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  • Drop the shop, travel to live another life…
  • Date: 2013-07-12
  • Anoothi Vishal

    “So, did you get Bohemian crystal?”, “… the hand-crafted silver jewellery?”, “Did you check out the Selfridges sale….” “Did you shop?” I dread the interrogation each time I come trudging back from one of those meandering trips. What is it about the great Indian middle class that makes it look at travel as simply an exercise in acquisition?

    Along with the rest of Asians, Indians are prodigious shoppers. Any travel experience for them must necessarily involve a hefty dose of malls, branded and discount outlets, LCD TVs, duty-free gadgetry, flea markets rip offs and so on. It may be great for the host economies, this willingness to splurge, but really is this all that makes for a great travel story?

    Travel is somewhat new to the argumentative Indian. Despite our Railway network and enterprising communities that have set up bread stores, taxi empires and restaurants in the remotest corners of the world, middle India is still taking baby steps as global travelers. It is natural to want to show-off; tell your neighbours, family, Facebook friends that you checked out the Eiffel or Masai Mara and, yes, bought six months’ wardrobe from Harrods on sale. Even when you buy that fridge magnet in Paris or Pinocchio in Rome, the intent is perhaps the same: A souvenir that will show off your sophistication in your living room. And perhaps help recall those moments on another terrain. In a way what we are really seeking is a validation of our lives. Yes, that we Did. That we Lived. That we travelled.

    My fear though is that travel, like shopping, has become just that --- a badge of acquisition. I am not sure whether the same logic applies to all those people who make firm itineraries and tick off every must-do monument/museum/activity on it. This type of frenetic travel may only be a function of the desire to experience all that you have read or heard about. To maximize life’s little moments…

    India’s post-liberalisation travelers though may have other reasons to seek out newer lands and experiences. Partying in Ibiza or doing Turkey with friends from the university come invested with undeniable charm, as do road (or backpacking) trips of self discovery made popular by films such as Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara. The idea that travel can alter the course of your life, as these films show, is hugely seductive. We also find it increasingly in pop literature, in those chick-lit Metro reads, where young women fleeing from bad bosses or/and bad boyfriends/husbands take to the road to find destiny waiting round the corner.

    Travel, of course, does change you. Perhaps not in the drastic ways of fiction but subtly, gently. It does something to your own perception of your being when you find yourself in an alien country where no one quite comprehends you, and yet when you socialize with people who had been strangers just a few hours ago you find friends or, if you are lucky, connect with soulmates. Even a simple task of reading a map and managing to find your way back to the hotel can be strangely empowering.

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