Virtually every long-distance train journey has to go through the railway stations described in Bishwanath Ghosh’s Chai, chai. In the days before relatively cheap air travel and the Rajdhanis, these were also stations where passengers could look forward to a leisurely halt. But who really gets off at Itarsi or Jolarpettai?
Chai, chai is about the small-town India that lies behind these junctions, so redolent with railway history; towns like Shoranur, Guntakal and Jhansi. It’s a wonderful premise, because it could capture the way the towns face the decline in their main business while grappling with the demands of an economically thrusting new India. Sadly, it’s let down by appalling editing—books like this really need to demonstrate a greater familiarity with the definite article. And it’s a bit disorienting to have a man alight at 3:15 am and two pages later talk of being woken up at 4, still in the train!