Genre : Non-Fiction
What is it about? : Maps and Geography
How I came to read it : I stumbled on this book purely by chance. There was a used books sale going on in University and I got this gem for 2 bucks. I love maps and geography and this was the first book I saw written by a map fan.So I had to buy it.
Did I like it? : Loved it! The opening chapters drag a bit but later its everything a map lover loves!
I could relate to most of the things the author mentions in the book. I always thought I was a bit weird in my love for maps and things I did sometimes to experience random geography trivia. After reading this book I now know that neither my fascination was weird nor I am the only one. Theres a whole world with much more crazy people who go at great lengths to follow their map love. Hence the title ”Maphead”.
When I was a kid I used to spend hours with an atlas. Those were the Pre-internet days and Atlas was an endless source of fun. I used to stare at maps, trying to figure out what countries were and where. And there was this game we used to play in school with maps. For those of you who don’t know, the game goes like this. One kid opens a random page from the Atlas and after deciding on a random place tells the other kid to find it out. Now this kid has to scan the whole page to find that place. I used to love this game. I did not know till I read this book that this was something that is played by school kids all around the world. And it has been around for years. Even more amazing was the fact that Edgar Allan Poe actually wrote something about it. Its mentioned in the book.
One of my fondest memories of an atlas is the one that my grandmother had. She had an old, tattered but carefully handled Atlas with her. I only got to look at it once when I was visiting her in our ancestral village. It contained maps from the Pre-Independence era. Looking at those maps I was thrilled. It had maps of Hyderabad state when it was a princely state. I made a mental note to ask her about it the next time she visited us or we visited her but alas I forgot about it and years later she died and that Atlas is nowhere to be found now. It still remains one of those things which I badly wanted but now I am certain I will never find again.
In ‘Maphead’ the writer talks about something called ‘systematic travel’, which is when people create targets to do very specific things like climb all the highest natural points in a state maybe or maybe have a cup of coffee in all the Starbucks of a country. Sounds crazy right? It is. I never there was a name for this kind of thing. Back when I was in College doing my Bachelors I had my own lists. I had plans to see all the forts in Andhra Pradesh. I could never complete that list but I have seen many forts since creating that target.
The writer mentions in the book that Map and Geography lovers do crazy stuff just to get that satisfaction that normal people never understand. I did my fair share of things myself.
In my first job I was working in a very remote place in Chhattisgarh,India. Once travelling to a nearby town in train I saw a railway station named “Ib” near the Orissa Border. The short name intrigued me and I googled it. It turned out that “Ib” along with “Od”in Gujarat holds the distinction of having the shortest name in all of the Railway network in India. I made a mental note to come back one day and spend the day here. I did come back one day and spent quite sometime on that remote and deserted railway station. Heres the account. Later when in my second job I found out that the railway station with the longest name in India was just 100 km away I visited that too one day. Heres the account. My colleagues thought I was bonkers to do these visits but like Ken Jennings, the writer of ‘Maphead’ says, they can never understand.
Once I was in Nagpur,Maharashtra. Not many people know that Nagpur is the Geographic Centre of India. I made it a point to go the actual milestone declaring the Geographic Centre of India and took a photo there. Heres the account of that trip.
Then there was the time I visited a town called Chandannagar in West Bengal because of the following reason. The French in the 17th Century established their colonies in five towns in India.One of them was Chandannagar in West Bengal. Curiously Chandannagar was the only colony which was not near the sea coast. I wanted to see it for myself.