March 01, 2008

Indra Sinha

You left India as a young man. How often have you returned? Regularly since my association with the Bhopal survivors began in the mid-nineties, but before that there was a 15-year gap.

Any memorable journeys? From Kathmandu to Nepalganj, an airstrip on the Nepalese side of the border. Our tiny plane whirred into the air like a metal grasshopper; the high Himalayas rose up behind the foothills, white and shining for hundreds of miles. Nepalganj airport was a grass field, the terminal a hut; a small road vanished into fields of sugarcane, not a vehicle in sight, much less the taxi I had promised Vickie. A boy leant his bicycle against a tree, came forward shyly and said, “Indra? I am Shobha. Grandfather sent me to fetch you.” He flagged down a passing bullock cart and negotiated passage to the border. Vickie sat on the luggage, Tara (then aged 2) in her lap, Shobha on his bike, held onto the tail of the cart, I walked alongside, through the thick sugarcane fields into which Nana Saheb and his defeated army had vanished 125 years earlier. At the border, two square brick buildings, stood an amazed Indian customs officer. Ours were the first overseas passports he had seen in six months, he told us. Hearing grandfather’s name he said, “But I know him!” He telephoned Nanpara PO telling them to tell Iqbal Bahadur sahib that his family had arrived safely. Chairs were set in the shade; tea appeared, as did a photo album of his family. We passed a pleasant hour before the bus took us all away to grandfather and new adventures. I want to tell this story properly one day in a book of travel writings.

A busy advertising career, the online addiction you describe in The Cybergypsies; was there time for travel? We never had much money for travel when the children were young, but over the years we’ve seen quite a bit of Europe and of course the dear old UK. I loved living in England and love living in France. Our best family holiday was a six-week tour of France, Switzerland and Italy, with two weeks in the Lot, where we now live. In fact it is directly because of that holiday that we are now there.

You just visited the most touristy destinations in India: Rajasthan and Goa... A lot of people I know in Rajasthan are turning their houses into heritage hotels. There is a sort of build-your-own-haveli emporium where you can buy ancient carved doors, jharokas, silver furniture, rugs and hangings, everything you need for instant Rajasthan. The Jaipur Festival was Disneyworld, complete with elephants and fire-eaters; old Rajputana would have been dancing girls and opium. Goa is wonderful, when you get used to it. From Candolim to Calangute you get the same tourist tack as in Rajasthan; all that’s missing is Goa. Old Goa is still there; an outsider has to work a little to discover and get into it. Having loved John Berendt’s books about Savannah and Venice (and loved being with John too and learning how he came to write them) I keep thinking there is something to be done either on Rajasthan or Goa. Or both. But I have a number of novels to write, so I don't know when I might get time for travel writing.

Have you seen any great writing about India? I am rather sick of books about India. I would rather read books about Brazil, or Cuba, or the Congo, or somewhere I’d like to visit.

Published in Outlook Traveller, in a section called 'Fellow Traveller,' March 2008.


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