Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Chai Chai

I have been a great fan of Mr. Biswanath Ghosh for a long time. First, I found his blog on the Internet, On the Ganga Mail, rather accidentally. After reading a couple of posts, I realized that I was looking at the writings of an author of exceptional calibre. Then, visiting his site became a daily routine for me. On some days, there would be enough content for me to ponder over. Perhaps, enough to come back for a second bite after dinner, and perhaps, think deep thoughts about, before retiring for the day. On some other days, the pickings would be slim, but the nibble would be satisfying enough. And, there would  be those dreadful days, when there would not be a post, and I would hope that the next day would bring out the magical carpet, woven with the words and thoughts that Mr. Ghosh is such a master craftsman at weaving.

So, I was delighted when my wife recently handed me a copy of his book Chai Chai. I was meaning to get my hands on the book for a long time, but she beat me to it. Then, I spent a couple of days reading the book and re-reading some of the sections. This post is not supposed to be a book review, but an appreciation of a beautiful work of art, that took me back to an India that I love and very recently, have started missing. Expatriates miss India all the time. They think they miss the place, but only after they come back home, do they realize that they miss the time and not the place they left. I can vouch for this with my own experience. Chai Chai took me to the places that I have started missing rather sorely, but it also took me to the little time capsules, where, strangely enough, the old charm of India, continues to live on.

Places, where a retired engine driver with two free passes to go anywhere in India will come to share his life's experience with you. Places, where you would spend ten minutes at the destination to enjoy the return journey on the train. And places, where unpaid security guards in closed down mills will offer to share their meal with you, even if they don't have enough on their own plates.

Although every chapter in this book is a delightful read, I would like to recount two specific parts of the journey that I  enjoyed. One is the description of a little junction in north India called Mughal-Sarai. Anyone that has ever been to Varanasi from any godforsaken town in north India, has always travelled through this little town. Me included. What was particularly enjoyable, was the description of the life that exists outside the station in this typical north Indian city. What came as a bonus, was the trip to Kashi that Mr. Ghosh took me to, along with the visit to the Vishwanath temple, and all the little trappings in between, that Kashi is so famous for. The second really touching story is that of a small town in Andhra Pradesh, where he visits a Dargah for a Muslim seer, that is patronized by Hindus. At the end of his visit to this place, he provides a rather sentimental description of how the lady who lived there, hands him a packet of sweets. Only hours later, he visits a temple, and a vendor outside sells him a bottle of fake mineral-water. In today's India, there is a constant struggle between the old India of sentiments, familiarity and hospitality, and the new India of malice and avarice. This book took me through a cruise of both Indias, while I was constantly praying for a slightly longer life for the India that I miss, and the India that is slowly dying what many people would perhaps call a natural death.

And yes, just a casual side note. I noticed that Mr. Ghosh seems to be opening a bottle of whiskey at the beginning and end of every journey he makes. While, I do understand that authors cruise the ethereal plane better while slightly inebriated, I would like to see many more good books such as Chai Chai from Mr. Ghosh in the years to come. So, I hope that he can tone down his love of the spirits a little bit, and still be in generally good spirits.

Finally, since I grew up in the cow belt of India, I know that I am giving Mr. Ghosh the highest compliments from my heart, from one Desi to another, when I say, Wah sahab, kya khalis kitab likhi hai aapne. Bilkul desi ghee ki tarah.

(No translations needed.)


  1. I just need to know what 'khalis' means... The others I comprehend...

  2. Sorry Hdaran. Here is a complete translation: Great job Sir. You have written a wonderful (pure) book. Just like Desi Ghee.

    Desi Ghee or clarified butter is considered the purest of the pure in the cow belt of India, where both Mr. Ghosh and I grew up. Hope that helps.

  3. That definitely does!!! Thanks Desi Ji!!!