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Butter Chicken in Ludhiana: Travels in Small Town India

3.53  ·  Rating details ·  505 ratings  ·  65 reviews
Based on the author's recent travel experiences in some small towns in India. ...more
Paperback, 276 pages
Published December 31st 1995 by Penguin Books Australia
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Average rating 3.53  · 
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Apr 02, 2012 rated it did not like it
I picked up Pankaj Mishra's 'Butter Chicken in Ludhiana' again which I had earlier tossed aside after reading just 10 pages. Read 5 more pages and disgusted to see how author hates every single thing about India. Paid by a publisher to write a travel book when he was in his early 20s, he is supposedly writing about his travels through small town India but all he is doing is pissing on anything and everything Indian and seems to be in awe of anything/everything foreign! What a waste...I want my m ...more
Jan 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Among the writers who have influenced the most in my life Pankaj Mishra has pride of place. Sometimes when one really admires a writer based on their more recent work, they hesitate to plow too deeply into their past: the time before they became what one admires today. I suppose this is why I waited so long to read Butter Chicken in Ludhiana, a book that Mishra wrote when he was a mere 25 years old. Having read it now I was positively surprised. Not only is it good, it is one of his best works a ...more
Jul 25, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: review
If one were to go by the title, Pankaj Mishra is hardly the person who can be trusted to write about the "national bird of khalistan", after all he's a complete vegetarian, but then this book is about 'travels in small town India'. From Kanyakumari and Kottayam to Ambala and Murshidabad and Gaya to Mandi and Udaipur and many many more small towns across the length and breadth of India, this is quite a wonderful account of a transforming India..and Indians.
While there is an unmistakable cynicism
Jul 16, 2012 rated it really liked it
Could easily be the only unpretentious Indian writer I've ever read.
I strongly recommend this book to everyone from my generation.
Jan 03, 2014 rated it liked it
Mishra's first book is filled with sardonic humor and is mordantly critical of India of the time but it is also filled with a subtle humor - not all of which was probably intended. Reading his first book after having seen him evolved into a rather academically savvy writer gives you a hint of his own struggles in the changing India. He certainly has some anger and a lot of scoffery to offer to the neo-rich money-grabbing classes of India but he is also found admitting, rather inadvertently, a so ...more
Feb 21, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Imagine Temptations of the West except devoid of any sort of deeper observations. In this disappointing first novel, Mishra travels around small-town India making sardonic observations behind the backs of everyone he meets. I thought it was a boon to find this out-of-print novel for $2 in a tiny used book-store in Dhaka but now I don't consider myself so lucky. It's just so easy to pass judgments on the stagnant upper classes and humorously backwards lower classes in India, a book like this mak ...more
Osama Siddique
In 1995 a twenty-five year old Pankaj Mishra got commissioned to write a book about the small towns of India. He set off, unsure of what to write about and how to write it, and produced a book that has steadily grown in stature as the years passed. Not just for its simple, elegant narrative but also for its remarkable prescience. Looking at the complex impact of economic liberalization on Indians he came across (amidst the rampant squalor and bad governance), a burgeoning, ambitious and often an ...more
