely invite our ancestors to dinner, for we are seldom proud of them. This, despite the fact that ancestors belonged to the days when spirits were brave, the stakes were high, men were real men, women were real women and small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri were real small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri.

The above paragraph was irrelevant. I was simply showing off that I know your lines. But then, common sense ranks way, way above 79th on the priority lists of my life, not to speak of the Universe and everything.

Oh, and this is a small homage I paid to you. Have a blast!

Monday, May 18, 2015

It was not my fault that I went absconding

It has been over forty days since I have not written a blog post. Forty. That is the number of thieves Alibaba had to encounter. Forty days is also 1/45 of what Salman Khan’s original sentence was, and 192 times the duration he had to spend in jail or lock-up or wherever they imprison drunk drivers who kill black bucks, an animal whose name reminds me of unregistered money.

It was not my fault that I went absconding. There was, to begin with, India ka teohar (which translates to “a six-week festival when Sony MAX does not show Sooryavansham”). Following India ka teohar is a part of my profession. I basked in the festivities.

I watched lots of pre-match interviews live from grounds. In one of them I heard Sunil Gavaskar, supposedly India’s greatest opening batsman, asking Virat Kohli, India’s finest contemporary batsman, whether the latter’s girlfriend was present at the ground. We rewinded and replayed it at the newsroom. It was true. I wish the girlfriend had pulled off an NH-10 act soon afterwards.

It was not my fault that I went absconding. I visited Kolkata to show off that I have not turned into a non-residential creature. Yet. I met several relatives and friends, which meant I had, for once, a social life.

It was not my fault that I went absconding.  I met those lovely people from Coup D'East (two of them for the first time) at Au Bon Pain (I mentioned the venue deliberately, to accommodate two French proper nouns in the same sentence).

I had beef at Mocambo with Amritorupa and bought Bengali books from College Street with Amritorupa, on the same day. I was also spared the effort of making my own coffee every morning. Given the benefits, enduring Bengali soaps was an acceptable castigation. I lived to tell the tale.

I also met Shakuntala, a 37-year-old man’s equivalent of what used to be a “best friend” at school, after two years. She will not be flattered, for she seldom reads what I write. I went to her place, acquired whatever she had got for me from USA, and dozed off immediately.

It was not my fault that I went absconding. During my Kolkata trip I was up against an earthquake, a fire at New Market (I was not present), hailstorms, an election, political riots, and a strike. The earthquake was particularly serious, for I marked myself safe on Facebook while watching a Test between England and West Indies at night. 

The strike was also serious, because I had an afternoon snack at home, followed by a “high-tea” with Sayantani, followed by coffee, sandwiches, and inane conversations with friends from a cricket group, followed by a heavy dinner at home.

It was not my fault that I went absconding. I took time to get used to the brutal humidity of Navi Mumbai. Check weather.com screenshot below as an example. This is certainly not the kind of weather under which quality bloggers thrive.
  

It was not my fault that I went absconding. I have been discussing Harry Potter (for she has started a wonderful book-by-book series on the epic) over the phone and on chat with Amritorupa. There have been calls where we got to know that our service providers automatically disconnect calls after long, long conversations.

Following these inane discussions, she penned down eagerly-anticipated blog posts, one for each book (she would have done the same without the discussions as well).

It was not my fault that I went absconding. I watched Piku, one of the most heart-warming movies I have ever seen. Deepika Padukone used to be an actor I associated with her anti-depression stance. Piku took her to the next level, where she overshadowed Amitabh Bachchan easily (my heart breaks to admit this, but he went way, way overboard with his stereotypes) and Irrfan, with some effort.



Piku deserves special mention, for I cried in the end. I also wondered how a Konkani lady managed to look so Bengali (more than some Bengalis: Bipasha Basu, for example). I dissected her looks, trying to compare her with other Bengali
Courtesy: Somewhere on the internet

Bengalis, and found out the amazing job done by the makeup artist: they did the eyebrows a bit, did not do anything to the lips, and made her already awesome eyes more prominent with a dash of kajol or mascara or whatever mysterious thing it is that women use.
  
They also added the ubiquitous tip (bindi). The tip (Shilpa or otherwise) is possibly as Bengali as anything I have seen, adorning foreheads or mirrors for centuries. Most importantly, Deepika mastered the Bengali accent the way few from outside the state have. At least she does not say KOLKOTA.

It was not my fault that I went absconding. I also watched Bombay Velvet, a movie that the world has disliked for some odd reason. The script was taut, the music enthralling, the sets mind-blowing, and the performances impressive. The movie also featured Raveena Tandon, of whom I got to know two things: first, she is called Raveena Tandon Thadani these days, and second, she will never age.

It was not my fault that I went absconding. There was the birthday-fest of Sachin Tendulkar, Satyajit Ray, and Rabindranath Tagore, which is nothing short of a fortnightly celebration for Bengalis. I lived up to the occasion by deleting WhatsApp-delivered images marking the same. Exactly why WhatsApp memes spread through images and not text is something I have never been able to fathom.

It was not my fault that I went absconding. I watched Gupt thrice (or four times) over this period of time, and the more I watch it, the more I realize that the world has produced few whodunits to match its quality.

Note: In case you have not watched Gupt yet, I do not even know why you exist. Go and watch it. Till the end you will never be able to guess that Kajol is the killer.

It was not my fault that I went absconding. I bought toothpaste. I changed my Facebook cover picture twice a day. I became a Baba Sehgal fan all over again. I kept fighting a lost battle against adamant bed-sheets that refuse to get tucked under mattresses. I worked soft and partied softer. I went from CST to Dadar, changed trains, and went to Kurla — in the evening.

Most importantly, I used the word “thamba” to stop a Navi Mumbai auto-rickshaw successfully.

You see, it was not my fault that I went absconding. After all, this was also the month when I met my daughter. After ages.

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