I managed to finish another book last week Once upon the Tracks of Mumbai by Rishi Vohra, it’s his debut novel.
Now earlier I wasn’t able to make up my mind one way or the other about this book. When I first saw the cover of the book and read the synopsis I wasn’t too interested in the book but then recently I have had some good fortunes with the first time Indian Authors so I thought lets give it a try (even if the title is cheesy).
The book is narrated (mostly) in first person by the protagonist Babloo who is autistic, schizophrenic or something of the sort. It is no where clearly reflected what problem ails him. He lives lonely life despite a family, different from his family members and (he thinks) no one cares for him except for a girl Vandana who stays in the same society. He whiles away time and talks to himself in his head and his one agenda is to be able to express his love for Vandana and be able to marry her. In the process he dons the character of a “Rail Man” and so many other things happen in the book. And yet the book reads very slow many times.
The good points: I will give it to the author that considering this is the debut book, it is well written and though I am still trying to figure out what the story really was, the characters are well written. The character of Babloo and in the first half how he conducts himself, how he explains himself, how he talks to himself and his approach towards the world in general is very well written. It’s a gem of a character. Other good part is how the writer captures Mumbai, not excellent but he does a fairly good job and it was important as Mumbai is one strong character in this book.
Not so good points: At the end of the book I wasn’t sure what the story really was, there was the story of Babloo and equally strong story was of his love Vandana. So many issues and so many harsh realities of Mumbai are dealt at same time that it becomes difficult for the reader to sympathize with any one. There is autistic/dyslexic protagonist Babloo, his ill treatment, then Women security issues in Mumbai, sexual harassment, Mumbai’s heat, pains of Mumbai life, idiotic brother, villain who sexually exploits girls, corruption among police,etc.
This is a common problem that I have recently seen with first time authors, they try to deal with myriad issues in one book and fails to do justice to even one. And there is no need to portray characters in black or white, to extreme good or bad. If the girl is beautiful then she is the most beautiful, “bombshell of the colony” and if the brother is not good, then he is the worst, idiot, miser, pervert all mixed in one. It doesn’t read good, period.
It was a great twist that Babloo take the role of “Rail Man” (probably inspired by a few events a few years ago) and the author does well in explaining this transition but then doesn’t take it all the way to end and make a story out of it.
There are some elements of brilliance in between (character of Babloo is definitely one such thing) and the story had the potential of becoming an excellent read but it felt like the author compromised on many instances to keep it as a masala read. The consolation is that it is a different type of read than the ones in market currently. I sincerely think this story could have been developed into a masterpiece.
The end is again very cheesy and Bollywood style and author could have definitely done away with that ending.
So in the end I think its a very good first attempt but then a lot is required from the author and the author does show promise. And the least that can be done to improve the book is change the cheesy title and Bollywood style book cover, it doesn’t do justice to the story inside.
PS: Thanks to the author for providing the copy. You can get more info about the book at http://rishivohra.com/