Title: Transit Lounge
Author: Sunil Mishra
Paperback: 214 pages
Publisher: Leadstart Publishing-Platinum Press (13 October 2017)
In a world so full of easily accessible false and misleading information, finding a travel account focused on honest experience and observation rather than sugar-coated praise for the country is rare.
“Transit Lounge” by Sunil Mishra is one such gem. Written by a man with a classic Indian perspective, the book is not the story of backpacker who travels to escape the world – but one of a software professional who was sent to various parts of the world for the sole purpose of his work.
Set against the backdrop of the early twentieth century, the author begins by giving the reader an account of chaotic Indian airports and the hazard of international travel in the early 2000’s and goes on to explain how the Indian airports have changed for the best in the past decade.
Just like evolution, the journey starts in Africa – a continent perceived by most Indians as underdeveloped and perilous, also a place that happened to be Sunil’s first international travel. In his book, Sunil explains the fear and apprehension that fluttered through him at the thought of visiting an unknown land in a supposedly ‘hazardous’ continent.
Ironically though, the quality of his life was much better in Ghana that it was back home in Mumbai – his tiny crowded Mumbai apartment was replaced by a spacious private bungalow, several servants and international cars. He explains at length about the culture, the luxury cars on the roads and the polite friendly people.
Reading Transit Lounge, one would be surprised to see how far into the world Indians are spread and how our culture and language can be found in places we least expect. One never really expects to hear a beggar in Ghana beg in Hindi, hear Bhojpuri with a French accent or see a giant Shiva statue in Mauritius. All of these incidents only prove how little we know about the world until we pack our bags and see for ourselves.
It is also quite surprising to note how vastly different two countries located right next to each other can be while countries on the different ends of the globe with no obvious cultural connection can have such a similar culture. The author’s experience in Ghana and Nigeria is testimony to the former statement. While one country is peaceful and polite, the other was hit by violence and conflict so often that even the western media ignored it.
On the contrary, Egypt shared more things common with the Middle East than with Africa. The most prominent being the Islamic culture, the behavior of the people and the general environment.
Transit Lounge further continues with a good account of Sunil’s experiences in over thirty countries. He talks about the Middle East, where Islamic culture is prominent and tolerant to varying degrees and women are often seen wearing traditional Islamic dresses. Contrary to popular believe, not all Islamic countries have strict rules and regulations to be followed. The tourist friendly Dubai, Singapore and the mixed population of Turkey are fairly good examples.
Sunil’s narration of his visit to Istanbul is one that could particularly impress a person. His sharp observation about the subtle mix between Asian values and European culture and how unique turkey was due to the mix of Christianity and a new ‘tolerant’ Islam is impressive. A man the author met in Turkey even claimed that he would love to visit the holy city on Mecca on his way back from Hawaii.
Sunil touches upon several interesting comparison between African and the Middle East. He points out how differences in the government and empowerment of the people can affect a country’s prosperity. Both these regions have abundance of natural resources and reply on oil for the economy. But while the nature’s gift has made the Middle East so rich that a native Kuwaiti refuses to bend down to pick up a fallen wallet, the same oil has indirectly sparked violence and has done the opposite for Nigeria.
The book further goes on to explain Sunil’s journey to the big cities of America – where he describes the people’s fears of outsourcing and immigration – to the United Kingdom – where the author was mugged right in the middle of London and the rest of Europe which has seen continues growth and prosperity throughout the years.
Since many Indians commonly visit the United States and Europe, the author’s narratives about Africa, Australia and Latin America seem to hold higher value. They aims to break down several myths and give Indians a fair idea about life overseas. Latin America especially seems to be untouched by Indians.
Most Indians know these countries through the lens of western media, which has not been very kind to them. A few countries and cultures dominate the media, while many people, places and ways of life are marginalized and sometimes completely ignored. A lot of things are not as they are portrayed and several point of views tell us overly generalized, incomplete stories and rumors.
Africa is considered unsafe, but the hospitality of people in Ghana is completely forgotten. The Middle East is considered conservative, yet the liberal views of the Turkish Muslims are unheard. Even America is considered an ideal destination, but the lack of public transport is ignored.
This book is not a documentary, but rather the collection of experiences of an ordinary Indian. It is a book every Indian must read before they finalize their next holiday destination, or before they decide to emigrate.
As an Indian with little overseas experience, I find Transit Lounge both fascinating and informative. It is not always possible for a person to travel the world, but it is possible for the world to travel to a person when one immerses themselves in smart reading. It is a good book to broaden one’s horizon and experience an authentic account about the world outside of our own country.