Miles of memories

Ambika Shaligram
Saturday, 13 May 2017

Chatting up writer, publisher, Ritu Menon on her new book, Loitering with Intent

You must have packed your bags already, right? Travelling to cooler climes or by the beaches is a must for those wanting to get away from the sweltering heat and maddening crowd. 

With a handy camera to capture the people you met, the food you ate, it is one easy way to relive the moments. So is writing a travelogue, travel diary or a blog. 

If you are toying with the idea to record your journey —within India or abroad — you can take some tips from writer Ritu Menon, who is the co-founder of feminist press, Kali for Women. 

In her book, Loitering with Intent; Diary of a Happy Traveller, by Speaking Tiger, Menon has written candidly about the sites she and her enthusiastic companions visited, the people they met and forged friendship with. And, also observations of the society they moved around briefly. 

Her writing is lucid and picturesque without being verbose. Accompanied by pencil sketches/illustrations, it gives a clear view of Bayon, Bagan, Angkor Thom, Borobodur and Bali — free from touristy cliches. 

Over to Menon...

When one writes a travel piece, what should one keep in mind?
I don’t write travelogues, I write travel diaries. So they are about places I go to and describe what I see, of course. But they are also about people — friends, I have in different countries, my reflections on what I see and experience, conversations I have about things, food and so on.

When you wrote the book, did you dip into your memories of the place or you had maintained a diary of some sorts?
I always maintain a diary, otherwise the moment is lost, the freshness of the impression, and many times, the memories.

Has it ever been the case that you have found it difficult to be in the ‘moment’ and instead thought ‘this would be good for my travelogue/travel diary’.
The short answer to that is — No.

In a couple of chapters you said that the guide book was incorrect when it came to a few eating places. Do you still swear by guide books or you go by your instincts?
I don’t swear by anything!

You have visited some places in 2010 and 2012. Have you planned to go visit them again to see if they have become more ‘touristy’ or some good changes have taken place?
Not really, but you never know. I might return to Burma, to another part of the country or to Cambodia, but nothing planned.

In a few chapters, you take into account criminal activities (or their non-existence in Myanmar), spending money on tourism but not on education. Is this the political and social observer in you that comes to the forefront?
I try to experience places in their own context. So if a particular country is going through a difficult time, that becomes part of my experience, as you will find in the Egypt, Lebanon, Palestine diaries. On the other hand, England and France have no social or political observations.

You can contact the author on Twitter @riceandpickle

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