This post was written many years ago for Huffington Post, and before that, my now redundant blog. I was hardly a writer then. Years later, I can only express gratitude to this book, and every other book that has made me who I am.
There are books and there are books.
Some books take you to your childhood, some remind you of the dreaded subjects at school, some transport you to the heady years of your youth and some change your life.
I grew up surrounded by books. There were cupboards full of books, shelves full of magazine, and my house was full of bookworms–my father, mother, brother, and later even my husband and daughter read voraciously.
But I did not love books the way my family and friends did; they were acquaintances all right, but never close friends. In any case, the compulsively distracted and fidgety person in me was happier cooking, cleaning, painting, and occasionally writing. Until two years ago.
As a stressed and lonely mother of two little children, the only way to relax for me back then was either through the idiot box or through reading. Since the TV was always taken (anyone with young kids will know why), all I could do was to read. And so, perhaps for the first time, I seriously looked at the huge collection of books at home. What stood out among hundreds of them was a yellow spine with a tea stain. It looked familiar–and it was.
This book had a story behind it; a story that would make you believe in chance. My husband, an avid collector of books, had bought it soon after its release in 2009 and had recommended it highly. It was, according to him, quite a delightful take on an interesting theme. Busy with my work, home, and the girls, I couldn’t be bothered–who had the time to read anyway?
It would have slipped my mind like many of his other recommendations had it just been read and kept away. The book, however, was not only read but also shared, discussed, and loved by my entire family before getting lost in transit. Not the one to let go, my man had promptly ordered a fresh copy. And that is why I remembered Chai, Chai.
Perhaps it was time for me to read it too–at least the signs said so.
Chai, Chai (I finished reading in two sittings) turned out to be not just a book but an experience. It was not a story book, it was not a novel, it was not even a travelogue per se, but it was a beautifully honest account of a curious middle-class man travelling through places that had intrigued him ever since he could remember. It talked about the most mundane yet the most unusual subject–important railway junctions and the not-so-important towns attached to them.
The beauty however lay in the fact that the ordinary subject was uplifted to an extraordinary level by the author’s eye for detail and wit. He picks up the most inane things and breathes life into them–walking though the lanes and bylanes of small towns, spending an evening at dingy bar with locals, exploring the town on a cycle rickshaw, spotting a group of women bathing in the open, making friends with a security guard. The lucidity and detail transports you into these towns.
You can visualise the cheap hotels and the narrow lanes, you can see the faces of the characters and hear them talk; you feel his frustration when he does not get a room in the middle of the night, and experience his delight when he finds his favourite drink at dirt cheap prices, you smile with him and wince with him, you are even titillated by his voyeurism. And yet, as a reader, you are never overwhelmed. I also had others reasons to like the book: I grew up in such small towns among similar sights and sounds; the association perhaps, helped me connect at a personal level. It taught me that ordinary need not be boring. It also taught me that to write well or to connect with the reader you neither need to be a scholar, nor a linguist.
It was by another stroke of luck that I stumbled upon the author’s blog soon after. The blog, a huge repository of pages from the author’s life, convinced me further about the same thing: a good writer can transform the simplest of things into delightful pieces of literature. And hence, empowered by that thought, began my writing journey.
Two years since I read the book, a little more than a year since I started getting published (in papers no less), I only wish to write a book as simple and delightful as Chai, Chai. Who knows, my book might also change someone’s life, like Chai, Chai changed mine.
This post first appeared on my blog New Beginning.