A fun and quirky but sometimes chaotic travelogue that reveals the many conflicts and contradictions underlying life in modern India.
Journalist and humorist Pedersen (Buffalo Gal, 2008, etc.) wanted to travel to India for many years but was afraid of what she would find there. In 2010, she finally did, “[throwing] caution to the wind the way one does when climbing aboard Coney Island's rackety Cyclone roller coaster.” As she made her way from New Delhi in the north to Goa in the south, what she discovered fascinated her as much as it often proved frustrating to comprehend. The world's largest “democrazy” was a place where people always seemed to be celebrating some festival or another and where “bribes, kickbacks, reams of red tape, and [bureaucratic] incompetence on a massive scale are part of daily life.” It was also a place of bewildering contrasts. Sadhus, longhaired holy men who wandered festivals covered in body paint and little else, carried cell phones. In the major cities, Hindu temples and architectural remnants of the British raj flanked ultra-modern skyscrapers. Bollywood, the multibillion-dollar Indian moviemaking industry, made and exported films that scrupulously avoided “tonsil hockey kissing, nudity or heavy drug use” but that had no difficulty depicting rape scenes and bloody violence. Pedersen follows the well-worn trope of the Western traveler trying to make sense of a profoundly complex and alien culture, and she includes sections that describe major cultural elements and figures. Her main achievement is her avoidance of the clichés that come from this approach; she infuses idiosyncratic observations with mostly genuine insight.