The title of the book very aptly sums what the book is all about: 2 girls, 15,000 kms, 715 Million Votes. Well, you can replace votes by voters. Author along with her NDTV colleague Naghma travelled through the length and breadth of the country for two months before the May 2009 elections. There could have been many angles to this story and the most important being the Indian voter and the politicians, but the author has chosen to tell the story more as a personal journey that she took along with her colleague and a small TV crew. The NDTV show, the bus and the elections become the backdrop of this engaging journey.
Author has treated herself as a character and likes to read her mind to the reader all the time. She introduces her crew including the driver and then these 4-5 characters run throughout the story. She talks about some places and people that are well known, some of which you may have heard but may not have visited, and some you would have heard for the first time. There are eye-opening stories about villagers who instead of cribbing about missing basic facilities like electricity, make their own way to enjoy their TVs and mobile phones. There are heart touching stories about kids who have hopes in their eyes, of women who seem feeble but are enjoying their lives in their own way and of a drivers who would play cheerleader to the on the run team. There are perspectives that are half researched but first hand and the ones, which are with or without the biases of the anchor. There are also stories that come as surprises like girls not voting till they are married. The thread that comes across consistently in stories is that people are more or less happy and content with their lives and living conditions, it is when people from a different society come and meet them, they look upon them their own lens and that is when the conditions look bad or great depending on who is looking at them. For example, people living in Delhi dread going to the bylanes of Chandni Chowk, while the same lanes are cherished by the foreigners who seem to believe that this is real India.
Such a long journey through such varied terrains and environments that too at the time when they are charged with pre-election buzz can be a life changing experience. On top of that the girls had to churn out half an hour content every day that meant thinking of new stories all the time, establishing contacts and deal with the delays, technical snags and miss outs. I had once done such a journey for 2 weeks when I was not in the same city for two consecutive nights and I know how disorienting this can be. To deal with that and still appear cheerful on TV every evening is something that you have to admire about the girls and their crew.
Author has tried hard to project the stressful like of a journalist and the associated crew. How there are no breaks, no time limits and a constant pressure to do a good story because as they say ‘you are only as good as your last story’. She seems to emphasize the little know unglamorous part of the profession along with all the hazards that you have to deal with like travelling through naxalite area in the middle of the night. In the beginning of the book, she has tried to show how the famous bosses of NDTV rule the lives of their staff and at the same time inspire them. You may get a glimpse of the tougher side of your favorite anchors.
She speaks so much about the need for a clean toilet that at certain points it looks like saga of missing toilets in India. Toilets are important as any woman who has travelled through the country and sometime even within the large cities would tell you but come on is this story about toilets or the travel. She mentions all the bad hotels that she had to suffer but completely misses out on the good ones except the one in Udaipur. She does not even mention the name of the hotel chain that was their official partner for this bus run.
Your take aways from the book can be glimpses of little known India, its diversity and the fun of travelling non-stop even if it is tough. Read it.