How to be a Patriotic Traveller: Go to Paris, Praise Patna


How to be a Patriotic Traveller: Go to Paris, Praise Patna

Illustration: Arati Gujar

For the world, travel for recreation isn’t new; they’ve been doing it for centuries. But for Indians, it’s become a thang recently. Only in the last two decades or so has the idea of a vacation evolved in India. Until a few years ago, Indians were probably the only people who’d travel during the summer to a place warmer than the one they currently reside in, to places with more frequent power cuts and nothing to do – vacations were only about visiting your village. Today, Indians are among the world’s highest spending globetrotters, exploring different countries the world over.

But no matter how far we go, you can’t really make travellers out of Indians.

We like to cover Europe in eight days with Kesari, having dal makhani in Denmark and visiting temples in Germany. We don’t visit different cities and countries, or explore them, or experience them – we do them. Like, “Oh Paris? I’ve done it.” “Bangkok? I’ve done that too.” We treat it like an accomplishment that relieves us of the burden to go there again, like a box ticked on your to-do list. And we call the whole thing “sightseeing”.

But even as we obsess over sightseeing, once we reach said sight, we are underwhelmed by it, because there is absolutely no impressing the Indian tourist. Be it the Great Sphinx of Giza or the Swiss Alps, s/he is most likely to react with a blasé “Bas?” He is forever channeling his inner Shania Twain with “That Don’t Impress Me Much.” Show them waterfalls, deserts, mountains, forests, rivers, animals, monuments, their reaction is standard – a mild grunt.

He is and will forever be The Unimpressed Indian Traveller. For he believes there is no country like India. “Humara Bharat kitna sundar hai,” is his life slogan.

Curiously, while the Unimpressed Indian Traveller discovers his love for India abroad, he also discovers his distaste for Indians.

You take the desi tourist to Niagara Falls and he’ll say, “Arré, Bhedaghat gaye ho?” You show him the meadows in New Zealand, and he’ll quip about the grasslands of Maharashtra. He’ll be standing in front of the Leaning Tower of Pisa and say, “Pisa… (insert grunt). It has nothing on the Qutub Minar.”

On a safari in Yellowstone, he’ll ask about tigers and then say, “Humare India mein toh tigers hai. Bears mein kya rakha hai?” While cruising along the Nile, he’ll wax eloquent about the Ganga in Varanasi. Any mention of the fact that the Ganga is polluted and you risk the chance of being drowned wherever you are. You show him the Andes range, and he’ll advise you to go to the Himalayas. Whatever the world has to offer, India has it better.

An Indian’s deepest patriotic feelings are unearthed by tourism. The food abroad makes him squirm; there’s nothing like ghar ka dal chawal, he’ll say while having risotto in Italy. Nachos and beans will be criticised because what’s better than rajma? A Michelin-star restaurant will always be compared to a dhaba on the Chandigarh highway.

India, our traveller, boasts has every landscape, every terrain, every geography, every wonder, and then some. This innate pride and love for the country goes out of control the minute he boards an international flight. For everything he witnesses or eats, the response is, “Humara desh kitna sundar hai, yaar.”

The Indian traveller’s hero is the coy Deepika Padukone from Yeh Jawani Hai Deewani, who insists that that the sights and tastes of India are nothing compared to those abroad. Naturally, the wannabe world traveller Bunny, played by the camera-toting Ranbir Kapoor, who dares to think otherwise is proven wrong in the end. He too comes back to India and is forced to now find joy in old, hackneyed things like Sachin ka sixer and Dilli ki chaat.

Between these familiar pillars, lies our sense of national identity, which is what makes us the worst travellers in the world.

Curiously, while the Unimpressed Indian Traveller discovers his love for India abroad, he also discovers his distaste for Indians. He will scoff at some other desi family he runs into. He’ll go “tch tch” at the guy striking the SRK pose on the Swiss Alps and the girl wearing a sari in Sydney, making it a point to tell his friends about it when he returns. “How typical,” he’ll ridicule.

He will never leave a chance to brag about how he treads the road less travelled: “Wahan pe ek bhi Indian nahi gaya hai.” This total disregard for Indians and absolute love for India is what makes the Unimpressed Indian Traveller a complete man.

Yes, India is indeed beautiful, but we need to understand that travelling is not a competitive sport. And thank God for that, because it if it were, we’d come last. Many of our cities are filthy, our history is being rewritten, our monuments are being handed over to corporate sponsors, and our attitude sucks.

I’ve traced the fault back to our history books. We are consistently taught early on that mera bharat mahaan. And now we travel the world only for one reason: to collect evidence of this most obvious fact. Perhaps it’s time to let go of the history books – we have more than one reason to.