Summary of Jaihoon’s speech on travel and literature at the PG Department of English, Unity Women’s College, Manjeri – Kerala, on march 10 2017
Jaihoon speech on travel writing at Unity Womens College
Travel: Philosophy. Psychology
I have been asked to speak to you as a travel writer. Instead of exploring the facts and figures related to the topic, may I rather focus on the philosophy and psychology of travel and travel related writing. Questions such as what is travel writing, who were the greatest travel writers etc., can be well read freely from the Internet. Accordingly, allow me to share some of my experiences and wisdom I came across which fired my little writing career.
Every human being loves travel, in one form or other. Our soul loves mobility. We will become insane if put in a dark room with zero human interaction with no freedom to move around. Humanity is on a long travel and hence we are all travelers. Our lives are finite. Each stage in our lives, be it school, college, job, family, are phases during this journey. We came from an unknown departure point and, via death, we are heading to equally unknown destination. We are destined to pack our bags after a few decades.
Bad Borders Terrorize Travels
We have heard well of Ibn Batuta, Al Beruni and Parco Polo, to name some of the renowned travelers. It was just two days ago, I had an opportunity to co-travel with Kerala’s senior writer, P Surendran, who has published some interesting travel experiences on India’s historical monuments. In our discussion, he spoke about the financial and sophisticated travel documentation affecting the wannabe wanderers. Contrary to our times, the ancient travelers were more free to visit any country of their choice. Visas and passports were never part of their check-list. Al Beruni, the Persian traveler and knowledge seeker known as the father of Indology or South Asian studies, for example, did not have to queue for security clearance to be verified from Indian authorities. Travel restrictions, coupled with political rivalries between modern nations, really give a tough time for present-day wandering souls.
Travel is to Writing as Coal is for the Engine
Saintly scholars and scholarly saints of all religions intensely traveled to different parts of the world in their thirst of discovering new material of learning. New ideas and thoughts are inspired during travels. Comfort zone is the born enemy of new ideas. It is difficult for the seed of innovation to sprout in the lap of comfort zone.
We come across new modes of lifestyle during our interactions with new cultures. Strange diet patterns and dress codes take us by surprise. Our values system, which we thought were ultimately absolute, is challenged when we see the lives of suffering souls.
Diving into the Sea of Diversity
I had happened to visit London where I witnessed women holding their infant babies in freezing temperature at a protest gathering in support of the refugees from other distant lands, including Muslim nations.
When talking about the British, all we think of is the colonial era, the bad white people; and not about the mothers who could stand out in the fierce cold with their children protesting for the Arab refugees in Europe. These were very powerful corrections for me.
The biggest source of adulteration and spoiling of your mindset is from the biased sections of the Media. Traditionally, the Jews are portrayed to be always against Muslims, plotting and planning against Islam, when in reality they were in majority leading the protest in London for the refugees from war-affected countries.
Travelling helps you clear your perspective and give you a clear understanding about the infinite sea of the diverse humanity.
Anticipation: Secret for a Creative Journey
Anticipation is the key to a good travel writing. The more you build it, the better you will experience the travel and the more you will gain knowledge.
Purpose is the King
It is not necessary that wherever you go, you will write something. Every travel does not transform into writing. You should have the eagerness and a purpose for going to a place. Purpose is what makes the journey meaningful. It is very important that you should know why you are going to a certain place. Without purpose, your travel will be lost.
While travelling, having a good camera is an asset. Also a notebook to write down all that you see and a mobile for searching maps and places is necessary. While in London I used to walk 15 km every day. Before going for a trip it is better to do a little exercise, or else it will make you very tired.
Be good. Being Good
What we do when we go to a foreign country, it talks about our home country. Travelers or tourists are the unofficial ambassadors of their culture. Be good by being good to the people. People in London are very expressive in their conversation. We too should try to bring in the good from their culture, for example saying thank you, please and sorry, in this case.
Travel: An undeniable human right
There is one phenomenon in Kerala which stops you from travelling, namely the hartal. Freedom of mobility is a human right. I will say it is a God-given Divine right. No political party has the moral right to stop you from travelling. However, travel does not always have to be from far off places; it could be in and around your nearby places too.
To Travel is a virtue. Stillness, hence, a Sin
This world is extremely wonderful and colorful. It is an amazing place of faces and races. And each person you meet have enough experiences from which you can immensely learn. God has created this world with rhythmic rivers, birds, reptiles and mountains with as many stories to tell.
Almost all of us are expected to live around 60-70 years. When I die and go back to God, I may be asked, ‘I created a beautiful colorful world for you, and you just lived in Kerala and worked in Sharjah all your life, ignoring rest of the world just like that?
If you die before appreciating the diversity and the glory of God’s creations, you are committing nothing short of a sin. The Holy Quran reminds ‘travel around the world and see how God dealt with the people’. Traveling, therefore as a command of God, is an act of worship. May your life be blessed with this act of worship before you pack bags from this world.