Friday, July 15, 2005

Seeking Atlantis

Ian Jack, writing the introduction to the Granta Book of Travel, has an interesting thing to say about the kind of writers now putting down their experiences. Briefly, what Jack says is that before the second World War the means to travel far were uncommon and inconvenient. Writers did not travel to write. Travel writing was something they did beside their main field of study, such as botany or archaeology. Since then, however, it became easier to traverse the world, which led to writers of all sorts traveling to a destination for the sole purpose of writing about travel. These included writers of fiction.

At a dinner last night I offered to send a Goan native friend an essay on her home state by a favourite travel writer. I secretly reveled in the thought that she would be touched by this thoughtful, well-written article which included dialogues with a resident who knew her Goa. It transpired that not only had she read this, but the dialogues with the Goan – the other protagonist of the piece besides the state itself – were concocted. The resident had turned out to be the Goan friend’s aunt, and she denied having said much of the dialogue eventually attributed to her in the writer’s essay.

The conversations were harmless, for they did not have the potential to create trouble, but they were fictitious. And yet, though a certain trust was breached – he is after all a travel writer – it did not bother me as much as it could or should have.

I guess it is part of the travel writer's makeup; to add elements so your story flows smoothly. Also, when there is a delay between the incident and the writing of it, the mind fills in spaces. As a writer you might recall, as you sit down to write, the furtive eyes of a man expecting trouble. In reality, however, he may have been nervous and had something to hide, and though he didn't really have furtive eyes, the reader could use the detail to picture the man. So it seems that just as fiction requires some traveling in the imagination, travel writing requires some fiction.

I do not agree with this, because if it did not happen, you cannot say it happened. But at times the journey becomes more important than the details, as it happens often with this author's books. There may have been other made-up details, but all I recall is a general sense of well-being as I completed his books and returned to my world.

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