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Subcontinental Drift — By Murray Laurence

driftWhen Writersmelon offered me the chance to pick one amongst six books for review, I thought it would be a difficult choice to make. However, choosing Subcontinental Drift to review was spontaneous and easy, mainly because two things caught my eye in the summary – India, and the narrator returning again and again to India. I knew I had to explore how and why my country intrigued a geography teacher, a traveller and an Australian author to revisit India time and again.

The book is a collection of incidents which traveller and author Murray Laurence experienced over his recurring visits to India. The vivid anecdotes include everything starting from the bizarre train journeys and rickety bus experiences to the weird series of events which take place outside a temple or a tourist spot. He also mentions how he was always faced with questions concerning his identity and the place he comes from. My pattern to review such kind of books, with stories or anecdotes in it, is usually to point out my favourites and the low-downs, however this time I shall point out the sections within the anecdotes which hold a high or low for me.

In the past, the term ‘foreigner’ was quite often used to interest the citizens of India, it made them curious and the foreigners would be flooded with questions from all walks of life. And even today when they come as tourists, the guides and the vendors leave no stone unturned to extract money and fool around with them.  So much so, has been written and talked about such scenarios that now every ‘foreigner’ visiting India is aware of the circumstances. When Murray Laurence visited India in the 1970’s, he had similar encounters in his train journeys when the porter takes him to his wrong seat, or the ticket counter person plays with words about a certain bus arrival, or he is not allowed in the temple for being a non-Hindu. I feel sympathetic to a certain extent when I hear or read such instances. But, he was clever to dodge the people who take advantage of tourists in his further visits to India. At such scenarios, we tend to gain a high sense of humour from the author. His curt replies to the vendors or the guides trying to rope him in at tourist places reveal how much he has learned on his earlier visits to the country.

The fact that the author has tried to cover our neighbuoring countries in his travel saga works as a high point for me and truly justifies the name of the book –  Subcontinental Drift (Four decades adrift in India and beyond). His experiences in China and with the Chinese food and people were remarkably expressed. Similarly, his stories which portray Pakistan, Tibet, Bhutan and Nepal were intriguing as well. Indian tourist spots such as the Konark temple in Puri, the Southern temples have been impeccably described, just as the beauty they reveal. Reading about Odisha and the eastern part of the country gave me some nostalgia as my early childhood has been spent there. And, when we speak about travelling in India, how can one not talk about the most magnanimous network of Indian Railways which connects places and people both. Rail experiences are always an experience, good as well as bad. The fact that stories related to them were in the book elated me, but it brings a sense of monotonous feeling when at the start of the book there are three continuous stories narrated about rail journeys and the issues the author faces in them.

My favorite piece amongst them all was ‘Chittor, the end of a very long journey‘ because it talks about some major incidents which took place in India, the story of the practice of Sati and Jauhar, the Rajput tales related to the forts, the flourishing of BuddhismSanchi Stupa, the Bhopal Gas tragedy, the riots in Gujarat and the magnificent beauty of Khajuraho with appropriate geographical study and reasoning.

The book appealed to me for two reasons – firstly, amidst the lowness described in the form of people, traditions and rules of the country pertaining to the time in which he visited, the author has managed to convey the beauty of India in an absolute manner.  And secondly, despite his massacres in his journeys, he kept returning back for more, which goes on to show how much my country had lured him. What I would have wanted more to read would have been India’s natural beauty being presented more in mythical way rather than historically. The literary content stands out good with sprinkles of humour spread over the content.

It is a proud feeling to read about India and how it inspires tourists and visitors with its numerous shades of livelihood spread widely across all regions. Books such as these will always tend to enthuse readers and travellers to explore India and its neighbours.

Author: Murray Laurence
Publisher: Aleph Book Company
Release: September 2016
Genre: Non Fiction / Travel
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