‘Those lucky enough to have seats are faced with a dilemma: the floor, with a full night of accumulated rubbish, is an unattractive surface on which to exercise. They solve the problem by standing on their chairs instead, from which vantage point they attempt to carry out the arm stretches, squats and jumping jacks called out by the Chinese Railway’s fitness guru.’
After five years in London, Samit Sawhny decides to move back to India —the long way. Vowing not to board a plane between London and Delhi, he heads east with a backpack, and soon finds himself where no Indian has gone before.
After experiencing twenty-four-hour sunlight in Norway and teaching Europeans to play kabaddi in Helsinki, Samit watches Russians sunbathe standing up in St Petersburg and takes a stiff swig of Moscow’s nightlife. Crossing the cultural border into Asia, he marvels at the courtship rituals of Yakutian women and the Siberian taste for B-grade Bollywood idols. Mongolia reveals the joys of open-air billiards, fermented mare’s milk and stunningly pristine countryside; in China, Samit fishes for cormorants, watches the modernization march and follows briefly in Vikram Seth’s footsteps.
Tibet brings thrilling treks to Mt Kailash and Everest Base Camp, not to mention a hair-raising encounter with some boy monks. The journey comes full circle in Kathmandu, where Samit finds himself discussing The Real India with a group of Western backpackers. Called upon to define Indian culture, he rises to the occasion and finds that some things never change. Born of a talent for seeing order (and humour) in chaos, All the World’s a Spittoon is a rollicking journal of a road less travelled.