Impressions off the back:
The book sounds interesting. There’s this protagonist who sounds like he is seriously misunderstood and bullied, then there’s a whiff of romance indicated and also some fantasy with superheroes too. A mix of events et al. happening at a railway colony in Mumbai… I’m eager to see if the author can blend genres well.
My thoughts on the book:
To delve into the mind of a misunderstood person is never easy. As hard as we try to put ourselves into that person’s shoes, we can’t portray or feel the same as that person because at least a small part of us still looks at the situation from our own point of view rather than that person’s. If just a misunderstood person’s point of view is difficult to narrate in first person, then to look at life from the point of view of an autistic person is quite another level.
The protagonist, Balwant Srivastav is an autistic person. Sort of like how Ishaan’s parents, and other teachers in Taare Zameen Par do not understand that he is dyslexic and needs more attention than his brother, even Babloo’s parents and the railway colony community do not understand that he is autistic and needs to be treated right. They call him psychotic and schizophrenic and autistic to his face, and think very less of him. In the first chapter itself, Babloo tells us all that, and how he is in love with a girl called Vandana in the neighborhood. His parents think of him as bringing sadness to the family and dote on his younger brother Raghu instead.
I particularly admire in these opening chapters, the attention to minute details in Babloo’s daily routines. Though the painstaking effort does drag the story quite a lot, I wonder if perhaps that’s how the mind of such a person might work. They are meticulous in their behavior so this might as well end up being a planned stroke rather than unplanned boredom.
In the colony, there is only the girl Vandana who seems to understand Babloo, and hence the immediate attraction to her. Vandana’s character is sketched as well as Babloo’s. The other secondary characters don’t stand out as much, which is okay. The author wishes to put forward a tale of love, being understood by one heart is enough to give hope to live even when the rest of the world doesn’t understand you. I like that thought.
If the fantasy character of the Rail Man is to be talked of, then Babloo’s confrontation with a gang of guys attempting to rape a young woman and his determination to stop them from doing so is what brings about the Rail Man. A brave savior, or maybe the right place at the right time. Either ways, from the point where this comes, the story seems to move quicker, so Rail Man might be sort of a savior for the story too.
It was only recently that the author Rishi Vohra approached me asking if I was willing to review his book here. I’d read a review of the book by two of my friends earlier and was contemplating the read, so when he sent me a signed copy, I was quite happy. The language is simple, and the dialogues and monologues thoughtfully expressed. There are characters that drift in and out without much prominence or maybe need, like Sikander perhaps, but if they’re not prominent, the story isn’t hampered as such. The opening few chapters are very detailed and slow-paced. If it’s intentional, to portray the meticulous nature of the protagonist, I guess it is understandable, but it could have been a little quicker I feel. It’s a one-time read, but that’s understandable given the background and setting of the novel. I’d dearly recommend Rishi to look at a better cover design also.
Title: Once Upon the Tracks of Mumbai
Author: Rishi Vohra
Price: INR 175
(January 22nd, 2013)