Do you read? Are you a voracious reader? If yes, how many books have you come across that have made you feel old and young at the same time?
Someone had once told me that reading, like writing, is a form of art, and had gone into an elaborate explanation to validate her point. I had argued, but had given in — for her logic, though slightly convoluted, was sound.
The Heat and Dust Project is a reader’s delight. If you are a casual reader, the very concept of the book will blow you away before you click the Order button. A couple gives up on the comfort of city life to travel India on a budget of 500 rupees a day for bed and board.
The fun begins when you start reading, for you had probably not expected it to be this gripping. Before you realise exactly what is going on you have become their co-passenger, have left Delhi ages back, and are trundling through dusty Rajasthan roads that transport you to lands of stories and myths and people and rituals and philosophy.
It is a beautiful book: a must-read for every casual reader like me. The serious reader in you, however, discovers something else as you keep flipping through the pages. It is not your average travelogue. It helps you discover India.
You are aware of the existence of a country called India. You are aware of being a part of her. You have read of her in books and on the internet. If you are an avid traveller, you may have ventured her nooks and corners (and even blogged about your adventures).
But do you know of India beyond your comfort zone? Is a country, her history, her culture, her heritage, her legacy not supposed to be about her people? How do you know a country if her people have not spoken to you of her?
Let us digress here a bit. Open Google Images and type Barmer. The usual clichéd images of camels and deserts will fill your monitor. But what of the herdsmen that appear in the pictures but you choose to ignore? They have stories of their own, handed down from generation to generation, stories ignored by historians and chroniclers and beyond the realm of archaeologists.
Every place has its own inhabitants, who are, in turn, products of the place. Every place speaks for its people. And the people speak for the place. If you traverse across the length and breadth of the country and put the parts together, you will realise that India is more than a sum of her people.
That is precisely what The Heat and Dust Project does: it opens up a gateway for you to India. If the youthful zest of the authors has made you feel young, you definitely finish the book enriched by the erudite narration of the great land that is India.
The narration is one-of-its-kind (but then, so is the book). It would not have been possible without one of the couple. Devapriya befriends the reader. Saurav educates him. And yet, when they bicker during the journey, you realise this is a “them” territory, and leave them on their own.
I have mentioned elsewhere that writing comes naturally to Devapriya. She is an excellent narrator who can keep the reader hooked without making an effort, and is therefore the one who brings the places to life with her vivid description.
Saurav, on the other hand, brings the much-needed punctuation. It would have been a breakneck monotone of a narration otherwise. In more ways than one he tells you of the place and her people; and tells them of you. He forms a chain between the worlds.
In other words, Devapriya sets the pace for the book. Saurav puts a rein on it whenever the book demands. Between them they pull off a fantastic book. There are times when you want to buy them a bottle of water so that they can save 15 rupees; heave a sigh of relief if they get invited by someone and save on a meal; wish Devapriya gets her dose of chocolate pancake; and yearn for Saurav to go on with his narration till your thirst for this country is quenched.
And amidst the heat and dust and grime and excruciating regime, humour peeps in, as does the insatiable thirst for knowledge. And, well, the chemistry that binds them and makes them complement each other without the slightest hint of mush (of which there was ample scope throughout the book).
The Heat and Dust Project is a world of fantasy carved out of reality. But so is India. She always has been. And this is an Indian book written by a very, very Indian couple who, unlike most, know what this seemingly confusing menagerie called India is all about.
I do not like to travel. The trait probably makes me hodophobic. On the rare occasions that I do, I care too much for creature comforts to give in to the completely alien seduction of backpacking. But then, if these little imps keep producing sequels (yes, there will be at least one more) over time...