There is no doubt that Bishwanath Ghosh has hit upon a great idea. There have been numerous instances during my occasional train travels that I have looked out at stations of small towns and wondered what would it be to live in a place like this. This holds true not only in India, but often when traveling via train in Europe, something I did extensively, that I have pondered about life in places that have become important transit hubs, yet remain unknown as cities or towns.
There is also no denying that there is romance and adventure attached with getting off at a place that no one really knows about, or one that you have often crossed paths with without exploring; almost like finally building up the courage to speak to that beautiful girl you come across during your daily transit to work. Bishwanath Ghosh does exactly that by getting off at train stations that in their own little way form the lifeline of the railway system of this vast country, but he takes a step further, or rather a few steps further and tries to understand the psyche of the people that inhabit these places.
Chai, chai isn't your conventional travel book. It doesn't entice you to travel to the places where the author goes. What it does instead is encourage you to let go of your inhibitions and bring out the true-blue traveler that lurks somewhere inside all of us and take him/her out into a world that is intriguing and full of mystery. In other words, don't just keep wondering, but be bold enough to take that extra step and explore, and what you find may or may not be to your liking, but you would have lived and learned.
I loved the writing style of Ghosh. It's easy to read and flows, perfect for a rainy Delhi afternoon, when you can actually have some chai next to you, maybe even some pakoras, and wander off into the life of small town India. Unfortunately, Ghosh's book is more about whisky than it is about chai. I shouldn't be one to judge a person, but his constant need for alcohol and the notion that the "real" people of these small railway towns can be found in the dingy bars was a bit unnerving. It's true that the heart of any place is in the people that live there, and Ghosh does a good job of trying to cram in as many different people at each location as he possibly can, yet the constant reference to the need for whisky was personally off-putting. Then again, traveling alone to unknown small towns where the living arrangements are usually on the lower side of the average variety, one needs an excuse to get through the night, so I’ll hold my final thoughts on that till I have experienced this for myself.
Recommendation: Chai, chai is a lovely little character study of small town India and the people that call these places their home. There is just the right amount of touristy information in the book that were you to find yourself in the places mentioned, you'd know what to do, but then that's not the aim of the book. Pick it up to get an insight into how people survive across this great nation of ours that has so many cultures and identities living together facing similar problems on a daily basis, yet moving along in life with a smile on their face.