Posts Tagged ‘Book review’

If you are keen on cycling the 2014 Indian Adventure, from the famous Taj Mahal in Agra, to the southern tip of India at Kanyakumari, this is a book you really should have on your list. Image


Oliver Balch is fascinated by the transitional India, or the New India, as he calls it. He has travelled to the country numerous times and during his latest exploration he follows the curious trail of entrepreneurs and successful modern Indians as they embrace the ever-changing landscape. Not only is it a well-researched and informed read, but it is also brilliantly written in a very engaging manner that neither judges nor belittles the people he meets. From billionaire self-starters and mavericks, to rag pickers and teah wallahs, Balch searches for the characters behind India’s expansion of its middle classes: the everyday man who has created an extraordinary life for himself.  The people that Balch meets are colorful, creative and truly inventive. They see obstacles as challenges and meet them with a gleeful approach. They are experimental and fearless.


Through numerous interviews, expertly captured by Balch, whispers of ancient India can be heard as the New India bubbles and boils to a vivid life. There’s a lot of detail in the book. It is not a quick read but rather a slow languorous journey of meeting people who offer us, through the empathic eyes of a professional journalist, insights into an ever-changing country. Balch has clearly taken no shortcuts whilst capturing India’s zeitgeist.  A must read.

 When I think about David Byrne of Talking Heads, his punchy song, Psycho Killer, and the peculiar genius of the Sledgehammer music video springs to mind.

 A lesser-known fact is that he is a keen follower of what he calls, ‘The Fantastic Voyage’: the exploration of the heartbeat and inner workings of urban landscapes from the seat of his beloved bike. Since the early 80’s Byrne used a bicycle as his main form of transportation in New York City. He soon discovered folding bikes and… voilla, he was in love. He took his bike with him on concerts and for thirty years he kept cycling around cities such as London, Berlin, Buenos Aires, Istanbul, Manila and many more.


Over the years he slowly pedaled through ever-changing urban landscapes and carefully recorded each journey. His writings are poignant and clever and at times sad as he describes the neglect, greed and eventual decay all around him. It is also very funny when he cleverly weaves in anecdotes of the band’s wild days and explorations of the different cultures. Byrne is like a sponge. Everywhere he cycles, he absorbs and allows himself to be fully mesmerized and enchanted by the people and the cities.  His open mind is wondrous, like that of a child, but his writing is that of an old soul. This is a real gem.

Byrne says it best when he describes his point of view from a bicycle, “Faster than a walk, slower than a train, often slightly higher than a person: this became my panoramic window on much of the world over the last thirty years. Through this window I catch glimpses of the mind of my fellow man, as expressed in the cities he lives in. Cities, it occurred to me are physical manifestations of our deepest beliefs and our often unconscious thoughts. Riding a bike through all this is like navigating the collective neuron pathway of some vas global mind. It really is a trip inside the collective psyche of a compacted group of people. A Fantastic Voyage but without the cheesy special effects.

Eloquently written, insightful, rambling, funny, and sometimes delightfully rude. A must-read.

@Astrid Stark