This article has appeared in the June issue of Terrascape
Travelling with a knowledgeable guide makes a trip worth it. And if the guide is someone like Chhering, you’ll cherish the trip all your life.
Broadly speaking there are two kinds of human beings, the inquisitive and the conformist. It is the inquisitive kinds who try new things; experiment, ask questions, make most discoveries, travel to unchartered territories and constantly venture into terrain, geographic and cephalic, where angels fear to tread. The conformist does none of the above. They travel only the well-trodden path, visit places where the food, the hotel, the weather, in fact nothing whatsoever has the potential of throwing up a surprise.
The world cannot exist without either. The inquisitive opens up the world, both physically and in terms of ideas, while the conformist fashions new territories – geographical and cerebral – habitable and familiar for others and prepares the ground for the next generation of the inquisitive to venture beyond what has by then become familiar.
It is a fact that I am not one of those who can be included among the ‘inquisitive’, not in the sense in which I use the term here. It is equally true that I do not want to belong to the category that I have chosen to describe as the ‘conformist’. Why I do not want to be placed in the second category will be revealed once you go through this episode placed below. Your perusal of the same would perhaps justify my reluctance to be counted among the second category. Continue reading Chhering – A Guiding Star→
In January of this year, I had taken a friend to Mumbai. One of the places we went to was Lower Parel – I wanted to show him what I could of the Mills. You could still see the Mills then, if not in the same form. The same compounds now housed small galleries and boutiques. There were advertisements for a ‘mills culture tour’, sold as something in between a bar hop and an art gallery cruise. I knew big clubs had opened here, as had malls. Phoenix Mills was Mumbai’s version of Delhi’s DLF Emporio – all the major global brands were there. Even here, however, I remember laughing and pointing out to him that some of Bombay’s stubborn egalitarianism remained. Armani was next to Addidas. Rohit Bal next to a paper store. Unlike in Delhi where no non-hyper-elite brand could get near DLF Emporio, in Bombay, even Armani couldn’t buy space away from Adiddas.
From the outside, it looks like a lovely building. Broad and imposing, with a certain faded but still palpable elegance. Like all buildings are at some point in their lives in all cities, it is surrounded by construction gates. The sign says that it is to become, like more and more buildings in more and more cities, luxury condominiums. I think of a friend’s words at a conference a few days before. In the contemporary, he said, inequality is made through making the city. The Portuguese word for “building” is edificio, from the Latin aedis, or dwelling, which itself comes from the Sanskrit inddhh – to burn. Aedis and facere [to make] together make aedificium, to build a dwelling around a hearth, around fire. The word is close to aedes, or temple. It also skirts around aedificare and hence the English “edify” – to improve spiritually. A lot is built in building a building. Continue reading Spaces of Forgetting→
Reading Fernando Pessoa in Portugal [being the good traveller I am], I get chided on page three itself. Writing about Soares, one of Pessoa’s heteronyms, and Pessoa himself, the translator writing the preface says to me as I sit on the train from Porto to Lisbon staring at the country going by:
“Like Pessoa, Soares never goes anywhere, for he can journey to the infinite in a ride across town on the tram. “If I were to travel,” he says, “I’d find a poor copy of what I’ve already seen without taking one step.”
I look up from The Book of Disquietitude to my laptop screen where I’ve begun writing the first of a series of pieces for Kafila on travel, the cities that I have just left behind and those I am headed towards. I think of a boy in another city by another bay who once said the same thing to me. I think of the hours I spent planning this trip. I realize that I’m already dreaming of the next one even as I’m on this one. I sulk for a moment. I feel bereft of imagination; a victim-consumer of a Lonely Planet travel guide that I do not even own. The backpack on the luggage rack above stares at me accusingly. I plead guilty.
It occurs to me that there is a need for another preface. A because. An I travel because. To silence Pessoa’s baleful glare at me that has become my baleful glare at myself. So here goes. Continue reading For Movement→