February 3, 2007

B2B with K : Of crossover book and a cross-country trip

Reference: Kini's B2B

Kini, The Hindu review of Inglistan, a Rajesh Talwar novel, says the book is about cultural comparisons, with the leading character holding forth on Indian culture and the crossover - how Gujaratis are the European equivalent of the Jews and how Indian restaurants in London are really Bangaladeshi.

How true.I have found that owners of most of our eating joints in London came from Sylhat district of the then East Pakistan. And they usually named their restaurants after Agra, the Taj or some other renowned Indian landmark or town. There used to be an Agra restaurant in every otherlocality in London of the sixties.

Another piece in The Hindu Sunday magazine, this one on a cross-country rickshaw run, Kini, reminds me of your Delhi-London hitch-hike (1964, was it?). The magazine piece by Antara Das is about a Kochi-Darjeeling three-wheeler ride undertaken by some 30 odd teams, many from Britain. It took them two weeks to finish the 3,500-km course. Compared to what you and our friend Subash Chopra did, thumbing lifts across West Asia and Europe, the auto-rickshaw ride would have been a cakewalk.

I don’t know if Subash and you were thoughtful enough to maintain a diary. Rickshaw-runners, we are told, ran blogs. In the words of a blogger, unfamiliar with the coomon mode of transport in Asian roads, an autorickshaw was no more than ‘ a bench-seat bolted over a two-stroke engine’. As one of them put it in a sum-up post, “…3219 km on the clock, seven spark blugs burnt out, one full service, a total of Rs 200 paid in bribes; and Rs.70, in toll charges”.

Maybe, you would like to check out www.rickshawrun.com; might even be driven to put down your thoughts on the 1964 hitch-hike. You don’t hear of people doing this sort of thing nowadays. It is perhaps because thumbing lifts no longer works in most countries. Car owners and truck drivers do not trust strangers with backpacks. Cross-country roads are no longer safe for hitch-hikers; and more countries would refuse Indians transit visa today than they did in the sixties.

In 1967, when a group of us did London-Bombay overland in a 12-seater, Pakistan was the only country (of the eight-nation crossover) that refused me a visa. My British companions had to leave me in Kabul, to fly over and rejoin them in Amritsar, while they drove through the famed Khyber Pass into Pakistan and exited via Lahore and Wagha border to enter India. From Amritsar we took the road again to Bombay.

I guess it took us about 12 or more days, of steady driving , with halts at Grass in Austria, Maribar (Yugoslavia), Istanbul, Tehran, Mehshad, Kandahar, Kabul, and a few other places I can’t recall.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"...how Gujaratis are the European equivalent of the Jews and how Indian restaurants in London are really Bangaladeshi.."

Not all Indian restaurants are Bagladeshi. There are a number of excellent vegetarian restaurants which are not. You do not have to come to Britain for Gujaratis viewed similar to Jews. Mumbai is an example where Maharashtrians do. Kanandigas do in Bangalore.