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“A fresh, well-plotted, human story about love from all odds in middle-class Mumbai, with a ‘hero’ for whom you care deeply. It’s an entertaining read!” (Kabir Bedi, International and Bollywood actor)
Rishi Vohra’s debut novel ‘Once upon the tracks of Mumbai‘ is a refreshing read from the stereotypical romance novels that have been hitting bookshelves of late. For one, the story is written in first person and the protagonist is Balwant Shrivastav or as his friends calls him, Babloo. Apart from the chapters that carry the story from his side, it also continues in a third-person perspective from the view of his parents, Vandana (a girl whom he has a major crush on) and her parents. The continuous change in this regard makes the novel more interesting to read, while at the same time continues to give a fresh wave of information to the reader with regard to each character. Babloo is supposedly autistic and a wee little bit psychotic. He has Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) which worsens his condition. His parents and the entire society he lives in (apart from the perfect next-door neighbour Vandana) treat him like an untouchable. Throughout the day, he is ignored by everyone and does what he wants to. Basically, he is left alone to mind his own business. Neglected beyond care, Babloo is the eldest son of his parents. His father works in the Railway Office and, as a result, they live in a society meant for similar government officials.
“Raghu was the most excited of the three. Vandana was the bombshell of the society. To be sleeping next to her every night was something he could only dream of.”
This sentence right here summarises the banal condition that Indians have about arranged marriage and its after-effects. The author has to be given brownie points for pointing this out so subtly.
Babloo’s character is different from the conventional main character that one comes across in novels of these kinds. Towards the end, we see him battling with Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD) when he begins to believe that there is another side to his coward one – a fearless counterpart called the ‘Rail-man’. Rail-man walks around the tracks of Mumbai with washable black face paint in his pockets. He resolves his anger issues by helping the needy and bashing the greedy. This character was created on the festival of Holi when some people force colour on him and make his face black. Onto these mischief-makers, he uses brute force to exact revenge on them and while doing so, saves an innocent life. This innocent person turns out to be a chief reporter who brings to attention the incident and the mysterious vigilante. Thus, Rail-man was born. Whether or not Rail-man manages to solve his own problems at home with his family and friends’ (including Vandana and his own brother) is what urges you to finish the novel quickly.
‘Once Upon the Tracks of Mumbai’ has the makings of a very unusual Bollywood film. Some sentences and scenarios you encounter in the story stay with you till the end and after; and in a good way. If the same trend continues, Rishi Vohra has a long way to go.
Ovearall Rating: 7.5/10
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