Recently, we here at The Aerogram have been faulted for focusing on the minutia of South Asian travelogues written from a Western perspective. More importantly, we have been requested to provide a handy-dandy guide those writing about the Indian subcontinent can use to focus their upcoming narratives. At your service.
Travel writers, think of the below rules as your own personal “Elements of Style.”
1. Focus on the scatological. Everyone back home wants to know in detailed, point-by-point breakdown the specifics of how you… went about your bodily expulsions. Trust us. You must tell them. Tell them everything.
Explain the anguish with which you crouched on a moving train and shat through an opening of a squat toilet in the first-class compartment. Note the strain this put about your joints knees and hips. And how you watched the ground below you through the open compartment. And it was profound. And beautiful. Like your life. And you knew that whenever you got on your jumbo jet and flew away, some part of you would always remain in India/Pakistan/Bangladesh/etc.
2. Break rules. Rules don’t have a place in the subcontinent. You’re a Westerner, which means you’re a visitor, which means you’re basically a god incarnate so there’s no need for you to follow the rules, regulations and statutes of whichever South Asian country you’re visiting.
We all know they make exceptions for tourists paying for their pleasures in good ol’ American dollars. So get those drugs. Smoke that weed. Take that bicycle on the train. Who cares if management protests? Who cares what people think? It’s all good, y’all. You’re here to relaaaaaaaax. Stereotypes were made to be reinforced.
3. Write in superlatives. Everything is “overwhelming.” You either “love” everything or “loathe” everything. There is no in-between. All of the women are “the most colorful” women you have seen. Everyone is either “filthy rich” or “slum poor.” There is no middle class. You will either find “perfect peace” or an “outrageous orgy.” Or both.
4. Avoid the active. You do not travel to the Indian subcontinent. It travels to you. You do not purchase a ticket after waiting months to find the best online deal and then make your way to renew your passport and pack a set of clothes into luggage that holds enough for two weeks. You are simply teleported by the country itself.
You are the passive vessel the country uses to teach you lessons. You are carried away in the middle of the night like Mowgli from Kipling’s “The Jungle Book.” Possibly by a wolf. Or a tiger. Some sort of beast. Some sort of compelling force that you long to deny, but cannot. You don’t choose India. India chooses you. You are simply the messenger. India, the message.
5. Trust no one. Everything is either “dodgy” or “murky.” There are “questionable textures” and “curious tastes.” Everyone is out to rob you. Or con you. You must question everything. You will get some sort of uncomfortable illness. This will only bring greater understanding. Embrace your discomfort.
6. Everything matters. Each event that happens in the subcontinent, no matter how trivial back home, has great significance because you are in India/Pakistan/Nepal/Sri Lanka/etc.
Did you get a letter? Well, it’s the gosh-darn most life-changing letter you will ever receive because it happened in India. Were you able to converse with a stranger for three minutes on a crowded railway station about the weather? This conversation will indubitably change your life.