With the number of Indian students – particularly middle class Indian students – hitting foreign shores these days, I often wondered why someone hadn’t come up with a book sharing their forays into the unknown. After all there is so much to tell – the excitement, the anxiety, the discoveries, the little moments and incidents that may seem hilarious to a reader, but which for a student are often life altering. I should know. Been there, experienced that. That, of course, was many years ago. Much has changed since then, I am sure. So, it was with much anticipation that I picked up Arnab Chakraborty’s der deutsche sommer or DDS, in short. And before you begin to wonder, the book is very much in English.
DDS starts on a promising note. The author recreates the feelings of a 21 year old small town guy, who even though he has experienced life in the metroes has never had a stamp on his passport before. How does this guy deal with the excitement fringed with trepidation that envelopes him as he boards an international flight for the first time? How does he handle the cosmopolitanism of the airports, the immigration queues, the sudden surge of nationalism – the overt manifestation of a natural instinct to find common ground in an alien environ? Ask any first timer who is flying abroad for an internship or a degree; he or she will identify with many of the straight-from-the-heart sentiments shared here through long winded, seemingly never-ending sentences. Yes, the book holds promise, not just because of the subject but because of the honesty with which the author has handled it. He has even tried to enrich the experience by adding doses of wiki-ed information. In the beginning, especially in the first few chapters, these snippets are carefully woven in. So even as Arnab tries to show you the various emotions splashed across the canvas of his head and heart at the Indira Gandhi International Airport, you learn that South Asia’s biggest Aviation hub started off as an Air Force base during the second world war. Interesting!
Once the author reaches Germany, however, the disappointment starts. As he puts in page after page of straight-from-the-internet information on the sights and sounds of the various places he has visited, you can’t help missing the protagonist. Perhaps, students flying to Germany, and particularly to the RWTH Aachen University will find it useful to have the historical, cultural and touristy information about their university and places surrounding it in one place; not to mention detailed information about the man who even today continues to fascinate millions, if only due to his brutality and stratagem. I, for one, was more interested in learning about how the author navigated these places. What sights did he see? How did he find them – physically and aesthetically? Did he have any interesting experiences in the much talked about Red Light District of Amsterdam? How did he handle the language issues? How different was the learning experience? The shopping experience?
Occasionally, Arnab surfaces to relate one or two such anecdotes, like the problems of being a vegetarian in the place or the excitement during the FIFA World Cup, but they are so few and so far in between that one has a tough time locating them. Towards the end, when you almost give up hope of encountering any experiences a’la Gopal from Anurag Mathur’s The Inscrutable Americans, the author reappears to take you on a stroll in Hamburg. Briefly, you encounter a bunch of 20 somethings determined to enjoy all the pleasures afforded by a foreign land, away from parental vigilance.
All in all, if DDS was edited better and if the author focused more on his own experiences than on wiki-knowledge, this one would have been a must read. As of now, it is a scrapbook of a student who spent 2 months in Germany with all the essential ingredients – snippets of feelings, friendly exchanges, ticket stubs, names of associates and dollops of information booklets. If you are a student travelling abroad, pick it up. It’ll strike a chord; perhaps even inspire you to start your own scrapbook and share it with the world.
Finally, a word of caution. If you pick up a copy of the book and find the end hanging, do not worry. Only one word is missing, drinks. Can’t the blame the author for this one -printing/ publishing mistake but it sure leaves you feeling a little cheated.