Friday, August 17, 2012

Required Travel Lit For Visiting India

Our wonderful world is vast and complex. Yet, its people and places can be somewhat understood in terms of eight megacultures. I would list China, India, Mideast, Euro, Afro, Russo, Latino and Anglo spheres. The last includes New Zealand, Australia, Canada, the UK and the US. Some would add Oceania as the ninth megaculture. Boundaries are blurry and border regions, like Ukraine, Nepal, Morocco and Texas, are a blending of the big zones. I hope to spend time living and composing in each of these regions before dying and decomposing in one of them. Thus far, I have spent meaningful time in the India, China, Euro, Afro, Latino and Anglo spheres. The wisdom of each has changed me profoundly.

Many readers share my hunger to view life from as many perspectives as possible. So, I want to highlight some travel lit that forms a cultural bridge to one of them: India. Despite the influx of foreigners wanting to learn spiritual meditation from gurus or earn financial compensation from call centers, India is one of the world's less-popular destinations. This is because many travelers' fascination with India is offset by the complexity and shocking poverty they find there. India is one of few places where a culture has remained largely intact for millenia. Thus, one must comprehend not only a different place but to some extent a different era.

Indian author Salman Rushdie might describe the country as magically delicious. Indian author V.S. Naipaul might describe it as horribly superstitious. I've seen plenty to support both conceptions. Before you board a flight, read Salman Rushdie's classic Midnight's Children. I love the book. This is a literary journey around the subcontinent with a taste of cultural currents that have impacted the nation since independence. The tale's saturation with spices and astrology helps prepare you for the central role these elements play in life once you step onto Indian soil.

Midnight's Children bears many suspicious similarities to a previously-written Latino book that is also a global cultural window. I'm talking about 100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Still, Rushdie is innocent until proven guilty and the evidence isn't beyond doubt. (Nevertheless, Salman's endorsement that Ricky Martin's biography is a work of literary genius surely convicts him of shameless pandering. The world knows Ricky Martin's songwriting. If you aint no teen, he aint no literary genius.)

Two films should likewise precede your travel to India. Ben Kingsley's epic Gandhi has grown old but never been outdone. Mahatma's great soul still burns like a flame in most Indian hearts, even though his failure to recognize the limits of passive resistance contributed to the painful subcontinent division into India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. No man is perfect, but this man inspires most men to be better. The movie clearly shows why. We now move from sublime to ridiculous.
Don't pack for India without watching The Darjeeling Limited. In this farce, three modern-day stooges skip needed therapy to ride a train across India in search of lunacy passing itself off as enlightenment. When you finish laughing and /or groaning, you'll have seen a lot of what bumming around India is really like. (Except that intoxicating aromas and pungent smells aren't captured on film.) Don't say this movie didn't warn you.

Feel free to skip the short prelude to The Darjeeling Limited called Hotel Chevalier. It offers nothing except Natalie Portman buck naked. Who'd wanna see that when they could be fast forwarding to an impoverished village? Still, after you've spent enough time in India that you can't remember what a woman's shoulder looks like, you may wish to replay this part while sobbing "God Bless America!" I know I did.


  1. I think I'd be inclined to spend time in the north, in the foothills of the Himalaya, before heading up into Nepal. I've seen some works on the region...

    Now, if you'll excuse me, naked Natalie has my attention.


  2. Beautiful! I haven't visited this place but I wish I had (or could). I enjoy looking at your pictures of India. Reminds me of my younger travelling days:)

  3. well covered and quite informative