In the Hot Unconscious

by Pranjal Wagh

An Indian Journey – Charles Foster

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Usually, I do not read travel books. Although I have read some across English and Marathi but those that I have read would be rated as one of the best in their category. I would definitely classify ‘In the Hot Unconscious’ in those ranks.

You feel this book. You feel you are in the same place where Charles Foster is. When you read it, Charles Foster ensures that he takes you with him on his travels to find something. He himself claims that sometimes he does not know what he was looking for. Foster is in India supposedly to collect and study leeches. But as he travels the nation, his experiences from the southern and northern extremities of India ensure that he finds something more as well.

Foster is initially in remote area of North India, stuck in a lodge due to the world famous red-tape of the Indian Babudom – The Bureaucracy of the Post-Raj India. Stuck inside the lodge he continues his work of collecting leeches and has a few encounters with the deadly diarrhea. Foster’s travels take him across North India as far as the Nepalese border. He meets various people on his travels, makes friends with few of them, despises some of them and goes on moving across the Indian lands.

Foster’s enchanting yet lucid narrative is laced with cynicism and followed by an honest opinion. The humor in his writings and also the lessons that we learn as a reader are based on the Zen philosophy. Foster does not view India like the rest of the West does. Foster dissects each situation and puts it and the people involved in it to the test of his sharp sarcasm and crisp cynicism. It is only after that he takes us to the opinion he forms about them.

As an Indian his cynical view of looking at things stings us at first. All of the West always raves about the mystical land that is India and never in any travels have I heard anyone take up this critical view – may it be related to religion, the people or the cultural aspects of life here. But as you proceed you indeed find out that what Foster observes is true!

Soon enough, the leeches disappear from his writings and the he takes us on a wild ride across India and allows us to discover it once again. He tells us true stories of Bob, the guru who detests Foster at first sight but who weeps because he can only assure his devotees and not actually rid them of this misery and then makes an attempt to like Foster later on. He tells us about his Sikh Friend of a Cheese farmer Jagjit, a true patriot who accompanies the author initially in the book but later gets bored of constant company of Foster. His writings also tell us horrifying stories of people losing their lives in search of Nirvana – the tale of an engineer who ties his hands and legs and drowns in a river is particularly chilling.

As T.S. Elliot has quoted –

The end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time

– Foster explores India and finds spiritual essence of the land and of himself. As the author himself says, sometimes he himself does not know what he was looking for.

In the hot unconscious An Indian Journey by Charles Foster
Published by Westland Tranquebar in India

– Pranjal Wagh

Creative Commons License
This work by Pranjal A. Wagh is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 India License


Aneesh Gokhale August 9, 2012 - 4:44 PM

Nicely written !. Concise and at the same time captures the essence of the book . Keep it up 🙂

Pranjal Wagh August 10, 2012 - 11:57 AM

@Aneesh Gokhale

Thank you for the appreciation!!

Charles Foster August 17, 2012 - 6:26 PM

Thank you so much for your kind comments on my book. They mean a lot. Charles

Pranjal Wagh August 21, 2012 - 12:37 PM

Dear Charles,

Your comment on my blog means very much to me! I was stunned when I saw your comment. An author actually commenting on my blog!! Now that’s something to be happy about!!
Thanks a lot!



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