The book, The Stopover, written by Bangalore residents Deepa Pinto and Ram Prakash travels over four destinations in India with four fictitious characters. Is it a travelogue, then? Or a novel?
Pinto calls it a photo-fiction book. “Prakash and I knew we wanted to tell engaging stories of four places in India, but we thought a travelogue or a coffee table book did not have to be the end of it. We had soaked in some very surprising cultures, and we wanted readers to feel the same through the eyes of characters they could believe in and feel for,” says Pinto.
Pinto and Prakash pick four picturesque destinations -- Ladakh, Channapatna near Bangalore, Ooty and Chennai. The book works more for its concept than the quality of writing, which borders on the banal. In the first story, the protagonist, Varun, goes to Ladakh looking for a way out of some life events, and chances upon indelible life lessons from three Tibetans who have no land of their own, but ample grit. The second story in the book is based in the famous toy town, Channapatna, and peeks into its happiness and distress. The third story, based around the life of the Toda tribe in Ooty, brings to life stark conflict between the modern and the traditional. The last story reveals the grimness around ornamental fish breeding in Kolathur, Chennai.
“All four destinations attract tourism, but not all tourists have a chance to see what the characters in this book do -- travels are about fun and leisure, but I think it is important to know other stories, too. Sometimes, we take cultures and norms for granted. We judge, or we look away. The Stopover, hopefully, will make travellers see beyond the surface. There is a deeper meaning in the way people lead their lives,” says Pinto.
Pinto says they got their share of culture shocks while working on the book. “In a monastery in Ladakh, for instance, we were taken aback to see that a school taught its disciples in Chinese. We were told that it was done so people could go back to their land and speak to the authorities in a language they understood. The Toda tribe did not hold anything back. They did not know us, but they opened their homes to us. I don’t know too many people who would do that.”
Pinto says the duo is now working on a sequel of the book, and deciding on the next four destinations. “We are looking for beautiful landscapes and places with stories to tell,” she says.