Title: Once Upon the Tracks of Mumbai
Author: Rishi Vohra
Plot: Babloo has been diagnosed as autistic, schizophrenic and psychotic, which has left his traditional middle class Indian parents with no clue as to how to deal with him. After taking longer than usual to complete his college course, Babloo doesn’t have a clue either – about what to do with his life. Menial jobs suggested by his father don’t work with him, since he feels that destiny has more in store. All he knows for sure is that he loves Vandana, the beauty of their rail side colony, but doesn’t know what to do about it. As his life seems to hit an all time low, something happens that transforms Babloo’s boring life into something much, much bigger. Is this destiny’s big break for Babloo? Will this make his dreams come true?
Review: This book is author Rishi Vohra’s debut novel and is not a bad effort at that. The first half to three quarters of the book tend to drag along, slowly planting you in the midst of Mumbai, among all the bustling trains and crowds and noise. That, in my opinion, is the best thing the author has accomplished in this book – created a perfect stage. Mumbai actually feels like it’s come alive through the descriptions of the various areas, stations and even of the different people. The characters have been colored well, and you feel like you’ve either seen or heard of people like them in real life. Few people are painted completely in black or white, and even the minor characters have distinct personalities.
Babloo, the protagonist, is a friendless man, a victim of assorted mental problems. Given that, I feel the book would have made more of an impact had the narrative been in the third person. It’s not that Babloo isn’t a well etched character, after a while, you even get used to his blank staring; but the narrative sort of gets a little mixed up when talking from Babloo’s standpoint and when it shifts to the lives of the other characters in the book.
Another impressive feature is how the author has got a pretty good understanding of the female psyche. And that is not a minor feat for a man!! I could completely empathize with Vandana’s situation though I’d have liked her to have a little more gumption. But I guess that’s okay since the story is, after all, Babloo’s story.
As it is, the plot is an interesting concept, but like I mentioned earlier, it takes a while to pick up the pace. Rail Man’s entry is the catalyst that takes it into page turner territory. I wish he had appeared a little earlier in the story so that we could relish a few more of his adventures.
Verdict: Worth a read. Perfect for a long train journey, when the sound of the train’s wheels on its tracks provides the perfect background score.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book for review purposes, but all opinions mentioned are my own.