Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Discovering each other again

Someone, somewhere, wrote that travel writing was the last resort of the failed writer. I forget who it was, or where I read it, but it stuck with me. More like haunted me as I seriously thought of taking it up. But all the same, when I get out and write about travel, it strikes me as difficult; not at all a last resort. Infact it takes a level of skill to pull it off. Too involved, and you come off looking self-obsessed; too detached, and the piece might feel impersonal. Then in between, there's history, modernity, the people to cover. It's not a last resort by a long shot. And then there's the worry about how Bryson, Dalrymple or Pico would have described the place. Their impressions would have been masterful, so where does one stand?

How well could they describe places they had lived all their lives? It's quite strange to look at your own residence with a traveller's eye. A hair saloon is a hair saloon. In any other city, it would have been a cultural statement. Restaurants are places that feed you. In other cities, they become part of a bigger picture or a culture. Then there are prejudices. I feel a certain way about the inhabitants of my suburb, Andheri, and quite another about the folks in Bandra. It's not easy to look at things too differently. But then I suppose this genre of writing forces you to open your eyes and look differently.

I'm writing all this because of a piece I have to write about Indore - a place I visited every year and formed rigid impressions about. Then, during the course of this research, I saw the city again after much hard work. It had changed in the gradual way that clouds blow, and was now clearly a new city. It felt like getting to know a new person. Or an old person again.

2 comments:

Roshan said...

i hear you!! to make yourself feel more confident, you could read some of the not so good writers :-). for instance, mark tully usually makes me feel i have a few books in me...

Sibyl said...

"Someone, somewhere, wrote that travel writing was the last resort of the failed writer."

If that's true, then I'm grateful that Bryson, Iyer and Naipaul (not read Dalrymple yet) failed.

Distance is a good way to write about something familiar but you must be careful to not loose the small memories--how a road smelt, how you survived the crush of the peak-hour bus, the curve of the panwaallah's moustache...

My recent life in a new country, amongst strangers, has, as the cliché goes, helped me learn more about myself and the places I've been. The contrast helps. The similarity helps too.