Janhavi Acharekar

Wanderers, All

Janhavi Acharekar

“Window Seat”, the author’s first work, ranks among my favourites, so I picked this up with much expectation. While it did not really bowl me over, it does have a few things working for it.
The story, or rather stories, is just as the title suggests – journeys. As Kinara’s dad tells her- “it’s about journeys. We’re all on the same one.” At one level, these journeys are physical – the one that Kinara undertakes, aided by a cryptic set of maps and notes from her Dad, who had traced the family’s journey from sixteenth century Goa to twenty first century Mumbai, or the ones that her ancestors Gajanan and Murli made from Khed to Bombay. It is also the journey of Murli, whose story , set in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, runs as the parallel narrative to Kinara’s own Goan backpacking trip. And finally, it is also the journey of Bombay – from Bal Gangadhar Tilak’s fierce oratory to the plague to the Quit India movement and the Bombay Docks explosion – as seen through the eyes of Murli, and other characters around him.

Window Seat

Janhavi Acharekar 

There couldn’t have been a more apt title for the book than ‘Window Seat’. If you were told that most of the characters in the book are people you happened to see from a window seat while traveling within a metro, chances are that you’d probably believe it.

The book consists of 30 stories, and though the blurb would have you believe that it’s mostly Mumbai-centric, it’s only in Part 2 that the city actually becomes a veritable character. The first part, with 20 stories, wins you over with the simplicity in narration, and the tales themselves. Stories and characters I could identify with, regardless of their ethnicity, connected only by the humanness. The author’s ease with Malayalam (thanks to the husband) and the subtle use of Bengali in ‘China’ is worth a mention. The copywriting skills come to the fore in several anecdotes and witticisms, which add to the characters.

The amazing part is that each story in the first part is completely different from each other – not just in terms of settings (slum, advertising agency, Kerala, Banaras, Goa….) and characters, (from a newspaper vendor to a ‘freedom fighter’) but also in the way each story is made to work (for me) – a twist in the end, melancholy, subtle wordplay, events that one can identify, humour, nostalgia, the human emotions portrayed and so on. Each card is a different trick. Several stories are rich with layers, a few words here and there that speaks volumes about the character. Each story has something that I could connect with. I could go on and on about the characters, but I wouldn’t want to spoil your experience. It’s better you meet them yourself. :)

The second part has 3 sections, each with a setting that’s probably quintessentially Bombay – the local train, a beauty salon, and a Page 3 crowd. (featuring the epic Rajkumar song “If you come today, it’s too early”) The stories within each section are connected. I liked this a little lesser than the first part. It almost seemed that the author wrote this as a preparation.

This one goes into my favourites list – not just because of the stories themselves, but also for the craft that’s displayed superbly in the telling of each story. Must-read!