Name: Following Fish - Travels around the Indian coast
Author: Samanth Subramanian
Published by: Penguin Books
Price: Rs 250
Most Indian men follow fish only when the womenfolk of the house prod them into making trips to the market, or when fishes find their way into their lunch or dinner.
Samanth Subramanian's fish trail, in contrast, is entirely of his own making and serves a much grander purpose.
With fishes as his leitmotif (or would excuse be more apt?), the debutant writer sets out to weave the tale of his travels around the Indian coast in nine essays.
The results are delightful.
The journey begins with the author making his acquaintance with Bengal's famed hilsa and tucking into the sumptuous shorshe ilish dish in wintery Kolkata.
Succeeding chapters find him in Hyderabad (joining the Bathini Goud family and the thousands who swallow their live-fish cure for Asthma); in Manapadu in Tamil Nadu (on whose shores St Francis offered his first mass on Indian soil); in Kerala (experiencing the very Malayali shaap); in Mangalore (where he is smitten - and not by a fish, let me confide - for a brief while); on the Konkan Coast (pursuing the fastest fish in the ocean); in Goa (that 'landscape of laziness'); in Mumbai (where he meets up with the first people of the city) and finally in Gujarat, journey's end.
His travels, as he lets on in his introduction, might not have been fluid, but his writing assuredly is.
Buy now: Following Fish - Travels around the Indian coast
With quiet felicity, Samanth conjures up arresting descriptions that bring his experiences and cast of characters to vivid life.
The pen sketch of jati thalaivan J Berchmans Motha, whom he meets in Manapadu, serves as an excellent illustration: Motha looks deeply disappointed with the human race, much as a father would be with a wastrel son; his eyes, behind spectacles, engage minimally with others, and his conversation is grudgingly given, some mental pair of scales weighing each sentence to judge whether it should be squandered on this undeserving world.
Humour wafts in where it can. An instance: Mackerel has a famously insistent taste, but this fish was shy and reclusive, as if it would have rather been at home with a good book.
That mention of book reminds me...
Shakespeare, Marcel Proust, Ernest Hemmingway, Amitav Ghosh and Jules Verne are among the host of big names who flit by to lend their tuppenny worth and help the narrative jog along. Examples indeed of good scholarship making itself felt without the slightest hint of intrusiveness.
Shining through the narrative also is the author's genuine warmth and love for the places he is visiting and the subjects he comes across. So even when we are chuckling, they are but kindly chuckles.
All of this helps him engage the reader as he sets out to fulfill his aspiration of becoming 'a discoverer of people, a finder-out of stories'.
Among the juicy morsels of information proffered during this voyage of discovery was one I found hugely fascinating - the reference to an old harbour in Tuticorin 'where in bygone days barrels of drinking water would be imported from Sri Lanka'.
A case of life in the past echoing life in the present in an entirely unexpected way.
Join Samanth, and without the slightest reservation, as he serves up similar discoveries and stories.
Soak them all in.
Following Fish guarantees all lovers of good travel writing a whale of a time.