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Once Upon The Tracks of Mumbai

Book reviewOf 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 🙂

Disclaimer – All images used in this blogpost have their own copyrights.

Is this politics?

The morning newspaper does not usually bring good news with it. This has been the ritual for quite some time now and we have all accepted the fact with a heavy heart. Today’s edition of The Times Of India made me numb with horror and sent a current of chill down my spine. The editorial talked of Bengal Failure (but naturally i was interested) and i read on. I quote the opening lines of the editorial here :

The failure to prevent the derailment of the Gyaneswari Express – despite police being cognizant of the conspiracy several hours before tragedy struck – highlights the pathologically dysfunctional state of the West Bengal police and bureaucracy. This worrying state of affairs is, in the main, due to the politicisation of the bureaucracy over 35 years of uninterrupted Left rule. Political dominance permitted the Left to erode the nation’s iron frame by diluting its neutrality, resulting in a compliant bureaucracy. Defined by a fail-safe culture, the bureaucracy prefers playing it safe and failing rather than challenging the political leadership or showing initiative.

When i shared this link on twitter, i was told by @eyemohit that Hindustan Times had first broken this news on the 6th of March 2011. Here is a link to that article.

On 27 May 2010 when 148 lives were lost, Mamata Bannerjee had claimed there was a larger conspiracy against the Railways, political sabotage had played its part. She was silenced with criticism from all quarters for “insulting” the dead by politicising the matter. Today the proof lies before us.

With the sole aim of embarrassing a sitting Minister ahead of Municipal Elections, the administration and “keepers of law” chose to turn blind to a conspiracy which not only claimed the lives of innocents but shook an entire nation. An accident of such grand scale, nothing short of a terror attack, was never seen before in India. But the law keepers looked away as the conspirators hatched the plan right under their nose.

This is Bengal. 34 years of a single party rule has crippled the ability to think. Allegiance to the party holds supreme importance, public accountability and services can take a back seat. The administration is so muted that even the ones denied the power to speak would laugh at them. And next time we exercise our franchise, should we not think about who we are selecting to power? Murderers? Is this politics?

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