Saturday, Mar 17, 2018 | Last Update : 05:53 PM IST
A fascinating voyage through Cambodia and its people — their friendships, lives and loves.
For those inquisitive about Cambodia, M.P. Joseph’s book My Driver Tulong and other Tall Tales from a Post Pol Pot Contemporary Cambodia will take you on a fascinating voyage through Cambodia and its people. A civil servant from Kerala, Joseph worked for the United Nations in Cambodia for several years. He watched the country grow from a war-torn communist moth into a free-market.
This is Joseph’s first book and its strength is that it isn’t what the would-be reader expects. It is a story of a young driver Tulong and the author in a land which the author initially was reluctant to go to when the ITO —International Toilers’ Organisation, a UN agency — asked him to set up office. The author meets Tulong who becomes the self-appointed ‘protector’ of the author.
The author writes, “Tulong was different. When confronted with threats to my person, and equally when confronted simply with threats to my pride or power, his weapon of choice was disarming tact, suave cunning, subtle negotiations pregnant with grave nuances. He talked softly, but pretended that I carried a big stick.”
You grow to love Tulong. And when he is dismissed, it is heartbreaking. I thought the author was unfair when it came to Tulong’s dismissal. But he leaves it at that. Narrated in the first person, the author walks the reader through stories woven along with the history of the land. The book is perfect for readers who are not too interested in the detailed history of a country.
Glimpses of the hell the Khmer Rouge had unleashed on the people come forth, but they are only glimpses. This is not a book about the Khmer Rouge Cambodia. It is a book about friendships, the people, their lives and loves. It is a book about an Indian who experienced magic in Cambodia that few are blessed to receive. Blessing isn’t merely about what happens; it’s about what we learn from what happens and that comes across beautifully in the book.
Like Ms Lin Lin Sim, My Nea Kru Khmer who was hired by the author to teach him Khmer. At 21, she had taken on the role of the master of the house the day her father left her. Money is important to her, otherwise her family will starve. Then there is Damu the cook from Orissa, who blends in with the Khmer people and has learnt their ways and manners so well that he is as good as any Khmer. Mr Goswami, the author’s friend in Cambodia, with whom the author would visit Riverside. These are stories all woven that add zing to the book.
On the downside, there are some places where the book tends to drag and you swish through some of the pages, but then it is just nitpicking. Overall this is a book that is alive and recommended.