Sep 09, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: south-asian
This book is an exploration of a rising middle class in 1990s India by a young man insecure in his intellectual and cultural beliefs. The people he meets, nearly all fascists who yearn to prove they are no longer poor or `backwards' by brutalizing more marginalized populations, are reprehensible. Reviewers who fault him for condemning them should examine why they find these figures sympathetic. Mishra's condemnatory portrait of these people is only more prescient today, where the self-same indiv ...more
Jan 01, 2014 rated it it was ok
Many authors have written about their experiences and recounted their weird encounters while travelling through the potholed-road and narrow lanes of India. To some, India provides a culture shock. To some others, it provides a kaleidoscopic enriching view of life. Some find traces of India's spiritual heritage in people's lifestyle. Others discover in them sheer hypocrisy and yearning for modern luxuries despite adhering to the medieval mindset. Some of Mark Tully, VS Naipul, William Dalrymple' ...more
Vineeth Kartha
Apr 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
When I first saw this book it appeared to be just another Indian novel. But then
the description on the back cover termed it as a travelogue. The author takes us on an all India tour, showing the realities that exists in the country, this is not a book on the tourist destinations of India but about the harsh, bitter and some times the sweet side of modern India. The author has travelled the breadth and depth of the country, sometimes throwing in pieces of history and culture about a place, a pers
Dayanand Prabhu
Oct 09, 2013 rated it did not like it
This is not a travel book, This is a book where Mishraji goes to various places and expresses disgust at the local people and passes condescending judgment. In the entire book never even for once has the author expressed any curiosity for the places he is visiting, instead the attitude is as if he is punished. He either eavesdrops on people or befriends only to shamelessly bad mouth them.
Sep 05, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was a great read... The author travels "off the beaten path" with everyday people and writes about his conversations with them. Marvellous portrayal of traveling in India, the way the locals do! ...more
Aug 18, 2012 rated it really liked it
Superb stuff! Mishra's 'nook & cranny' detail amazes me. I wish I could rival his eye for detailed observation & be able to translate it to prose!! Excellent English!! ...more
Aravind P
A decent book. Pankaj Mishra is a very hygiene conscious middle class chap, so as expected, it had all those commentary on overflowing gutters, unclean surroundings and stuffs like that. It was fine but started annoying when he kept repeating the same stuff as he moved around the country.
Keeping that out, the book was a nice travelogue. It was not about places to visit or sights to see. But his own experiences while traveling around the country and meeting people with various ideologies, frustra
Sep 03, 2013 rated it liked it
The book is set in the 1990s India, which is very different from 2013 when I read it. It made me nostalgic...not to mention thankful about the things that have changed for the better in India in the past 20 years. Overall, an entertaining read, but not the best from this author.
Read this book after I read Pankaj Mishra's 'From the ruins of Empire"- which I absolutely loved!.
Pallavi Kamat
Dec 13, 2014 rated it liked it
Could have done without the 'Hungry India, Poor India' narrative. But there are some poignant & interesting moments in the book as well. Small-town India had huge aspirations 20 years back! It will be interesting to revisit these towns now & see the progress there.

