When Jeet Thayil writes a book about chocolate saints, one knows it will not be the kind populated with Easter eggs and Willy Wonkaian characters. Rather, think Umberto Eco acid-tripping on a couch punctured with cigarette burns in a moldy basement.
Think hard; use your imagination. Try to remember the time when the world was not an oyster, with its pearl geolocalized on Google Maps, rated on TripAdvisor, its best sights already pre-dissected on The Lonely Planet and travel blogs. There was an era during which the world had not shrunk yet to a global playground easily explored with a smartphone and a wifi connection in hand or indeed, before planes, videos and even ballpoint pens. It was the epoch of explorers and discoveries, of years spent away from a home that less and less could be called as such. And this is the time during which Alfred Raquez wrote his travel journal, In The Land Of Pagodas, A Classic Account of Travel in Hong Kong, Macao, Shanghai, Hubei, Hunan and Guizhou.
It is that time of the year again. The day after Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights loudly celebrated with an army of firecrackers, Delhi residents wake up with something that is worse than a hangover: a cloud of toxic fumes stubbornly sitting on the face of the Indian capital, choking it to a slow death. In her book, Choked: Everything You Were Afraid to Know about Air Pollution, Indian writer Pallavi Aiyar dissects the airpocalypse that has spread to India’s major cities over the past few decades.
There is no faster way to gauge the depth of a well than to drop a stone, and wait for the heavy thud signalling it has reached the bottom.
Indian writer Karan Mahajan is more ambitious. In his latest book, he throws not a rock, but a deafening bomb that leaves in its wake a trail of dead bodies and scarred souls, in a mad scientific experiment aimed at exposing the deepest and darkest corners of the multi-layered well that is the Indian society—and if the well has to explode in the process, so be it: it would just be collateral damage. As one of the novel’s terrorists provocatively argues, “I’m pointing out the flaws in the system. Terror is a form of urban planning.”