Saturday 15 June 2013

Review: Once Upon the Tracks of Mumbai by Rishi Vohra

Publication year: 2012
Publisher: Jaico Books
Stars: 3/5
Source: Review copy
"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 to do... is Babloo his inspiration or... is it the other way around?

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.

Once upon the tracks of Mumbai lived Babloo, who was highly neglected by his family. He was quick to be branded "mentally unstable" at various points of the story with no proper diagnosis or attention to treatment. Seen as "jobless" "disruptive", ignored, belittled, he was confined to his life by noisy Bandra station; a life by the railway tracks that came to signify so much more. Babloo is often in another world, craves routine, is devoted to his neighbour Vandana who is always nice to him and deeply disturbed by the injustice and ruthlessness that prevails in his surroundings, giving rise to a superhero flick, love story and a social message all rolled into one!

On the surface, especially from a glimpse at the cover, the plot of Once Upon the Tracks of Mumbai by Rishi Vohra seems very filmy and in a way, it kind of is. There's a clear good versus evil divide, particularly in the beginning and as referenced in the book itself, much like a masala film, our hero Babloo manages to wade past the countless obstacles and "good" is rewarded! There is the clear cut villain in the book in the form of Sikander who is a schemer, manipulator and never up to any good. But there's also the evil that arises from the roots of corruption and negligence of duty. And the person to go head to head with this is none other than Rail Man- a superhero that gets the entire city of Mumbai talking! No points for guessing who the face behind the mask black paint is!

What I liked most about this book was that even with the filmy elements, it ultimately held its own. I loved the way both of storylines, the struggles of Babloo and Rail Man, ran parallel to each other and ultimately became one. While it took me a while to get into the book... especially in the beginning which felt mournful and painted a pathetic, sad picture of things as they were, I grew to love the flow of the narrative as it picked up pace. While told in the first person perspective of Babloo, there are also third person perspectives of the other characters to shed full light on the events that unfold over the course of the book.

The love story, thankfully, is no cliched affair either! Vandana, though affected by expectations from all over to be the coy heroine, is far from demure. She has aspirations of her own and while initially trapped by circumstances and societal expectations for her to settle down, she learns to stand up for herself and get what she wants. She's independent and even shapes up to be a little bossy with her take-charge attitude which I loved! While I flinched a lot in the beginning at the limiting picture of the city that was painted, it was great that as the story unfolded, we did get the fuller picture. We see the shades of gray as the characters live beyond the "climax" and their fates aren't entirely in black and white.

Overall, I definitely think Once Upon the Tracks of Mumbai is one of the contemporary Indian reads I liked despite the slow beginning. With well fleshed out characters, a thought provoking narrative and a unique mix of "reel" and real, it's definitely a story that's worth your while.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 


  1. I actually like the film-like aspect! It sounds like it can play out perfectly in your head. I don't think I've read a book where there's a superhero though (at least, not one that's really labeled as one. Otherwise, Tris is totes my superhero!). In a book that seems kind of typical on the outside, I'm super glad to hear the love story is refreshing. Vandana sounds like a girl I can definitely stand behind! Wonderful review, Pooja! Glad you liked this book overall. :)

    1. Aww. Tris is my superhero too :D she's incredible! Yeah the love story was v.refreshing. :)

  2. This does sound like it would translate well on the big screen. Wonderful review, Pooja. :)

    1. Yeah I can totally picture this in the big screen :)

  3. very well written review, i myself found the book a little slow but it's definitely a one time read.


HI. Thanks for reading! Feel free to comment. :)