The Big Issue : Edition 481
THE BIG ISSUE 3 – 16 APRIL 2015 13 know their primary intention is to turn you leafy-green with envy. Then, there are those budget luxury travellers who come back from Bali with tales about how their handmade Vuitton knock-off cost just $3 and isn’t it marvellous how Indonesian labourers are prepared to work in illegal conditions? Then, there’s the very worst kind. People who are Transformed by Travel. If I were Queen, one of my first regal acts of business would be to prevent white people from talking about how they found their trip to India ‘enlightening’. Actually, I might just go ahead and ban travel to India altogether, because people invariably come back from three days in a converted Rajasthani palace with tales of how the Wise Indians do things SO much better than us. Now, I am prepared to entertain that there are many ways of doing things better than the way we do them in the West. In fact, I am almost convinced of it. Any society that can create baby prams that cost more than $1000 has to be fundamentally idiotic. The way in which travellers venerate India, however, is something I find distasteful. Recently, an associate of mine returned from Mumbai and had nothing but marvellous things to say about the patience of Indians. Despite the hustle and the bustle, he said, and the terrible traffic and the stray dogs and starvation, people were always smiling. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could smile a bit more in the West? No. It jolly wouldn’t. For a start, I dislike smiling – it gives me wrinkles, so avoid it whenever possible. Further, when I do smile, I endeavour to enact this in private. My smile is for me; not for anyone else. It is not a performance but an unavoidable sign of emotion intended only to give me physical expression of an intimate feeling and does not exist to make you, or anyone, feel that all is right with the world. Chiefly, though, it is this view of happy labourers that really gets right up my jacksie. While it is true that most persons in India might be much better at making a bad situation tolerable, it is also true that this service nation which exists, in part, to provide us in the West with cheap goods and services should be less than happy. And amid this ‘hustle and bustle’ – which, while charming on holiday, would cause us to write a strong letter of protest to our local planning body if we had to tolerate it in our everyday existence – we only see the good stuff. We do not see that all the activity is not the result of some Ancient Wisdom but actually the effect of making cheap shit we can buy back home. We have a terrible tendency to look at people who have less material wealth than us and say Aren’t They Spiritual and Marvellous. And stealing their labour at low cost is not enough for us. We want to steal their happiness as well. Enlightenment is a strange souvenir to bring back home with you. Frankly, I’d rather you bought me a snowdome. “If I were Queen, one of my first regal acts of business would be to prevent white people from talking about how they found their trip to India ‘enlightening’.” RAZER Eat, Pray, Shut Up PHOTOGRAPHSBYJAMESBRAUND TRAVEL, THEY SAY, broadens the mind. But I have found it also, in some cases, diminishes conversation. Listening to some recently returned travellers’ accounts of their marvellous trips can be about as interesting as listening to your partner’s account of their dream in the morning. You know that, out of politeness, you have to knuckle down and listen to their pseudo-Freudian analysis of what it could possibly mean. But that doesn’t mean you have learned anything or that they have really embarked on some legitimate act of self-discovery. There is that breed of traveller who, of course, just uses the occasion to boast. When they speak of their business- class passage and their fine resorts, you » Helen Razer is a writer, gardener and travel consultant. She regularly advises clients to go to Hell...or Hull, depending on their preference.