Book Review: Peep Peep Don't Sleep
Having a sense of humor while traveling is one of the surest ways to enjoy life and all the riches it has to offer. One of my new favorite books is a hilarious photo journal from India, called Peep Peep Don't Sleep.
Written and photographed by Ajay Jain, this book is an inside look at culture, humor, travel, and the intricacies of language. We often read this with our 6-year old daughter, and laugh together. It is a book rich in culture and language, and so very funny. We were lucky enough to sit down and talk with Ajay about his book, traveling on the road, smiling, and more. Here's what he had to say...
WE: Please tell us about your book, Peep Peep Don't Sleep...
AJ: Put simply, Peep Peep Don’t Sleep is a collection of funny road signs and advertisements that travellers can spot in India. In fact, the title of the book comes from one of these signs. Most of these are from the Indian Himalayas.
What prompted me to come up with such a book? We all notice and get entertained by road signs when we travel, but rarely have these been the subject of any books or even magazine features. Especially since most of us don’t travel enough to see all the different signs literally scattered all over.
Being a travel writer and photographer, I took this challenge upon myself. I had no idea how many interesting road signs existed, or what it would entail capturing all of them. If I didn’t get enough, the book would not happen. I had only one choice: hit the road like an explorer into unchartered territory. And be on the job till I achieved my objective. It took a year and over 10,000 kilometers (6,000 miles) of driving but it all came together in the end.
The inspiration was both providing an entertaining read, as well as creating an archive of these signs. They have a value today because they exist; the collection would be invaluable tomorrow when these are long gone.
What was I looking for? Messages for drivers, advertisements and public notices – anything that would entertain and say something about the place and its people. It would be travelogue of a different kind. And were they a discovery! The ones on Indian highways are in a zone of their own. They shower you with words of wisdom, keep your mind sharp as you unravel their cryptic messages, tickle your imagination, amuse you and entertain you. In public interest, they lend a hand to Alcoholics Anonymous.
Since journeys are meant to be a pleasure, they remind you to ‘Smile Please.’ This is the expression this book wants to see on its readers.
WE: What is your travel background?
AJ: I have always enjoyed travelling but could never get enough of it due to my other professional commitments. To justify all the travelling I wanted to do, I decided to switch to travel writing and photography three years ago. Even now, I can never have enough of it – the more I travel, the more I want.
On my agenda is covering all of India by road in the coming years and writing about it through my books, blogs and newspaper columns. I have done over 10,000 miles already but there are many more miles to go before I am done. But India is a big country – and it is impossible to cover all of it in a lifetime. Especially since no two places are the same, and you need time to appreciate each. And that is the fun and challenge of it all.
WE: One common theme in your book is your great sense of humor. I imagine that's gotten you through a lot of travel craziness?
AJ: I will admit to getting a bit peeved sometimes for any reason. But yes, when travelling in India you have to have a good sense of humour. Otherwise you will head back from wherever you came from even before you get started. Everything is crazy – the roads, the traffic, the infrastructure, the guides, the places to stay – but take it as a part of the adventure. Make light of it and continue with the journey humming. Of course, if you have money to spend, you can be treated to the best of luxury you can imagine.
WE: Road signs are so funny! I love the signs in your book. Were you continually stopping and taking photos?
AJ: Thanks. Oh yes, I had to stop every time to take the pics. I would get off the car sometimes, or just take it through the window or even the windscreen. And the latter actually gave me natural viewing angles – the ones I took standing facing the signs look a little staid.
WE: What is it about road signs, language, and cultural assumptions?!
AJ: Different signs reflect different aspects. For example, many of these signs are put up by the Border Roads Organisation (BRO), a division of the Indian Army responsible for construction and maintenance of roads along India’s international borders. Thought up by the engineers on the site, one only wonders why they put such signs up. Was it their attempt at cheeky humour? Was it a lesser grasp of the English language that makes them sound like this? Likewise, many of the shop signs and advertisements show an earnest effort to attract customers even if one flounders with the language.
WE: How was driving around India? I would think that slow travel (i.e., car) would expose the traveler to more local cultures...
AJ: I cannot think of a better way to explore anyplace in the world than by slow travel with one’s own vehicle - more so in India where public transport can have limitations and renting self drive options not really being there. There is lots more to India – small towns, villages, settlements, abandoned ruins, natural attractions – that one can reach with a personal vehicle only. This flexibility allow interaction as one wants exposing one to various cultures, social customs etc.
WE: Why do you do what you do?
AJ: We have only one life unless proven otherwise (despite my religion being a strong believer in the concept of rebirth and attaining Moksha, where one can be freed from this cycle) and I want to make it as enriching as possible. When I reflect back on life in my later years, I do not want to measure my wealth with my bank balance and real estate but through books I have written and stories I have to share. It is tempting to be a part of the rat race and travel business class – but bumping over Indian highways beats jet lags anytime.
WE: Thanks so very much, Ajay. I have so enjoyed your book, and now hearing the stories behind it!
For more information, please see:
The book’s blog: http://www.peeppeepdontsleep.com (subscribe to these to get a sign a day)
Ajay's Travel Blog: http://www.kunzum.com
Book Trailers: http://www.youtube.com/kunzum
Book Review: Peep Peep Don't Sleep
A humorous look at crazy signs in India