Once Upon The Tracks Of Mumbai is the story of an autistic man who is shunned by family but accepted and cherished by friends and public.
Book blurb: Autistic. Schizophrenic. Psychotic… They use these words to describe Babloo the doctors, his family, his teachers everyone except Vandana. She treats him the way he wants the world to see him. Mumbai the city that defines his ultimate desires. Will it allow him the love and normalcy he so craves?
Vandana yearns for a soul mate to rescue her from the confines of the Railway Colony they all live in. Is she looking in the right place?
Rail Man a fearless, real-life hero who succeeds in doing all that Babloo secretly wishes to do is Babloo his inspiration or is it the other way around?
A random twist of fate on Mumbais endless, serpent-like, jangling local train tracks ties all these characters together in a complex weave of love, heartbreak, and courage.
Babloo draws the reader into his fascinating, heart-rending journey through the twisted, choked lanes of Mumbai, into an open space where he can finally exhale, be born again.
The cover of the novel has a picture of a couple, indicating that it’s a love story based in Mumbai, with a backdrop of railway tracks. One expects that it’d be a routine love story where they meet mostly on railway stations. Well, it’s partly right and partly wrong. They do meet often at the railway stations, but their romance doesn’t start there. And it isn’t a routine story.
The story is that of Babloo, an autistic and a jobless youth, living with his family in the railway quarters, who wasn’t bright academically and a school drop-out which was embarrassing for his ‘typical middle-class Indian parents’, which also resulted in his being ignored by the family in the daily affairs. He felt lonely and unwanted in his own house which streaked the rebellious character with-in him.
Although all he yearned for was someone to talk to him and make him feel cared for, the friends and society were more occupied with admonishing him and making fun of him. So, he spent most of his time in the company of himself at railway stations and often at tracks too.
And all the teachings he ever got was from the Bollywood movies.
The only good thing about him was Vandana, a neighbour, who always dreamed of making it big in advertising industry and settling down in USA . She was the only one who made an effort of talking with him and didn’t make fun of him for being slow or unsuccessful. She genuinely cared for him and understandably he fell in love with her. Needless to say, he couldn’t muster up the courage to confront her.
Sikander, a notorious womaniser, who flaunted his flashy cars and clothes to attract women (and naive women actually fell for it), befriends Babloo with malicious intentions. Babloo falls for the trap and unknowingly helps Sikander hook up with Vandana who too falls for Sikander for his gentlemanly behaviour.
Then there is Rail-man who is fearless, fighting for justice, not waiting for the officials to take action, always ready to help people whether it is hooligans trying to rape women or throw acid on them, or if some thugs hired by political parties are creating a ruckus or some extortionists are about to kill a businessman for not paying ransom, he fights them all selflessly. Rail-man is the answer to the helplessness and angst of a common Mumbaikar. Media hails him as the “hero” where as police wants him arrested for taking ‘law in his own hands.’
How these characters are interwoven and how they affect each other, what happens to Sikander and Vandana, whether Babloo manages to woo Vandana or not, why does Rail-man fight the wrong and what happens to him, whether Babloo manages to make friends and lead a better life, forms the rest of the story.
Glimpses of fast-paced life of Mumbai can be seen every now and then. The author has observed and noted everything that we tend to ignore or over-look of the daily life of a Mumbaikar. Be it local trains, crimes, lack of time, lack of compassion towards others, general attitudes of people, gossiping women, society, political influence, corrupt police officers, urge to change the system etc.
The writing is simple and the plot progresses at a slow-pace, which may turn-off some. But all characters are instantly relatable and one can easily take to the plight of Babloo. One can actually see the world the way Babloo looks at it and one can feel the inner struggle of Babloo for his identity and that is no mean task for a debut author.
The odd thing is, though it isn’t mentioned anywhere, the story isn’t set in 2012 but in early 2000’s. And every now and then, subtle references to Salman Khan and Shiv Sena are made. 😛 Names have been changed of course, but it is too obvious.
The climax is predictable, but it is a feel-good one, which, just like Bollywood movies, ends with a happy ending. Just like how it happens most of the times in real life, in this novel too, strangers help and appreciate Babloo more than his family or friends ever did.
A delightful read. Recommended. 🙂
Connect with the author here : Rishi Vohra.