Kannans to the left of me, Kannans to the right of me: some passing thoughts on travel

These incoherent notes were compiled in the afternoon of the completion of a 36 hour return journey from a week long trip to India, and as you might imagine consequently are somewhat coloured by the freshest events. It could probably be edited into something of a coherent essay with points and arguments, but I think I prefer to leave it as it stands.

Anyway, travel. Or possibly, being away. Travel is something that I'm now quite acclimatised to. The physical transportation of the corporeal being, from plane to plane, and from bus to train to taxi, is all quite rote and near the same the world over. I can tolerate journeys of somewhat extended duration, although the process does tend to leave me fatigued, subdued, and more full of emnity to the world than usual.

Being away, though, has its own issues. We spend so much of our time making our places of dwelling comfortable and convenient, attuned to our own tastes, and efficient machines for living in. When travelling, we temporarily divorce them, a trial separation that makes no one any happier. Unfamiliar beds, unpredictable bathing facilities and other uneven features. Tied in with this is the knotty problem of laundry: to pack enough to last and endure the added bulk, or to plan on finding a place and time to launder.

I always seem to get ill while being away (perhaps brought on by travelling). This usually manifests as tiredness and generalized pains, and sometimes an irascible stomach which complains with little provocation. Thus my appreciation of the delights of being away are often tempered with a dull throbbing background level pain, or a more pressing concern with which I shall not trouble you. My latest trip was a reasonable example: on my first day, I felt bloated and groggy. Then later, after delivering my talk, I was struck by a quite bizarrely fast cold: immediately on completing my presentation, my nose began running. That night, it turned into a sore throat and sniffles; over the next day the symptoms went through aches and pains, and by the night, the whole thing seemed to have worked itself through. None of these concerns are particularly disabling, and indeed occasionally visit me when I am at home. However, at home I feel better prepared to cope, and am nearer my methods of escape and comfort should they be needed.

Being away affords the opportunity to be a tourist. I'm not sure that I quite see the point of this. It's pretty interesting to see some monuments and vistas, and I'm all in favour of doing this occasionally. But I have no great desire to go out of my way to do so more than on a limited basis. Surely just watching a good documentary on TV is just as good an experience? In fact, surely watching an HDTV image on a 42 inch LCD screen is twenty-one times preferable to the wobbly low res view of the world through a 2 inch LCD lensfinder as some choose to do.

I return with a few mementos of my trip. In particular, six mosquito bites, all on my left arm. I don't know what is so appealing about my left arm. Perhaps it was the only one uncovered at the time. Although December was pretty warm, I could still get away with wearing long sleeved shirts.

One of the most arresting sites I saw on my travels was in the departures lounge of New Delhi Indira Gandhi International Airport. There was a gaggle of Austrian Air (or similar) flight attendants in uniform uniforms, mostly blonde and tanned. Off to one side was another, a pallid brunette reading a heavy Ann Rice novel. I don't think that I'd seen a goth air hostess before, and wish I could have taken a good picture without attracting too much attention. But alas I did not. I also saw a laser display departure board that seemed to be running some variant of Windows that had fallen victim to some spyware or other, and was barfing as a consequence. I took some pictures of that, but alas they did not come out, instead all wobbly and blurred, much like my perspective on the world at 4 in the morning local time.

Heathrow could really do with some better signage for the tube. I almost ended up on the Heathrow express instead. They should take down the signs claiming that the tube is closed for repairs, too, since it's not. The fog was a slight pain, a ninety minute delay, and the disconcerting experience of descending through the clounds... and hitting the ground because it was fog, not clouds.

I watched Madagascar on the way out, and Shark Tale on the way back. Gosh, but these Hollywood animated movies are getting as tedious as the normal ones, aren't they?

My current favourite movie. Dhoom 2, is currently massive in India. However, I didn't get a chance to see it, too little time. I wonder if I would have been able to follow it, if they have subtitles for those less gifted in Hindi such as I. Maybe I'll try to catch it on DVD.

Carry your own toilet roll in India. I first learned the wisdom of this rule whilst suffering the cold and hence carrying plenty of tissue for different effluxions. Either that, or use the tap and jug provided.

Driving is something to behold, and the famous youtube movie does not quite do it justice, in that there is nothing remotely remarkable in the scenes shown in the film. It also fails to capture the aural aspect, which is the use of the horn. It's a fairly subtle language. The coarse meaning is simple "here I am", and thus the horn is used much more frequently than in the west. But there are subtlties and depths; a protracted blast usually does mean "now get out of the way you lumbering hulk". For the most part I was not concerned by the driving, since everyone seemed to be used to it. However, being driven from Kanpur station by some IIT students was probably the most implausible experience in my life. The vehicle seemed to spend most of its time in the lane of the oncoming traffic, except when the oncoming traffic has formed into two lanes to avoid some obstacle, and so we mounted the pavement and played a rather unbalanced game of chicken with pedestrians and scooter riders. I don't quite understand the purpose of putting a car chase into a Bollywood movie, since most of the standard moves (swerving in and out of traffic, slipping through impossibly small gaps, heading down oncoming traffic) seem to be standard procedures required to pass the test. Assuming that there is a test, which seems less likely the more I think about it.

It is not possible to get from Kanpur in the morning to Delhi at night, while stopping to take in the sites at Agra, no matter what you are assured.

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