What do you love and hate most about travel, today?
I like that travel gives you new eyes. When I arrive in a town, and
am taking pictures, I realise that most often my best pictures are the
ones taken on the first day. Intimacy is overrated; newness is
What do I hate about travel? How much time do you have? The presence of large crowds in packed enclosures, waiting to criss-cross the earth, makes me think of what we are doing to the planet. I’m put in this mood to entertain pessimistic thoughts because I feel my age when I travel. My body aches, I want to lie down. I crave silence.
I have just returned from a lovely visit to Yale University where I visiting Professor Leah Mirakhor’s writing class and then did a reading and talk at Ezra Stiles College. (At Ezra Stiles, I read from Immigrant, Montana and collected some valuable merch. An Ezra Stiles woolen scarf and thermos. Thank you for the opportunity, Professors Stephen Pitti and Alicia Camacho-Schmidt.) One of the things I talked about with Professor Mirakhor’s class was an essay of mine called “Flight.” It demonstrates the often-quoted axiom of John Berger’s: “Never again shall a single story be told as though it were the only one.” In other words, the truth of juxtaposition. In that essay, written in the days immediately after the attacks of 9/11, I put beside the story of the hijacker the shadowy figure of the stowaway in order to tell a different tale about the tragedy of the world.
It was an honor to deliver the 2018 Vassar College Convocation Address on September 12. A preview was offered here. I love in particular the beautiful and historic chapel on campus. Photos by Karl Rabe.
In other news, the audio reading I did of Immigrant, Montana has received a wonderful review here:
For Canada’s Sharp Magazine, I wrote a little piece about my most prized possession: my mother’s prayer beads.
My father opened my mother’s closet and laid out all its contents on the bed: beautiful silk saris, a couple of woollen coats, sweaters, small pieces of jewellery, a few gold coins. This was just hours after we had cremated her on the banks of the Ganges, near Patna in eastern India.
My sisters were to divide the saris among themselves and close relatives. That is what my father proposed. He mentioned the names of our aunts and a cousin who was sitting in the next room. The idea was a good one, but our grief was too raw, and my sisters protested by bursting into tears.
The previous night, I had arrived from New York — a 15-hour direct flight to Delhi and then another, just over an hour long, to Patna. I watched in silence as my father turned his attention to the smaller items, the objects that, unlike the saris, didn’t carry the smell of the perfume my mother used.
The grandchildren were to share the gold coins. I took two for my kids, whom I had left behind in Poughkeepsie. There were a couple of silver coins on the bed. One of them had the words “Edward VII King & Emperor” embossed around the head of the bald, bearded sovereign. Had an old woman in my father’s village given this coin to my mother when she had arrived as a bride?
I accepted unquestioningly the fine-looking sari that my father chose for my wife. Did I want anything from the items of jewellery? I shook my head to say no, but then I picked up a necklace of prayer beads that I had seen my mother wearing. This crystal necklace didn’t look expensive and was light enough not to add to the burden of my sorrow. Take it, take it, my father said.