Heads in the Pictures

If It's Monday, It Must be Madurai : A Conducted Tour of India

Author: Srinath Perur

Publisher: Penguin

Pages: 296

Price: Rs 499

To go somewhere, and then write about it for people back home is as old as humanity. One of the first travelogues was Coryat's Crudities by one Thomas Coryat whom Wikipedia defines as a "mild eccentric". Subtitled Hastily gobled up in Five Moneth's Travels", it described a jaunt through Europe and was a smash hit with the paying public in 1611.

A lot of travel writing in the start was just landscape porn, drawing up elaborate word pictures. But even in 1900, Jerome K Jerome in his Three Men on the Bummel said "in this book there will be no scenery. This is not laziness on my part; it is self-control. Nothing is easier to write than scenery; nothing more difficult and unnecessary to read".

Since just descriptions won't work, either the location is right at the world's edge, that the mere fact of going there is enough; or there is a gimmick, some unique lens through which we see the place. In a world where even Antarctica gets around 40,000 tourists every year, the first option is increasingly harder to do.

For the second option, the wackier the gimmick, the more the masala. For example, Stupid Guy Goes to India has Yukichi Yamamatsu trying to translate Japanese manga into Hindi and then sell it on the footpaths of Delhi.

Srinath Perur's If It's Monday, It Must Be Madurai is not about remote places and locales. Perur beats a path down beaten-to-death paths like Dharavi, Jaisalmer and Interlaken. What is his angle? Perur picks conducted tours, what he calls a "travel experience with a fixed itinerary, orchestrated by someone else, and undertaken in a group".

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