REVIEWS FOR LITERARY WORLD REVIEWS
Title: Do Not Wash Hands In Plates: Elephant frenzy, parathas, temples, palaces, monkeys…and the kindness of Indian strangers
Author: Barb Taub (Author), Jayalakshmi Ayyer (Photographer), Janine Smith (Photographer)
Published: January 1st 2016
Genre: Non-fiction, Travel: Asia, India, Humor and entertainment
Once upon the Land Before Time (or at least before mobile phones), my two best friends and I decided to leave the US from separate locations and meet up in Europe. To everyone’s shock, Janine, Jaya and I pulled it off—mostly because we went to Luxembourg, a country so small the odds in favor of chance street encounters were almost 100%, but also because Jaya was carrying the BS, a blue suitcase so enormous it took up approximately a third of the country’s square footage and was visible on satellite images. We couldn’t possibly miss.
It took over thirty-five years before—in a combination of optimism and failing memories— we recklessly decided to repeat this feat. Hey, we reasoned, now we’ve got smartphones, better credit ratings, wheeled suitcases, medical insurance, and the ability to drink legally. Just to make it more interesting, this time we chose to meet in India, where the odds against the three of us actually linking up were approximately a bazillion to bupkis.
Despite blizzards, canceled flights, de-icing delays, and an adjacent passenger who had made unfortunate food choices resulting in alarming gastrointestinal events, I arrived in India. The theory was that I would fly in from my home in Scotland, Janine would come from Washington DC, and Jaya would meet up with us at the airport. Nobody who knows any of us thought for a second that this could really occur.
Actual conversation at Passport Control, Mumbai:
Janine: “Well no, I don’t have my friend’s address or phone number. But she’s going to pick me up at the airport. She lives in Gujarat. That’s in India.”
Passport Control: [SO not impressed]
I arrived before Janine. As far as I could tell, the Ahmedabad Airport was staffed by the entire Indian army, each soldier carrying a honking huge gun. I grabbed my suitcase and exited baggage control into India. Noise. Chaos. People, dogs, honking horns, more people. More soldiers. More guns. Dozens of sincere men who called me “Sister” and suggested they could take me anywhere on the planet I might want to go.
No Janine. No Jaya. And, apparently, no way to get back into the airport. After several failed attempts at international texts, I realized I could (at heart-stopping expense) send email to Jaya, who soon confirmed that she was on her way and that it was 3:00AM so I should go back inside. Except there were signs everywhere saying you couldn’t go back in.
“No problem.” Jaya explained that rules in India were more like guidelines. “People in India are very kind. Just ask.”
I’ve been living in the UK where rules are inviolate and graven in stone, so I didn’t believe a word of it. But the soldier at the door listened to my plea and waved his AK-Humongo to usher me back inside. There I found Janine attempting to send email or text. I reminded her neither option was likely for two technologically-challenged, jet-lagged, middle-aged ladies in a foreign country at 3:00AM.
In the end, we wandered over to the door and to our mutual amazement found Jaya waiting for us along with her husband, a hired driver, and a van. Apparently lightning does strike again, because just like thirty-five years earlier, the three of us actually managed to meet up in another continent.
This is the story of three women eating our way across India in search of adventure, elephants, temples, palaces, western toilets, monkeys, the perfect paratha…and the kindness of Indian strangers.
Body of review:
I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review.
I must confess I’m partial to stories of female friends. We don’t choose our family, but we choose our friends (or are chosen by them) and however different we might appear to be, there’s a synergy that takes place when good friends get together, that makes the time spent apart melt away, and the clock turn back.
In this travelogue, the author recounts the memoir of her trip to India with her two friends, Janine and Jaya, revisiting an experience they shared thirty five years before. Only, this time they’d gone one better, and rather than meeting in Europe, they decided to visit their friend Jaya at home, in India. Obama learnt about this and decided India must be worth a visit too, and at the beginning of their trip, the three friends have to do some interesting manoeuvres to avoid getting caught in the maelstrom the visit has caused. But there are some pluses too (Taj Mahal has never been cleaner).
Barb Taub’s voice is funny, fresh, witty (I love IPS as an Indian travelling guidance system, but I’ll let you discover it by yourself), and she does not take herself, or the experience, too seriously. The reader goes along for the ride and feels one more of the party.
There are no lengthy descriptions or heavy facts enumerated. The book is mostly a collection of impressions, discreet episodes, funny anecdotes, vibrant encounters with people (yes, and some elephants), and food. Lots of food.
It isn’t a book to be read to find advice on how to travel to India (the author’s experience is unique, and the product of very specific circumstances), although if we are to extract any recommendations from her adventures, it would be that it’s handy to travel with friends that know their way around pills and medication. And that if you manage to keep an open mind and forget about rigid schedules you’ll have a hell of a time.
If I had to find any buts with the book, yes, it’s short. Very short, although that perhaps contributes to the feeling of dynamism and effervescence of the reading experience. The author explains the difficulties with including pictures in an e-book and offers a link to have access to the pictures in better quality (and to videos and images not in the book) although in an ideal world readers might like to organise themselves to have access to the pictures as they read the book. (Or perhaps consider a paper copy, although as I haven’t seen one, I can’t comment on it). The other thing I missed was the opportunity of getting to know more about her friends (well, and her!). As I said before, books about female friends are my weakness, and not having read the author’s previous adventures I missed a bit more background.
A great little book for anybody who likes funny anecdotes, comments about food (beware of reading this book if you’re hungry, you might eat it!), hilarious adventures and a great narrator. I hope the three friends start a business organising trips soon!
Realistic Characterization: NA
Made Me Think: 3.5/5
Overall enjoyment: 4.5/5
Overall Rating: 4.5/5