Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category


Delhi – City of Forefathers

Review of City of Djinns – A Year in Delhi; William Dalrymple; Penguin; pp 350

– Shana Susan Ninan

The city of Delhi, rather Dilli as old-timers recall, has been plundered, ruled over, built and rebuilt several times in the last few centuries. As a writer myself, I love to read works that evoke emotions in us: joy, pain, separation, empathy, elation, anger, or just about any feeling that we come across in our daily lives. The author evokes several of our human emotions by cutting across the language and culture barriers, and weaving together the history of the city of Delhi. His insightful first-person accounts and jaunty narrative stays in our minds much after we’ve moved onto another book.

I met Dalrymple for the very first time at the first Kovalam Literary Festival in 2008, by which time I’d read two of his books. A down-to-Earth, approachable author is what I’d call him. He read from his book, Nine Lives, which is one of my favourites. This book, too, to a certain extent is about the lives of people, communities and races. Starting with the taxi driver Balwinder Singh and Dalrymple’s own landlady, Mrs Puri, he paints the picture of the Indian Partition. He brings out the nuances in each character’s life – whether it’s a behavioural pattern or a communal feeling.

His digs at Indian English and its usage is quite a laugh. Visiting Delhi for the second time – first time with wife, though – he travels widely within India and abroad, talking to politicians, poets, princesses, sufis, taxi drivers, clerks, Britons, anglo-Indians,  and others, inviting us to be a part of his colourful journey. The conversations with those of the British raj era are interesting, different points of view elaborated nicely.

He and his wife track down several ancient palaces, monuments, bungalows and residences  that are now used as governmental offices, revealing their then glorious past. Although the text is history-heavy at times, the seamless flow of storytelling is his masterpiece. Adding to the theme of the various stories are the black and white water colour renderings.

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Rating: 6.5/10 (6 votes cast)

Cows, Camels and Kama Sutra

Review of  With The Kamasutra Under My Arm – An Indian Journey, Patricia Scot Bernard; Bluejay Books 2005; Rs 350; pp 344

– Shana Susan Ninan

Patricia Bernard, author of more than 25 books, ends her travelogue on India, With The Kamasutra Under My Arm – An Indian Journey, by comparing India to a beautiful woman. A beautiful woman in a yellow sari, with bare feet, bone bracelets, and three water pots balanced on her head. Travelling across North India with her animal-loving, bag-toting friend Sally, and with the Kamasutra under her arm, literally, Bernard meets men and women from various religions, communities and backgrounds, all adding to the alluring charm called India.

I love travelogues, especially ones written about India by foreigners. But this is the first time I saw a couple of women travelling through various Indian cities with the Kama Sutra as their guide. Or, rather, their entertainment-finder! When the two aren’t busy evading cows in narrow gullies or rubbing their bottoms from hour-long camel rides, they cosy up with their pillows for company by reading a chapter or two from the Love Bible, or chuckle at an awkward position or love twist from the book.

Pulling from her own experiences the world over, and with an uncanny ability to find nuances of everything around her, Bernard brings India to life in her book. From the sand dunes of the That desert to the ghats of Varanasi, the two share lovely rides in cars, carts, camels and sometimes on rickety buses. The flow is smooth, words easy on the eyes, and the humour absolutely rocking.

Bernard does take a condescending tone at times, especially when explaining the streets, crowded temples, dusty rides and others, but then again, which western writer doesn’t. As they go from city to city, historical anecdotes and local quips are evoked well, without boring the non-history-inclined.

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Rating: 6.3/10 (9 votes cast)

Homage to the Maha Amma

Review of Bombay – A City of Sandals; Shänne Sands; Photographs Emily Whitfield-Wicks; Footsteps Press 2012; First Print 1982; pp 192

Poetic travel writing. A smattering of history and culture. People’s lives observed from far and near. Homes and families explored from within and without. All these make up Shänne Sands’s Bombay-A City of Sandals. I didn’t have to move beyond the first few lines of the book to guess that the author must be a poet. And, I was right! A student of English drama and literature, Sands is a poet and writer, now based in the U.K.

Part-memoir, part-travel is what I’d call her book, published first in 1982. Yes, there are some things that, seen through the eyes of the Indian living in India, seem to be condescending in the book. But we can’t really blame the westerners for using that tone in literature – especially because some events, rituals and cultural norms are beyond their understanding. Even something as normal as seeing scores of cows on roadsides and streets, for us, is unnerving for a westerner who’s not used to it. Apart from that, this book is one of the best travel books I’ve read.

In a manner only a poet could, Sands recreates Bombay in our eyes and minds by using sensory, visual and audio words, helping the image to stay, much after you’ve finished the book.

Saris twirl past old, narrow streets. Streets alive with cockroaches and huge black rats that procreate themselves almost as fast as the swarming flies around the heaps of stale dung, left in odd corners. …After the rains, when the streets are still moist, images of Ganesa made of clay and brightly painted are paraded through the streets. It is a laughing, happy festival and the Great Mother still sprouts fresh green grass from the red earth.

Sands captures the lives of people from across castes, religions and ethnicity. People who were born in Bombay and those who made it their home much late in life. She talks about the lively Hindu festivals, ornate Muslim palaces, Parsi houses and cuisine, Anglo Indian men and women, Jesuit priests, tribal women, fakirs and monks, village folk, prostitutes, dabha-wallahs, street urchins, and more. Her first wedding to a rich Parsi, and then her travel by ship to U.K. and back, and then another wedding in Bombay… all make for great reading. There are so many details that come through in her work that even people who’ve been living in Bombay for years will be surprised to come across.

Once more the fishing dhows with bright red sails dot the Arabian Sea like sea flowering poinsettias… city of marigold, city of sunsets, of servants’ gossip and annual rains. Of paan eating and betel nut spitting peoples… of reclaimed muddy islands, of funeral pyres, and glossy expensive hotels.

