A Slow Train to Gwalior is a journey. When reading the book readers are taken on a winding journey, with a main focus being the town of Gwalior, a small town in central India. The book appears to be in chronological order, showing the life and memoirs of the writer as he progresses through the story of Gwalior and the woman he loves. The book is in simple terms, a compilation of love poetry. Although when looking deeper into the book and its poetry, what’s found is a combination of love for a human being and love for the writers home town and history of Gwalior. The book is almost like a peek into the life of the writer, many poems recall days and nights spent in Gwalior and what the writer has seen throughout their life. The book itself is conveyed to readers as a selection of memories and images, which paint for all the picture of what Gwalior is like. After reading this book I feel I have been a visitor to the writer’s life, and I believe that was partly the aim of the writer, to introduce to the world the town of Gwalior. This magical place is shown to readers through the colorful artworks, which accompany each poem, but also the unique style of writing used by Amitabh Mitra to bring to life his memories and the emotions that go with them.
There are many recurring themes within the book, such as the train and train ride to Gwalior, references to another day and another rain, the changing seasons, the lips and eyes of the lady the writer repeatedly speaks of and loves, the fort (which often is referred to as fallen) and the palace (a reference Gwalior and how it was once ruled by kings, highlighting the royalty which still surrounds the town).
The writer includes many cultural influences in the book and overall in their poetry, such as the rickshaws as means for transportation as well as the words written in different languages. These references to the culture of India reminds readers that this is an insight into another culture and another world to what they usually live in. This aspect of the book creates an element of escapism for the readers. When I read this book I felt like I had been pulled from my everyday life and transferred into the life of Amitabh Mitra, re-living with him all the memories he holds of his time in Gwalior.
The structure of the book is a little confusing to me. At times I didn’t know where one poem finished and another started, there are no titles at the beginning of each new poem and so I found it hard in places to distinguish the beginning and end of poems. Within the book, there are many words which are not written in English, (the language which majority of the book is written in) and without an explanation of these words at the back of the book, readers who speak only English are unable to fully grasp some meanings.
These aspects of the book which I found confusing are however very minute, I could spend hours writing about the things I love about this book, such as the artworks which accompany each poem. The watercolor paintings and artworks, which come side by side with each poem, provide readers with a mental image of what Gwalior is like, while also being able to communicate key aspects of the poem. Another thing that I love about this poetry is its breathtaking beauty. The poems are by no means long, but the length does not hinder the meanings. Each poem succeeds in conveying brilliantly the images, memories and ideas of which the writer aims to communicate. The unique writing style of Amitabh Mitra combined with the elegant use of artwork skilfully creates a poetry book which encompasses the readers mind and which has beauty seeping from each word.
As a whole, the book looks absolutely lovely. The front cover combines the art of calligraphy, typed writing as well as the use of a picture as the background. This front cover is very enticing and when I first saw it, I was drawn to open up and read the book. The dazzling front cover is then followed by the many paintings which go with the poems. As a whole, my opinion of the book A Slow Train to Gwalior, is that it provides an insight into the mind of a distinguished poet and his life in the small town of Gwalior and now his life in South Africa. The continual cultural references within the book provided me a whole new understanding of life outside of the world I live in. This compilation of beautiful love poems in my opinion will stand the test of time. The poems are very dense, holding meanings within each and every word, therefore creating a very deep and meaningful look into life in India. Throughout the book readers are confronted with a million and one different emotions, from sadness to the underestimated power of love. This is a poetry book, which I would recommend to those who would like an intimate look at the town of Gwalior, India, which is provided through the memories and artworks of arguably one of the best poets out of India.