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Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Special Lassi - Book Review

Special lassi is not that usual extra maska marke lassi. Special lassi is the opium laced lassi. The writer and her male white friend named River go on an adventurous trip at the foothills of the Himalayas. Yes, though the cover claims their trip to be in the Himalayas, it is actually in the towns situated at the foothills of the Himalayas. Their trip is an adventure because it is unplanned, unconducted. They hop on crowded jeeps and rickety buses. They beg for food in homes when the hotels in the north-east shut down at eight in the night. They try to find lodges in the quaint towns at odd hours and manage to stay in ugly holes. As a revenge they decide to shit on the beds and eventually steal the bedshit from the hotel.

Wait their adventure does not stop here. There is no mention of the age of the author and her friend in the book. But the blurb describes them as “two bleary-eyed kids, teetering on the cusp of adulthood.” Both of them are self confessed stoners. It is also ample substance abuse, procuring of the illegal drugs and even smuggling of contrabands across the international borders that adds adventure to their road trip. River is ever ready to purchase the drugs from any one who offers it to him. Though the author protests his purchases she does not mind sharing the joint with him. Plus the liquor is freely flowing. I never start a review with what I did not like about the book. But Special Lassi is an exemption. I disliked the glorification of consumption of drugs. If I were to hand over this book to my children I would think hundred times. Probably I would never let them lay their hands on this book. The way smoking joints is shown to be a cool activity is for sure in every likelihood influence the young minds adversely.

Stoning apart. Let us look at the book as a travelogue. The journey starts with Darjeeling and its famous tea estates. Then they go to Sikkim and gaze the mountains at Pelling. From Gangtok to Rumtek, Namchi to Yuksom they go trotting Sikkim. They observe a very different kind of Buddhism practiced there. The writer mentions the practices of Buddhism in these regions, which are for sure going to be a great cultural shocks for people belonging to other parts of the country. The writer says that you should enter temples and monasteries after removing your foot wear so that you can soak in all the good vibrations. She also mentions how seriously cutting down trees is taken in Sikkim. She says in Sikkim the general perception of the people is that you may get away after killing a person but you cannot get away after killing a tree.

From Sikkim our duo goes to Nepal via Silliguri. Descriptions of Nepal highlight the difference between an underdeveloped country and developing country like India. While we look forward to emulate America and European countries Nepalis our poor neighbours dream of developing like India some day. But still when it comes to punctuality we have a lesson to learn from them. They visit Fewa, Lumbini in Nepal. The writer overhears that the Kumari Goddess custom emerged because the King of Nepal was pedophile.

From Nepal they come to Haridwar and attend the Ganga Aarti on the ghats. The writer incorrectly mentions that the aarti sung at the ghats is Om Jai Jagdish Hare. It is actually Om Jai Gange Mata and the voice which she choses to call sharp, clear cry bursting belongs to none other than the queen of devotional songs Anuradha Paudwal. I wish mistakes like these were avoided.

Our backpackers then go to Macdonald Gunj, Manali and finally Leh-Ladakh and its lakes with pristine waters. Throughout her journey the author meets lovely yet irritating people. She says people often say that she has been lucky to have encountered such wonderful people in her travels. In her own words she feels, “Is it really about getting lucky? Or is it more about making an effort? Like putting away the headphones, shutting down the laptop, asking and responding to questions, being curious about other people's lives, smiling. I believe that the only prerequisite for finding interesting things or people in life is to be interested; luck has very little to do with it.

Unfortuantely lines like these come only towards the end. The most beautiful writing comes only when the writer is on her own. The description of her cycling down the world's highest motorable pass in Ladakh is sheer beauty. That makes me wonder would this book have been better if it was minus River. There is not a single picture in the book. Pictures of the places visited by the writer would have made the book interesting.

Yet given the dearth of travelogues on the Indian literary scene, this book is recommended inspite of all its shortcomings. It will take you on the tour of Himalayan foothills and tell you how beautiful our country is. Did I tell you that the duo is on a hunt for special lassi? Do they find it? Read the book to know more.

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