On my first official book review, a certain ‘Rishi’ posted a comment. He asked, if I would be interested in reviewing his debut fiction novel. I instantaneously thought it to be spam. Authors don’t go about asking for a review like that! I Googled and then replied in the affirmative. Before I knew it, the book came home. A perfect case of bad timing! I was gonna be wrapped till mid Jan!
I was so wrong……it took almost the end of Jan for me to be able to get to my reading corner. And finally ‘Once upon the tracks of Mumbai’ was scheduled for departure. I was determined to do this, the right way. I owed it to the generous author who never once asked, ‘where is the review?’
The story is set against the backdrop of the city that never sleeps and its lifeline, the railways. The protagonist, Babloo, is established as autistic, schizophrenic and psychotic right at the start. His family of three, including his favoured younger brother, Raghu, practically disown him. His world oscillates between his ‘best friend’ and the love of his life. Vandana, a simple girl with the great American dream, and the catalyst to the script. His desire to be worthy of her is what forms the premise for his alter ego taking precedence. Adequately supported by a milieu of characters, the story moves forward from Babloo’s point of view. He traverses a lifetime with many unexpected encounters that take him to the peak of nowhere to bring him home, finally. What remains to be seen is whether Babloo can reclaim what he believes to be his. And is it his in the first place?
The flow is easy going and you pretty much breeze through the book. The social fabric of the late 90’s has been interspersed with the suburbian Mumbai that is easily identifiable to a true native. Sikander, the Guptas, the Srivastavs, Manjit Singh, Sonal or Shamsher, somewhere, it is déjà vu. If you’ve lived in this city long enough, you will definitely know someone like them. The character of Babloo has been well etched with every passing page, giving the reader an insight into his psyche with the intended one liners.
From the overflowing Pali lanes to the uber cool Bandstand, the bustling station signal to the ever crowded SV Road, Rishi does pay an ode to Bandra. But above all, this is out and out a book that belongs to Mumbai. The strife of the middle class to move a notch higher stands true to this day. He has captured that essence commendably. Right from the vision of the local plumber driving his own vehicle, to the placement of government desks in the proximity of the lone office fan, digging of the roads to political bandhs, the book is filled with such sardonic nuances.
His literary skills emerge like wintry sun rays, warm and just right. The book is filled with many tiny ‘OMG’ moments where the reader nods in agreement. I know I did. The wall unit cum dining table, avoiding the colony loafers, the Holi celebrations, A block v/s B block, been there, done that!
On the flip side, the language though simplistic left me wanting for more. Repetition was a kill joy. The redundant phrase ‘At the end of the day’ was found at at-least 4 different occasions (page 7, 11, 211, 231).
The ‘element of surprise’ was no longer a ‘surprise’ after being used the second time. The description of Manjit Singh should have been enough to jolt the reader’s memory. Sometimes, leaving it open to the imagination helps.
Babloo’s characterization takes forever and hence slackens the pace. I wish there was more of direct speech. His Q&A sessions, too, were limited, considering he was schizophrenic.
The author’s love for films is rampant through out the book. Somewhere, the book becomes ‘Spiderman meets Karthik‘. The climax, however was very Bollywood. I really wish the author had taken the time to leave Babloo at a more believable horizon.
Page 220, paragraph 4, line 3 should read as ‘Vandana’s parents’ and not as ‘Madhu’s parents’
Inspite of all the above, Once upon the tracks of Mumbai is a very doable book. I finished it in one sitting. Thankfully, no screaming grammatical errors. I could almost see the pictures in the mind’s eye due to the city connect. Don’t know if the detailing would find favour with a non-Mumbaite.
For a debut, Rishi has a well done job on his hands. He can tell a story and has managed a melting pot of sorts, true to the cosmopolitan nature of the metro.
The silent references to the ‘hit and run’ accused actor, the bandana sporting political goons, the jaded actress cum bar dancer, the upright police officers and their belts, the stray stone throwing to the ‘suparis’, all strike a chord.
The things that have added to the city skyline- Amul hoardings, Cafe Coffee Day, C grade films and couples celebrating Valentines day practically every day, on the rocks.
The trains, the dust, the pollution and the population, all settle down, only to face another day upon the rail tracks. With a tad bit of tweaking, this could make for a good series to showcase Mumbai, in a deglamourized avataar.
And for the record, it is not the author on the cover page 🙂
Book : Once upon the tracks in Mumbai
Price : Rs. 175
Number of Pages : 272 Pages
Genre : Fiction
Rating : 3 of 5