This is Part I of my ongoing attempt to note the books my fellow travellers read in Mumbai local trains on their way to work and back.
I ride the infamous Mumbai local train network to work each day, unconsciously observing my fellow passengers when I’m not squeezed breathless or pounded into submission in the surging crowds that bring a new meaning to the concept of pressure.
While it is not always easy to move around once inside the train, it is sometimes possible to pull off a picture of the reader and his book. The readers will rarely look up from the books they’re reading. They don’t need to, tuned in as they are to approaching stations from years of travelling on the local train network.
In each installment I intend to feature 7 readers unless I happen upon the same person twice. While this is rare, it’s a possibility if you’re a regular on the suburban locals in the morning rush hour and the fellow traveler loves his books enough to bring a new one along every once in a while. A few others I might meet on trains on my travels around the city on weekends.
I had never heard of Fluke before chancing upon it one evening returning from work. The light was low, yet he barely moved his head from the narrative in his hands. I could make out the rear end of a whale on the cover but little else.
“I found the story interesting. It’s about a whale,” he told me, impatient to return to the narrative.
And I let him dive straight back in even as I wondered what the book was all about, mentally tracing a story I imagined about the whale in the book. In another’s hands there’s much a book cover can tell you if you look at it long enough, and frequently enough. It shortened my journey by much.
I hope Kindle keeps its nose out of Bombay local trains.
On his site, Christopher Moore introduces Fluke thus:
Just why do humpback whales sing? That’s the question that has marine behavioral biologist Nate Quinn and his crew poking, charting, recording, and photographing very big, wet, gray marine mammals. Until the extraordinary day when a whale lifts its tail into the air to display a cryptic message spelled out in foot-high letters: Bite me.
(a) Christopher Moore’s Website, (b) Fluke reviewed on Blogcritics, and (c) His Essay: Teaching Yoga to an Elephant.
A blood red cover is bound to attract attention. More so if the book is titled: What They Don’t Teach You At Harvard Business School.
I usually steer clear of advertising lines especially if they strut around on the cover, daring me to ignore them.
But as the train rolled along and the gentleman, for the better part of the hour didn’t so much as look out the window, my curiosity bubble was pricked. I consented by a bit and allowed myself another look at the cover before turning away. I was not done yet.
I imagined the stand-up lines most likely peppering Mark McCormack’s Harvard narrative, the kind of Smart Alec repartees you sometimes get to see in Twitter timelines of urbane, and occasionally Americanised Desis, often passing for conversation while they secretly strut at the brilliance of their tweets. Narcissus would’ve loved Twitter. All the more reason to stay away from the blood red I told myself, turning to the window for inspiration.
And that might’ve been the end of the story but it wasn’t, not by a long way.
One morning, sunlight streaming through the door and what do I see, again? Take a guess.
What They Don’t Teach You At Harvard Business School
He looked every bit a student studying for a Management degree at one of the many Management Institutes in the city.
And when I saw him again a month later, this time immersed in Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point, I had little doubt that here was a Manager in the making. I had no way of finding out though. Not that it mattered.
If I thought that was the end of the Harvard narrative in Mumbai local trains I was mistaken.
The Harvard narrative returned with The Firm, John Grisham’s gripping tale of Mitchell Y. McDeere, a law student who graduated near the top of his class at Harvard Law School before finding himself in a dangerous bind at Bendini, Lambert and Locke, a law firm in Memphis he had joined on a fat salary.
This time around I would’ve been surprised if the gentleman immersed in The Firm would’ve so much as looked up from the book as I slid into the seat opposite him.
I was left with little doubt that for some reason the Harvard narrative must relish the sweltering confines of local trains driving Bombay’s beat, if for nothing else than for the demands the local trains make on managers surviving their daily commute to their offices.
Published in 1991, The Firm was made into a film in 1993 by Sydney Pollack, starring Tom Cruise in the lead role of Mitch McDeere.
On his website, John Grisham introduces The Firm thus:
At the top of his class at Harvard Law, he had his choice of the best in America. He made a deadly mistake. When Mitch McDeere signed on with Bendini, Lambert & Locke of Memphis, he thought he and his beautiful wife, Abby, were on their way. The firm leased him a BMW, paid off his school loans, arranged a mortgage and hired him a decorator. Mitch McDeere should have remembered what his brother Ray — doing fifteen years in a Tennessee jail — already knew. You never get nothing for nothing. Now the FBI has the lowdown on Mitch’s firm and needs his help. Mitch is caught between a rock and a hard place, with no choice — if he wants to live.
For more, visit John Grisham’s site.
Arthur Hailey is among the authors favoured by travelers on Mumbai locals. Spotting Wheels in the hands of a reader brought back a few memories. Wheels happened to be the first book I read of Arthur Hailey’s.
I had returned to Goa from Bombay after picking up the much used copy of Hailey's Wheels from a roadside vendor in Fort, off Flora Fountain. Those days Fort was happily overrun by second-hand book sellers, and no trip to Bombay was complete without the customary pilgrimage to Fort, and the pavements heaped with second-hand and pirated books.
While there’s no love lost for Muhammad Ali Jinnah in India, even considering that many people will reach across the aisle to tell you in no uncertain terms that we should be glad that he carved Pakistan out of India, happily adding the common refrain: “Imagine being saddled with those Pakistani masses that can never be redeemed from the cult of violence that runs in their veins.” Strong opinions.
It’s rare to find travelers in local trains seeking succour in political narratives. So when I found a college student immersed in Rafiq Zakaria’s The Man Who divided India, I shot him the question - Why this book?
“I was curious of the role Muhammed Ali Jinnah played in the partition of India,” he told me, hence this book,” before continuing, “Much of what they teach us in college is from textbooks. I was curious of Jinnah’s portrayal outside of our textbooks, to read more since textbooks can only cover so much and no more.”
Note: Read Part II and Part III in my series noting the books my fellow travelers read in Mumbai local trains on their way to work and back, and sometimes on their way elsewhere around the city.
A Request: I started out photographing travelers reading books few years ago to build up sufficient numbers that could be converted into posts. I’m all for this concept and my series involving traveling readers pictured with their books being taken forward by others in their cities and I would appreciate it very much if you would note/credit and link back here if this inspired you to do a series or a variation of the series of your own.
Since this is a part of my larger India Book Project involving books and the reading people, I’ll be counting on the link-back for continued and further participation of new readers.
Related Posts in my India Book Project Series