There are some books that I re-read every few years, and always with undiminished pleasure. As it so happens, several of them are about India, some of them my ritual pre-monsoon, hot-weather reading.
Heat and Dust.
And, of course, “Chasing the Monsoon“, Alexander Frater’s marvellous travelogue about following the monsoon’s journey across India.
Re-reading this book in Delhi, where I live, as we reel under a heatwave (the city touched more than 49C a few days ago) makes the experience even more interesting. We are still dependent on the monsoon, and we all wait anxiously for its arrival.
The book has aged well, I find, despite the fact that the India of 1987 and that of 2022 are dramatically different places. As I remarked in my earlier review of this book, current-day India isn’t quite as laugh-out-loud eccentric as the country Mr. Frater explores.
On the plus side: telecommunications have improved beyond all imaging and flying is certainly not the stressful experience it used to be…well, by and large it’s not, because there are so many more airlines and flights nowadays…the stresses are there, but they are different ones.
I vividly remember the days of flying in India in the early 80s, just as I remember the dreadful phone system.
I have watched from a small airport in Orissa as my wonderfully-named “hopping flight” flew right overhead, failing to stop for me, the lone passenger.
Another hopping flight deposited me in Nagpur, a totally unscheduled stop. The airport staff were absolutely charming and said yes of course I could call and warn my boyfriend (now husband) that I was going to be very, very late. Oh, and the call would take a minimum of 5 hours to book.
So, yes, Mr. Frater’s India totally resonates.
And India emerges from the book very well, a place of delays and seriously unhelpful bureaucracy, but equally a place of great generosity and kindness. Of beauty and drama. Of quirky knowledge and an ability to see the funny side of things.
I thoroughly enjoyed re-reading this delightful travelogue, marvelling all over again at Mr. Frater’s easy scholarship and boundless curiosity.
I also, deep down, felt a pang of nostalgia for the old India he depicts, the country I got to know. But that’s just me 🙂
And I am reading the weather reports in my morning paper with renewed vigour, as the annual countdown to the monsoon begins.