Review: The Long Drive Home by Rishad Saam Mehta
Starting at a point where most Indian travel stories begin - at a foreign airport, with an immigration officer asking to see a return ticket - journalist Rishad Saam Mehta’s The Long Drive Home chronicles his adventures driving two Audi Q7 cars from Ingolstadt to Mumbai via a route that covers two continents and nine countries. The route would have to include a 10,000 km long detour, avoiding Pakistan, and instead going via Russia to Mongolia, China and Burma before entering India. After describing his attempts at explaining, with much difficulty, the absence of a return ticket to a suspicious officer at the Munich airport, Mehta apprises the readers of the events which led up to the undertaking of this ambitious project with Autocar India’s Hormazd Sorabjee. Written with an eye for detail that comes easily to a veteran travel writer, Mehta’s 160-page narrative is full of funny anecdotes, nuggets of historical trivia and on-the-road tips for aspiring adventurers.
Mehta’s predominantly male crew, which keeps changing throughout the journey, is replete with characters. This includes a know-it-all who can give a history lesson to a local about their own country and a photographer who takes an inordinate amount of time to set up his shots. However, there are certain cringe-inducing moments. The rare women who join along the way are painted either as pretty blondes or as, in one case, a ‘mother hen’ for making sure the team was fed and for being concerned about their sleep timings. These problematic characterizations are in keeping with the masculine adventure vibe of the road trip described. At one border crossing where Mehta encounters an all female staff, he notes that, unlike at the previous border, “there was no bonding over horsepower and high fidelity here.”
In several crucial parts, the narrative, which could have done with another round of proofreading, also becomes one long advertisement for Audi with its capabilities and features being constantly highlighted. But Mehta’s description of his experiences saves the book from going entirely down that road. Several adventures understandably form a part of the 20121 km long journey to Mumbai. From escorting a pregnant bride and a host of inebriated wedding guests to the nearest hospital to Omsk because she had gone into labour during the reception that was being held at the motel where Mehta and his crew were staying to a puzzled farmer thinking Hormazd’s gestures while asking him for directions were an invitation to be part of some exotic folk dance routine, some of the encounters described are hilarious. The most exciting incident involves Mehta’s attempts at dodging authorities to click the car with a Maharashtra number plate against the backdrop of a famous international monument!
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Packed with information and some beautiful photographs, The Long Drive Home is not a markedly new take on travel writing but it does have its wanderlust-inducing moments.