Sun, Feb 22, 2009 - Page 14 News List

[SOFTCOVER: INDIA] Going to lots of places and none at all

Rahul Jacob is still finding his feet as a travel writer. But he does know how those in the know avoid the tourists in Rome

By Bradley Winterton  /  CONTRIBUTING REPORTER

I have to admit finding Jacob’s travel impressions at best inconclusive. That he is in essence something other than a business correspondent or frequent flyer is suggested when he relates how he applied for the position of FT Rome correspondent the moment it came vacant. He didn’t get the job, but the fact that he yearned for it suggests that what he wanted was a sense of stability, of belonging to somewhere enduring and beautiful, that he’s failed to find in cosmopolitan London, or on the globe-ranging tourist trail.

It’s the same with his literary quotations. These constitute flourishing oases after his characteristic self-effacement, but he doesn’t feel able to linger over them as one suspects he’d like to. So it’s off to another trattoria, though he doesn’t really enjoy fine food, or to another conference, though those who attend such things aren’t really the kind of company he enjoys best.

So where’s the rest? Where’s the peace? In the arms of Mother Church, perhaps, or in some ashram back in India? Each is hard to imagine, but others of a similar background have trodden this alternative path.

India-born intellectual Andrew Harvey, for example, author of Hidden Journey (1991), tells how one evening in India he saw a young female guru radiating an inexplicable light, and from that moment abandoned Western scientific materialism for ever.

This book claims to be in part about questions such as “Why do we travel?” There’s no serious attempt at an answer, but one might be that we’re searching for something. If it’s not that, isn’t travel just an endless series of distractions?

This is an attempt at a book, possibly a premature one, that nonetheless contains some intriguing material. But what Jacob appears not to know is that others have already traveled with the same perplexity and self-questioning he exhibits long before him.

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