Need to put up a detailed review later!
Yigal Zur
Oct 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
funny and full with color
Brinda S.
Feb 02, 2018 rated it liked it
Sometimes, as readers, who return to books that we’ve read in the past, we encounter not just the content again, but our past selves. We wonder sometimes, at how we had missed certain allusions earlier, or of why we were so drawn in to something that now seems less compelling. Writers too go through similar feelings when revisiting a past work. In his Afterword to Butter Chicken in Ludhiana, Pankaj Mishra says: “Butter Chicken reminded me too much of my younger, callow, unresolved self, which ha ...more
Sep 25, 2018 rated it did not like it
There is only one reason to read this book - understand the JNUtards' hatred for India, Indian culture, and for their own genetics.

I read this book (circa 2007) when I was not familiar with JNU or the Urban naxals of India. But I was astonished to see a book in which author has traveled across India and has found only filth, disease, mental degeneracy, immorality, and mental bankruptcy. The only two good thing he found in India were in the communist Kerala - a mallu who had read western literatu
May 23, 2018 rated it liked it
The perfect butter chicken consists of bite-sized tender succulent pieces of chicken ensconed in a rich aromatic gravy. The perfect butter chicken is neither spicy nor sweet but manages to capture that right balance of flavour. It is a dish that non-veg lovers swear by and an interesting title of a book whose author is a vegetarian. That Mishra is a vegetarian is evident when you consider the butter chicken he produces ends up being slightly off-taste, failing to meet expectations. The writing i ...more
Apr 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book reminded me of a three week trip by train, bus, car, airplane and rickshaw that my husband and I took 12 years ago. Not only did we go to some of the places the author visited but we seemed to have similar experiences.
Other parts of the book reminded me of our honeymoon trip to Kulu-Manali 54 years ago, when we had to sleep in an abandoned veterinary hospital after the arrangements that had been made in our behalf fell through. When I asked where the toilet was, I was shown a bucket a
Chaitanya Sharma
Apr 14, 2020 rated it liked it
The author seems to be chastising and vilifying everything and every single person he comes across. The only two characters in the book he speaks kindly about is a Medical Rep who reads Thomas Mann and a feminist in Kerala. Apart from them, everyone - a Jain teenager, a haveli owner, a upsc aspirant and others - are all disappointing personalities to him. And anyone who is even slightly nationalistic and practises Hinduism takes the brunt of his retorts. He finds anyone not anyone knowing Englis ...more
Jan 24, 2020 rated it really liked it
Slightly dated, the book paints an interesting picture of the India which was just coming out of the throes of economic backwardness and trying to carve a so-called modern identity for itself. Unfortunately, some parts of the book are not so dated and still ring a bell, particularly the faux modernism exhibited by many in the country and the catcalling of women in certain parts. All in all, an easy read which paints a vivid picture of a young India from North to South and East to West.
Aditi Chandak
Oct 20, 2020 rated it really liked it
I, for one, found solace in this debut novel - it made up for all the travelling I couldn't do in 2020. It brought back so many memories I'd wanted to cite as anecdotes in my writings but could never really come around to it - maybe someday! I wish there were a more recent version of it, what with the advent of technology and people not wanting to talk to each other, with the same kind of stark honesty and intricate details.

P.S. If anyone has any suggestions, do let me know!
Apr 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: travel, india
Reminded me of Bill Bryson's Notes from a Smal Island, in this case, travels small towns in India.
No earth-shattering incidents are written about, but the point of views of ordinary people that one would meet travelling in public transport from one small town to another.
Soham Banerjee
Oct 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
Barring the constant condescending tone throughout, this book is humourous and offers a great insight into the early '90s of India. The fresh vocabulary and the keen observations will keep you hooked till the end. This is one of the best travelogues I have read till now. ...more
Philippa Kaye
Jan 04, 2021 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this book and its insights, I think I made the mistake of reading it all in one go and would have enjoyed it more dipping into and out of it and enjoying each chapter individually. Great insights and writing.
Avinash K
Jun 02, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: humor, adventure, meh
Meh... Average by travelogue standards. Not the standard of Following Fish, etc. Don't really recommend it. ...more
Ameya Joshi
Jan 31, 2016 rated it liked it
I read this book a few years ago and when I was reading this article where William Dalrymple & Ramchandra Guha were trading barbs around a decade even further past. And Dalrymple mentioned Pankaj Mishra as one of the Indian authors whom he was mighty impressed by or something. So I searched for his works and was wondering which one to start off with, especially wary of picking up something too high brow with the fear of not being able to plough through it at all. So despite this being 20 years o ...more
Ronit Konch
Apr 12, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: india, nonfiction
It is an account of the author’s journey through the small towns of India in the middle of the 1990’s just after liberalisation had opened up the economy. The author discovered that the new-found prosperity amongst the freshly emerging middle classes (many of whom were members of backward castes) was leading to a breakdown of old beliefs and certainties which had underpinned traditional society. It ranged from sending your children to be educated at prestigious universities previously dominated ...more
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Pankaj Mishra (पंकज मिश्रा) is a noted Indian essayist and novelist.

In 1992, Mishra moved to Mashobra, a Himalayan village, where he began to contribute literary essays and reviews to The Indian Review of Books, The India Magazine, and the newspaper The Pioneer. His first book, Butter Chicken in Ludhiana: Travels in Small Town India (1995), was a travelogue that described the social and cultural c

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