It is the sort of summer when birds fall out of the sky, dead, and neem trees shed half their newly blossomed flowers by mid-morning. At Parvat Ram Kevat’s little restaurant, where we walk down for brunch every day, arguing about the disbursement of our meagre budget, we hear hectic rumours that it is going to be the hottest summer in India ever. Such is the metallic white intensity — of rumours and mornings alike — that the views of the mighty Jahangir Mahal looming in the distance seem to dissolve into a crackly haze.
Travelling through India shows that the country is animated by a singular force of life.
Six years ago, my husband and I traded in our dull but decent jobs for the drama and poverty of becoming full-time writers. With the unassailable optimism — and arrogance — of our mid-twenties, we gave up our regular pay cheques for a slender book contract and a minuscule advance. It was to be an account of our (hopefully) transformational journey across India, to be undertaken on a tight budget: Rs 500 a day for bed and board, for both of us.
I fancied myself a liberal; he was an energy and security geek. I grasped at the poetic in matters of revolution; he liked to ask annoying questions about what would replace the present system the morning after the revolution. Though over the years we had allowed the other’s perspective to smoothen the serrated teeth of our own positions, we were the sort of travel partners who could kill each other in shady hotel rooms. We managed to travel over 16,000 km in local buses, dreaming of the routes not taken and food we could not afford, and yet, desist from murder.
The book is subtitled “The Broke Couple’s Guide to Bharat” because it ostensibly recounts a Rs 500-a-day budget trip. This isn’t really one of those guides. Or rather it is a guide, but of an excursion into the territory of the Self.
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.” The line by Saurav Jha in The Heat and Dust Project (HarperCollins, Rs199) aptly captures the essence of a trip — taken aboard rickety buses — that him and his wife Devapriya Roy embarked upon in 2010, on a strict budget of Rs 500 a day. The Heat and Dust Project, launched in Kolkata last week, is a travelogue of the first phase of the couple’s dauntless seven-month journey.