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Off the Cuff: Travel does not make you tolerant

Travel is so over-rated, but there are people who still believe the experience opens your eyes to other cultures and you return home stress-free and a better human being.

I find it odd that people need to travel to see the sights of other countries, when they have not yet seen what their own country offers.

My wife and I, for instance, have never visited Hampi, a Unesco World Heritage treasure, right in our backyard in the South Indian state of Karnataka, or the Summer Palace of Tippu Sultan, Ruler of Mysore, that is supposed to be an example of Indo-Saracenic style of architecture.

I wonder why people need to travel, because most of the time is spent at airports that are designed to sell cigarettes and beverages. We were passing through one of the Gulf airports and the path to the departure gate was through the labyrinth of Duty-Free shops.

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Instead of buying expensive perfumes or watches like normal people do, my wife went straight to the pharmacy and bought a tube of Fenistil gel, that is supposed to sooth and reduce the bumps on the skin after skeeter bites.

Then, as we were headed for the departure gates she ran back again to the pharmacy and bought two more tubes of the gel. The pharmacist gave her a curious look and my wife said loudly to me as an explanation: “You don’t get this in India, you know.”

The airlines want you to come three hours before departure if it is a long, exhausting international flight, just so they can torture you more. And airports are specially designed so that you need to walk long distances to get anywhere, as walking is supposed to keep you heart healthy and robust. But watching passengers tottering to their departure gates with horrendously heavy carry-on baggage or tripping on travelators or sleeping awkwardly on uncomfortable chairs because of flight delays, is a sorry story of travel in today’s times.

Incidentally, Bengaluru in an attempt to make its airport more appealing, has allowed eateries and shops to open at a site just before the arrival and departure gates, and the airport has now become the hot place in town to be seen and to have a beverage or eat greasy food.

I am also not sure that being in the midst of a new culture will make me less racist and a more tolerant person, or that “travel opens our eyes to our humanity and our shared destinations”.

A page from Russel Peters’ book

Like Russel Peters, the Canadian standup comedian who has made his fortune dissing peoples traditions and their national idiosyncrasies, I too go around whispering to my wife about what I think of other people, making her all red-faced.

T.S. Eliot, the American-English poet, playwright and social critic, once said that it is the travel, not the arrival that matters. But travel truly matters because imagine sitting strapped and trapped in your seat next to your wife and having to chat to her for 14 hours on a long-haul flight, or having a person that snores, in the seat next to you.

I wonder why we cannot have something like the Hyperloop very soon, that puts people in a tube and shoots them through long distances, like being shot out of a cannon in the circus. That is supposed to cut down travel time, but I cannot imagine how the passengers look like when they get out of the Hyperloop.

It is also high time we had virtual travel experiences right from our armchairs and can live-stream our destinations instead of having to experience it in the real world.

Mahmood Saberi is a storyteller and blogger based in Bengaluru, India. Twitter: @mahmood_saberi.

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