Desi Travel Diaries: Of Bindis, Chappals, Dabbas and More
TL;DR: “Hum logon ko samajh sako to, samjho dilbar jaani...”
“Chakhna liya ya nahin?” boomed an alarmingly assertive voice from somewhere outside the train compartment. The lanky boy seated before me kicked off his blanket at lightning speed, hopped over three beefy suitcases falling apart at the seams, and rushed out with an agility one can only ascribe to a martial arts expert.
I was impressed. I didn’t quite think he had it in him. A minute back, he was lounging sloppily on the bunk with a packet of aloo bhujiya, as if waiting to be drawn like a French girl.
A little later, he returned with two more suitcases, huffing and puffing like a baby elephant at a marathon. Behind him came a beaming lady with a steel dabba in one hand. She kept smacking his back, parroting, “Shabaash, Pintu!’’ with every blow.
Pintu’s mother was a determined tourist, as I would find out later.
All through my train ride, she kept me intrigued.
She laid out the food carefully during dinner, scooping out the last specks of the sabzi from the steel dabba. She made sure Pintu slept with his analogue camera tucked under his pillow, lest the “pesky coolies” nick it in the dead of the night.
She breathed fire at Pintu when he refused to go take a shower in the train washroom, accusing him of taking the “angrez too seriously”. She kept rereading a hand-written itinerary, while occasionally quizzing Pintu about the details.
Pintu, a seemingly brilliant rattabaaz, wasn’t a disappointment.
“Day 1: Reach hotel, have puri-bhaaji, go to the lake Mami told us about, ride on the boat, go to the Red Fort after that, buy souvenirs for Chachi, Mama, and Rinku, take at least four pictures to send to Chachi, Mama, Rinku, and Papa on Whatsapp...” he recited meticulously.
This got me thinking.
What is so unique about the Indian tourist?
For one, every detail is planned out with razor-sharp foresight: neatly packed plastic boxes of medicines capable of sustaining an entire tribe; multiple dabbas of chakhna that must not be consumed in a single day, but must be made to last throughout the trip; and a pair of squeaky-clean ghar ki chappals to swear by.
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If you are lucky, you will check into a fresh hotel room to discover their remnants. I have learnt, over time, to not get peeved by them, but to try and word together a story behind each dreg...
The bindi glued to the mirror.
The frayed piece of paper, with scrawled hisaab, abandoned on the side-table.
The forgotten safety pins in the far corner of the drawer.
An old train or plane ticket tucked between two pages in the Room Service menu.
More often than not, a hotel room bears clues, if you’re willing to look.
History, they say, is a blend of the inadequacy of memory and the imperfection of documentation. And the Indian tourist shall never disappoint history.
Each remnant adds character. Neither information nor cultural nitty gritties are withheld. They are, unapologetically and unabashedly, Indian.
Bottom Line: Look out for the desi tourist- a definite force to reckon with.
(The above is a part of TL;DR (Too Long. Didn't Read), a weekly blog that aims to crunch things down for you. I will give you the long and short of most things that need to be taken extremely seriously like your bookshelf, beer, existential dread, aimless conversations, rainy days and bubble-wrap. I promise to cater to all readers, but I brazenly harbour a soft-spot for skimmers, bathroom-readers and infinite scrollers. Now, let's bring the written word back!
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