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Monday, 8 September 2014

If it's Monday it must be Madurai - book review

If it’s Monday it must be Madurai is not a travelogue, in the sense it will not (always) tell you which places to visit for sightseeing, where to eat and where to stay. It will not always help you in planning your travels. But it will definitely help you in knowing your countrymen. 

The book though claims to be a conducted tour of India has two tours of foreign countries as well. One being Europe tour and another being Uzbekitstan. Until I read the book for me travel was all about visiting beautiful places. But the book tells us of many other travels as well like sex tourism and slum tourism. Yes I was aware of the fact that Indians go to Thailand to have fun. But I did not know that having fun can be the sole purpose of a tour. 

Travelling is an intrinsic part of our culture in the form of yatras or holy pilgrimages. The book tells us about some enterprising people who are using the same format to give a platform to folk singers and document indigenous knowledge. The book will take you on a tour of temples in Tamil Nadu, Europe, Jaisalmer fort, Kochi fort, Uzbekistan, slums in Mumbai, Assam Meghalaya, Kabir Yatra, Shodh Yatra in Madhya Pradesh and the  humble, traditional, holy pilgrimage of devotees in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka viz. Vari to Pandharpur. As stated earlier the book is more about people than places. It is about the wisdom one gathers while being on the move. In the writer’s own words, travelling with a group, offers glimpses of life in different places and conditions, provides intimate access to the lives of others. The book tells many things which you many not find in travelogues.

As regards the conducted Europe tours are concerned the author tells us how such tours are only about clicking the spots in the itinerary (outside view without going inside) and photoshops simply to give the newly rich middle class the feeling that they have reached a position in life where they can afford foreign travel. The book is an eye-opener for all those who hanker to visit a foreign land after seeing full page advertisements of tour operators in newspapers and magazines. It brings a revelation that conducted foreign tours are for those who have the money and want to boast of a foreign travel, without actually seeing anything.  The book also tells that had it not been for the money they bring, Indians are unwelcome in Europe for they do not bathe in shower or bathtub but on the floor. There have been instances where Indians have been fined for not using shower or bathtub. It also takes digs at Indians overeating and how taking care (in the Indian style) of those who are suffering indigestion on a European train can actually create a scene.

The chapter on Jaisalmer fort gives the reader a delight of actually visiting the fort. The Brahmin old lady who runs an in-house restaurant out of self-respect and serves the writer kersangri deserves a salute. She strikes a chord with you instantly. The book has many witty lines like a South Indian, who when being asked how does the Indian food cooked by European cooks taste, says that as long as there is curd everything tastes good. You can easily relate to such characters, rather people, for you have come across them or may have them as a family member or you yourself show such traits. The slum tourism tries to show the slums not as a dirty place but as an enterprising colony generating revenues in millions. It tells how disappointed the foreigners are on discerning that slums are actually houses with TV sets, beds and children who go to school. The book rightly underlines how our tourism is taking a toll on the environment, which also includes humanity. 

The book has an attractive cover. But I wonder why a book priced at Rs. 499 could not afford to have colour photographs and settled for ugly black and white instead. The title of the book appears to have been picked randomly, without having any reference thereto in the book.  If you love people you will love this book. If you are looking for a book to plan your travels, to avoid disappointment, I advise you to pick up the books which come with the words travel guides in their names. 

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