Srinath Perur paints an insightful portrait of Indian and its people in his first book, If It’s Monday It Must Be Madurai. From going on a conducted tour to Tamil Nadu, which the author, at one point, describes as ‘breakdown from sheer boredom’ to riding a camel for the first time in Thar and travelling with Indian sex tourists to Tashkent, Srinath’s account of his encounters with his fellow travellers and exploration of places known and unknown, is peppered with humour and analysis of an India in transition.
“I began to see conducted tours would be a great way to look at people,” says Srinath, at the launch of his book recently, organised by Toto Funds the Arts, where he was in conversation with travel writer and author, Zac O’Yeah. Kamini Mahadevan of Penguin books India, introduced the book, as “a rare and idiosyncratic picture of Indians on the move. The book has magical, tender and comic moments.” While Zac said it “was the best travel book he has read in a decade.”
While conducted tourism might be the lowest form of travel, Srinath slowly began to find their world interesting. “When this became a book in my mind, I began to pick tours.” He adds that he doesn’t really consider his book a travelogue. “These are short stories that are based around travel experiences.”
Speaking about Srinath’s travel to Uzbekistan, Zac says Srinath’s desire to explore Samarkand, one of the oldest civilizations in the world, comes to naught because it “turns out to be an endless wait for people to finish praying.”
From Zac’s and Srinath’s conversation on the Dharavi tour, it was quite clear that Dharavi is nothing like how it has been depicted in Slumdog Millionaire. As Zac put it, “In the book, Dharavi turns out to be a creative and energetic place that has its own cultural codes.”
The conversation next focused on the Kabir Yatra, a travelling festival celebrating the mystic poets and songs of the saint Kabir. “The yatra seems to be the most documented event I have ever seen. Travel has been afflicted by documentation. It seems incongruous in this spiritual experience.” In agreement, Zac adds: “Everybody is documenting everything. Everyone is a journalist or an art film documentary expert.”
“I take down notes all the time — behind boarding passes, on scraps of paper. I make detailed, systematic notes. A lot of my notes come in the form of pictures,” explains Srinath of the writing process.
Explaining the title of the book, Srinath says: “Every tour in this book has a fixed schedule. The schedule is not in your control, the title captures that. After the book was published, my father told me of this film If It is Tuesday This Must Be Belgium.”
If It’s Monday It Must be Madurai is a Penguin publication and is priced at Rs. 499.