Once Upon The Tracks of Mumbai
Of late there have been many films that revolved around protagonists with mental ailments. Dyslexia, autism, Alzheimer’s disease, schizophrenia – name it and you will get a bunch of films on the subject. For the first time i came across an Indian novel in English that shows the world from the perspective of a mentally challenged boy.
Meet Babloo for whom the world consists of three parts – his way of seeing things, “They” and Vandana. “They” call him mad, treat him with contempt and do not consider him a part of their own worlds. According to Babloo, only Vandana understands him and he is madly in love with her. He harbours desires of marriage, settling down with Vandana, but is unsure how to share his secrets with her. Babloo is the perfect “hero” material with great looks, awesome physique and all the good qualities of an uncomplicated man. However, he is autistic and finds it difficult to communicate. Despite completing his graduation, he has no job. He has failed to live up to the expectations of his father, who is a railway clerk at Bandra station. Although treated as a failure by family and society at large, Babloo knows his destiny has great plans for him. This novel charts out the incidents that lead to his self-realisation.
Written with a typical Bollywood-esque style, Once Upon The Tracks of Mumbai is the typical story of how a social failure goes on to achieve big things in life, and make a mark under the guise of a superhero. With the Indian Railways as the setting, Rishi Vohra gives us a new idol – RailMan. There are sub-plots of love, deceit, conspiracy, the marriage preparations. A bad guy, Sikander, uses Babloo to get close to Vandana and eventually tries to rape her. The novel touches upon several shades of the Indian society – girl working till late at night and what problems she faces at work and home, teenage pregnancy, sex in the car, the busy and bustling Indian stations and of course the great Indian babudom. The media gets its share of glory in the pages too, and of course the politicians.
May be it is because Vohra was once a part of the entertainment industry, the story becomes a fantasy tale with too many coincidences and insane twists as you reach the last few pages. Risking a spoiler-alert, must i say, the events following Babloo’s arrest completely destroy the beautiful plot that Vohra had put up since the beginning (In fact, i failed to understand how CMO can commute the sentence given by a Court)! The fairy-tale happy ending was essential, just like a Hindi masala potboiler. Everyone gets their due and the lead characters live happily ever after. This zeal to mend things hurriedly and stitch the lose ends in a jiffy kills a potential good-read. But then, the novel has immense potential to make it big on the silver screen and i am sure the masses would love it.
Having said that, the book is not bad at all. We have a lot to learn, if we read between the lines. We learn to see the world from Babloo’s eyes. A lesson in tolerance, Once Upon The Tracks of Mumbai also shows us a father who puts his faith on his daughter and is not ready to give that up even when heavens have conspired against her. The narrative also demonstrates the ugly chauvinistic side of our society and how we could bring forth a change. Barring the hasty and cobbled-up end, Rishi Vohra’s debut novel Once Upon The Tracks Of Mumbai is a great light read, specially when you are travelling.
My Rating – 2.5/5 🙂
P.S. Thanks to Rishi for sending me the book 🙂
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