Thursday, 13 February 2014
Kim's Review : If it's Monday, it must be Madurai - A Conducted Tour of India
In, "If it's Monday, it must be Madurai - A Conducted Tour of India", Srinath Perur takes the reader on an interesting jaunt across the globe with various tour groups. Some groups comprise only of Indians and in others he is the only Indian.
Srinath Perur's introduction to the book is candid "Serious travelers and certainly travel writers look upon the conducted tour as the lowliest form of travel. According to Paul Theroux - In the best travel books the word alone is implied on every exciting page"
However, "A conducted tour, by definition offers something that solitary travel cannot: other people and the opportunity to know them"
The book is filled with accurate descriptions and insights: When traveling in a conducted tour abroad, Indians pop out of the bus, take a picture, tick the place off their itinerary and return to the mobile India group on board (eating Indian food, watching Hindi movies enroute, playing antakshari etc). Why travel at all? He attributes this to middle class aspiration. Perur says that "Travel as a symbol of leisure and economic sufficiency and the conducted tour is now a rite of passage among the middle class." It is the new vanaprasthashrama stage of life.
Srinath Perur worked at Outlook Traveler and undertook 2 of the conducted tours written about in this book on assignment with them. He had meticulously stayed away from conducted tours until 2011, when an assignment took him on a week long bus tour of Tamil Nadu and this is where the book begins.
The second chapter is about a 15 day trip from London to Milan through Holland, Belgium, France, Switzerland, Germany and Austria. The insight that really struck me in this chapter was : "It is the iconic monuments - the Eiffel Tower, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Colosseum - that give us the greatest joy since they offer the mos compelling evidence of where we have been. We go not so much to see them as to confirm their existence, to reassure ourselves that we are after all in the place we aspired to be. We see nothing in Europe. We come here with pictures in our heads and we leave with our heads in those pictures"
I was quite surprised to read that most of the tours did not take them inside any of the monuments, the bus just stopped at a spot from where the travelers could take the best pictures of themselves with the monument in the frame. This is a complete antithesis to the way Brajesh and I travel, so from our perspective, this seems like such a waste of travel (in terms of time and money spent). However we have encountered people who prefer exactly this kind of "travel"
Once on the Nile Cruise in Egypt, we had a tour group from Delhi on our same cruise ship. The first half day they spent seeing the Luxor temple and a little shopping in Luxor. When the guide met the group at tea in the evening, he said that the next days program was to visit Karnak temple and Hatchepsuts Temple. The general consensus in the group was that if you had seen one temple, you had seen them all. Less than 5% of the group joined the guide the next morning and the rest of the group, did not get off the ship for the next 4 days unless it was to browse the local markets!
Subsequent chapters of "If it's Monday, it must be Madurai" cover an overnight camel safari in Jaisalmer, a backwaters cruise in Kerala (where he is the only Indian in the group), an all Indian Men tour to Uzbekistan (for sex tourism), a slum tour around Mumbai, a more free-form tour of Assam and Meghalaya, Rajasthan Kabir Yatra - travel in the company of Folk Musicians from across India around Bikaner with other music afficionados, Shodh Yatra - a week long walking tour in Sehore district of Madhya Pradesh in search of traditional knowledge and local innovations and a walking pilgrimage with a dindi (group of devotees) from Pune to Pandharpur.
Its a beautifully written book. It makes you laugh and smile, it forces you to introspect on what travel means to you and how different members of your family and friends circle approach traveling.
This book isn't meant just for travelers, its an interesting look at the sociology and psychology behind travel too. Its an introspective look into Indian society, especially its Middle Class, in a not-so-serious manner.
Even if you have never been on a conducted tour in your life, you ill still be able to identify with a lot of the characters in these pages - it may be a distant relative or a teacher from your school years or a tour group that you bumped into while traveling solo.
Its an easy read with each chapter being complete in itself, so you can read a chapter a night when traveling.
Rating : 3.5 / 5