Now what could she have meant by that, hmm?
But seriously, please take a look: Joy ride into reservoirs of historical past.
Incidentally, Kankana tells me what she wrote was shortened for publication. I much prefer her original version, not least her last sentence which didn't make it into print: "Entering D'Souza's world is dodgy business, a little like straying accidentally into the Eagles infamous Hotel California - you can check out any time you like but there is absolutely no guarantee that you’ll ever leave."
A Memorable Trip
The title of the book evokes memories of a popular little bird which, along with a wily adversary, delighted millions of cartoon lovers in the early sixties. Roadrunner: An Indian Quest in America by Dilip D'Souza has the same perky quality as its avian namesake and the same ambiguity of purpose. The author, a familiar name for readers with his social essays and analytical pieces appearing regularly in the newspapers, makes it abundantly clear at the very onset that he has no structured itinerary to follow and no sharply etched destination that he is hoping to arrive at. Rather, it's a fun roller coaster ride across history, civilizations, diverse spatial and temporal zones - all very entertaining till uncomfortable questions starts popping up at the reader on this vastly informative joy side.
Spanning long periods of American and Indian history and fanning out to include diverse matters like music, automobiles, aircrafts, dinosaurs, politics and religion, the author makes frequent and irreverent detours to ponder over arbitrary and disconnected matters like bikes, boobs and Babri Masjid. It is obvious that D'Souza has a lot on his mind other than mere travel as he delves into the reservoirs of history and comes up with nuggets of information. These in turn form a surprising bridge between life in the US as compared to life back in India and thus we learn about a household waste disposal trip in Winchester, Massachusetts, which leads to the ideology of Gandhi, an effort to raise captive bison in Kentucky that connects uncannily with Alang, the graveyard of ships in Gujarat which in turn leads to a chance conversation overheard in a Mumbai local train.
A mention of the French writer Alexis de Tocqueville's seminal work, Democracy in America, at the very beginning of the book drives home the author's message that the outsider's eye is often more observant when defining a nation and its people. Somewhat paradoxically, the Indian's tendency to oversimplify while defining the average American (and vice versa) appears to irk the author as he sets about analyzing both premises with a degree of thoroughness and maturity. The entire book is an endearing soliloquy with many a chapter ending in stark rhetoric. At no time does the author talk down to the reader, rather the reader is swept willy-nilly on this ride through the two great democracies of the world. There is word play in plenty as well as puns and amusing anecdotes as D'Souza's love and deep understanding of cars, bikes, music and his anguished attempts to make sense of mindless violence in contemporary times, shines through. Not above questioning the words laid down by the holy texts, the author grapples with the frequently angry nature of god's words, as stated in the religious gospels. There is a sense of search in Roadrunner, a struggle to link events past and present and connect them into a comprehensive whole. While at one level the reader may be charmed by what reads like a meandering travel report of exotic and enjoyable destinations, at a deeper level is a bed of hard historical milestones, waiting to disturb the idyllic feel of a summer holiday. A rambling, informative, enjoyable and thought provoking ride, the D'Souza Express comes with a couple of bumpy speed breakers and a statutory warning is pressingly necessary here. The darker questions (which really have no answers) tend to niggle in the reader's mind even when the book is done with. Entering D'Souza's world is dodgy business, a little like straying accidentally into the Eagles infamous Hotel California - you can check out any time you like but there is absolutely no guarantee that you’ll ever leave.