September 23, 2019

Review: One Man Goes Backpacking by Ketan Joshi

One Man Goes to Backpacking Ketan Joshi

Let the self-righteous, the patriots, the political hobos cool their horns in the ice bucket of Facebook. They have their political correctness. For the rest of us, there’s Ketan Joshi. I’ve been among the few lucky ones to have observed his meteoric rise as a humour travel writer. Started with the three-Amigos series. Now I have his recent book One Man Goes Backpacking. 3 Hours worth of pure, childish and nonsensical fun. That’s Ketan Joshi for you.

Humour’s next of kin is misfortune. The fun part of One Man Goes Backpacking starts when Ketan misses his train to Calcutta. A vendor suggests he should board a local train and chase the first train. Will he get it? That’s a whole different subject. Statistically speaking, the possibility is as thin as that of swatting down a mosquito in blind darkness.  Ketan goes to airport. His imagination brings up the disturbing picture of a journey in general compartment. It’s fraught with a series of misfortunes - scary, clammy and stinking of kerosene. The hilarious details make you go giggling. But if you’ve ever had the pleasure of journeying without reservation, you’d know they are terrible, revolting facts made edible with a pinch of humour.

Mosquitoes suck your blood but that don’t turn you into a vampire. History textbooks, cogs in a vast propaganda-wheel, suck your brain and turn you into a zombie. But One Man Goes Backpacking is not a textbook. Ketan Joshi minces no words, spares nobody. Dates and years don’t run along his pages like numbers on a cranky jackpot. They are stories, interspersed with Ketan’s own opinions and interpretations of them. To him it’s the story that matters more. History is about discovering the origin. Even bungee-jumping has an origin, a story. When retold by Ketan, history takes wings, flies high, then drops like a laughter-bomb.

The imperial hangover of Calcutta, the sleepy, surreal lakes of Sikkim, a pleasant elephant safari in Jaldapara, a strange second-hand bookstore in Bhutan, the bygone royalties of Cooch Behar, an excellent Assamese lunch at Guwahati – they are in the first part of this book. The second part is on Allahabad, Varanasi and the Kumbh. Ketan’s scorn for Bengali social skills and admiration for Bengali foods kept reappearing, the former more frequently than the latter. A rather longish retelling of the Puranic story of ocean-churning is resplendent with wittily crafted anachronistic dialogues. One Man Goes Backpacking by Ketan Joshi is the fascinating tale of a solitary traveller; it thrills and tickles you at the same time.

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