From the outside looking in

Who doesn’t love to be a tourist? To go out and see the world, returning home with tales of the strange and the uncommon? And yet, there are some among us who would have none of this. They will travel, yes; but they refuse to play the tourist. Not for them the routine of travel for a week or a fortnight, whether in groups or with a friend or two in tow.

| JULY 27, 2012, 10:25 AM IST

They refuse to move from one scenic site and monument toanother. They refuse to engage in that universal marker of the tourist, thecapturing of photographic images. Anything (and everything) that marks out thetourist, this group will avoid, and wear this refusal to participate as a badgeof honour. A medal that proclaims to the world that they are different andspecial, quite unlike the crowds, they are the wolves that hunt alone.

It is not as ifthese wolves do not travel though. They do travel. And yet, they seek to maketheir experience of travel different. They would distinguish themselves fromthe tourist, by calling themselves travelers, and indicate the difference intheir manner of going about the whole experience of experiencing the outsideworld. Rather than spend short periods of time, capturing impressionistvignettes of places, they would rather spend prolonged periods of time. Theywould prefer to get into the skin of the city or other locale of the place thatthey are visiting. The object of the experience for this bunch of travelers, isto see the city through the eyes of the local. Privileging this way ofexperiencing the foreign requires them to either befriend a local, and thenfollow that local through the paces of their regular life; or it involvesturning oneself into a local, participating in the rush or sway of local life.In the course of this strategy of experiencing the foreign, one either does notmake stops at the usual tourist-haunts, or if one does, one tries to use thistourist space in a manner that would be different from the regular tourist.Thus for example, rather than visiting a church to gawk like the rest of thetourists, one would rather turn up for the mass that the locals attend,experiencing in this process the building and its sacred art through thefilters of faith.

As interestingas this strategy may be however, one can entertain certain doubts about theextent to which these travelers manage to achieve their cherished desire ofseeing the non-native, or the foreign as an insider. How much time does itrequire for us to get ‘inside’ a society? Even more crucially, are we notmaking a certain error of assuming that a society is one happy whole thatshares a common vision of its world? Even society has its outsiders, people whorefuse to participate in the common consensus. In doing so, these dissidents fragmentthis idea of an inside and make the space of the insider particularly difficultto identify. It turns out then, that no matter how hard the traveler may try,s/he is still, almost always, on the outside, looking in.

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