Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Book Review: 'Who Stole My India' Written By Amit Reddy

Amit Reddy was probably born in the wrong place. Even his mother thinks so when she says, ‘You should go away to America, You are nothing like Indian.’ As Reddy finds it difficult to understand and live a life that his society and surroundings expect him to, and unable to comprehend the diktat of a Hindu Indian society, he decides to fix the problem. The way he decides to do it is by travelling across the country to discover its soul, and perhaps discover his own soul that might fit within an Indian context.

As he puts it, “It’s all so frightfully confusing, but I intend to rectify this situation. The plan is ingenious, and quite simple. I’m going to explore India like few people ever have, by taking an inordinately long journey around the country; 40,750 kilometers long, to be precise… If everything goes accordingly, by the end of this journey I hope to be the complete Indian.”

He begins from Hyderabad on Kaya–a much loved motorcycle that is usually addressed as an animate being–and rides into nearly every Indian state. The journey takes him through wilderness, rugged terrains, temple-towns, remote villages, mountainous landscapes, deserts and the sprawling cities. This book isn’t about those places though, but on people Reddy meets and the way of life in India as witnessed by him.

Much to Reddy’s amusement, he doesn’t see the glorious India that he probably learns about in textbooks and hears in patriotic-nationalistic discourses. He ruminates mostly on all things that India shouldn’t have been, some of its forgettable practices from the past and flaws of the present. Such as the subdued tribal population, internal conflicts in the North-East, the lawlessness and still-practiced untouchability in Bihar, the unclean Ganga in Varanasi, his difficulties with Indian Army when he tries to act privileged, on greedy touts at places of pilgrimage and repressive traditional systems–such as the sati system and suppression of homosexuality–that conflict with the modern outlook.

Although less commonly encountered by him, there is some goodness that prevails in the India that Reddy is trying to discover. He finds people going out of their way to get his worn bike repaired, play gracious host without looking for any returns, or even rescue his life for negligible returns. In the middle of all this, to his surprise, he actually discovers that the government can actually work when he visit the hilly state of Sikkim.

A considerable part of his journey, and hence a considerable part of the book, is also dedicated to his never-ending search of hash, an effort to procure, hoard it and hide it from the law-keepers.

Unlike a regular travel book, ‘Who Stole My India’ talks more about his people-encounters than the places, their heritage and undiscovered uniqueness. This is almost like Paul Theroux in his ‘The Great Railway Bazaar’–a genre of travel writing that has increasingly given way to intensive research and journeys of self-discovery in the recent years. While Reddy touches upon many undesirable social practices he hears about or encounters along they way, much of the related research appears shallow (perhaps owing to a large number of topics he writes about), perhaps merely a result of some internet searches.

Although this journey too is about discovering his Indianness, more often than not, Reddy sees India through a mindset and prejudice he may have already had than explore its heart, feel its pulse and immerse in it. The writing style is witty, humorous and engaging, but occasionally becomes repetitive and monotonous. Yet, this is probably one one of the better travel writings to emerge from within India in recent days. I recommend reading the book.

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