Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Travel Drivel

It would be highly presumptuous of me to call myself a 'traveller'. As a child the only travelling I did was from my home to my native place for summer vacations and any other sundry holidays that dotted the calendar. Add to that the occasional trip to Pune or Mumbai to visit family and friends....that would pretty much sum up the travel diary of my early years.
But as I grew up, I had the good fortune of travelling to quite a few places, taking a few thousand photographs and doing the quintessential touristy things.

What amazes me even today is how we form a mental image of a place much before we even set our sight on it or foot in it. Earlier it was word-of-mouth - that "oh-so-reliable" source of information that made or mauled a place for us. And maybe an occasional postcard that a distant relative had sent from london - more to inform you that he is in london than to give you a dekko of the Big Ben and the big fat red buses.
My sister's stamp collection is largely responsible for my mental image of Australia being the 'pregnant pearl'Opera House and that of Kampuchea (which I later learnt is Cambodia) being a big fat half-green half-brown lizard with its tongue sticking out. Based on what the next door Kumars (or Silvas or Subramanians or Joshis, depending upon which latitude-longitude you are sitting on) say after their recent vacation to Singapore, you decide whether to mentally scratch it off your travel list or to convince your better-half about how it would make more sense to go to Singapore than to invest all that money in the stock market (what with the erratic sensex and union budget et al) and then spend the rest of your weekend sashaying on the streets of Singapore and giving a thousand-watt smile in front of the lion fountain..all in the Singapore of your mind.

I was jus doin a quick top-down of my immediate "must-see" list...and heres what i found:

Sicily : Old houses with balconies facing the road, bullet marks in their walls, old women sitting on porches sewing wrinkles onto little pieces of fabrics, men in suspenders with slick hair and lopsised charming smiles and mysterious ways, chunks of tomatoes drying in the sun, the smell of bell peppers frying in olive oil wafting onto the roads, faint music playing in the background. I guess it would not really take a Freud to guess where this one is from. and strangely, the whole mental picture is in black and white...

Calcutta : When you have two 'Bongs' (one dyed in the Bengali culture from head to toe and the other reluctant to be typecast as a Bengali and yet retaining a healthy nostalgia for the Calcutta of his childhood) giving you a healthy dose of Bengali music, "shorsher maach" and stories from the "DomDom ilaaka" and "Bara Bazaar" everyday (I hope I have got the pronunciations right....with all due respect) it is difficult not to fall in love with Calcutta. It has always meant to me wide streets with trams and cabs ambling by, women with big eyes and tiny puffs in the sleeves of their saree blouses, steam rising on the streets out of nowhere, the fervour of Durga Puja and spending days cooped up in an old apartment engrossed in writing a book as the sounds of the streets ride piggyback on the strands of light entering through the tiny crack in the window. Where 36 Chowringhee Lane meets Parineeta meets the Calcutta of my friend's stories....

This could just go on and on..right down to the last place on my travel list. And its the same story. Same vivid mental image- meticulously put together from fragements of hearsay, pictures, wiki and facebook, memories, movies and music. Just like a jigsaw puzzle. A montage.
I guess we almost always see a place much before we actually see it....