The author is truly enchanted with Bombay, with India, and promises to return to the loving embrace of the Great Amma.

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Rating: 10.0/10 (4 votes cast)

Love Is A Journey, Not A Destination

Review of Overland – a novel; Mark Stephen Levy; Zorba Publishers 2011; pp 254

– Shana Susan Ninan

Mark’s Overland is one book after reading which I felt like picking up my backpack and heading to the hills for an adventurous journey. The saying that the journey matters more than the destination cannot be truer than in the story narrated by him. The author leads the readers’ interest into his novel by an oft-repeated and overused proverb – All’s fair in love and war – but then, this line reveals one of the basic tenets that bind the two things. When you’re in love, you’d go to any extent, take up any fair/unfair means to reach your lover or to establish your relation. The same goes for war: a dedicated soldier would try his hand at anything to win the war. Ultimately, it’s your determination to win that helps you in love and war.

With the Soviet-Afghan occupation of the 80’s and the subsequent war as the background, Mark sketches the lives of three people – Danny, Emily and Heather. The trio is tied to each other by distance, time and love.

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Rating: 6.7/10 (3 votes cast)

Rebels On A High…

Review of Incredible High – Rebels On a Road Trip; Atul Kapoor; Cedar Books 2010; Rs 175; pp 255

– Shana Susan Ninan

Yep. They are rebels. And they’re on a road trip.

Nikhil and BRD – Bips, Raka and Danish – all friends of his, go on an incredible trip to Leh. A place that tests the strength of friendship. And true to the name of the novel, Incredible High, the above characters, accompanied by Nimmo, Nikhil’s girl, decide to “ride” all the way up the mountains. But the story starts off much earlier – during their high school time when the boys are the typical lazy teenagers, talking about girls all the time and whiling away their days of glory.

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Rating: 6.8/10 (8 votes cast)

In The Land Of Magical Charm

Review of The Caliph’s House: A Year in Casablanca; Tahir Shah; Papreback; Bantam December 26th 2006 (first published January 31st 2006); pp 368 pages

–  Susan Thomas

Tired of gloomy, rainy London and its lack of tradition and values, Shah decides to pack up his family and buy a crumbling mansion in Casablanca titled Dar Khalifa. Morocco holds a special place in the author’s heart as it was home to his childhood vacations and where his grandfather, a great Afghan tribal leader, spent his last years.

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Rating: 9.8/10 (5 votes cast)

Deities, Devotees and The Divine

Review of Nine Lives – In Search Of The Sacred In Modern India; William Darlymple; Bloomsbury Publishing 2008; Rs 499; pp

– Susan Thomas

Each story is short and non-fiction in nature. Each one depicts a different way of leading a holy life, especially how to follow a holy life while enduring the radical transformation of India’s economy and culture.

Dalrymple meets with individuals from wide and disparate religions such as devout Jain nuns, sacred Hindu dancers, a Buddhist monk who fights for Tibetan freedom, a mystical Sufi devotee and Tantric practictioners. He also outlines in detail the history of the religion and the observance of the tradition in the modern age.

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Rating: 7.4/10 (8 votes cast)

Trekking up to God

Review of Limping To The Centre of The World; Timeri N. Murari; Penguin 2008; pp 287; Rs 350

– Shana Susan Ninan

Timeri N. Murari’s Limping To The Centre of The World starts with a present continuous sentence that gave me the feeling that I was right in the middle of the action. A self-confessed ascetic and atheist, and having never trekked in his life, Murari goes on the Kailas pilgrimage for the sake of his adopted son of a few years, who’s to undergo surgery. As oxymoron-ish as the previous sentence sounds, he does discover God – not as a seen image or power, but in the mountain, in the valley and as an energy all-encompassing the universe He created.

The Kailas trek is said to be the hardest pilgrimage known to man. And, rightly so.

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Rating: 9.0/10 (3 votes cast)

A Good Catch, This!

Review – Following Fish: Travels Around The Indian Coast by Samanth Subramanian

By Shana Susan Ninan

Half belonging to, and living most of my life in Kerala, I’m quite a fan of anything fish – dishes as well as any history related to it. When someone gifted me this travelogue, Following Fish, by debut author Samanth Subramanian, I was more than overjoyed. For someone who loves the beach and visits it often, and is crazy about sea food, reading this nine-essay travelogue was an absolute delight. Wait till I get to the part where I admit drooling over the semi-recipes Subramanian mentions in his book.

Each of his travels is allocated a chapter in which he doles out anything and everything about the area’s famous varieties of fish, fishing practices, the lifestyle of the people, the cooking methods for the fish dishes, and more. His clockwise journey from West Bengal to Gujarat is sunk with loads of history, interesting details regarding the fishing communities and their lives, ecological issues and a lot of humour.

The author’s relationship with fish changes dramatically through the book: from his childhood experience – rather nightmare – with a plate of steamed fish, talking about his grandfather’s remedy of swallowing a live murrel, and finally doing so in one of his travels to Hyderabad, to tasting varieties of Piscean dishes across the peninsula. He learns to separate the hilsa’s flesh from bone right in his mouth, eats, drinks, eats more, drinks more in Kerala’s toddy shops; finds his once lost love in the Mangalore fish curry; and, sails on the high seas to catch the fastest fish in the waters.

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Rating: 9.0/10 (6 votes cast)

Reading A Traveleating Book!

Yup, that’s a new term to include writing or blogging about travelling… and all the while eating new cuisines. It can also be used to talk about food writers who travel a lot for their work – and pleasure!

I’m currently reading Samanth Subramaniam’s Following Fish.

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Rating: 3.0/10 (4 votes cast)