27 Apr 2007

Script the Trip

My notebook filled with journal entries of the Bengal trip sits before me. When I left, I decided to bring back a few travel stories with me. You see, I have always dreamt of being a travel writer—that free-spirited entity which gets to traverse unseen lands and hears unknown languages and eventually gets paid for that. What little travel writing I have read always left me enchanted—not just with the places and peoples they introduced, but with the writer, whose deft touch magically brought those places and people to life.

Magicians those writers must be, for it isn’t easy to recapture your journey in a way that makes it compelling for others. I realize this as I open the journal and try to spin some tales out of it. My voyage remains interesting to me for sure, but what will make it as appealing to readers? In my quest to find the answer to that question, I did some online research. This included looking at the kind of writing travel markets seek to publish. The guidelines were as varied as the writing styles of noted travel writers. Where some wanted a passionate first-hand account of one’s journey, others strictly prohibited the use of first person. Yet others simply wanted travel brochure type information—how/when to go, what to see, what to buy etc.

Me, I personally enjoy reading first person travel accounts. Of course the best of writings don’t highlight the writer as the main character, but rather as a mirror, which reflects a particular geographical setting with a signature hue or tint that is the author’s perspective. Such narratives pull you into the writer’s original experience, since it’s the one thing that would remain unique, even while the place continues to be generic, outwardly speaking. I aspire to be such a travel writer. The quest is on, although, I have scripted the first of my tales. Writing itself is the best education for a writer, and besides practicing that part, I’ve been reading a Granta Book of Travel which features authors like Bruce Chatwin, Amitav Ghosh, and Salman Rushdie. I also found some great online help:

Published writer Peter Moore shares his travel writing secrets.

Jennifer Stewart has some great tips on the genre.

And finally, a comprehensive guide by journalist Anika Scott.

What’s your take on sharing travel tales and travel travails with others? Tell me; I am listening.

10 Apr 2007

Project for Red: A Child Without A Voice

Wandering Author is a talented writer and a gentle soul. His blog posts come with introspective insights and reflections. It's been my good fortune to share his journey and spirit on the blogsphere. Now, WA has come up with a project for which I cannot appreciate him enough. The thoughtful author is calling upon fellow writers to help him compile and publish a book to raise funds for Red, a four-year-old who can't speak. Red is fellow blogger Anna's son and suffers from apraxia, a speech disorder in which a person has trouble saying what he or she wants to say correctly and consistently.

Enormous thanks for doing this, WA. I hope we can all contribute in little and big ways to help Red find his voice.

4 Apr 2007

Oh Calcutta!

On April 1, our 25-day heart-stirring in parts and disappointing in places Bengal trip came to an end. During the voyage:

I learned what it is like to travel by air. When those machine birds fly overhead, I don’t look up in awe and wonder any more. Now I look to them with a knowing smile.

I learned even though Delhi, my city of birth, holds the notorious distinction as the city of thugs, deception of gullible tourists by smart city agents is a universal phenomenon. Dear Kolkata is no exception to the rule. (The taxi driver who took us from the airport to my uncle’s house in south Calcutta drove us long enough to charge us nearly double the actual fare.)

I learned rude station officials make me lose patience faster than the quickest running train on the network.

I learnedthe exhilaration of train trips across Bengal’s countryside hasn’t worn down for me through all these years.

I learned even though the ethos created and nurtured by Rabindranath Tagore at the inception of Shantiniketan has eroded beyond measure, the place still reverberates with Tagore’s “echoing green” spirit. The chord that keeps pulling me back to it.

I learned that affable rickshaw-wallahs in Shantiniketan more than make up for the rude station officials of Kolkata. Anwar, our rickshaw-puller-cum-guide became a friend in three days.

I learned part of me hurts to be enjoying a journey through lush green fields tilled with the farmer's labour and love when police firing kills villagers trying to hold on to their land. (The Nandigram firing incident happened on the day we reached Shantiniketan.)

I learned that looking wide-eyed at endless stretches of paddy fields across Bengal is an activity I will never tire of. While traveling through these landscapes I for once wished the journey would never end. I was in no hurry to arrive at the destination.

I learned that some of the tourist lodges run by the West Bengal government need major overhauling—both in infrastructure as well as in the management’s outlook.

I learned popular Indian pilgrimages can make for the worst of travel destinations. I am not pious enough to overlook lack of hygiene, obnoxious pandas (touts swarming religious places), and the histrionics of overzealous devotees.

While visiting the terracotta temples of Bishunupur, I learned in awe how sound architectural wonders were built in 17th century within the constraints of that time. It’s no surprise as to why these temples have held their ground not just architecturally, but also as exquisite works of art.

I learned the weaver creates a piece of fine Baluchari silk sari after painstaking days on the loom, but in the end earns just a small piece of the fat income his employer gets.

I learned Kolkata is truly a foodie’s paradise. If you love eating, make money in a place that has a higher per capita income. Then go spend your savings on food in Kolkata.

I learned Kolkata is in general a safe place for women, and I admired that. Sadly, I cannot say the same about the city in which I live.

I learned there's not a single soul in Kolkata that's not passionate about cricket. From vegetable vendors to book sellers in College Street and coffee drinkers at Coffee House, everyone was seen discussing detailed ramifications of the World Cup points table.

I learned no matter which city we live in or how different it is from other places, we are still the same everywhere. We are one in the final tally. And that’s all that counts.

I learned.

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