Book review – Rail Romance by Krupa Sagar Sahoo

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Having grown up in 1990s India, train journeys are familiar territory for me and they hold a special place in my heart. I connect them with carefree and simpler times when happiness was eating the fluffy son papdi that hawkers sell and getting a seat by the window, looking out at the ever changing terrain till I fell asleep. Trains are still the most affordable mode of transport for most middle class Indians but I suspect more than that it is the comfort of the familiar. The author of Rail Romance, Krupa Sagar Sahoo, is a Sahitya Akademi awardee and is a well known Odia writer. When I was offered a chance to review the book, I was excited to read the book (full discolusure – I am an Odia).

The first thing I noticed about the book was its cover (I always judge books by their covers!). I loved the vibrant cover designed by Tina Patankar which was so detailed that I was transported to the railway station. Incidentally this is probably the first book with a red cover that I own which isn’t gag worthy or too cutesy for its own good.

The stories set on the Coromandel Express appear in the first part of the book. Here Nakua, the fly travels on the Coromandel Express to see more of the world. In this section there are 7 interconnected stories. It was entertaining to watch Nakua’s thought process as he tried to make sense of why humans do what they do. His journey offered new insights into the 1999 super cyclone. As he saw different places, along with his worldview, mine appears to be shifted as well. I remember the gale force winds and the days being as dark as the night. There was no electricity for days. Of course, in Odisha we are no stranger to cyclones. When Cyclone Raya made its transit recently, the memories came rushing back.

The second part contains 10 independent short stories. Deftly woven into his stories are the conditions prevalent in the society. There are insights to be gleaned by reading between the lines. I am a product of this society and I may not agree with how it functions but the milieu was certainly familiar to me, sometimes to the point of being uncomfortable. It is his narration with a sense of humour that kept me turning the pages. Some of the stories had me thinking long after I finished them. The Daughter, The Gypsy Girl, The Hidden Stream, Party on a Pay Day and The Curse of the Cobra were the ones that stood out.

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A song which walks you home

It is eerie the way songs come back to us when we need them the most. Listening to some songs is like coming home, to a part of you that existed long before in a freer time, a part of you which you thought was lost but the song awakens it, long forgotten and belonging to another era, buried deep under the artificial layers unconsciously created to deal with the world. It’s a wonder such a thing exists, untouched by the brutality of the world. It is reassuring to think that deep within, you are the same you that you have always  been – the core of who you are, what defines  your soul and what you hold dear. It is beyond the reach of the everyday world and remains unaltered. Ain’t that a cheerful thought?

I was walking home and a song just popped into my head. I have thought about this song from time to time, in the way that I will put on it my playlist and listen but never do. There are times when I really need to listen to a song and be completely present, as opposed to tunelessly humming it. And when I finally hear it, it is as if I am  hearing it for the first time. A sense of urgency leads to the discovery of a thing which has always existed but has acquired a new meaning now.

 If you associate a song with someone and for some reason it all goes sour, then you berate yourself for losing both the song and the person. Though feelings are not facts, when our mind connects certain things or traits with someone, it is difficult to let the association go so easily. Even more annoying is the fact that it was not done by choice. You must have experienced how difficult it is to hear that song without thinking about all that you have lost.  And then one fine day, you can listen to the song and not think about the past. You have healed and perhaps moved on.

Funny how a song led me back, holding my hand, beckoning me to a movie that I liked once upon a time but I now wonder if I am the same person that liked it because it has such a cliched story-line (I don’t know if it’s growing up or cynicism making inroads into my soul). The movie is sort of a fairy tale, where in the end love triumphs, people find a way back to each other and walk off into the sunset feeling complete. And I realize now that the fond memories I associated with the movie were due to the song(s).

The movie was playing on the TV and I sat through the entire movie looking for the song thinking it will come now but some other song came on. The movie ended and I still hadn’t found the song. And I wondered if I had been an idiot to think it was a part of the movie because I couldn’t even visualize the song. Thinking I had been mistaken for so many years, I was about to switch off the TV when the credits rolled on, and that’s when I heard it. The best song of the movie isn’t a part of the movie, which is about music connecting people together. Talk about irony!

It’s good to know that you can always find your way back home, if you truly want to. That it is possible to return to a place that remains untouched by time, where you remain the same old you, the self that is truest to you.

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.

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