Good morning, beautiful world! This is the review for a book that truly was a surprise package: ‘Once Upon the Tracks of Mumbai’.
About the Author: Rishi Vohra recently relocated back to Mumbai after completing a green MBA from San Francisco State University and a Masters Diploma in Environmental Law prior to which he had a successful career in the Indian entertainment industry.
Having been a guest columnist for various newspapers in India, he currently writes for delWine and is a Certified Specialist of Wine. This is his first novel. For more information, log on to
1st Published: 2012
(I was sent a signed copy of the book by the author.)
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 he could do...is Babloo his inspiration or is it the other way round?
A random twist of fate on Mumbai’s 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.
Darkness started swallowing the sunset and the fashion parade began retreating from the buzz of Carter Road. By the time my watch struck nine, Carter Road was mostly populated by cars making their way home. The days of the sturdy Fiats and Ambassadors were over, replaced mostly by big flashy cars adapted to Indian roads by joint ventures with foreign companies. These expensive cars were driven by two categories of people. The first were the ones who wanted to flaunt their wealth. Their windows had no tint so that they could be seen and envied. The other category comprised of those oblivious to attention, who used their luxurious cars only as a means of transport. Their windows were always accompanied by a dark tint.
They say you should not judge a book by its cover. They are so right. If it hadn’t been for books like these, I would have assumed that this genre has nothing substantial to offer.
The author has mingled fact with fiction to produce a plot that is alternately sinister and pleasant. The protagonist’s mental condition has been portrayed well, and while this is what drives the action of the novel, there are various other issues brought to light- not subtly, but definitely with ease.
The plight of women is one of the most prominent themes in the storyline- which I hadn’t expected, when I went through the synopsis at the back of the novel. Babloo’s approach towards the issue is so matter of fact, that he never sounds preachy- in fact, he makes more sense than the ‘sane’ people in the story.
The most appealing aspect is the delicate balance between the exposure of social tribulations and the day to day challenges that every man, woman and child has to face. Just as ominous circumstances begin to overwhelm you, the author shifts the focus of the plot to a scene of domestic harmony, giving you a chance to recover from grave thoughts and enjoy comic relief.
This novel has something to offer to everyone- love triangles for the die-hard romantics, serious subject matter for those who like novels to be true to life, action for the reader who likes a little ‘masala’ and strong female characters for the feminist. The narrative has been structured in a manner that allows each of the central characters to bask in the limelight for some time.
Babloo gets the first person narrative, while Vandana (the ‘heroine’), their parents and even the ‘villain’ get an entire section to themselves from time to time, in the third person narrative. It helps one relate to the characters much more, and gives the reader a chance to understand the different points of view- it saves you from being blinded by the protagonist’s own judgment, whether right or wrong. There are a number of people in the novel whom I liked just as much as Babloo and Vandana, and I was myself surprised at the kind of characters who appealed to me most.
The most palpable motif in the storyline is the importance of the railways in the lives of the characters. At times, one feels a little put off by the intricate details of life by the rail tracks, but I assume it’s natural for the protagonist to ponder over it so much, considering his entire existence was initially dominated by the incidents that took place there.
There was one slight flaw which should have been taken care of: we understand that Vandana cares about Babloo like she would any of her friends; it’s exactly what makes her special- that she treats Babloo like a ‘normal’ guy. However, she hardly thinks about him when he’s not by her side, and we never get to know exactly why she is so fond of him even though she has a very small friend circle- I expected a more detailed analysis of her perspective towards a guy with this condition.
Although some incidents are larger than life (like those including the ‘Rail Man’) the conclusion of the story is deeply satisfying- it’s neither melodramatic, nor unrealistic. A certain twist towards the end was interesting, and appreciable: not because it was exceptional, but because it was something of a paradox; what people would assume to be punishment, turns out to be a boon for the hero. ‘Once Upon the Tracks of Mumbai’ is one of those rare popular Indian fiction novellas that have substance, and make you feel like reading the book was a time well spent.