By a stroke of good fortune (otherwise known as my 80 year-old grandmother flying business class and getting us in), I am currently tapping away surrounded by the atmosphere of hushed luxury that attends to the King David Lounge in Ben Gurion Airport, Tel Aviv.
I am about to board a flight for Mumbai, India, and from there to catch a domestic flight going north to Jaipur in Rajasthan. Once there, I will begin an intensive 4 or 5 days of literary activities taking place from dawn till dusk at the ‘democratic’ and colossal Jaipur Literature Festival. Along with up to 11,000 other people per day (the festival estimates it will have about 60,000 attendees in total), I will be privileged enough to hear international writers like Lionel Shriver, Ariel Dorfman, Michael Ondaatje and Tom Stoppard, have the opportunity to ogle Oprah, as well as meeting some of the best of local Indian talent, among them the distinguished and charismatic writer Navtej Sarna, who isn’t strictly local as he’s also currently the Indian Ambassador to Israel.
Right now though, all that remains in glorious, anticipatory obscurity. I’m expecting it all to be great, but I have no experience to compare it to, and truthfully, I could be listening to these writers anywhere. Instead, what’s really occupying my mind at this wonderfully relaxed moment of lounge transit where no one can touch me because I’m already, officially, traveling – is India.
It’s one of those places that everybody who goes to immediately falls in love with. Everyone seems to discover their inner, laid-back selves and instantly becomes convinced they could happily live on dahl and inner peace for the rest of their lives. “The colours!” they almost moan, “you’ve never seen anything like it”.
I have a secret confession. I’ve been to India before, and I didn’t love it. I liked it, sure, but most of the time I was too busy worrying about what all the rice and poppadums were going to do to my figure to have time to be taking it all in. I suspect I did India entirely the wrong way, with my father, sister and grand parents, with the whole trip planned from start to finish, from luxury hotel to hotel. I shouldn’t complain of course, but between my younger frame of mind and all the shining marble lobbies I doubt I quite connected correctly.
Still, I sometimes worry that I lack that gene, the travel one, that everyone my age seems to have as dominant instead of recessive allele. I just don’t feel that itch, that restlessness that sits in the skin and flares up sometimes to result in tickets booked and stunning Facebook pictures uploaded.
Yet, here I am, waiting to board a flight to one of the most exotic, exciting and enticingly multifaceted countries in the world. So I am anticipating otherness, and quite thrilled to be doing so. I fell into this visit, with no vaunted expectations of doing a ‘big trip’ beyond attending what looks like one of the coolest literary events of the calendar. But I have a feeling I might be going to fall in love with India after all, and perhaps you can expect upcoming blog posts about dahl and spiritual enlightenment from me too.