Title: My Life My Travels: A Travelogue; Author: Sudeep Bhutoria; Publisher: Vani Prakashan; Pages: 188; Price: Rs 399
Why are the pubs of London more delightful than British tea? What can Indians learn from Switzerland? In which European country does the President cycle home after work? And where do people worship a stone that resembles our Shiv Ling? These and many other questions get answered in this delightful book of travel stories as Sundeep Bhutoria, a self-confessed wanderer, takes us to one country after another, from Peru to South Korea, from South Africa to Russia.
Bhutoria is not a tourist. He just loves to travel, living out of the suitcase. But he has an eye for detail that ordinary tourists often lack. And wherever he goes, he tries to compare the lifestyle, civilization, traditions and discipline of the people with India and Indians. Naturally, it turns out to be an eye-opener.
South Korea, he says, has proved wrong the Indian argument that over population is the cause of most of Indian ills. Seoul has more people than Kolkata but the South Korean capital is sparklingly clean and its residents are extremely punctual. But a trip to Moscow after the Soviet collapse is shocking: a grand chandelier at the once lively Moscow airport doesn’t work while toilets are full of broken and dry taps.
The Indian sense of making a quick profit where possible is evident at Sharjah airport where the old one rupee coin is used to buy cold drinks, beer and snacks from vending machines – because its weight equals a 40 dirham coin! But if Indians need to learn amiability, humility, discipline and cleanliness from the Swiss, Venezuelan capital Caracas is so shabby – in every sense of the term – that Bhutoria vows never to return to the country. But not every place in Europe is minus blemish; France may be the global fashion capital but bribery is rampant.
Bhutoria comes across small and big Indian communities in almost every country, and most, although they have never been to India, are very proud of their Indian roots. But Indians in South Africa not only insist on being known as South Africans (not Indians), they also don’t want to be linked to India in any way.
Standing outside the President’s House in Luxembourg, Bhutoria is flabbergasted when he learns that the man who has stepped out – alone and on a bicycle – is the country’s President! As for cows, Indians must learn how to take care of the animal from the Dutch. In Amsterdam, the Kolkata-based author and a West Bengal minister (who pleads with the author not to tell anyone that he is a minister!) dash into a little restaurant called “Gandhi” and devour on rice and fish they are so badly missing. But in Brazil, failing to get vegetarian food, the author buys a sandwich, removes the pieces of fish, washes it clean with milk and eats the bread!
When Bhutoria landed in New York in September 2001, he didn’t bargain for the world’s most horrific terror attack. The author was to visit the World Trade Centre 9/11 but got delayed – and that saved him. After the first plane rams into the building, Bhutoria, from his shaken hotel room, actually sees the second plane commanded by terrorists collide with the other tower. He is scared to death. And he prays and prays. “I had not prayed to so many gods in my whole life.”