Book Review: Around India in 80 Trains | A Delightful Read Of A Ride!

Book: Around India in 80 Days
Author: Monisha Rajesh
[highlight]Overall Rating: 3.5/5[/highlight][divider]

Inspired by Jules Verne’s adventurous Around the World in Eighty Days, where the protagonist Phileas Fogg and his audacious valet describe the bump with India as marvellous, exotic, and dangerous, Monisha Rajesh’s travelogue Around India in 80 Trains just reaffirms those very adjectives for this incredible nation. With Norwegian photographer Harald Haugan as company, Monisha’s getting-to-know-her-roots-better trip takes her through 80 train-joyrides through every corner of the country, while she accounts her adventures dipped in dry wit and spicy humour along the iron veins of Indian Railways. 

monisha rajesh around india in 80 trains

Having had an unpleasant experience as a schoolchild in Chennai, Monisha’s family shifts to London with promises made for occasional visits. But just the thought of jaunting in 80 trains is so enticing, that she finds herself grabbing up train tickets by the dozen, and the train choices include the most comfortable Deccan Queen to the agonizingly full Mumbai locals to Darjeeling’s distinguished toy train to the famous Lifeline Express, with each train gifting a memorable story of India to the author. The passengers are our everyday acquaintances- the excessively friendly South Indian, the bad-mouthing crotch-scratching police officer, the person who always knows everything- they’re all there, and they all have an image sketched beautifully by the author. There even comes a time en route, when she starts appreciating Chetan Bhagat.

monisha rajesh around india in 80 trains

Lending a first-person perspective on the unconventionalities that make India exceptional, the stories churned out through the book also have a side track that talks of the writer’s personal experience that tries to answer a major question of what being Indian means to an NRI, a story that lets the author come to terms with herself.

monisha rajesh around india in 80 trains

For the regular Indian traveller, the satirical pool dries up quite fast, as there’s nothing that hasn’t been read/experienced by him before. But the book still makes for a pleasant read owing to Monisha’s playful sense of humor and an astute eye for detail for discovering the Indian-ness in everything around her. It’s just as her companion puts it- “It’s a shit’-ole India, but a nice shit’-ole.”

1 Comment

  • M Ghalib says:

    I must admit I was quite skeptical when I read about the writer’s journey along indian railways…. I thought this was going to be another exotic western view on India, but after I read a couple of interviews with the author I was quite intrigued as her perspective seemed to be unusually balanced for a westerner.

    It took me less than two days to finish the book…. cliche yes….. but I picked it up and couldn’t put it down. Rajesh has a lovely feel for language and her style is unique…… She sees Indian through our eyes, but reminds us of the things we take for granted and have got so used to. And, let me tell you, this girl is funny!!!!!! She has a wonderful sense of humor that helps her deal with the difficulties and frustrations of our India in ways that you can’t help admire.

    Its made me want to get on a train again, buy samosa through the barred windows, sip chai and let the train rock me to sleep.

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