The railway tracks that snake across the Indian subcontinent are a daily lifeline to millions. To Peter Riordan they were the perfect way to meet people - to talk to the real, modern India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Strangers in my Sleeper follows him around a vast land and introduces his fellow travellers - sadhus, businessmen, flirting couples, secret policemen, holidaymakers, government officials, salesmen and many others. Their views on life, love, politics, progress and commerce, unfolding against an ever-changing backdrop of jungles, deserts, plains, mountains and teeming cities, paint an exquisitely coloured portrait of a people in motion.
This book records the observations of a typically ill-informed and over-excited white tourist in the Indian subcontinent. Surprisingly he chooses railways as the sole medium of travel (with a few exceptions) and his essays revolve around the same. All are free to read this book but please don't rely on the accuracy of the facts mentioned in this book. There is a reason why I called him ill-informed. Some of the follies that I came across in this book: * A religious bracelet is called 'Kurta' * Guru Gobind Singh was the Sixth Guru in the line of 10 Gurus of Sikh religion. * Quetta lies in the valley of Peshawar and is 60 kilometres away from the town of Peshawar * Hindus worship the 'ten-armed goddess' on the festival of Diwali * The word Bangladesh comes from the word 'Bangala' which means 'people living on a mound/hill'
Is it a problem in editing? Or just sheer lack of knowledge? Whatever it may be but such silly mistakes make it an unreliable source of information although it does make an interesting read.
This book covers a lot of ground. Basically, if the train goes there, and it is in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka or Bangladesh, it is covered by Peter Riordan in this book. However while the travel occurs through all of this geography, the book doesn't attempt to 'cover' all of the places it goes. In this way the book is quite cleverly written. It is about the train travel, and the train system, and it is about the people in the trains, and their stories. In other books I have not enjoyed the briefness of involvement, and have perhaps criticized covering too much ground, but in this one it works really well for me. There is enough about the journey - the stations, the trains, the works on the trains, but there are also the side-stories, the people, the politics, the culture of the authors fellow travellers.