INDIA CHARMS THEROUX.
TRAVEL writer Paul Theroux's India connection isn't over yet.
His book on India, The Elephanta Suite , may have published seven years ago but he continues to be awed, impressed and astonished by Indians. This time, however, in the southern regions of the US. " I am at present working on a travelogue on the southern region of America. As I spent some time there, I realised, contrary to popular perception, there is a lot of America yet to be discovered. For instance, you will find a lot of motels in the southern states of Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, et al . Who owns them? Indians. You go to any low- end motel there, and you will find some ' Mr Patel' doing business without any fuss," he says.
So, what explains the presence Indians in these far- off places? Maybe it has something to do with their innate business sense and their power of assimilation and adaptability," says the renowned travel writer whose 1975 book, The Great Railway Bazaar , went on to become a classic textbook on how to write travel book.
" The Great Railway Bazaar happened accidentally. I had written four novels by then and was looking for ideas to write more to support my family," he said. " If someone is looking for a book idea, he/ she often takes a trip. I was then living in London and I thought of taking a train to Paris and then to Italy, Bulgaria and Istanbul. Then I saw the map and realised I can go all the way to Iran via train. I thought that was interesting and, thus, began by journey." Theroux, however, concedes it wasn't easy. " I was on train for almost four months. It was quite interesting but very taxing and demanding. It was also damaging for my family, and caused a lot of unhappiness.
But I thought of myself as soldier, a sailor, a fisherman going out to make some money." But what is it that, 40 years since The Great Railway Bazaar , keeps the writer moving? " Curiosities make me go despite having written over a dozen travel books. I still look forward to see new places and new people. And trust me, it's rewarding," he says.
India and Indians have a special place in Theroux's heart.
India has always fascinated me because nothing has changed here over many centuries. You will see the same lifestyle which every traveller has seen for centuries.
What ( Rudyard) Kipling wrote about 100 years ago, I encounter it today. It's truly eternal India," he says and adds, " Something changes amazingly, something doesn't." The rather optimist Theroux, however, turns pessimist the moment one talks of Africa. " I went to Africa from the US because I wanted to see the world and do something for the people there rather than just visit and come back. But Africa doesn't have anything to cherish about, not in the near future at least.
Even the foreign aid in Africa perpetuates bad governance." Ask about America's supposed war on terror and the writer says, " The US needs to mind its business.
It doesn't need to get bothered by how a particular country is working, or who is ruling that state. Any intervention would lead to what happened to Iraq after the dislodging of the Saddam Hussein government. A bad regime almost inevitably gets replaced by a worse government." Theroux, however, gets defensive when asked the N- question.
" Oh, we are good friends now.
Past is past," he says when questioned about his relationship with author V. S. Naipaul, his one- time friend with whom relationship soured in late 1990s.
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