Rainbows in Chennai
Review of Colin Todhunter's
travel book by Heather Neal
+ new foreword by
S. Theodore Baskaran
RAINBOWS IN CHENNAI
lively new travel book by
Colin Todhunter available now
To Order Go to Paypal
and pay Andytoddy@btinternet.com
is an ambitious first book set in India, that analyses lifes larger
questions through the guise of travel anecdotes. Its blockbuster
style in a budget film situation. Author Colin Todhunter offers a series
of sketches, accounts, tales of his time spent in India: falling in love
with Swedish babes, musing over shrines set up in Indian gyms, starring
in a film called "Poison Kiss," and bumping along potholed roads
in rickshaws with a bad case of dysentery.
All the while hes philosophizing. "It does not matter if we
cannot keep what we find- at least we once held it, and hopefully gained
from the experience before it slipped away. Enjoy the temporary for nothing
lasts." The stories entertain. Todhunters glib writing style
and zany experiences keep readers compelled and spark curiosity about
a nation thats both spiritual and deprived. He discusses the cultural
importance placed on gender and religious affiliation as well as his own
reticence to provide straight answers to eager inquirers on these subjects.
He looks at consumer trends and how the effects of globalization are hitting
hard there, deflowering many aspects of Indian culture. But then, "why
be aware of the worlds ills and challenge anything when you can
live in the dark, drink Pepsi, wear Reebok and shop til you drop?"
Todhunter describes an India where Coke is It and Mao and McDonalds
are interchangeable. Where one thousand dead Indians get less media attention
than one white corporate type dead in New York. He paints a picture of
film stars being deified, just like gods at gym shrines. Where tourists
stay on the "banana pancake circuit, " (a.k.a beaten path) out
of fear, when really the big revelations to be had, the cultural beauty
of India, and the historical memories lie off that path.
Todhunter challenges travelers to exist for the sake of experiential learning
rather than making a destination list and checking it twice. This man
knows a thing or two about life. If it werent for a handful of typos,
I would have nothing but good things to say.
© Heather Neale November 2002
The Forward to the
new 2003 Edition of the book Chasing Rainbows
I finished reading Chasing Rainbows in Chennai, I asked myself what
is it that makes Todhunter¹s writing so endearing? I think it is the
ring of authenticity, not only of people and places, but, more importantly,
also of his thoughts and feelings. By understanding the power of detail,
he manages to recreate and pass on to his reader a feel of the places
he has frequented, such as the teashop in Triplicane.
Many writers have written on Chennai earlier. Todhunter captures the
spirit of the place with ease. This quality, coupled with his style
that flows like a stream in the plains, is what characterises his writing.
Often travel writers hurry though a country, stop for short periods,
talk to taxi drivers and sit down to write. It is evident that Todhunter
takes time to soak in the ambience of the place and time before he writes.
This is the secret behind the Big Street of Triplicane coming alive
in the pages of this book, as does the atmosphere in an Indian train
compartment. Not only places, but individuals too are constructed in
living colour. Think of Sach and his short but intense life. This factor
endows Todhunter¹s writings with a credibility that many travel books
In India we come across two kinds of travel writing; one that gives
information, may be in a readable format, and the other that is a piece
of imaginative prose by itself. It has its own cadence, in addition
to echoing the feeling of the author as he journeys from place to place.
It is the second category that appeals to me and it is through this
kind of writing that the writer is able to share his experience with
the reader. Natalie Goldberg, American writer and poet, says in her
book Writing Down the Bones, that writers live twice, in the sense of
reliving their experience as they recall the details when they sit down
to write. There is another dimension to this process. By reliving certain
moments, they let the readers partake as it were in that experience.
Todhunter's work clearly belongs to the second category. This kind of
creative travel writing that makes you feel the pulse of a place is
rather rare. In the last two decades travel writing on India has been
suffering from a persistent problem: the temptation to cater to New
Age aficionados. The purveyors of New Age writing tend to provide a
highly sanitised view of India, often ignoring the underpinnings of
social injustice that go with it. Todhunter is not under this burden
and he is not playing to any particular audience. There is a refreshing
quality of transparency in his pieces. In his introduction Todhunter
says, "We are all searching for something. What we seek and what we
find can be two entirely different things." May be. But what I found
in his writings is something I would like to hold on to.
© S. Theodore Baskaran Chennai, India S. 2003
Theodore Baskaran is the author of The Dance of the Sarus (OUP, 1999).
by Colin Todhunter
want to buy the book
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