Ram Ram India by Alex Thomson

Ram Ram India…the words are so delectable; delightful indeed! This was one main reason to choose the book. And the other reason is that I have embarked on a journey to know more about my country. Sadly, we Indians, rarely document about our experiences, our journeys or our findings. So, we have to turn foreign writers who spend time to know about India and later write about it.

Ram Ram India documents the bicycle tour of Alex Thomson and Nick Rossitier, two BBC correspondents; the journey is undertaken to raise money for Oxfam. They started their journey soon after Indira Gandhi was assassinated and riots had gripped Delhi and Punjab. The British Embassy tried to dissuade them but they were relentless. And that’s the kind of spirit required to take on a bicycle journey from Kashmir to Kanyakumari in the inhospitable climate across the vast land of India.

The two Brits travelled light and stayed mostly in ‘dak bungalows’. Alex writes about their varied experiences with the chowkidars of these places. Most of them denied accommodation. He writes about large switch boards, huge bathrooms and the presence of cockroaches there. It took me back to my days living a carefree life as a fauji brat. We lived in the Mess at different stations and devoured the food that tasted almost the same everywhere. The descriptions of their journey through the countryside brought back memories of my own; we mostly lived in Cantts, far away from the city life. I was hooked, I wanted to know more about their experiences and yet I didn’t want the book to end.

Both the Brits get undue attention because of their skin colour and sometimes they became irritated with the frankness of Indians. There were Indians who wanted to leech them of their money and on the other hand many locales helped them in the true spirit of “Atithi Devo Bhava”!

There are times when they have portrayed India and Indians in a poor light and I felt disgusted but to be honest, they have portrayed the true picture of India. The places are dirty, dusty. The officials are difficult and corrupt. This is how we are! And they give the credit where it is due…

“Meanwhile, Charand’s mechanic has fixed the wheel and we put it back on. I’m certain he’s never seen a wheel like mine before, let alone a ten-speed bicycle, but it hardly matters and the wheel is true once again. It seems to me that this facility of getting something fixed, made or patched up is the essence of Indian streets, lined with tiny workshops often not much bigger than an allotment hut. How often do you see anything actually being repaired or made in England? And again it’s very unusual here to get the ‘oh, we don’t do that here’, or the ‘That will take two weeks’, which is a way of life at home.”

The book is exorbitantly priced at Rs. 1000. Don’t be too impressed with my review and order the book on a whim. The book is worth a read so, try to grab a secondhand copy instead or borrow it from a library.

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