Posted by: akilamoni | October 6, 2008

The idea of travel

My uncle’s house in Arizona, houses tonnes of books. Not lots but tonnes of books merely because the gravity of of these books weigh down upon the house because of one reason- they are brand new and untouched. The titles could be anything between ” How to make money when you are old” to “Cooking for diabetes”. There could be multiple titles of the same book, best sellers, readers digest issues, any book on India-name it and you will find it there. All unread.

My brother once clarified to me, that my uncle picks up these books not because he likes reading. He does so because he is besotted with the idea of reading! Ah, now that made sense.

The second class’s reading was from The Art of Travel by Alain De Botton. Instantly brought back memories of Pip calling me over phone and reading out aloud from De Botton’s famous book (Essays in Love) and both of us laughing over it.

I found this chapter called On anticipation particularly interesting. The style was unique. Botton alternates between his story and that of Duc des Esseintes- the hero from J.K.Huysmann’s novel ,A Rebours. The author sees a picture of a pristine virgin beach with a palm tree bending down and longs to be in the place which is as pretty as the postcard. Duc des Esseintes stayed all alone in a villa in Paris and dreamed of going to London after reading a volume of Dickens.

The author arrives in the island of Barbados(Bohooo Pip, I can almost see you exclaiming) and realises that there was one last thing between him and a  lovely experience in the island- his personality.

The author says that when  we set out to travel, there is nothing but the image of the postcard in mind. Between that postcard and the real image lie thousands of unsaid and spoken experiences- both pleasant and unpleasant. You could fall sick, lose your bagagge, get mugged and in the author’s case fight with his wife. He sadly realises that along with him he has carried his personality which could play spoilsport in letting him enjoy the postcard beach that his cottage opened out to!

Many years ago Duc des Esseintes travelled to Holland only to be terribly disappointed. He loved the Holland he had seen in the paintings, more than the real place. On his way to London, Duc eats in an English restaurant, thinks about all the pain that lay ahead of him – suitcases, his entourage of servants, the travel. He takes the next train back to Paris and surrounds himself with all sorts of objects- paintings, timetables of ships. Objects of any sort that would facilitate the finest aspect of travel to him- the anticipation.

One of the students spoke up and asked, why the author had painted such a morbid picture of travel. Werent there so many other nice things to appreciate?

Good point. But in this case you are underestimating the power of your personality. The power it has to change the experience.Make something rotten interesting. Make something interesting completely bleak!

 Most often than not, just before I leave for a place I obsess over trivial things. Medicines for my painfully sensitive throat and stomach, umbrella, extra pairs of clothes(just in case it rains and drenches me to the bone). Negative thoughts cloud my mind and I coax myself to think positive.

But to me nothing can surpass the anticipation of travel. Life just seems so much nicer when you have a trip ahead of you. The ideas and thoughts of how new places, new people, the sights, the sounds will be. I cherish the eve of the festival more than the festival itself. Have you seen the festivities almost building up in the air before Diwali, taking the tension to the highest possible note only to gradually die down on the actualy day(unless you are planning to watch a rajini Movie, first day first show)?

I dream of travelling to Jerusalem one day. But I almost know I will not because I am more fascinated with the idea of going to Jerusalem than anything else. I want to see the Himalayas- just the way Palin had seen it and I know I dont have the courage for it. (I have seen the Himalayas, for those who care to know)!

But as De Botton says,”I travelled inspite of Des Esseintes. And yet there were times when I too, felt that there might be no finer journeys than those provoked in the imagination by remaining at home slowly turning the Bible-paper pages of the British Airways Worldwide Timetable”.

Ah the pleasures of being an arm chair traveller!! Wonder if my uncle has an equivalent for this- an armchair reader? Nah!!!



  1. Beautiful Post. I have always thought of imagination as a double edged sword. I mean, you could always imagine various situations and build things up to the point where you don’t want to venture out and do it for fear of spoiling your own imagination. It builds up anticipation…and sometimes I just love that rush of feelings that happen just before the shot rings out indicating the real deal has started.
    On the other hand, I have found that my imagination always makes me this incredibly optimistic person when traveling. Any bad winds are shuttered out and I am looking forward to the next best thing that my imagination promised me. I return back thinking I had the best trip, a lot of times the actual trip was supplemented by the fact that I had an independent trip in my own mind. It is like taking the armchair with me when I travel. I am not sure if I am making sense here. And I definitely am writing a long post…so all the best with the class 🙂

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