The Wanderer

I start with a quote by J.R.R. Tolkien, English writer, poet and more (The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings), the quote resting in the depths of the sub-conscious and brought onto memory’s front page again, recently, by Ifra Khaliq of Lahore in an unexpected but wholly pleasant way.

“Not all those who wander are lost”, Tolkien pronounced.

I am no literary critic, nor have I made the effort to research expert commentary on this quote, or more meaningfully, the thought behind this quote. But to me, this is a fine example of the classic British understatement. It says it all about those souls (Bob Bhai included) who are possessed by the wanderlust; who traverse the far corners of this planet throughout their lives, whenever even a shadow of an opportunity presents itself, just because an often inexplicable internal urge urges them that this is really the only thing to do in life. To the extent that in some cases the intrepid wanderer does everything else in life – gets educated, finds a job, slogs at earning a livelihood, just so that every once in a while he/she can just take off, shutting out the everyday world, and discovering new lands, not explored before.

But I will write on wanderlust in later posts. So much can be said about it ….

Here I just wished to share that I am currently reading a book titled The Best American Travel Writing. It is an anthology of 25 travel writings / articles, by 25 different American writers, edited by Bill Bryson. For the life of me, I cannot recall how this book came into my possession! It’s been lying in the pile of books still to be read for several months now. I have only now picked it out of the pile and started on it.

It is a ‘used’ book, so I couldn’t have bought it at Liberty or another bookstore. Don’t go to secondhand book stores in Karachi at all, because never felt the need, although when we lived in Islamabad for 12 years from 1990 autumn to 2012 spring, practically every secondhand bookshop in the city was a regular haunt. Did I ‘borrow’ it from someone? Doesn’t matter. Its mine now!

I emphatically urge all wanderers to find this book, buy it, read it, savour it, possess it, and never part with it.

To tell the truth, I have not read much of American writing. Beyond of course John Steinback, Pearl S. Buck, Mark Twain, Hemingway, Fitzgerald and a sprinkling of others. But this excellently complied anthology of travel writings by American authors, is proving to be an absolute treat. Using the liberty which an anthology offers, I am not reading the book sequentially from start to finish; rather, devouring individual chapters / stories from anywhere in the book, every time I open it to read; choosing the chapter or chapters for that session based on which destination or country that strikes my fancy at that point in time.

So far I have ‘traveled’ to Zanzibar, Uganda, Thailand, Cambodia and China. Each writing without exception, by a different writer, has been nothing less than an outstanding read. Credit goes to the writers of course, but I must say, equally to the editor for his excellent final selection from what must have been a fairly populated first list of possibilities. Further credit to the editor for the informative and absorbing Introduction, which follows the equally engaging Foreword by the Series Editor, Jason Wilson.
There is a downside to great travel writing for the wanderer though; as you get transported into exotic or strange lands, at a particular point in time, you run the risk of getting overpowered by a stunning remorse that you are not out there physically, just there and then magically, but are only reading about it. On the other hand, take this positively and it becomes the obsessive driver of your desire to just get up and go some place never traversed before!

The chapter / writing in the book on Cambodia is titled ‘From the Wonderful People Who Brought You the Killing Fields’. It is set, like all other stories in the book, in the immediate pre-new-millennium years. The book came out in year 2000. Doesn’t matter. All the stories I have read so far are more or less as relevant now as they were 14 years ago in 2014. In spite of the technology revolution in all spheres of life, many countries and parts of the planet have changed little; at least in terms of not losing their unique characteristics….

Here I would like to share a couple of paragraphs from page 2 of this chapter. The writer, Patrick Symmes, on a visit to Cambodia writes:

“Yet in three days, after renting a dirt bike and making a few practice runs around the nearby countryside, I will ride deep into the mountains to play tourist in Pailin, a former guerilla (Khmer Rouge – my italics) stronghold my guidebook calls ‘perhaps the most forbidden city in the world.’

My melloquine-induced paranoia is dismissed by Wink Dulles, my guide and fixer on this journey. A dead ringer for Mel Gibson, and even shorter, Wink had dismissed my fears with a simple but eloquent argument. “It’ll be cool,” he told me. So we are going.”

On reading this, I was immediately struck by the thought that the description of the reassuring statement, ‘It’ll be cool’ as a ‘simple but eloquent argument’ was absolutely pristine! For a moment, just imagine yourself in any situation that you think is fraught with risk and of deep concern, and someone in response just persuades you otherwise, not through an elaborate rationalization or a prolonged discussion, but through a simple one-liner statement – It’ll be cool – that practically puts an end to all your protestations!

I mean, what on earth can you respond to such a statement? You just have to believe or don’t believe in what it totally implies. It is indeed possibly the most eloquent argument or reasoning or reassurance that could be given, in a particular situation, in a particular place and at a particular time.

There you go. If you can appreciate the above, you will know that you absolutely must get hold of this book and read it, randomly visiting places known, and other places a mystery still, being there and doing that, if only virtually for the moment, through the real experiences of other wanderers like you.

Earlier in this post I said that I will talk about wanderlust in later posts. This will be done. But I must leave you here with a ‘teaser’. In my well-considered opinion, you really haven’t lived anywhere near a life that life offers to most of us, but just once, if in your lifetime you haven’t crossed the oceans to set foot on lands beyond your immediate horizon. International travel has to be the ultimate experience one can have in one’s lifetime.

So where are YOU going next?

One Response to The Wanderer

  1. Naheed says:

    I really want to visit Hunza and Gilgit and the adjoining areas. I just love reading your posts so write as often as you can, Bob bhai.

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