Great Indian Roadways

Book: Hot Tea Across India
Author: Rishad Saam Mehta
Publisher: tranquebar Press
Price: Rs. 195
Year 2011 

Does this travelogue make me want to buy a Royal Enfield Bullet of my own and attempt to traipse across the rocky countryside?

Aditi Agrawal Delhi 

Hot tea across India is a travelogue that lays special emphasis on the tiny teastalls that are omnipresent on Indian roads, whether they be intra-city roads or national highways. For an Indian, at least a north Indian, tea is the elixir of life. While Indians across the class spectrum celebrate multiple rounds of sweet tea, even in this heat, most people down four-eight cups (or glasses) of tea on a daily basis, making it the most pervasive beverage in India. As the humble sugary chai, it is the drink of the working class, as much as the ‘superior’ Twinings Earl Grey for the ‘refined’; it is indeed the choice of draught of the intellectuals, often, along with a smoke. Rishad Saam Mehta has created a charming tale about his visits to little teastalls that decorate every nook and cranny of the Great Indian Roadways. 

A number of times, it is reminiscent of NDTV Good Times’ Highway on My Plate —  a refreshing, spontaneous and offbeat take on the kaleidoscope of delicious food across the Indian landscape. However, while the TV show focuses solely on food, this book stresses the very beauty that subtly enhances the Indian roadtrip experience. 

A number of philosophers and moviemakers have waxed eloquent about how the journey is more important than the destination, how the destination pales in comparison to the lessons learned while attempting to reach it and yada yada yada. I like Mehta’s approach because he has given both equal importance. Nowhere do you feel that he favours one over the other; rather, it is as if he is making an extra effort, consciously or unconsciously, to make sure that the reader is able to assimilate the innate beauty that lies both in the trip and the place. 

While some of the anecdotes are rather endearing (one thing is for sure, as a traveller he is pretty obsessed with his bowel movements and for an ‘adventurer’ venturing out in the Indian countryside, probably rightly so), the narrative is not very facile. At times it seems that Facebook and Twitter have had a detrimental effect on his language, something that his editor also failed to spruce up. 

Quite often, accounts of places renowned for their visual splendour have been cheated of their due because of poor writing. The layout and formatting of the book as a whole leaves much to be desired. Instead of leaving spatial gaps between different accounts, the text is frequently bundled up as a long rambling tale. 

The mini-autobiographical account of his Maruti Van 1985 is a playful rendition that lays bare his fascination with cars. This resonated with me as a young driver who often expects a bit too much out of her aged little car. 

With his constant references to his stint at Autocar India, I had expected more technical information for auto enthusiasts. I realised that for the sake of the layperson, the technical jargon had to be watered down but a certain detailing would have enhanced the reading experience for the auto aficionado. 

Does this travelogue make me want to buy a Royal Enfield Bullet of my own and attempt to traipse across the rocky countryside? Not really. 

Does it make me want to visit Balbir Singh’s dhaba on the Grand Trunk Road and have the sweet lassi that led to one of the more charming incidents in Mehta’s life?
Somewhat, yes! 

Does it make me want to visit Srinagar in order to gorge on the magnificent feasts of Hotel Ahdoos? Definitely, yes! 

Hot Tea Across India makes for a light and interesting read that sadly fails to hit the mark by a margin. Slightly better finishing touches would have done the trick. 

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: JULY 2012