[book] around india in 80 trains

As you know, I’m reading a bunch of travelogues by non-white travelers because travel is for brown people too. Today’s book review is of Around India in 80 Trains, by Monisha Rajesh. It’s exactly what it sounds like, by a member of the Indian diaspora.

This book was a delight. A member of the Indian diaspora takes as many trains as she can to travel around India, see friends and family, and learn about a place she left behind at an early age.

Tempted by a news article talking about how India’s domestic airlines could newly reach 80 cities, and thoughts about all the parts of India she’d never seen on her frequent visits to family, Monica Rajesh travels around India on 80 trains across several months.

I love non-white travelogues. I especially love their use in exploring the familiar that has become unfamiliar, or the familiar that has become complacent. Visits home are tightly controlled by family and friends, and I love the central concept of this book, that one can go and just explore a place that’s familiar and unfamiliar, exploring planned and unplanned.

The echoes in this book were a delight. I loved the phrasing she used and the images she conjured up.

Returning to Madras was like being reunited with an ex-lover. On the surface we were friends, but while wounds may heal, their scars run deep. We had seen little of each other since 1993 and in that time Madras had adopted a new name, expanded its waistline and grown into a monster of a metropolis that I barely recognised.

*Hisses in recognition and familiarity, make notes about Penang and Georgetown*

I loved Rajesh’s writing style and her insights. She rambles and meanders, much like the train lines themselves, but every moment is interesting. Her thoughts are insightful, a lovely mix of history, present, and speculation. I enjoyed her thoughts about colonialism, and the continuation of those concepts through Western tourism. I love her interrogation of her own religion and assumptions (an interrogation that leads her to spend 10 days at a silent meditation retreat) and the ways in which her attitude to her project changes over time, and how honest she is about it all.

And I love her delightful shade throwing.

After a comfortable stay, the British were not adverse to taking more than just the complimentary toiletries: their imperial kleptomania extended to robes, duvets, and anything else that was not nailed down.

The only lowlights of this book for me were every instance of her atheist travelling partner, Passepartout. A friend of a friend, she was eager for a travelling partner and he was boring, frustratingly arrogant, and I was glad every time they parted ways. She began the trip with him, and so of course he was a feature in the book, but he was unpleasant.

You can find her on twitter or on her blog, and I’m excited to note that she has a new train travel book coming out in 2017 that I will, with delight, read.

4 out of 5 trains.

I purchased a physical copy of this book from Kinokuniya Orchard in Singapore. Actually I made my mum buy me this, but same same.