Sunday, July 10, 2016

Some Thoughts About Chai, Chai — Over Whisky

Yesterday morning my publishers mailed me reviews of the Hindi translation of Chai, Chai appearing in three leading Hindi dailies  Dainik Jagran, Dainik Bhaskar and Jansatta — and that set me on the reminiscence mode.
I signed the contract for the book in November 2006, seven months after I got married my wife sometimes jokes that while she brought me all the good luck, I brought her only bad luck, which is probably true but it wasn't until July 2007 when I started travelling for it. I no longer remember what took me so long to get started, but I do remember receiving calls from my anxious publishers, who had already paid me an advance of Rs. 50,000.
So it was in July 2007 that I formally began my journey as a writer, when I stepped out of Itarsi station on a drizzly evening. I had no expectations to live up to, not many travel writers to look up to — my reading was limited to Paul Theroux and William Dalrymple. I had only a vague idea how a book was to be written — and the idea was, basically, to have fun and let things happen to you, rather than you chasing things: if things didn't happen to you, so be it.
I no longer remember when exactly I made the journeys to the other places described in the book — yes, Mughal Sarai was in November 2007 — but I do remember finishing the journeys shortly before 5 March 2008, when I joined the Times of India. The paper was soon going to launch its Chennai edition.
And then I sat on the project for months together, as I coped with pressures at the new workplace. It took a couple of more calls from the publishers to get me started with the writing, and once I got into the rhythm, there was no stopping. I would write from midnight till 4 a.m., wake up at 11 and go to the gym.

I emailed the manuscript in March 2009 and, after spending two days in Pondicherry, went to Kanpur. I had no idea I was seeing my mother for the last time.
Back in Chennai, as I awaited the publication of the book, I began to pray. I lived in T. Nagar and my office was located precisely 2 km away, in Nandanam. Every day, I would pass the Balaji temple on Venkatnarayana Road, and I would tell Lord Venkateswara, "If Chai, Chai sells 10,000 copies, I will go to Tirupati and get tonsured."
But even before the book could come out — it hit the stands in September 2009 — my mother died. As per rituals, I had to get my head shaved. God had turned out to be unfair, unkind. I told Him, "I have done my bit, now it's your turn. Make sure the book sells 10,000 copies."

This time He heard me.


Today, looking back, Chai, Chai is a book I am at once possessive and embarrassed about.

Possessive, obviously because it is my first book, to write which I did things I can't imagine doing today: such as getting off at strange stations and, no matter what time of the day or night, setting out in search of a hotel. What if the town had no hotels? Well, I had no Plan B. Neither did I have the luxury of homework: almost nothing was available to read, online or otherwise, for me to get even remotely acquainted with those towns. Everything had to be experienced first hand.

Embarrassed, because I would do a far better job if I were to write the book today. I would spend more time in each place, search harder, dig deeper. It would be a thicker book, with less of whisky and more of chai — but that would also mean less kick.


Jayasrinivasa Rao said...

Dear Bishwanath, Chai, Chai is an endearing book ... although I came late to the book, it was worth the wait ... if you could revisit the same places that could be another book though ... but let Chai, Chai remain ...


ரவியா said...

I ve nt read chai chai and yet to finish TAMARIND CITY ..

idle musings said...

A few months back I unexpectedly chanced upon a copy of 'Chai,chai' and I finished it in a day.The very fact that you undertook such a unique effort - exploring the unexplored, and writing about it - is remarkable.I will definitely catch up on your work, and I do miss your articles in the Saturday issue of The Hindu.

uddalak chakravarty said...


Just finished Chai Chai and am yet to recover from the trance that the book conjured upon me. Read Bill Aitken's Travels By A Lesser Line decades ago and it had somewhat the similar effect on me- but I was in my late twenties back then.
My earnest request to the author, please do not retrace the Chai Chai trail ever- it may result in a great research work, but will definitely break the spell that your first work has cast upon readers like me.
Thanks a tonne again for Chai Chai!

Yogesh Kumar said...


I haven't finished this book yet, I am still in the process of reading it, after reading of 15 pages 0f this book, I feel Chai, Chai by Bishwanath Ghosh have written in very natural and realistic way.This book is written about travelling through railway station town which nobody venture inside and explore and just touch and leave.The writing style is immensely personal and you feel part of author.For all who travel by train and cross through station of Mughalsarai, Itarsi can feel about author written skill.They traveled and gave his first hand on experience of those cities.

Jasneet kaur said...

One of the most commendable works.