Thursday, July 7, 2011

An Indian summer - 5

I flinched as the moped jolted to a halt barely a foot away from my left leg. My leg hugged the metallic body of the scooter that I was riding on. My friend, the driver of this vehicle, seemed totally unconcerned about the invasion of the crazy moped drivers. Just a minute later, he braked hard to avoid a bicyclist. Meanwhile, an auto-rickshaw was trying to sneak its three wheels into a non-existent turn space. It was chaos all around me - honks, brakes, the rhythmic vroom of supercharged engines - and I was scared to be in this traffic. Those around me weren't, though. They dutifully braked and swerved and zipped past other riders with ease and serenity. Organized chaos.

Some kind soul took a picture of typical traffic in Ahmedabad.

Gridlock 3D

Ahmedabad is notorious for its traffic, but in my absence I had forgotten how bad it could be. Located about 70 km from my hometown, Ahmedabad is the biggest city in the state of Gujarat (total population, including suburbs and associated metro areas, is around 6 5 million)and it has grown in fabulously monstrous proportions over the last few years. Strip malls and massive movie theaters are cropping up in the blink of an eye. Hospitals, luxury condominium complexes and megamansions are rising to keep speed with the new urban development.

As a kid, I cherished visits to Ahmedabad. For us humble small town folk, it was a big deal. Since my parents had done their undergraduate and graduate schooling there, they knew the place very well and had a lot of friends too. And Ahmedabad housed the biggest bookstores in a radius of about 200 km. That was, without a doubt, the highlight of every visit. I always came back laden with enough books to shame a pack mule. These visits played a very crucial role in nurturing my early interest in books and reading. This was the one place that connected me to hittite art, translations of Jules Verne's fantastic adventure stories, and unabridged editions of Charles Dickens' works.
Kiddie book collection (pardon the flash)

This time I was more interested in acquiring Gujarati books, mostly from the pre-independence (i.e. pre-1947) era. These books are very hard to find in the US (even UCLA's well-connected library system has failed to do me any good in this department). I have never been too big of a Gujarati novel fan, but Gujarati non-fiction, specifically essays, is very enjoyable. There is an air of worldliness in these pieces, and it is not uncommon for these essayists to quote Dostoyevsky or Martin Buber to explain some social quirk in India.

You'll be happy to know that I was successful in my quest. Sure I had to dodge hellish traffic while holding on to my dear life. Sure I had to perform Indiana Jones-like acrobatics to get there. But I live to tell the tale.


  1. Holy shit! Is that really your childhood bookshelf? So freaking awesome! Love the book titled "General Knowledge." Looks like you were already prepping for an illustrious quizbowl career ;) And the traffic sounds a lot like the Westwood apartments!

  2. Yes indeedy boss, that's my beloved bookshelf. HAHA I had a ton of trivia books growing up. We had quizbowl at middle school level too! I did pretty good.