Thoughts on The Heat and Dust Project- How (not) to tell a book what you feel about it


 The Heat and Dust Project is a travel memoir and not just a travelogue as the title says. It is about the two people who are married to each other and how their relationship changes when they are travelling through India, to discover it and themselves in the process. It is about the feel of the place and the people they meet there, more than the place itself. They, along with the places they visit, are the main characters in their own book.

They have dared to show things as they are, and shown themselves in less than flattering light many a time. Their relationship is there for everyone to see and that can’t have been easy. Two writers in the house and both fiercely opinionated and stubborn. It must be have one hell of a writing and editing process. I, for one, would have loved to be a fly on the wall to see how it came to be the book it is.

Reading the book  shortly before an impending trip, it fell into my lap at just the right time. I bought the book a few months back and hadn’t gotten around to reading it. Then one fine day it struck me that it would make a great gift for a friend of mine who has the wanderlust and frequently travels with her better half. I read the authors’ interviews to know more about them and their project and I thought I will read  just the author’s note to get a feel of the book. Then to get a better idea I read the introduction and before I knew it I was reading the book.

The strange thing is, whenever I read nonfiction (which is not very often) I only want to read more nonfiction. Initially it was a slow read, I was savouring every moment and nonfiction is more powerful in the way one experiences it, probably because one feels that it is something which has actually happened, real and tangible. The writing is conversational but still literary. A good balance I thought.

Anxiety is a strange but not uncommon response to beauty. It is mostly exhibited by people with a talent for stress.

Devapriya or D as she calls herself says this when they were going gaga over the beauty in Jaisalmer and thought they might not be able to do justice to its breathtaking gorgeousity (yes that is a word). At times like these I wished the book had some photographs.

I finally found someone, to whom dusk matters and affects, in equal measure. Finally a person who has a relationship with the setting sun, a person who has revelations at dusk. And just like me, dusk is a harbinger of hope for her. How a moment captured during twilight becomes perfectly stored in one’s memory has always been a mystery to me. A marker which nature gives us every single day, to take stock of the day, to pause and reflect.

When I had started the book I was feeling lonely and unsure. Everlasting solitude doesn’t seem like a good idea now that I am wallowing in it. It’s true what they say. Everything in excess is bad and solitude in large doses can turn into melancholy, as I have often experienced. This book made me tear up for all the right reasons.

Few pages into the book, I am enjoying the journey along with them and back in my, if not happy then, content place, where I can once again live with myself. The golden days of solitude and unhurried activity. Of short naps and long silences, punctuated only by the cries of birds and the sound of wind swaying branches and rustling the dry leaves and occasionally people. Now I am more accustomed to the book, attuned to its needs and it to mine. And I am excited to be travelling with them.


The road is my home.

Saurav says that they have to move through “hurtling pace” so they don’t sprout roots, which happens when you stay in one place for some time. You get attached to it and want to hold on, and in their case live on. Later they realize later that sprouting roots is inevitable. It occurred to me that some people move through life like that, restless, never at peace completely with their surroundings, forming connections but in a hurry to move on. Because staying forth will result in attachments, which might deepen into something that cuts through the surface, something they cannot deal with and something which has the capacity to weigh them down.

S and D, they bring with them each of the places they have been to, and the people they have met on the way, their experiences, both memorable and forgettable, but shaping their life all the same, in ways unforeseen.

When they parted from their friends made on the road, I remembered the friends I had made on my sojourns. The people you travel with or encounter on your travels, a very intimate friendship springs forth quite effortlessly. And you remember the time  that you spent together for the rest of your life (or until age weighs down your memory).

It’s funny how conversations can be spun forever between people who have become comfortable enough to share silences.

I was constantly surprised by how well they amalgamated diverse topics, experiences and thoughts. I thought this book would be full of (mis)adventures of a couple travelling through Bharat on a decidedly tight budget to see the real India (buses were their preferred mode of transport). I thought it would be a fun light read, which it was in places, but it was so much more than that. The tone they use to address the reader is intimate, warm and friendly and you feel as if you are a co-passenger on their travels. I identified with the book even though I am not well travelled. Among the places they travelled to, the only place I had been to and actually lived in, was Delhi. In a short while I had sprang roots and was sad even before the time came for me to live.

Saurav Jha’s historical detours might have been well intentioned  but it dragged the book down. It did not go with the casual feel of the book, the bulk of which constituted Devapriya Roy’s writing. I loved the fact that they called each other by their initials in the book and how the chapters were named.

I loved the way D portrayed herself, whimsical and impulsive, always reading and always after cake. (She loves cake. I love cake. Ergo we are best friends.) She is a good contrast to S, who was practical and serious, ever ready to unleash his lengthy viewpoints on the unsuspecting public.

This is what land teaches you, after all: you must let go, you must not let go.
You must leave, you must stay.

Reading the last page I had tears in my eyes, tears of understanding, when something resonates deep down. I am really looking forward to the sequel. And to reading the book again at a slower pace, and travel more. Their trip had to be cut short where it was, because D’s grandfather was on his deathbed. At the end of the book they have begun travelling again. The Heat and Dust Project will inspire many Indians (broke or not) to travel on a shoestring budget, chuck their 9-5 jobs of drudgery and live free. We can dream, can’t we? Books are nothing if not sellers of hope.


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