Saturday, 23 August 2014


"Tourism is the march of stupidity. You're expected to be stupid...Being stupid is the pattern, the level and the norm. You can exist on this level for weeks and months without reprimand or dire consequence."* 

Tourism while it generates a lot of money is undoubtedly one of the stupidest enterprises undertaken by many humans every year. It doesn’t further understanding, instead it often reinforces stereotypes or else is used to simply justify one’s biases. Consider the average tourist: What do they think when they book their tickets to a particular ‘tourist’ destination?

Who are these people who visit the English countryside and return with visions of quaintness intact? Not once do they ask, “How come the sheep roam free?” (All predators hunted to extinction.) Or “How come the trees are so few and far between?” (Very few ancient woodlands left.) Both especially striking if one is from India.

Due to circumstances, I’ve lived in places that people like to be tourists in. Recording some recent interactions– you know, for sociology.

He: Is this the area where they lived in ‘Friends’?
Me (to myself): No. That was imaginary. No one with those kinds of jobs can afford those apartments in Manhattan.

She: We’ve done Times Square, MOMA and Central Park. Aur kya hai dekhne ke liye? Kahan kahan jaayen? (What else is there to see? Where should we go?)

Reminded me of a woman who got out of a car in Dhanaulti looked around– the entire Himalayan range was clearly visible against the clear blue sky– and asked us, “Aur kya hai yahan dekhne ke liye?” (What else is there to see?)

Me: The MET is displaying all 17 Van Gogh’s in its collection. And Whitney has a Jeff Koons retrospective. Should we go?
She: I saw Van Gogh in Paris and then when I went to Amsterdam I spent half an hour at his museum.
Me: Okay. So what do you want to do?
She: Where are the best outlets near NYC?
Me: What outlets?
She (looking at me as if I am some new kind of stupid): You’ve not been? Shops where you get discounted designer stuff.

He: Take a picture of this street. It’s so New York.
Moments later.
He: Take a picture of this Tibetian shop. It’s so New York.
Moments later.
He: Take a picture of this Cafe. It’s so New York.
Moments later.
He: Take a picture. It’s so, New York.

Half an hour later.
Me: Have you been up the High Line?
Both: No. What is it? Where is it?
Me: Right here, up above our heads. Want to see?
Both: Yes.

Moments later.
He: Take a picture. This is so rad.
Moments later.
He: Take a picture of the railway tracts. So rad.

10 minutes later.
He: Lets go down from this exit.

She: The girls are so feminine here. They like to wear dresses a lot, no?
Me: …

He: Girls here have such smooth skin. Unlike in India.
Me: …

He: The gays here are so rude…I mean confident, not dabba dabba sa (scared) as in ––
Me: This IS their city.

She: Thode saal aur ghoom lo phir wapas aa jana. (Roam around for a couple of more years then come back to India.)
Me (to myself): We aren’t on a holiday here. You are. (Nor have we been for the past 10 years.) We work and live here.

He angry: I don’t like NYC.
Me (wondering does he expect me to apologize): But you’ve just landed an hour back. 

"To be a tourist is to escape accountability. Errors and failings don't cling to you the way they do back home. You're able to drift across continents and languages, suspending the operation of sound thought. Tourism is the march of stupidity. You're expected to be stupid. The entire mechanism of the host country is geared to travelers acting stupidly. You walked around dazed, squinting into fold-out maps. You don't know how to talk to people, how to get anywhere, what the money means, what time it is, what to eat or how to eat it. Being stupid is the pattern, the level and the norm. You can exist on this level for weeks and months without reprimand or dire consequence. Together with thousands, you are granted immunities and broad freedoms. You are an army of fools, wearing bright polyesters, riding camels, taking pictures of each other, haggard, dysentric, thirsty. There is nothing to think about but the next shapeless event."

 – *Don DeLillo, The Names

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Summer passes by and by

The 'Hula dancer', Echinacea pallida: perennial of the prairies, but at home in the big city; friend to bees, butterflies and birds; drought tolerant, heat tolerant, humidity tolerant; healer of infections, medicine to Native Americans– a multifaceted performer.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Some things...

...I wonder about when there’s nothing else to do
How is buying books, ‘owning’ hundreds of books piled up here, there and everywhere in the house, not a form of consumerism?

How do you answer certain questions without tearing down someone’s cherished ideas about human society and human aspiration?

For example: ‘why do you watch birds? What do you get out of it?’

How can people not be amazed at the life of a bird? Any bird.

Yet how melancholy we become at the changing of the human made landscape, the passing of things– that Café now a pharmacy; that rundown empty warehouse now an apartment complex. (Never mind that once that Café was a clump of trees on a cliff; that warehouse, a river’s bed.)

How it makes us mourn.

Our memories and aspirations are imprisoned within things.

Without books we have no knowledge, without that Café and that warehouse we have no memory. Without these few object– books and other ‘memorabilia’ we surround ourselves with– things we can’t live without, we are nothing.

In the absence of our material world we are nothing.

That is what every wise person since time immemorial has been trying to explain.

Kuch pane ke liye, kuch khona padta hai (roughly it means to get something, you lose/give up something)

Writing. Walking. Watching birds is an exercise in giving up a sense of self– the one that is bound by memories and aspirations.

What is gained is nothing.

When you’ve got nothing, you’ve got nothing to lose.

Friday, 1 August 2014

Thank you for the music

It is late afternoon. The temperature is 29C, humidity above 55%. Everyone seems to be in a hurry to get back into pleasant, controlled environs. Two tote bags, one on each shoulder I carry as I walk on.

Someone clears her throat behind me. Suddenly a song. After a few seconds she is in the groove and singing– in another age I’d have written with gay abandon– well, joyfully. I do the most natural thing. I slow down.

The singing woman and her companion overtake me. The woman is taller and has her right arm around the man’s shoulders, a gold chain sparkles on his neck and the grey shows on his head. They are sharing an earpiece each– listening to the same song that the woman is singing aloud. We are on the 8th Ave. I turn on the 11th. I hope so do they. 

Now I’ve got time. Walking uncharacteristically slowly, I follow the couple listening to the song (I am afraid I have no idea which song it was).

Never missing a step, arm around the shoulder, singing her heart out the couple walk on. I follow. On 10th Ave the song ends. The woman has stopped singing. We’ve come upon a red light. The man takes her face in both his arms and kisses her. The cabs are turning right, the drivers are going to get a halal meal at the food cart parked on the opposite side of this street.

I turn left. The couple continue towards 11th Ave, still in step, arm around the shoulder, sharing an earpiece each listening to the same song.

Perhaps someday I'll wonder more about the significance of that song. Or, the couple’s ability to create a space for just the two of them unmindful of the world. But that day is not today.  

Today I say thank you for the music. For giving it to me.