Planes, Trains and Auto-Rickshaws, a Journey through Modern India – Laura Pedersen (Fulcrum)
Part travel guide, part travelogue, part potted history of the religion, culture and politics of one of the globe’s fastest developing countries, don’t be mistaken into thinking that Pedersen’s love letter to India is a confusing or complicated mash up of genres. Each section, though brief, gives a concise, truthful and compelling story of a country the author has a difficult relationship with, but clearly loves.
Pedersen’s writing is refreshingly honest and chock full of dry humour, shot through with colourful accounts of experiences as an American abroad, with early travel-journal style chapters providing the reader with personal accounts that are equally thrilling and frightening, and often hilarious. When the book turns to the history of India, looking specifically at both the politics and religion of the country as both ancient and modern day, the author takes time out to look at how lower classes and women in particular are badly treated, and comments on the still all-too-common practice of forced marriages and murder of female offspring, but manages to avoid wandering into swivel-eyed feminist territory, while clearly arguing that such practices are wrong.
I read this book in one sitting (enforced as it was, of 7 hour train journey from York to Cornwall), and thoroughly enjoyed every word. In 209 pages, not only do I now know far more about both modern and ancient India than I ever learned in 14 years of compulsory schooling (it surprised me to read that Gandhi may mot have been quite the gentle soul we were taught about in 3rd year history classes), but I also feel that my travel taste buds have been sufficiently tickled to start thinking about a trip to India. Definitely worth a read. Bex Ferriday