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.
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.
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
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
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.
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