Is Dipika Mukherjee’s latest book, Shambala Junction, a thriller or a political novel? It’s perhaps a bit of both.

Iris Sen, an Asian-American, more Asian than American – a bit like the author herself – is gripped by an unshakeable desire to experience the “real” India. While India that has changed considerably since Nehru’s documentation of it in Discovery of India, she decides, rather astutely, that this is a journey which must be undertaken in a third-class compartment of the Indian railways. And thus begins her adventure.

Modern India comprises an indelible mix of the urban and the rural; the modern and the traditional – the lines often merge and dissolve into one another only to reappear, much like the far from linear railway tracks of Iris’s adventure. Such is the paradox that is India and while it may appear random to the western eye, there is a method to this madness.

Mukherjee displays none of the nostalgic outpourings over culture and food that often inundate novels on the heartland by the diaspora. Rather, she unflinchingly points out, the dirt and filth around the countryside, often makes one believe that one is travelling atop a garbage truck.

Likewise, her depictions of poverty and corruption are not sugar coated. While Mukherjee presents an insightful picture, the racy, chatty vein of the narrative enables the reader to tide over complex social and political issues. It is in this land of ancient spiritual wisdom and Gandhian non-violence that babies are bought and sold in an open market. Iris unravels this nexus, and babies and parents are united after a lot of ado.

Then there is the “other” India, the one percent – the land of five stars and air conditionings – the upper-crust. How do these two worlds meet and interact? Do they feed off each other? These are some of the questions that Shambala Junction poses. And in the answer lies the discovery of the “real” India.

Published in 2016.