Book Reviews

Review Published in THE OUTLOOK

Jugful of Surprise

Navtej Sarna

Where on Earth Am I? Confusions of a Travelling Man by Jug Suraiya; Penguin India 2004; Pps. 148; Rs. 150.00

Jug Suraiya is part reporter, part poet. Though lacking the melancholic ache of Bruce Chatwin or Pico Iyer, he possesses the ingredients essential for good travel writing- a keen eye, whimsical humour and detachment. This cocktail, when shaken, stirs the reader to effortlessly follow footloose Suraiya across fabled lands.

One can be at Suraiya’s elbow as he bites into crisply fried pieces of elephant trunk in Nagaland, listens to eloquent silences in the Kumaon hills, trundles across Rajasthan with oversized royalty or seeks out the cartoonist Mario on a Mandovi island among small houses “crowded together like gossipy old women.” Whether he is yearning for green coconuts on Kovalam- “the Mona Lisa of beaches,” or for wazwan in Kashmir, Suraiya doesn’t miss a beat. Except when he tries to ride a recalcitrant camel and ends up feeling like the “laundry left over from Lawrence of Arabia.” Equally delightful are the vignettes of places beyond India, with Suraiya mixing well exotic locations like Tibet, Bali, Rio with little gems on thirst for scotch in Scotland and a hamburger –crowded visit to “aah-some” America . Literary allusions- the stuff of good travel pieces- abound; there is Kafka in Prague, Joyce in Dublin and Hemingway in Cuba. The only caveat- all this can get a bit much in one sitting and Wodehousian flourishes can begin to pall. So dip in and out.