Rupee Millionaires is a charming autobiographical travel story about a young man who visits India and finds not enlightenment but business. The book chronicles the rise and fall of his Indian rag and trinket trade and gives us an up close and personal look at Indian taxi drivers, merchants, hotel managers and a cast of other delightful characters, including an English customs inspector.
The villain in the story is Frank’s business partner, Spud, a rough character who took to bullying customers. He was the power behind their initial success then, due to drug use, became a liability to the business and finally a danger to Frank. There is no doubt that these are real people, not because it’s a true story, but because Kusy draws them so well.
The style is chatty, as if you’re sitting down with Frank while he tells his story over a drink in one of the café’s that populate the story. Kusy has a way of being able to bring you into the world of his characters, so you can almost feel the heat and smell the chickens. His anecdotes gave a clear window into the world of India and he tells it with a sense of humour. Many things made me smile. I think my favourite story was of the taxi with the bald tyres. When the tyre blew, the driver replaced it with another bald one, even though he had a perfectly good spare. When the second tyre blew, he grudgingly used the good spare, then promptly drove to a garage and bought another bald tyre and replaced the good spare for it. The good spare returned to its pride of place in the boot.
The difficulty with writing an entertaining true story is that you don’t have that much freedom to play around with the plot, but even though Spud didn’t become the axe wielding madman that the author may have made him had it been fiction, Kusy milked Spud’s lose cannon and sometimes threatening nature for dramatic tension. The book begins with an unspoken threat when Spud tells him not to write the story, and at the end, the author skilfully ties the end back to the beginning. In the middle you get to meet a wealth of crazy characters in a series of entertaining scenes from Franks life.
The book is well-edited, well-structured and written in smooth confident prose. I don’t read a lot of travel stories, but to me this seems to be a very fine example of the genre. I certainly enjoyed it.