I was looking for a book about travel. I had never read one! While I was confused between a few books, I came across my ex-manager’s review of “Borderlands”. I have long been intrigued by his taste in books and after reading his review of “Borderlands”, I decided to take it up for my next read.
I don’t feel particularly proud in saying that I didn’t know pretty much any of the border towns covered by the author in this book with the sole exception of Gangtok. And so reading “Borderlands” was really informative for me. It satiated my thirst for a travel book and left me thinking.
“Borderlands” made a case for the numerous things (privileges?) that we city-dwellers take so easily for granted while the people in border towns have to struggle for it on a regular, if not daily, basis. I guess it’s not just the border towns, but even the villages around our cities have to struggle for many things. For example, having lived in different parts of Gujarat and Maharashtra, I think it should be mandatory for people from Ahmedabad and Mumbai to live in a smaller town or village for at least a month.
Potable water, healthcare system, education system, numerous sources and options for entertainment, uninterrupted power supply, being able to stay out of house till late nights, availability of groceries in the stores, not having to live with heavy army personnel deployment, etc. are a few things that are normal for city-dwellers but only a dream for those in border towns and maybe in the villages in mainland.
In these borderlands, people often have farms on the other side of the border while they are living in India. The pain they have to go through daily is probably too much for us city-dwellers to even imagine!
Reading about places like Moreh, Minicoy and Campbell Bay made me think that in spite of our privileges, we city-dwellers are busy discriminating each other based on caste and religion. We are fighting over petty things. Helping people in the times of adversity is broadcasted as “spirit of a city” instead of being considered a norm.
Living harmoniously with people from different parts of the country is quite normal in many of these borderlands.
I learned many things while reading this book. I was not aware of all the states in North-East India. After reading about Tawang (Arunachal Pradesh) and Moreh (Manipur), I looked up the map of North-East India on Google Maps to better grasp the geography there.
There are multiple truths or angles to any story. Sometimes, while reading about the story of these people in borderlands, one would feel pity for them. But then the author was informed by his liaison or driver or someone else that at times the same people were involved, and often knowingly, in illegal activities across the border. This was an important takeaway for me. I don’t think I would be able to accept any story from just one angle anymore.
In more than one case, the author came across the situation where a city/town on the Indian side of the border was full of filth while that on the other side seemed more developed. Better roads, better eateries, better quality of air were found on the other side of the border than on the Indian side. I could personally relate with the description of Jaigaon which is on the Indian side and yet many people preferring to stay, for a better quality of life, in Phuentsholing which is in Bhutan.
In retrospect, it was a good idea to read a short review of the book and order it. It took me nearly three months to finish but that’s a “me problem”. The book is engrossing enough to finish quickly. And I think there was a time during these three months when I started reading a different book. I guess I need to acquire some “book management” skills. 😉