The hitchhikers Three cousins from India. Number of countries 15. The year 1971. It Was A Happy Trusting World, Then is a meticulous travelogue of a three-month hitchhike from India to the Middle East to Europe and back. In the 21st century, this may seem like an easy feat. Hitchhiking is not limited to hippies, and our smartphones are enough to carry us through the world. But when Vilas Kale and his cousins, Kumar and Vidula, took up this challenge, it was without the advantages of technology and on a bare-minimum budget. The trio camped out in cheap hostels, cooked their own food and did jugaad wherever possible. They relied on the hospitality of strangers, and when language failed them, trusted Raj Kapoor and Bollywood to communicate and build bridges.
The book is more of a timeline than a personal account, with great attention to detail, be it names, dates or the amount of money spent each day. Kale builds a simplistic narrative around an adventure of a lifetime. He recounts the places he visited, the hostels they stayed at, and the food that they ate, but does so with more objectivity than excitement. Even when he marvels at the developed world, inaccessible to most of India at that time, it is with a sense of detachment. The travelogue is interspersed with postcards, grainy photographs and watercolours the author painted on the journey. In the final section, Kale compares the world today to the one he saw up close in 1971. He writes about the flourishing democracy in Iran and Iraq, and the struggle of Eastern Europe post World War II. Now, amid political havoc and wars in the Middle East, his wish to revisit some countries&mdashLebanon, Syria and Iraq&mdashremains unfulfilled, while his travels to Europe have only added to his perspective of the changing world.
Perhaps it is the warmth and the hospitality that the three hitchhikers received or just the ease with which they tackled this adventurous journey, but this account pushes you to pack your bags and take on the world too. And if nothing else, it makes you reminisce about the times gone by.
Crossword, @INR 199