Poets and philosophers have often called life a journey that one should try to enjoy as much as possible. True as this thought is, real journeys aren’t always the most enjoyable – and if you are a commoner like me and travel in economy, well, journeys can sometimes be difficult 🙂
It is not uncommon to find yourself in the company of a colicky baby somewhere nearby that won’t stop crying (sorry no offence to parents, I know it can be tough), or the person next to you takes up half your space with their enormous elbows, or an out of control teenager seems to be practicing his football kick at the back of your seat. Once I had to experience all three scenarios in one fight (no, I do want to talk about it)
In such a situation, you can hardly even sit comfortably, let alone sleeping. And what about the in-flight entertainment? There is no guarantee it will be ‘entertaining enough’ with frills getting lesser and lesser due to budget cuts even on full service airlines (read: Jet Airways).
At this low point in life, I’ve often found that a good book comes to my rescue.
Now, a book that will see you through such a flight and time-zones must have some characteristics, I think. First, unless the book is on a Kindle, I prefer it not to be too thick so that it is easy to carry around. Second, an engaging but light-hearted story and an easy to read book is much more suitable, rather than something like James Joyce’s Ulysses (considered by many to be the hardest book ever to read) that can make the journey feel even longer.
So here are my top 3 favourite books that you can consider for your upcoming trip:
My first pick is “Life over Two Beers” by Sanjeev Sanyal. I selected this book as a part of my 2018 goal of reading books written by Indian authors. Though Sanjeev Sanyal is mostly known for his non-fiction writing, his first venture into the world of fiction is commendable.
“Life over Two Beers” is a collection of 14 short stories with a satirical take on the elite classes of Indian society. From the vicious politics of a Mumbai housing complex (The Troll) to the hypocrisy of Delhi’s cocktail circuit (Used Car Salesman) and the intellectual by-lanes of Kolkata, the story plots are diverse, giving you a glimpse of contemporary urban India and her societal paradoxes. Though it is fiction, the author draws heavily from current events that many of us (Indians) will be able to recognize with the ‘protagonists’ and ‘antagonists’ of the stories.
A caveat for my politically Left leaning friends – you many not enjoy a few stories like ‘The Bench’ and ‘The Intellectuals’ – that are aimed at Kolkata’s bhodrolok circles. The story has an amusing take on how the Left, with its brute dominance in intellectual circles, has only resulted in creating self-congratulatory echo chambers and desperately seeks constant validation from western academia.
However, not all stories lampoon the Left. Sanyal gives us wonderful stories on corporate gaffes, government projects managed by babudom, and some with more emotive connections (like the story of an old friend duping his childhood buddy) – many of them feel personal and close to home.
I will be honest; a literary expert may find the language a bit amateurish (or so I was told). However, to an ‘average joe’ student of literature like me, ‘Life over Two beers’ is a delightful collection full of satire making it a light and witty read. The book makes a perfect companion on a no mobile network journey.
My second pick is Twelve Red Herrings by best-selling British author Jeffrey Archer. Published in 1994, the book is a collection of twelve short stories, each one a gem in its own right, and each contains a ‘red herring’ – a literary device deliberately used by authors to dupe readers into thinking that a certain event or character is more important than it actually is. The device is often used in detective or mystery novels, where the author deliberately leads readers towards a false conclusion until the very end, where the truth is finally uncovered and the readers experience an ‘aha’ moment.
Archer, who was a Member of Parliament and an eminent politician for nearly 40 years before becoming an author, was no stranger to making people think one way while meaning another, and he uses this skill to superb effect in this collection.
All the stories are thoroughly enjoyable, but my favourite is the one called Cheap At Half The Price, in which a beautiful and manipulative woman named Consuela spins an amusing little web of deception in which she traps two men at the same time, and ultimately uses them to get what she wants – a very special birthday present. That’s all I will tell you of the story and the book – go read it and I guarantee you’ll come away with a smile.
Third on my list is a book by one of my favourite authors – In Xanadu by William Dalrymple, published in 1989.
This was Dalrymple’s first book, written when he was 22 (as I write this, I am trying to remember what I was doing at 22 when this amazing man was already writing award-winning books!!!) and it was deservingly praised by absolutely everyone who read it. The Sunday Times called it “The delightful, and funny, surprise mystery tour of the year” and it is every one of those things.
In this book, Dalrymple re-creates the famous explorer Marco Polo’s journey from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem to the site of Shangdu (famed as Xanadu in English literature) in Inner Mongolia, China. This route is more popularly known as the ‘silk route’. Originally named for the profitable silk trade that was carried out along this route, it was also a major route for cultural exchanges between East and West, back when the world was not such a small place, and many things were still undiscovered by man.
In Xanadu is travel writing at its very best, and it gives us a taste of Dalrymple’s easy, engaging, thoroughly researched but never dull style of writing – that he would go on to use in all his future books. Although the narrative is packed with information and often touches upon very serious political issues (for instance, when Dalrymple speaks of the then revolution-torn Iran), the humor never drops. One of the best comic moments in the book is towards the beginning, when Dalrymple is informed by his then-girlfriend Louisa that she is done with him and has another boyfriend now – the problem is, they’re all booked up to go on this journey together and Louisa (somewhat insensitively) asks Dalrymple if she can bring her new boyfriend along. This is a book I’ve read many times, during journeys and at leisure, and always found enjoyable – like a chat with a dear friend.
If you do read any of these books on your next flight or holiday (or at any time, really) I’d love to know your thoughts. Hopefully they will entertain you as much as they have entertained me. Also, if your life has ever been saved by a good book on a particularly tedious flight (or on a holiday with boring companion ;)), I’d love to hear about that as well.