Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Once upon the Tracks of Mumbai - A reivew

Railway tracks and India go back a long way. We have depicted the railways as being a catalyst in many of our movies, the ones that come to mind instantly being "Jab We Met". Of course there are many, many more that can be pulled out if one really wants to remember.

At the same time, I wonder how many books are written on the familiar settings of the enormous presence in our country called the Railways! And what better place to have the story than Mumbai, the 'city that never sleeps', where the Railways contribute to the economy and the lifestyle.

Allow me, ladies and gents, to put before you, in the usual Nirvana style, yet another book I have been fortunate to get my hands on Once Upon the Tracks of Mumbai by Rishi Vohra

First things first, I got an autographed book (Yay!!) The cover has two pretty faces over the railway line. While this is definitely the settings, do not be misled into thinking that this is all there is to the book! The book goes into much more shades of grey, black and white than you would assume from the cover.

Pic courtesy Rishi Vohra

  • The Plot : Without letting too much of the proverbial 'cat' out of the bag, let me just tell you what the synopsis of the book says about the story :
"Autistic. psychotic. Schizophrenic....". For the twenty four years of his life, these are some of the words "they" have used to describe Babloo. He knows his family agrees with "them" and he senses that he is different. He doesn't hate people; he just cannot find the right way to connect with anyone. Vandana is the only exception. What can he do to make himself worthy of her?

Babloo finds simple pleasures in small things, A random twist of fate along these familiar train tracks brings Babloo face to face with the harsh reality of escalating crime in the local trains of Mumbai, and shakes him out of his apathy.

  • The Writing Style : The writing falls into the usual style of writing adapted by young Indian writers - easy prose, with a fair amount of 'Indian English' - though here, the author has used it only when the characters communicate to themselves or to each other (so much more believable). The story is told in two streams  - one in which is in the first person (of the protagonist) and the other, as narrated in third person. Sometimes, it gets a little confusing where the first person has stopped and the third person has started. Goes to show that this is not a book that you can read while multi-tasking.
Also something that was pleasant in the writing was the sketch of the city I love so much - Mumbai in all its glory, and sometimes, the coldness of the city too.
  • Character Development : The characters are well sketched out. Which, in a way, may not have been always good for the surprise element - from the early introduction of the characters, they are very clearly bucketed into 'good' people and 'bad' people. This has a tendency to create a bias in the readers' minds, and, to an extent, remove the element of surprise that evolve in the twists of the story. On the other hand, this approach makes one take sides very early on in the book, and hence cheering when the 'good guys' win.
  • Words and Print Quality: Jaico has done a good job of the Printing, and there was no jarring typo that one usually associates with many Indian authors. The words, as mentioned earlier, are easy to comprehend. This works well for the story, which, since it looks at what goes inside of a person's mind, is complex enough, without using big words. An example excerpt :
"No one understood the dual existence of 'him' and me that made me the person I am. Only the railway tracks that ran along outside my bedroom window knew the both of us individually. The endless, idle wooden planks connected by durable steel had formed a fine segregation between my fantasy and reality."

For some more excerpts, do visit this site
  • Final Verdict : Some mature writing, of a topic not written much about. Some insights into a schizophrenic mind that has learnt to love, and a real look at how the average Indian family treats people that have different needs. A must read, if only to explore Babloo's mind.


  1. I have read good reviews about this book. Seems like a sensible read.

    1. Yes Amit, quite a sensible read..... different from the usual.

  2. HEard a lot of good things about this book