Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Books that Make Me Want to Pack My Bags

Reading, thinking, going...

"Not all who wander are lost," said JRR Tolkein and who better to say it than someone who had created an entire new world and filled it with magical creatures who inspire you to greatness.  

Since this post is about books that have made me want to go on voyages even if I do them in my dreams, I will get on to it with only a short preamble.

For those who don't know me, I have always lived surrounded by books. It's not a big deal since books have given me so much in return. Apart from stories and knowledge, books have opened my eyes to so many hobbies, cultures and understanding of human mind that I could possibly never have learnt otherwise.

As I adapt my mindset to write more, I keep returning to the books that I have read over the years. It is not such a bad thing to do actually because tried and tested is always a good idea - even when reading.

Here's a list of some of the books that have always fascinated me and called me back from the shelves in my home. But, most of all, they have pushed me to travel, pushed me to explore - even if it was my own city that I walked around in:

City of Djinns by William Dalrymple

Perhaps no one has loved Delhi so much before it became an Instagram phenomenon than William Dalrymple. A Scottish by birth Dalrymple has been living in India for several years now, hosts one of the most famous book gigs in the world, Jaipur Lit Fest and if you read the book then, there's no way that his love for the much-maligned an highly-polluted city will not rub-off on you.

The story of Delhi is very close to my heart and it's just not because I am a Delhi'ite myself. The story of the seven or as some insist, nine cities of Delhi are so full of blood, glory and intrigue that it feels like the life of a real living person like an epic hero.

Dalrymple, an outsider opened a door through this book that has stayed closed thanks to our history being rewritten by the British who had carefully wiped out every glorious narrative to prove the "white man's burden" myth.

City of Djinns is a series of chapters that open up a year of the then-young author's stay in the city that at once delighted and nauseated him. 

It made me long for Delhi for seven years when I was in Bombay and made me want to go walking around gathering stories, myths and mythologies that make Delhi.

Must read if you want to know Delhi beyond the Qutab Minar and Red Fort.   

Chasing the Monsoon by Alexander Frater

Sometimes it takes a great idea to write a great book which makes the reader want to follow your footsteps to pull equally crazy stunts. Frater does it with flair. He starts the book by sharing that he was born on a rainy day on a remote Pacific island. The first line of the book reads, "The first sound I ever heard of was falling rain."

And though I know many who are born on an overflowing rainy day including my own sister, there is only one man that I know of who made chasing the famed Indian Monsoon a successful book project. 

Monsoon does not come in a single strand. It comes from two directions and apart from India, it touches upon a few other neighboring countries. Frater jumps into the fray or should I say, rain, with a gutso, gets drenched in the local cultures on the way, makes friends on the go and does the madcap job of giving the Monsoon a run for its money.

It's pure adventure and unadulterated daring that the author pulls off the torrential rains, open gutters and a thrilling chase. One of the best travelogues I have read and it definitely goaded me into bringing out the umbrella and stepping out to explore every puddle when rains came splashing down in Bombay the year I read it the first time.

Kim by Rudyard Kipling

Yes I know that I quoted Kipling a few paragraphs back, without naming him, as a White supremacist, but, hey! I am ready to forgive and forget the Nobel Laureate because of this one book that turned me into a road tripper. I can never forget the extraordinary story of a little boy across the Grand Trunk Road that was first published in 1900.

It's pure romance when you are a teenager trapped at home during the scorching summer vacations in Delhi. It's so vivid and well written that it feels like you are a part of the team in search of the mystic river/ spy trail - whichever is your poison.

It's one of the best road trip books that I have ever read and no one does adventure the way Kim and his friends do. If road trip / spiritual journey / spy game is your cup of tea, please pack your bags, get the car ready and don't forget to carry a copy of Kim. Go, conquer the Himalayas.

I think, I will go back to it again after I finish this post. :)

A few for the road.

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

I was not in a very happy phase of my life when I first picked up this amazing, almost magical book about a woman's journey through three countries that change her life. But, reading it made my heart whole and hoping again - not exaggerating. 

Gilbert's story is true and she has given all the proofs needed to support this through her online presence over the years. Yet, the story almost reads like a self help book that could easily be fiction. 

It takes you on a journey through Italy (eat), India (pray) and Bali (love). The author explores each of the culture with particular focus on the aspect she wants to explore in each country. She eats her way through Italy that makes her happy, goes for spiritual upliftment to an ashram in India that leaves her confused and finally finds love in exotic Bali.

I can't think of anyone who after reading Elizabeth's narrative did not want to walk the same route that she had taken. That you will want to go back to it again and again is guaranteed.

Brick Lane by Monica Ali

When I read this book for the first time, it kind of bridged a gap somewhere in my head or heart - I am not sure. I had grown up listening to stories of our village that now lies across the border in Bangladesh and reading of the British who had ruled the country for 200 years and who a they parted split up the country and injured it's heart forever.

Monica Ali's Brick Lane brought me face-to-face with both, the Bangladeshi diaspora - people I have never met in real life - and a post-colonial London that was sitting on a tinderbox which has burst today in so many blasts. 

It was a story that traced my roots to a different world which was at once so familiar and yet not at all because, I am neither Bangladeshi, nor Muslim or British but, while reading this book, it made me believe that there was a link, a very strong link that makes me who I am today. A link that I need to figure out someday. And it made me believe that perhaps that trail leads somewhere in London where I think it will all fall in place. Not in Dhaka from where my family migrated, not Delhi where I was born and live in but, far away in wet and slippery London where everything seems to be hidden in full view. It needs reading and reading to understand the writer's portrayal of the various characters - the Bangladeshi diaspora that has made London its home. It's uncomfortable to read. The book was shortlisted for Man Booker but, panned by Bangladeshis who felt that it painted them as caricatures - as stupid villagers and religious bigots. 

But, for me, it went beyond the characters. It made me want to explore it find out more.

The Glass Palace by Amitav Ghosh

Amitav Ghosh is by far one of the best craftsmen of the written narrative. The reason why I have chosen this book is because it again resonates with the stories I grew up with. As a child I had heard and known many families that had moved back from Burma because the regime changed overnight. Many of them were very well-established Bengalis. It was like the partition nightmare all over again.

I didn't understand much except the fact that their ordeal was somewhat like my family's. Exodus and migration is never a happy topic to write on but, Ghosh manages it all very masterfully by crafting history and magnificence of Mandalay and the fall of the ruling dynasty into the narrative. 

It traces an epic journey through several countries and thousands of miles. It's got all the ingredients to keep you occupied, royal coup, history, exotic locations, great storytelling and perfect prose which is a hallmark of any of Ghosh's novels. It made a strong picture in my head and that is one place I want to go to one day soon.

So, these are some of my favorites. I assure you that my shelves have many more because, travel stories were told in caravan sarais and village addas much before printing was invented forget, Instagram. Because most humans probably come preset with the wanderlust gene. Travel is in our blood. 

Happy reading,  happy chasing your world of dreams. 

Image from the Internet

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