It’s not that I don’t like travelling. Often, after a really bad day, my thoughts flit to sunny Spain, magnificent Machu Picchu and to the grandeur of the Great Wall, until I run out of alliterations.
I also drive to office quite often, taking in, on the way, the splendid sweep of the Arabian Sea as I go past Juhu, the leafy lanes of charming Santa Cruz and the bustle of beautiful Bandra. Intrepid traveller that I am, I take on the bumper-to-bumper traffic at Mahim causeway with aplomb, not caring a jot about the inky black waters of the creek that swirl menacingly below.
I also wait patiently at interminable traffic jams, which is usually when I dream of escaping to the wide-open pampas of Patagonia. So I’m no stay-at-home idler and when it’s time for the summer holidays, and the family gets out the travel brochures, and the talk at parties turns to the great time somebody had last summer eating whale blubber in Greenland, I’m as excited as anybody else.
The problem lies in selecting a place to go to. With the weather here so hot, Switzerland tops the list. I too would have loved to go to Switzerland, never mind the strength of the Swiss franc, but for Mr L.K. Advani. He’s made all those ill-gotten gains that people have stashed away in Swiss vaults into headline news and anybody making his way to Switzerland this summer would automatically invite suspicion.
So I had to regretfully turn down the suggestion, ignoring my daughter’s plea that she didn’t really care what happened to me afterwards so long as she went to Switzerland first. “What about London?” she asked next. I was amazed that a kid her age had this colonial hangover. “Besides,” I said, “the last time I was in London, I spoke Bengali on the streets there”, adding that it was a bit like going to Bangladesh. “Also, why would you want to take a holiday in a place that has chicken tikka masala for its national dish?” I said, clinching the argument.
The next option was a whisky tour, so that we could combine the pleasures of sightseeing in scenic Scotland with sampling some Scotch. I pointed out, though, that if it’s exotic booze one’s interested in, there’s plenty of stuff available around Kolkata, with mahua, pochai and hadia coming readily to mind.
My liver will never forget a fiery liquid called ‘amanush’ (which means ‘inhuman’), the local stuff bottled by the West Bengal government, probably part of its effort to liquidate the decadent petty bourgeoisie. “Go further north”, I waxed eloquent, “and you encounter the insidious charms of chhang, tongba and raxi.” So why go to Scotland, or indeed France, I summed up, when you can get the experience next door at a hundredth of the price.
After that, it was plain sailing. Malaysia? Even Mrs Sharma from flat C-21 had gone there and besides there’s no point in going to a place one can’t come back and talk about. The beaches of Phuket? Thailand is engulfed in political turmoil. South Africa? Heck, you’ll see all those stars we can see right here in Mumbai and you’ll be one among a crowd of Indians out there for the IPL.
New Zealand? Too many sheep. Australia? What if Qantas goes bankrupt while we’re in mid-air and we have to jump? Paris? But we’ve all seen the Da Vinci Code, where they showed the inside of the Louvre. New York? Who wants to be strip-searched at the airport? Anyway it’s a lot like Mumbai and the cab drivers speak Hindi.
I’ve finally decided to go to Pune. It’s an attractive town steeped in history, nestling in a green and pleasant vale beside the placid waters of the Mutha river, welcoming travellers with its mix of quaint old-world charm combined with quiet modern efficiency, topped with its scrumptious traditional cuisine. It’s also a three-hour drive from home.
Manas Chakravarty is Consulting Editor, Mint