16 June, 2021

In An Orient Tavern

Gripping -- but ultimately, he's more backpacker than factpacker.

In An Orient Tavern
Despite pretensions to the contrary, Kevin Rushby’s account of the thug cult and its demise owes more to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom than the dusty archives of the British Library.

Rushby dashes around India with his thug-radar tuned high, desperate for clues to help him in his quest: to Bombay to meet "reel-life" baddie Gulshan Grover; to Bangalore where road workers use the same kind of pick-axe as thugs used to dig their victims’ graves; to Tamil Nadu jungles on the trail of Veerappan, a modern-day dacoit and "working-caste hero".

The story of how the British created and destroyed the thug cult in the 1830s is a fascinating one, and Rushby’s telling of it is gripping. But ultimately, he’s more backpacker than factpacker. He has all the foibles of a westerner newly discovering the east: a travelogue peppered with eccentric characters who speak odd argot ("No hard cheddar"); finding the slogans on the back of trucks and odd spellings in restaurant menus amusing; and contributing a few strange spellings of his own (ruppees, ghoor). "The romance...

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