"Culture is the widening of the mind and of the spirit"
~ Jawaharlal Nehru

Where The Streets Lead ~ Sarayu Ahuja

Ashokamitran reviews the book, published by Penguin India, Rs 295. Courtesy: Gentleman

In a sense all writing is autobiographical. Contrary to popular belief an autobiography is an unintentional attempt to conceal, rather than reveal, its author's character. The autobiographies that stay in the mind are careful disclosures; they convey enough to the reader for him to start on an imaginative trip towards the authors' identities.

Travel literature is autobiography of a special kind. If carefully read it says as much about, the author as about the places he or she has visited. A carelessly written travel book can be an embarrassment.

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Sarayu Ahuja is by profession an architect. Where The Streets Lead is her account of several places in this country and a few places in Japan. Her attempt is to show how cities develop from and around streets, and that each street in each dry has in individual identity. She portrays various aspects of human life in man-made shelters. She equally emphasises the necessity for a philosophical approach to life. The general tendency of most people is to dismiss modern dwellings and urban conurbations as "concrete monsters," or "cement jungles" but in Ms Ahuja one meets a philosopher, and scientist whose approach is ungrudging and realistic.

She observes with accuracy and variety whatever she encounters. Much of what she reveals is through discussions with a number of knowledgeable peoplc she has met. She begins with childhood memories of her grandmother's house in Thanjavur, and goes on to an entirely different experience in Japan, were she studied architecture. Here she seems to have done much travel on foot, and she talked to people involved in architecture and aesthetics. In one conversation, the entire Japanese concept of space is revealed. From then on, we are provided with a long and intensely written account of her ruminations and roamings in several Indian cities and towns - north, south, east and west. One sees repeatedly that the author persuades people to talk freely and informatively about living places, town planning, and the expression of the culture of a region through its architecture.

The publishers have categorised this book under Travel/Architecture; but it is much more than that. It records the reflections of dozens of people of various temperaments upon how human life continues under artificially constructed shelters. The book has a wealth of information, presented with poise and wisdom. Among the 21 cities it deals with are Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Pondicherry, Jaisalmer, and Bangalore. The book is almost like a novel in a range and variety of its characters, and the author writes most evocatively of her mother and grandparents. The text is supported and supplemented by a large number of illustrations by Sanat Surti.

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