June 27, 2020
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Strange and sublime journeys

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Travels With The Fish
By C.Y.Gopinath
Harper Collins Rs:195;Pages:205
At less than a rupee a page this book is a steal. So don't let anyone else get hold of your copy, which, of course, you must buy. It's almost unbelievable that this is C.Y. Gopinath's debut book. I've read him faithfully since his first letter to the editor in the JS - for which he later turned investigative reporter. He aided his investigative skills with brilliant disguises and here he dons the disguise of a travel writer. A disguise that works so well you can't imagine he ever was anything else.

Gopinath is a born raconteur and in these witty tales maps out a world appropriated by the gaze of a deeply appreciative but irresponsible and independent Indian. The fish of the title is mostly an armchair traveller, but is indispensable - serving not only to break the monotony of a first-person narrative, but also as a reminder of the most important ingredient and step in the recipe that all readers of travel writing need to know - take everything with a pinch of salt.

Starting off with flights to and from the Middle East, and speculations about spoken Arabic, the book takes us through Egypt, the Buddhist trail in India, Bhusaval(!), Australia, Liverpool, Chicago, Cincinnati, Paris, Kerala, Bangkok, and Turkey, giving us such insights into ourselves and others as are usually denied to the armchair, guided tour, or even the five-star luxury traveller.

Gopinath soaks in the sights, sounds, smells and cuisine of the place, and aside from his observations, gives us a bonus - some wonderful recipes. The recipes work; I tried a few instead of leaving them all to Khorshed Wadia Ezekiel. Don't judge the clarity of his style by the first recipe though, where he gives a mixed list of ingredients for three separate dishes!

What makes these travel tales special is the warmth with which they discuss ordinary people. Two acts of kindness by complete strangers, when Gopinath is appositely doing a Buddha story, where his customary humour takes a back seat, show us what the humour never blinds us to: a humane, redeeming, redeemable world.

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