More from the bylanes of India : The Tribune India

More from the bylanes of India

RS 250: The Heat and Dust Project: The Broke Couple''s Guide to Bharat

More from the bylanes of India

The Heat and Dust Project: The Broke Couple's Guide to Bharat by Saurav Jha and Devapriya Roy. Harper Collins. Pages 304 Rs 250,

Aradhika Sharma

One man, one woman; 500 rupees a day for bed and board; backpacks and adventure; breaking free from what is familiar and tedious to explore real lives and lifestyles in India! This was what two people — partners in life and travel — Saurav Jha and Devapriya Roy opted for once they had completed writing their respective first books (The Vague Woman’s Handbook by Roy and The Upside Down Book of Nuclear Power by Jha).

The couple from Delhi aged 28 and 26 respectively were on the edge of ‘settling’ into the world of earning money at regular desk jobs, when they decided to take time off for a year to explore India on a limited budget. Shunning the destinations and routes that ‘corporate types’ would normally choose, they decide instead, to backpack through the country, take local transport — dusty buses, rickety autos and creaking boats into towns and cities, exploring the pulse and energy of their streets and populace.

The wanderlust is not to be fed by luxury — and that’s why this book is not just an account of destinations or a regular travelogue but a recounting of incidents, food, dialogue, situations, sights, smell and people that make it real and evocative.The reader can feel the heartbeat of the country —Chaubey ji of Mathura talking about gourmet delights, the autowala of Sabarmati giving information about how much Modi had done for the city, Neki Mohammad, the wood merchant who is also a famous tantric, Gopal Nishadh, the boatman with the ‘lovely turn of phrase’— the book is alive with real people going about the business of life in cities of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh and Western UP.

Every Indian who has travelled in a bus will, for example, relate to this line that Jha writes, ‘Among the smells that stream in, the most prominent is a stench of urine. Over the months, we will recognise this as the unifying trait of bus stands across the country.’

In the process of discovering India, the explorers also discover new facets about themselves and learn just how resilient their marriage is. Challenging, but obviously, the couple came through even co-authoring a book at the end of it (with two more to follow), told in two different and distinct voices.

Devapriya Roy is the storyteller, sometimes chatty and sometimes thoughtful, ‘Sometimes, bare hours suck. They leave us lean and wasted on beds, fighting each other, questioning the very vanities that propelled this project. Everything seems fraudulent, the past, the present — the elaborate narratives about our lives.’ And Saurav Jha economist by profession is matter of fact, factual and logical. It makes for an interesting juxtaposition.

The book is a combination of a blur of impression as well as concrete observations and the chronicling of people and places. The experience of driving in a bus with a broken paned window, which generated mingled images of ‘pigtailed girls in school uniforms, trees shedding leaves, thin dogs sleeping in the sun, clothes fluttering on flat terraces, ruins of a fort in the distance’ are as important to the spirit of the book as are the coordinates of the travelled destinations.

‘The Heat and Dust Project’ is an enjoyable and informative read about the two travellers as they brave the surprises —pleasant and discomforting — that India throws up. Even if it does not inspire the readers to take to the dusty road, they will still enjoy the narration and ruminations by the audacious couple in the comfort of their reading spaces.

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