Jaipur, Jan 23 (IANS) There are motels in America’s south where you are likely to be greeted not with “How are you?” but “Kem Cho” or “Kya Haal hai?” and the owner is likely to be a Mr. Patel, says acclaimed American travel writer Paul Theroux while talking about his new work which takes the inveterate globetrotter to one part of the world he has so far not visited – his own country.
“At least 80 percent of motels in the deep south – be it South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississipi or part of Louisiana – are run by Indians, likely to be a Mr. Patel.
“Indians moved up from running convenience stores, gas stations, which you call petrol pumps, to motels – one off and then chains. I asked one of them ‘how?’ and he replied ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (the world is one family),” he said at a session titled “Wanderlust and the Art of Travel Writing” on day three of the Jaipur Literature Festival 2015 Friday.
But Theroux noted that the Indians do not run restaurants.
“I asked one why, and he said that if you run restaurants, you might have to taste the food you make, and it might have meat,” he said.
Theroux said the idea for the book, likely to be out next year, came when he was writing “Last Train to Zona Verde” about Angola and discovered most of the African slaves sent to America came from there.
“I have travelled across Asia by train, from Cairo to Cape Town, from North to South America on trains and also around China, around the Mediterranean, to most of the islands of Oceania, but the south of the US was one place I never visited and wrote about,” he said.
Reading an extract of the forthcoming book, he said he was in Tuscaloosa in Alabama in October, where he met an old woman to whom he noted he was a stranger and she replied “There ain’t no strangers here” and guided him to the place where he wanted to go.
“I returned several times in the next year… the south has me in an comforting embrace or a frenzied, unrelenting grip,” he read out from his work.
Theroux also revealed he first visited Jaipur in 1968, while on way to taking a job in Singapore, and then in 1973 and quipped that looking at the audience and its general age, most of them would have not been around then.
Brigid Keenan, who kicked off the discussion, noted she was not a fit person to participate in such a panel since she hated travel and was scared of air travel but had no option since she was married to a diplomat and had to give “glamourous dinner parties” in various countries where the only vegetables were potatoes and cabbages.
She said she was born in India and lived here till she was eight and returned here as an adult and read from her books “Diplomatic Baggage: The Adventures of a Trailing Spouse” her various droll adventures including fathoming Indian newspapers and their misuse of words like mishap “which in Britain would mean upsetting a teacup at a vicarage tea party” but in India was used to describe horrific accidents.
“We learnt pulses rise did not mean romantic feelings increasing but that lentils would cost more,” she said.
Sam Miller, author of the definitive guide to the Indian capital “Delhi: Adventures in a Megacity”, read out from his subsequent “A Strange Kind of Paradise: India Through Foreign Eyes” about his earlier visits to the JLF, while William Dalrymple, who had introduced the session and spoke about the genre of travel writing which is older that novels noted it was now decreased but the quality is now consistent, read out from “From the Holy Mountain: A Journey in the Shadow of Byzantium” about the vanishing Christian communities of the Middle East about an Orthodox priest he met in Sinai who virulently cursed all other Christian denominations and Freemasons.
“He said all US presidents had been Freemasons except John F. Kennedy (Catholic) and look what happened to him!”