Sunday, April 19, 2009

Reading as Travel Therapy

During six months of backpacing across India, reading provided me with hours of escape from circumstances that were far less than desirable. Kiran Desai and I fled Gurkha soldiers encroaching upon properties of the former British Raj in the Inheritance of Loss. I rode a local bus insouthern India with R. K. Narayan and met quirky conversationalists along the way in Man-Eater of Malgudi. Salman Rushdie and I lost our way through the mystic Bengal jungles of the Sunderbans in Midnight’s Children. Amitav Ghosh gave me a tour of East India Company’s opium industry from Bihar to West Bengal to Mauritius in Sea of Poppies. I lived in a flat in Bombay with a Farsi widow, a student from the hills of Kashmir, two tailors of chammar caste (i.e. low caste of leather-makers), and Rohinton Mistry in A Fine Balance. I thank these writers for their trap doors.
Thank you to Paul Coelho for introducing me to his guru, The Alchemist, and to his muse, the shepherd boy, who, like myself, left all the world’s securities in pursuit of destiny. During my return to Delhi from Assam, the Rajdhani Express (train) stopped for several minutes at a station in the northeast. I hopped off the train car for some fresh air. A mobile bookstall parked spot in front of me on the platform. The Alchemist, positioned front and centre, was beckoning to me, at the cost of 195 Rupees (or was the salesman beckoning for 195 Rupees under the guise of The Alchemist?). Just as omens guided the shepherd boy to his destiny opposite the Pyramids of Egypt, so has The Alchemist, as an omen for me, confirmed that I am still on path towards my destiny.

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