The Backpacker’s Guide to the Galaxy
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Book: The Liquid Refuses to Ignite
Author: Dave Besseling
Price: Rs 395
The book begins terribly, and that can often be a good sign. Young Dave Besseling is in Varanasi and finds it hard to move beyond the stereotypical first impressions of potholes, chaotic traffic, incense and the Indian head wobble. It's like me going to New York for the first time and being overwhelmed by the Manhattan skyline. Besseling visits a cheap bar and comes away with the lame observation: "The beer is bad. The whole scene is bad… Not the kind of place you'd bring a girl on a date." You might not come here with your girlfriend maybe, but surely a seedy bar anywhere would have its set of quirky characters.
The rest of the chapter suffers from one too many prosaic descriptions of the writer's surroundings, more like jottings from his notebook: "…birds chirp from nests in electrical cables on the tops of poles"; "Somewhere pots and pans are clanging around for lunch"; "A water buffalo tied to a rail… is looking at me, chewing." There are snatches of schoolboy humour, like if everyone who died in Varanasi were freed from the cycle of reincarnation, then India's Hindu population would decrease, which would be bad news for the BJP.
They say you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but in this case, you shouldn't judge The Liquid Refuses to Ignite by its first chapter. For Besseling is a unique writer, hyperactive and volatile, who really comes into his own from the second chapter on. Liquid is the story of a western backpacker, his travels around the globe fuelled by drugs and sex, and his journey of self- discovery between the ages of 20 and 30. It's a voice-driven book — an extremely endearing voice at that — written with a rare candour and honesty. The author is not afraid to put himself out there with his afflictions and imperfections.
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