HUMOUR: DECCAN HERALD/THE GREAT INDIAN ET

DECCAN HERALD/09-FEB-2003



The Indian ET





The Indian traveler is no longer an arriviste… he has arrived! Sheila Kumar delves into the psyche of this peripatetic tribal

Who is he? He is The Great Indian Traveller, more popularly known by his other name, ET.

ET stands for Enthusiastic Tourist. The ET should not be confused with the OIA, the Obnoxious Indian Abroad. This is the type which glowers in perpetual bad humour, leers at anything in skirts, spits on streets, shoves ahead of all orderly queues and is altogether a nasty piece of work. The ET belongs to a gentler breed. He has a day job and some money, though he isn’t rolling in the stuff. And he loves to travel.
When warm weather sets in, his blood begins to sing. He must don his straw boater, hang a nifty aim-and-shoot camera around his neck, look in the mirror, smile and head to the nearest international airport terminus/bus station/rail junction. He must travel, to any place that catches his fancy and almost always with the Missus and progeny. To this end, he is always on the look-out for a good deal.

His modus operandi
The ET believes in planning, only the planning is done by the travel agent. He believes his job is done when he picks the tour he means to take, be it an 11-cities-in-12-days one, the 2-nights-in-Sariska one, or the Sights-of-Switzerland-in-20-hours junket. From which you will gather, quite correctly, that rushed trips do not bother the ET. The choice of tour is not an impulse-ridden one, it is made after much discussion with family, friends and, of course, relations. Oftentimes, it is influenced by the latest David Dhawan or Karan Johar opus too.

He is an adjusting creature, the ET. He’ll take cramped air or bus space in his stride, he knows that goes with the massively discounted fare. He’ll take the borderline edible food in his stride and even find something to like about it. He may ask for tomato soup when breakfast is served but will beam acceptance at the stewardess’s suggestion that he try apple juice instead. He will stand in ticket queues in front of monuments for hours, fully well understanding that it is the hazard of travelling in peak season.

Where does he go?
The ET treads well-known paths. For his part, he is quite happy staring at the Opera House in Sydney, gazing with awe at the topography of Tasmania, getting his ten-second look at the Crown Jewels (the Kohinoor is of particular interest to the Indian ET) in London, getting a crick in the neck from gazing at the ceiling at St. Peter’s in Rome or clicking a thousand pictures of Manhattan from atop the Empire State Building.

Switzerland is an all-time favourite. He looks in at the Louvre for a quick look at Mona Lisa only because everyone seems to head for a dekko of that plump lady, but will say a polite ‘no’ to visiting  Stonehenge. If you were to tell him of backpackers who work their way through Europe on shoestring budgets, he’d smile commiseratingly and remark that they need to get in touch with his travel agent. His opinion of those who take a trip to Lima, Rio, Budapest or Shangai isn’t very high. Tokyo  leaves him cold. Alaska, he used to view with suspicion but after seeing Madhuri Dixit singing atop a glacier there, he now knows it’s a safe place to go. Kenya or Serengeti had held no attraction either till his friends went there last year, saw wildlife in its natural habitat and came back raving.

The ET isn’t really keen on visiting places like Vancouver, Athens or Cairo unless he discovers he has kin there. South America’s attractions are a closed book to him. Russia he tends to ignore, for the time being. Within  India, he will go to the hill stations of Ooty, Nainital, Mussoorie, Shimla. He has already seen the Taj Mahal, so that’s one place crossed off his place. He will laze on the beaches of Mahabalipuram, Goa, Karwar, Kovalam, Puri, while his family put their fledgling swimming talents to the test. He will go to the tiger territories of Corbett, Ranthambore, Kanha but he will complain loud and long if he does not see a cat, preferably a few cats.

He will do all the pilgrimage treks suggested faithfully, from Rishikesh to Tirupati. Despite appearances to the contrary, staying at renovated palaces at Neemrana or in the interiors of Himachal or Rajasthan isn’t really his cup of tea, neither is attending the Pushkar Mela. Not for now, anyway.

His travel habits
The words ‘intrepid’, ‘adventure’ and ‘exotic’ mean quite something else in the ET’s lexicon. Adventure is climbing aboard that ski left; beyond that,  he won`t risk life or limb and more important, doesn’t see the need to do so, either. Tasting the cuisine of an alien land is being intrepid. Here again, the ET will give some select items on the local menu a diffident try; he needs to talk of the food he had on his junket when he gets back home. Exotic, to the ET, are the dancers at the Lido or even the Rasta dudes on the streets of NYC, not some lost tribe of the Amazon.

The ET is a true globetrotter, he lives life in the fast lane. Which means he rushes from one tourist attraction to another, taking in as many as six monuments, one museum and the mandatory cruise,  all in one morning, with the Night Safari slotted for end of the day, that very day. And he doesn’t complain about the pace. He can do that (complain, that is) at home; he has come away from home to see things and see things he will.

What he buys
Shopping is a vital aspect of the expedition. He has made many a trip to Dubai just for mall-crawling and for the past two years, he has made it to the annual Malaysia Sale, too. Even as he is about to land in a new country, he asks fellow passengers what the place is famous for. If the answer goes “Sheep, Stetsons and T-bone steaks,” the ET knows he can get a merino pullover, a six gallon Stetson (which will look amazing at Rameshanna’s wedding anniversary next month) and a T-shirt that states ‘Ribbed by a T-bone’. His wife has come well prepared with a list that includes Bohemian crystal, chiffon saris, a zillion body sprays to give as gifts back home and, oh yes, chocolates and whiskey from Duty Free,  but that’s on the return journey. And a little something for their travel agent. Shopping is the not-so-secret pleasure of a trip abroad.

We must touch upon the unrestrained enthusiasm of the ET here. Everything he sees meets with his loud approval. Not for him the slight inclination of his left eyebrow or a half-smile on his lips.

And when the ET is done with a whole continent (sometimes three) in ten days, he comes home a content man, determined to compile nine albums of this trip, as opposed to the seven of the last trip. He is full of stories about the strange and wondrous sights he saw in the streets of Paris, London, Amsterdam, Rome or Pragpur, Jaipur and Kochi. His enthusiasm is infectious and soon,  his listeners are resolving to take the trip themselves. And thus, the tribe gathers strength.


All in all an endearing creature, the ET, and most definitely, Indian.


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