Thursday, December 31, 2009
Butter Chicken in Ludhiana
Author: Pankaj Mishra
This book is neither about butter chicken nor about Ludhiana. It is a travelogue narrating the author's experience in several small towns in India. The title of the book derives its name from a snatch of conversation extolling the taste of butter chicken available in Ludhiana,which the author overheard in a restaurant in one such small town.
In 1993 as a young 24 year old, author got a commission from a publisher to write a travel book on small towns in India. He then visited Ambala, Bundi, Shimoga, Murshidabad, Jehanabad and many more such places and captured his experiences in this book.
He traveled like an "aam aadmi (common man)" in buses, trains and stayed in cheap hotels.
At that time the Indian economy had just been liberalized by the government and the whole country was in transition to a new lifestyle. This book is mainly about how the people from small towns whom the author met were handling this- a convent-educated young woman from Jhansi was aspiring to be a beauty queen; a rich young man in Gujarat was speaking casually of murdering Muslims; Naxalites in Bihar were trying to instigate revolution; small shopkeepers were planning a vacation in London. All such interactions are described by the author in a very insightful and witty manner with a sense of humor.
However the author has focused only on the negative aspects of these small towns. This while may be a true account does not give a complete picture of the situation. I also found the author having a tinge of intellectual snobbery while he narrates his story.
I would suggest the author to write a sequel to this book, undertaking the same journey again and describe the the towns and the people whom he visited 17 years ago. Surely that would be an interesting read since a lot of changes would have taken place during these years.
On the whole a very good book to read for travel enthusiast. I look forward to read other books by the author.