"On a Shoestring to Coorg" | Destination South India
The legendary Dervla Murphy spins a fascinating tale of her South Indian sojourn, replete with adventures, traditions and vivid descriptions, writes Porni Banerjee.
Irish travel writer Dervla Murphy’s latest non-fiction, On a Shoestring to Coorg, is bliss for all travel lovers. This travel literature, with all its vibrancy and freshness, chronicles Dervla Murphy’s and her daughter Rachel’s beautiful journey to South India. Murphy’s travel literature has enthralled millions of readers across the globe, since decades.
Murphy begins this book with the description of then Bombay as a dynamic city – highlighting both its brighter and darker sides including an elucidation of the spectacular view of bougainvillaea flourishing on one side of a highway and the stench of excrement and slums stretching for miles on the other. ‘On a shoestring’, which denotes that the author, along with her five-year-old daughter Rachel – had little money and no such demand for luxury – set to explore South India starting from Bombay to the southernmost tip of India, Cape Comorin in 1973.
The duo was so passionate about travelling that they even made up their minds to stay at no-star hotels and fishermen’s huts to discover the undiscovered in the overcrowded buses of the city. They took grand delight in visiting some of the wonders of Southern India, such as Coorg, Mysore and Andanipura Farm. A mention of their visits to the Old Fort, Government House, the Palace of the Archbishop in Goa and the Colva Beach unravels as a treat to their eyes and delight to the reader’s imagination. Their journey also allowed them to taste the hippy culture prolific in Goa. Additionally, Murphy talked about the Periyar Lake and the exotic wildlife of Periyar. She and Rachel also encountered the gaur cow, innumerable wild pigs and piglets, lion-tailed macaques, elephants, and flying squirrels whose description will undoubtedly add a tinge of interest when reading the travel diary.
Furthermore, what defines the uniqueness of the Coromandel Coast is widely understood after reading this travel literature. Dervla talked about its enchanting beauty en route from Tisaiyanvilai and Tiruchendur’s nine-storey temple. In this chapter, she even brought into prominence the reality of Hinduism, which added a certain nuanced richness to her book.
The author is also very outspoken about the complexities prevailing in the age-old caste system of India and explicitly specifies its structure as practised in Coorg. From the sociological point of view, Murphy also dealt with the ideas of pollution and purity that has long been associated with phenomena of caste and untouchability, especially in the region specific to South India. Apart from the rigid caste system, the Murphys were stirred by the magnificent natural beauty and serenity of Coorg that makes it all the more charming. The author felt herself so soaked in the contentment that she could consider the idea of permanently staying in Coorg.
The Irish legend details the processes of ancestor veneration and forest funeral in Coorg. What she also mentions in the book is Coorg’s preoccupation with ancestor-veneration, which has long been associated with the Rig Veda. As far as the Huthri festival is concerned, she also gives a lucid description of it, which means ‘new rice crop’. Murphy’s detailed explanations of the naming and wedding ceremonies in Coorg including the Ganga Puja (water worshipping) and the Sambanda Kodupa ritual are also gripping narratives. The description of the Coorg war-dance at a glance also makes the book far more interesting as a read.
The travel literature could have been spruced with crisper explanations in each chapter. However, Murphy’s presentation of her South Indian experience through her memoir would surely enable readers to go deep into an engaging read and imagine themselves travelling down South with the writer and her young companion Rachel. This book would insist you to travel to Coorg, at least once.