Travel writer Paul Theroux is in the news again – for his new book Ghost Train to the Eastern Star, which re-creates the epic 25,000 mile train odyssey the author first undertook in the mid-1970s and chronicled in the bestseller The Great Railway Bazaar (published in 1975).
Around 1975, Theroux rode trains across India including a trip from Delhi to Madras (now Chennai) on the Grand Trunk Express.
The journey on the GT (as the Grand Trunk Express train is referred to in abbreviated form by locals in Chennai) may have provided Theroux his first introduction to Tamils, one of the more interesting species on Planet Earth.
After observing the Tamils, this is what Theroux had to say about them in The Great Railway Bazaar (P.130-131):
Tamils are black and bony: they have thick straight hair and their teeth are prominent and glister from repeated scrubbings with peeled green twigs. Watch a Tamil going over his teeth with an eight-inch twig and you begin to wonder if he isn’t trying to yank a branch out of his stomach….Tamils are also modest. Before they change their clothes each makes a toga of his bedsheet, and, hopping up and down and working his elbows, he kicks his shoes and trousers off, all the while babbling in that rippling speech that resembles the sputtering of a man singing in the shower. Tamils seem to talk constantly – only toothbrushing silences them. Pleasure for a Tamil is discussing a large matter (life, truth, beauty, “walues”) over a large meal (very wet vegetables studded with chilies and capsicums, and served with damp puris and two mounds of glutinous rice). The Tamils were happy on the Grand Trunk Express: their language was spoken; their food was served; their belongings were dumped helter-skelter, giving the train the customary clutter of a Tamil home.