Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Travel writing

I don't know if these are the finest travel writers around, but William Dalrymple, Pico Iyer and Bill Bryson get my motor running. Every time I travel, on a car or a bus or a train; to a city or a village; I wonder what they see that I can't see. How would Bryson describe the bumpy ride from my home to work? Would Iyer have anything to say about traffic conditions? I know Dalrymple would cringe (maybe he wouldn't) if he saw the architecture in Andheri, where I live.

Every morning security guards rise reluctantly (this is true of most buildings in Bombay) and half-salute, like they have to but don't really feel the need to, and grunt good morning. Outside, there are dogs that grow in number every week and, early in the mornings, they sleep beside each other, forming a circular mound. The dog population here, among cleared mangrove and materials used for construction, has exploded. I steer past them and valiantly avoid the worst parts of the cracked road, negotiating steep bumps on what is actually a trecherous trail. It wrecks hell on your suspension, your butt, your bones. The morning walkers who abound tread purposefully but carefully; there are open manholes and in any case, the landscape of the road changes regularly. Andheri is a suburb, an outpost that was once deemed too distant and derelict to visit. But in the past two years, a slow progress has been made: three sand paths have been replaced by concrete roads, yet the busiest route in the vicinity - a vicious street where shoppers, Mercedes cars, rickshaws, cows, buses and cement mixers weave and jam around each other - clings to...to what? It is a suburb shrouded in grey, built around straight lines and reflective windows. Taken in isolation, it's a town repentant for past decisions and clumsily keen on atonement.

How would those three have seen what I can now describe with my eyes shut?


Soultan of Swing said...

Yeah I would tend to agree on Bryson and Pico Iyer being 2 of the greatest travel writers of this day and age.
Another amazing piece of writing was by this guy called Mohsin Hamid. His piece appeared in TIME's special issue on "The journey home", sometime in Aug 2003.
The link is:

PS: maybe i liked it coz it created a huge impact in my first year away from home!

J. Alfred Prufrock said...

Rahul, I so agree with your triptych. Pico leads, with Bryson and Dalrymple tied for second.


Anonymous said...

your write ups are simply superb!

Anonymous said...

I live in Australia and my surname is Iyer as well.

I was visiting a client in Adelaide and over lunch when all Business Talk was suspended, we talked about other interests.

John C (I won't use his surname in case he is reading this blog in far off Devonport, Tasmania) was an admirer of Pico Iyer right from the days of Video Nights in Kathmandu.

And he wanted to know if I was related to Pico.

Always find it amazing that despite knowing India is a 'people billionaire' , such questions get asked.

(A Nigerian immigrant cabbie once asked if I knew 'Amita Batch-un' (sic) but that's another story)