By Kulpreet Yadav.
In exchange for a life filled with books and travels, I quit a well paying government job this New Year’s eve. Now I spend my time either travelling outside the limits of my brain, hardened by the Government offices I worked for in the last two decades, or, I am busy settling the internal conflicts that the books I read and the travels I undertake wake me to. I prefer to call my travels as wanderings because of the disorganized manner I travel in, often discovering newer destinations that I had not intended, or reshaping the impressions of the just crossed ones.
As I try to balance this new life, the purchase of “Travelling In, Travelling Out” at the grand launch last month at the Taj Palace hotel, New Delhi—where I was invited as a result of, of all things, winning an online contest—couldn’t have been more opportune. I dug deep, with newly chiseled teeth of my imagination, and time no longer a constraint.
This book is a treasure, a compendium of gossamer images to travel with, a collage that will haunt the reader, making him, in the process, to imagine newer journeys.
In “Moving to Bombay,” a fluid narrative recounts a young Gujarati man’s relocation to Mumbai in search of livelihood, an experience that blunts his ingrained sense of gender bias. Bombay to him represents the progress of self and the soul, and while the former is external (not superficial), the latter is internal (not always integral). I liked the journeys this essay made me take, in my mind’s eye, to places I too have called home: Poona (not Pune). Bombay (not Mumbai). Madras (not Chennai). Cochin (not Kochi). Goa. Chandigarh and Delhi.
“The Foreigner’s Situation” by Ali Sethi is about the dislocation that the Pakistani emigrants living in Denmark feel—often described as caught between ‘isolation’ and ‘integration’. Through the lives of an old painter who had married a white Danish woman, and two other Pakistanis, much younger, one of them married to a Pakistani though from a different caste, the essay captures the mood of these displaced people, called the Foreigners, as they struggle to balance their lives in a crowded neighbourhood where even the Danish police is afraid to visit.
When I came across the title “Beauty in India” by Aman Nath I was compelled to read it next. About Gandhi and the relevance of the potency of less as a tool to negotiate with fortitude, says the author, “In the Orient of dervishes, sadhus and yogis, fakir is an honorific title borne out of an understanding that poverty is necessary—ever desirable—to achieve proximity to God. This tradition of less is more gave Gandhi the power to wear just a loincloth, and it empowered him to disrobe British Europe of all its protocols, trappings and regalia.”
Fragile societies use temples and deities as lighthouses to discover the right course for a more meaningful life. Kota Neelima in “Tirupati” and Saba Naqvi in “A Muslim Goddess” reaffirm faith as a teasingly luminous idea.
Sometimes short bursts of intense-looking—the privilege that comes easy to a geographical outsider—can help bring focus to our ignored fallacies. I enjoyed the non-acerbic account of Marie Brenner as she carefully worded her frustrations in ‘A Retreat to Holy India” while staying at expensive spa resorts in Mysore and the Himalayas. She figured it out finally as she summed up, that the lesson, indeed, is within.
“A House for Mr. Tata” by Mishi Saran is an agonizing tale of a Parsi family’s inability to claim a property in Shanghai—a villa—which they had to leave behind while fleeing after the Communists took over in the 50s. The property still remains with the Chinese government, who, quite ironically, had vowed to uproot capitalism, but instead, have become a slave of it.
Two essays are set in Nainital or the areas surrounding it. The first, “In Search of Lost Time” by Mayank Austen Sufi, juxtaposes the old with the new, using a narrative, I paused to reflect, that was dense, succinct and packed with interesting information. And in the other, “In Armchair Travels,” Namita Gokhale explores the Himalayan Mountains through the notes of a tireless local whose proficiency to map his routes makes for a purgatory toolkit.
The lingering prose of “Village on Treasure Hill” transported me to the idyllic Nobgang, a small village in Bhutan, where the writer lived in her childhood, where men and women enjoyed equal statuses and the villagers listened to the only gramophone that played nothing but the sound of laughter.
I found “Bhangarh: Of Darkness and Light” by Ipsita Roy Chakraverti, flawed. Not just writing but also the content. I had to reread several sentences. Sample this: “The impression one gets as one enters is one of a town once vibrant now desolate.” The author says she doesn’t believe in superstition but ends up chanting mantras to release the trapped souls from the abandoned fort. Her surprise at the greenery of rural Alwar, a district that sits on the edge of Haryana, reflected basic lack of geographical knowledge. Nestled amidst the final stretch of the Aravali hills, Alwar has been known for its fertile, well irrigated land and a low water table. There are numerous lakes, many not motorable, besides 866 square kilometer of Sariska, a green wilderness right in its heart that is known for its flora, fauna and avifauna living amongst the dense forest of deciduous trees.
Namita Gokhale’s calling Dayanita Singh’s photographs “photographic fiction” sounded like an odd oxymoron, but when I turned the pages to look at the photographs more closely, I was mesmerized by their fictional dimension.
“Lost without a Face,” I thought in the beginning, exhibited a proximity to the inane, but as the writer transformed his brief experience of getting a photo clicked at a studio into an opportunity to reveal himself, I was left thinking about the impermanence of the human face.