Samir Nazareth hails from Nagpur. The city is famous for oranges, but beyond that, it is the geographical center of India. Yet, as he traverses the coastal regions, there are few who know where it is, or even in which state. Samir himself is on an exploratory journey. He has quit his job, and is spending months on the road, his aim to explore as much of the coastal regions as he can, on a limited budget.
The title of the book very clearly states his primary interests – food, towns and people.
Food, clearly is of great importance. Its main aim might be to provide sustenance, but every region has its own cuisine, and every town its unique items and methods of preparation. Samir, at one point in the book, calls himself a ‘travelling gourmand’, and at every place he stops at, he delights in trying out the local food, whether at the small thelas (carts) on the road, or in small hotels and shacks. This not just provides him with much needed nourishment, at reasonable rates, but also works as an effective ice-breaker, initiating conversations and interesting exchanges. The bananas in the title are what sustain him otherwise – the cheapest and most filling alternatives when cash is low and he is perilously close to exceeding his budget!
The towns he chooses to stop at are varied and interesting. He starts his journey by train from Nagpur to Bhuj, moving on to Okha as the westernmost point of India, travelling down south to Rameshwaram and Kanyakumari and up the coast to Kolkata and Gangasagar, finally heading towards the hills to Gangtok. Along the way, he stops at small and big towns, some he knows, some he has just heard of, and some, which just end up on his itinerary according to the whims and fancies of the public transportation system. The hotels and lodges he puts up in, are just as varied – from basic, though comfortable government run guest houses, to ashrams and dingy hotels. Of course, his budget figures heavily when it comes to a place to put up at, and along the way, he devises his own hotel classification system, based on amenities and lack thereof!
Coming to the people, they are everywhere! Unlike the towns and the bananas, there is no way he can keep a count here, but some stand out, and feature predominantly in the narrative. Whether it is the couple he meets on the train, whose focus lies on ordering food, the fishermen he joins at Korlai, the guides at the palace museum at Trichur, or the hotel owner proudly talking of heritage at Puri, they enhance the story of his journey, reminding us of similar people we have met.
The narrative is smooth, easy to read and enjoy, Samir’s droll humour coming through every page. There are especially hilarious bits, usually relating to conversations or communication gaps due to languages and dialects. His journey regularly takes him to ports and boat yards – we learn that he has some experience with them – and naturally, his knowledge in the area comes across. However, though the book is about his journey, we learn but little about him through these pages.
There is one thread which runs consistently through the book – the questions he is asked, regarding his reasons for travel – Why is he travelling? Why is he travelling alone? And why isn’t he married and settled down? One of the things I liked about the book is that he does not try to explain his actions and choices. After all, they are his reasons, and his choices, deeply personal, relevant to him alone. And as he realizes when he returns home, and is faced the same questions once again - he has come a full circle.
I enjoyed reading the book, especially the sections about the places I have already visited. The people reminded me of similar ones I know, or have met, and, as I read, I frequently had a nostalgic smile on my face. I might not be the sort of person who likes to take off on a journey for months at a time. However, I can certainly appreciate the charm such a journey holds for travellers such as Samir. Besides, there is one thing he says at the end that I totally agree with –
“There is no such thing as a bad decision while travelling.”
It holds true not just for the decisions you make while you travel, but also for the reasons you travel, the modes of transport and accommodation you choose, and the places you visit. Travel is all about the experiences. The rest are just incidental.
This Book Review originally appeared in the September 2015 issue of Complete Wellbeing Magazine. I reviewed the book for the magazine, at their request, and the views expressed are all mine.