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Review of Bishwanath Ghosh's Chai Chai by Ahmed Faiyaz
Cost: INR 250
I picked up a copy of Chai Chai at the airport bookstore in Mumbai on my way out after the 'Love, life & all that jazz...' launch in the Maximum City. The title and the front cover image drew me in, and soon I was billing it at the cash counter, eager to flip the pages of what seemed to be an interesting travelogue on the 'other India'. I didn't get around to reading it till a few weeks back, a couple of months after Ghosh signed the book for me in Chennai.

Coming to book, I believe this is a courageous debut by promising storyteller. These days when people mostly write 'safe books' about life in IIT or work and marriages in the Metros, Ghosh has chosen a novel subject, a daring one if you will. How does one write about places they barely know, people they've only just met in a landscape which has limited to offer in terms of places of interest or people of significance. I've read other travelogues, those about Turkey, the erstwhile hippie trail, America, Peru, Brazil, The Amazon and parts of Europe and Africa. My debut was about a world that was mine, one that I was familiar with, about the people I had known and set in places that I am familiar with and one that I could easily relate to. Ghosh has done the opposite; he's given us a peek into places we barely notice and people of our land we don't really connect with in our everyday lives. As we all know, there are many India's within India. One of these being our forgotten industrial towns, that have now fallen into a state of perennial decay post the emergence of Shining India and economic liberalization. Most of these towns like Mughal Sarai, Itarsi and Shoranur grew in prominence with the set up of railway junctions and locomotive sheds which were drivers of trade and commerce in these regions. Their decline is also accentuated by the introduction of new routes and faster trains that connect important centres, and has thus reduced the number of trains stopping at these junctions.

Written in Ghosh's simple, inimitable style, where he is a curious observer and a good-natured, humorous drinking companion makes for an enjoyable read. The conversations he holds are amusing and his spirit of adventure in heading out to explore beyond the street food vendors and the mostly seedy, sometimes half - decent hotels he puts up in, while bravely strolling down dark alleys keeps the reader engaged. Ghosh's burst of energy in looking for places and stories of cultural and historical significance, or mostly looking for a peg of whiskey at a nearby watering hole also make for an entertaining read. From the driver, Raju in Jhansi to Mathura Prasad, a retired engine driver, Jeevan Lal, and his guide/ companion, Amandeep in Itarsi to Mr Sankarankuty and Abdul Majid in Shoranur, Ghosh introduces us to interesting characters from varied backgrounds with engrossing tales to share. The only significant drawback of this book is the patchy editing effort in some parts of the book by the publisher. But why look into a gifted horse's mouth? At times funny and for most part insightful, read it over cups of chai for an earthy account of lives and experiences at junctions you've been to but places you might never visit.

Review by:
Ahmed Faiyaz, the Author of popular bestseller 'Love, life & all that jazz...' and the soon to be launched 'Another Chance'.

Both Bishwanath Ghosh and Ahmed Faiyaz are contributing authors in 'Urban Shots', a collection of 30 urban tales by 13 writers. Now available on www.indiaplaza.in
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