We live in a super-specialised world and the world of travel and travellers is no different. It’s not enough to just say that “I like to travel” or that “I am a traveller”. One has to qualify what kind of travel you like or what kind of traveller you are. You’d be considered boring otherwise !
Don’t believe me? Well then, just see some of the words I picked up from the Twitter and Facebook bios of travel bloggers on my TL, which describes the kind of travel they do or the type of travellers they are.
Solo. Couple. Family. LGBT. Gay. Luxury. Heritage. Road. Backpacker (you can add variations in spelling here like backpakker, bacpacker, bakpakker). Nomadic. Wandering. Itinerant. International. Different. Newly wed (I kid you not!). Budget. Flashback. Mountain. Himalayan. Beach. Food. Frugal. Happy-Go-Lucky. Culture. Nature. Environmental. Rural. Eco. Weekend. Slow. Lazy. Grumpy. Happy. Lost. Spiritual. Religious. Ethical. Independent (really wonder what this means). Immersive. Adventure. Long-term…
One would think that the “variety” in travel / travellers would have automatically translated into variety in travel writing or blogging as well. Surprisingly, I have found that this is not the case. Sure, a lot of destinations get written about, but they are usually in the form of listicles, guides, travel tips, sponsored articles or articles espousing the cause of a particular type of travel (read the above para for examples). First-person accounts of travel experiences — which in my opinion is what any travel writing/blogging should be about — are comparatively few.
And therein lies my problem with travel blogging. As someone who blogs about travel (among other things), I know how important it is to read well in order to write well. The operative word here is ‘to read well’. Unfortunately, more often that not, whenever I read a travel blog post, I’m left with a feeling of “this is not about travel / this is not what I want to read in a post on travel”.
Let me elaborate with some examples the reason I’m peeved with the state of travel writing / blogging today.
It all started with a tweet about a photography contest organised by a hotel chain. A friend tagged me with the suggestion that I participate. This was about 6-7 months back and after thinking about it for a couple of days, I decided to participate. I submitted the requisite information, uploaded 3 photographs, and for the next couple of weeks followed the other entries submitted for the contest.
After a month, I lost interest in the contest as the organisers had not kept to the original deadline and there was no information as to when it would end. As the weeks went by, I soon forgot about the contest. So imagine my surprise when I got a mail from the contest organisers last month. The mail said that I had been short-listed as one of the contenders for the finalists. And since I was required to connect on a telephone call with them for a brief discussion, would I please share my contact details and suggest a convenient time for a representative to call me?
My initial reaction was to send a polite response saying I was not interested. But I do not like leaving things half done and felt that I should see the process through. Besides, getting “interviewed” for a photography contest was a first for me. I mean, I have been interviewed and grilled for scholarships and jobs, but this was… well, intriguing. So, I wrote to them with my contact details. I had received the mail on a Saturday and on Monday I was leaving for one of my travels for 5 days. In my mail, I requested the organisers to contact me before Monday or after I returned from my trip the following Saturday.
I got a call from a representative of the organisers the very next day, that is Sunday. After the initial, usual pleasantries were exchanged, and the disclaimer that I was only a contender for one of the final spots and not a finalist was conveyed, my “interview” began.
Popular perceptions are funny things, especially in art.. You don’t realise how deeply entrenched they are in your mind till you see something that is different. So much so that it forces you to re-look and re-imagine the perception in a new context. No matter how much of an open mind I keep and think I am aware of internalising popular perceptions, I am surprised every now and then. This blog post is about one such incident.
It had been a regular day — there was nothing special or extraordinary about it. Just one of those ordinary days. As I got off the bus from work that March evening, fond thoughts of spending the evening with some music, popcorn and books accompanied me as I walked home. As I passed the local vegetable market, I saw a large tableau set up by a local organisation, which depicted Lord Vishnu reclining on Sheshanag in his characteristic pose.
At first glance, the tableau looked normal and I would have passed it without a second glance if I hadn’t looked at the face. And that’s when I stopped !
I loved travelling by the tube in London as not only did it get me from point A to point B at the shortest possible time, I always delighted in seeing something new or unusual. It was not unusual to see people travelling with their pets, but one day I met two Leonbergers on my way to the university.
20 May 2009: Leonbergers in the London tube
Like most big dogs, they were extremely friendly and only wanted to climb on to my lap ! The only problem was that they were big, really, really big. I spent a happy 20 minutes admiring them and photographing them till my stop came.
I was about 9 when I first experienced the claustrophobia associated with restrictions. We had recently moved to Ahmedabad from Mumbai and were still in the process of settling down in a new city, getting to know our neighbours and expanding our social circle through contacts and extended family members already living in Ahmedabad. One such family we met were the Iyers, who were introduced to us by an uncle of mine.
One Saturday afternoon, the Iyers came visiting. I was listening to Vividh Bharati and singing along with the old Hindi film songs being played when they arrived. The collective looks of disapproval on the faces of the Iyers—Mr. Iyer, Mrs. Iyer and Two Miss Iyers—was enough to make me stop singing mid line.
Mrs. Iyer said, “Please turn off the radio. We do not listen to the corrupting influence of Hindi film music.” Even today, after so many years, I can still hear the stiff, cold voice ordering me to switch off the radio. This opening comment set the tone for the surreal visit that followed.
After, the initial “how nice it is to meet another Tamil family” and “which part of Tamil Nadu are you from” and other similar “pleasantries”, a lesson on the Iyer family’s
restrictions philosophy of life began, which can be summarised in one sentence—Tamil culture is the best and anything detrimental to its growth was banned in their household.
A quote that I use quite often is, “Just when I knew the answers to all of life’s questions, they changed the questions”. The reason is, now and then, the quote comes true for me—especially when I am feeling a little smug and contented with life—shaking me out of a self-induced “all iz well” feeling. One such change in life’s questions happened about two years back, on a cold windy day in January. It disturbed me then, and it disturbs me even today, and will probably disturb me for a long time to come.
I was studying in London at that time. Winter break was nearly over and I was waiting for the second semester classes to resume. I was also looking forward to meeting my classmates, especially Erab, who had gone home to occupied Palestine for the winter break. While she was there, Israel had launched an offensive against Gaza, and though Erab was not a resident of Gaza, I was still concerned about her safety and that of her family and friends. Though I had kept in touch with her through emails and text messages, I wanted to see her and reassure myself that she was fine.
Erab returned safely to London and I met her the day classes resumed. As I hugged her with relief and asked after her family and the situation in Palestine, she started crying. She told me that she had received a text message from a colleague in Gaza that morning about the bombing of the Palestinian Red Crescent Society Hospital leading to several casualties. We couldn’t talk any further as the teacher walked in, and we scrambled to take our seats.
After a round of “hiya” and “how was the vacation”, our class of 32 students from 18 different countries settled down to some serious teaching–learning. Or at least tried to. Erab had retreated to a corner of the room and was crying softly. Though this obvious distress did not go unnoticed, neither the teacher nor the other students intervened. The class continued and after a while Erab composed herself. Even after the class got over, no one went up to Erab and asked her what was the matter or how she was. A week passed, then another, and before we knew it our class settled back into the punishing routine of lectures and assignments, normal for a postgraduate programme. Erab never showed her distress in class again, though the situation in Gaza continued to be grim.