Monday, August 9, 2010

Colonial Hangovers

I've come to a conclusion. It mightn't be radical, but appears sufficiently *true* even as I play with it in my head, coming at it from as many angles as I can think of. You know how students out West, especially in England, take a 'gap-year' between high-school and university? It's a trend that's fast catching on, so I'm going to assume you know what I'm on about. Well, the amazing alacrity with which they wander the world, thinking that it IS, in very deed (I love 'New Grub Street' for this phrase alone) their ruddy insert-shell-fish-of-choice-here:compute- oyster, has a distinct forebear.

These are the children of Empire. The sons and daughters of ethnographers, historians, naturalists, adventurers, buccaneers, mercenaries, merchants and administrators past. The number of them who show up in India every year is pretty damn high - heck, it used to be the starting point of most conversations, when people used to try and chat up your 'umble writer in her student/bar-maid-at-a-pub-in-ye-olde-Blighty avatar: "Where are you from, love? India? Really? I LOVE INDIA! I spent most of my gap-year there, smoking some really good shit in Goa before moving on to Kerala, Delhi and Bombay!"all the while playing Indiana Jones, looking to 'rediscover' the jewel in the crown that once was. Just like the scores who came out before them, during the high-noon of the Raj.

These are the kids to the colonial hangover born. Consider the *authority* which informs most social history/travel writing from the 19th century onwards. See the writings of even a Liberal like Gladstone, for example. Or CA Kincaid. Or Colonel Todd; en bref, my point is this: These were people for whom the world was laid out, on the great A'Tuin's gigantic back if you like, to explore and make sense of as they would. They constructed their own realities, and in so doing, their histories, historiographies, geographies, sociologies, anthropologies and nations.

Our present-day breed of 'gap-year' backpackers haven't the same advantage of Empire that their ancestors did. They *do*, however, still have the same maverick spirit of exploration and the money (I'm tempted to add 'pilfered from the East over centuries', but I won't. Oh wait. I just did) to feed this yen to 'travel'. There are differences too, mind you. Unlike the Orientalists of yore, who came here to see/hear/experience/feel India in their bones, a lot of the newcomers are content to visit hackneyed places on the tourist map, where they can kick up their feet, smoke good weed for very little money, meet and spend time *exclusively* with other tourists (White-Caucasian-uninterested-in-immersing-themselves-in-the-sounds-colours-and-lives-here) bitch about how "awful these Indians are" and what harrowing trials they've had to undergo in that crowded bazaar in Pushkar, go back home in a few months, and chat up another (not so) hapless Indian chick in a student pub near Uni.

Oh well.

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