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Book Review: Hot Tea Across India
Dissent: Volume 6 of the Helter Skelter Anthology of New Writing

Book Review: Hot Tea Across India

We have all heard stories of people manipulated by the seductive spirit of alcohol, usually resulting in events of hilarity and mild concern. Such is the effect of the volatile decoction, many would say. But what if you were introduced to a book of adventurous stories in which the drink in focus was a steaming hot cup of masala chai?

Helter Skelter: Hot Tea Across India
Hot Tea Across India book cover.

It’s likely you would be both surprised and intrigued. A similar combination of emotions was felt by me as I began reading Hot Tea Across India by Rishad Saam Mehta. The book as it turns out, is not about a magical cup of tea that transports the drinker into an alternate world (thank god!). It is a wonderful book about a man who loves to travel so much, that he has made it his profession. The tea is a comforting break that he enjoys on his journeys. It is also a factor that facilitates his desire to discover different parts of India.

There are many ways that people break out of the monotony of routine life. Most people do so by cajoling themselves with the fact that one day, they will have the opportunity to break away and visit all the places they have heard about and seen in photographs and on television. The reasons for not doing so in the present range from office obligations to family happiness. The author addresses this habit of dreaming rather than doing, calling himself crazy for being as venturesome as he is, but also expressing his immense joy. Lapse of better judgement or otherwise, the stories were a treat to read.

The book is a mixture of people and places. The people hold their own, as he gives a witty description of even the most inconsequential characters (from the police officer sneakily asking for a bribe at a check post to the hairy man who helped load his bike on a train). It is only once the story ends that one realises their importance in the plot. The places do not fail to please either, with funny stories associated with each of them. From the snow clad mountains of Himachal and the beauty of Kashmir, to the famous jungles of Madhya Pradesh and the paradise that is Kerala; there seem to be very few places the author has not explored. However, what has remained consistent in the book has been the unassuming cup of tea, which may have changed in taste, but has always delivered the intended effect.

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The happiness felt by the author as he travelled around India certainly comes across in his book. He describes the hurdles he faced along the way, but does not complain. Instead, he describes them with an air of accomplishment, which certainly makes one feel like experiencing the bad along with the good. The author also mentions that the best part of travelling was meeting wonderful people who were both friendly and helpful. For a country that is constantly criticised for being unsafe, it feels good to read about these kind souls. Much like others, I too dream of travelling and discovering the country. And much like them, I too make excuses for not doing so. Reading the book certainly gave me a push in the direction of the roads.

[Tranquebar; ISBN 9789381626108]
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