‘Once upon the tracks of Mumbai’, written by Rishi Vohra and published by Jaico, is the tale of an autistic Babloo Srivastav who is unable to connect with the rest of the world except Vandana. The story revolves around his love for Vandana and his discovery of his self as ‘Rail Man’.
Despite the super-hero sort of build-up to the Rail Man part of the story, it is a largely a tale of relationships and a coming-of-age tale of Babloo Srivastav. Written for the most part in first person from the point of view of the protagonist, the author succeeds in bringing to life the different mental process of an autistic person – which is a major triumph for him.
The author has also done a very good job of sketching the relationships between the various characters of the story. It is this ability to bring relationships to life which ensures that the reader can relate to the story more like it were something happening in his vicinity rather than an outlandish tale about unbelievable people.
In addition, the author not only succeeds in bringing to life the railway colony of Mumbai but also sketches out the typical dilemmas faced by the average Indian woman in the form of his female protagonist Vandana. Both the major protagonists are well etched characters as is the antagonist Sikander. Other than for a slow start, the story is quite fast-paced and a very satisfying read. All the more satisfying to me because jarring usage of Hinglish was near-totally avoided, except where necessary in dialogues.
The one problem for me was that the other characters were a bit one-dimensional. In a way, it could not have been otherwise since they are presented largely from the view-points of either the male or female protagonist. The author has, however, written portions of the story from various view-points so it seemed like giving dimensionality to other characters could have been worked in – and was probably necessary for a couple of characters to lend more credence to the way they act at the end.
I also thought that the end of the story could have been more elaborately sketched. Considering that the persona of the tale had different attitudes to each other and there were some simmering tensions, a more detailed end – sketching different reactions of people to the way the relationship between Vandana and Babloo worked out – would have made the story richer.
There are portions in the story where the author describes Mumbai and the behavior of people in India in general with a preface “Indians are like….” which gives the impression that the book was written primarily with a foreign audience in mind. These references are a minor blemish which could have been avoided at the editing stage when an Indian publisher accepted the book for publication.
There is a minor editing problem too. The Srivastavs become Yadavs in one minor portion of the story.
Overall, however, the tale works well and is a very good read.