Over a cup of coffee, a friend suddenly asked, “What’s your one major grouse against those who write for you?” The coffee was weak and I felt unusually irritable. “I wish their copy was as evocative as their Instagram accounts.” A bit of an enabler, this friend laughed. I invariably feel contrite when I have been dismissive or critical, but this time around, I felt only a little remorse. We now carry phones instead of notebooks. In the age of the clever hashtag, captions are more inventive than a writer’s prose. No longer does travel make us comfortable with our solitude. It is an experience we actively encourage friends and followers to participate in. Often enough only our vanity is up for examination, not our metamorphoses.
This all might come across as too cynical. The note, I admit, is a little sour to begin the year on. But I am not about to prescribe digital detox. I love having my phone on me. It makes travelling convenient. I too take to Instagram when I am away, and I like it when I get two dozen or more likes. I really ought not to complain. This, if anything, is a pitch for immersion, and it is, moreover, a pitch for revival. Travel writing need never be dull. It can do more than gaze and graze at the navel. It can inform, yes, but it can also illuminate. Though self-serving, I‘ll insist travel magazines can bring a lot more delight than social media.
Readers often say that more than insight, they want information. They are not wrong. Distractions take up more time and it would be facile to remind ourselves we have too many of them. We have all learnt to push our cursors a little too quickly, and faced with this inattention, travel writers can only think they are stuck between a rock of extinction and that hard place of apathy. Their fight, though, is the good fight. They are neither stenographers nor advertisers. They perform a function that extends wanting to make you travel. They tell us, “This existed and we were there.” They are historians who have more fun.
We here at National Geographic Traveller India are all agreed on one thing—our magazine can (and should) include all sorts of writing. We can do long form as deftly as we do listicles. Information and illumination are not a choice for us. We want to do both. In this first issue of 2018, we bring you lists, but even as we gallop from places to experiences, we do stop to get under the skin of our destinations.
It’s possibly only because he wrote a book called What Am I Doing Here?, do I love Bruce Chatwin. (I ask myself that question a little too often.) My favourite travel writer had once said, “To lose a passport was the least of one’s worries. To lose a notebook was a catastrophe.” We’re hanging on to ours for dear life.
Shreevatsa Nevatia never travels without his headphones, coloured pens and a book. He is particularly fond of cities, the Middle East, and the conversations he has along the way. He is the former Editor-in-Chief of National Geographic Traveller India.