ANYTHING GOES: Have tum will travel

Dubby Bhagat


My New Year resolution is to travel more and eat my way around the world in Jug and Bunny Suraiya’s living room in Gurgaon. They’ve been everywhere and eaten everything and he’s got “Where On Earth Am I? Confusions of a Travelling Man”, a book published by Penguin, to prove it. Jug is also the first Indian to have won the PATA award for travel writing. He was abetted by Bunny.

At least he’s got the decency to dedicate the book to Bunny without whom he’d be lost.

He say’s, “To Bunny who always manages to find me, even when I don’t know where I am.” He leaves out the bit where she has to feed and burp him. Whether he’s eating a Naga meal of “rice, a peppery pork stew and boiled mustard leaves” near Kohima or sampling a “gourmet selection of continental cuisine and indigenous Creole fare, tinged with the smoky taste of Africa” in Mauritius, Jug combines food and history, legend and the present into a timeless tapestry that sweeps you into wondrous places you can make your own.

Every journey has mention of food and drink. Over to Jug and Bunny. In America. “Everything about America is aah-some. We went to a sandwich bar in Stamford, Connecticut. The girl behind the counter placed in front of me something that looked like the entire contents of the larder of the Titanic with a dill pickle on the side. ‘I asked for a sandwich, not a year’s food supply to Rwanda,’ I said. ‘It is a sandwich,’ said the girl. ‘It’s our regular twelve-inch Hero Subway.’ As I ingested my regular twelve-inch Hero Subway I pondered on the truly aah-some part of America. America is a big country - three times the size of India - yet wherever you go in this huge great land, from sea to shining sea, everything seems aah-somely the same. McDonald’s seems the same as Subway which seems the same as Pizza Hut which seems the same as Kentucky Fried Chicken which seems the same as Taco Bell which seems the same as 32 Flavors of Baskin Robbins ice-cream, all mass-produced in the same eternal shopping mall, forever and ever, aah-men.”

In Buenos Aires, “We go to La Estanica, billed as one of the oldest and best parrillas, (barbecue restaurants) in Buenos Aires. An affable white-jacketed waiter greets us in Portuguese, mistaking us for visiting Brazilians. Non-Portuguese; Indianos, corrects Bunny. Ah, Indianos! Mahatma Gandhi! Beams the waiter delightedly, plonking on the table two huge steaks and a bottle of excellent Argentine wine with a double-handed largesse that would have made poor Bapu blanch with horror. We really oughtn’t to be doing this, you know; apart from everything else it’s terribly unhealthy, I remark, digging into my steak, by far the most succulent I’ve ever eaten. The natives eat like this all the time and they look fine to me, Bunny replies, looking around at the roomful of diligent carnivores. The difference is, I don’t tango; they do, I point out.”

In Ireland after drinking gallons of Guinness they go to a pub and have an experience I, not they, have dined out on time and again. “In Dawson Lounge on Dawson Street, billed as Dublin’s smallest pub, but perhaps with the largest heart, the evening Bunny and I are there when Martin, a prodigal son briefly returned form Nova Scotia, buys drinks for the house, all eight of us, Bunny and me specially included, for no reason other than ‘it’s a right grand thing to do, so it is, I saw it once in a movie,’ and then comes over and kisses Bunny three times and shakes my hand, also three times on the principle of equal opportunity.”

It’s not just food and drink; with Jug and Bunny you meet Joyce, Hemingway, Kafka — you ride camels, you stay in houseboats, you gaze at Goya, you are fascinated by the flamenco and always but always you find the apt word, the right phrase, the magic metaphor that conjure up nuances about famous places even its inhabitants haven’t noticed. In Scotland they became master brewers of whiskey, in Kashmir they got chased by cabbage, on a cruise they tried to escape food, wherever they go extraordinary things happen.

“They say if you haven’t Karaoke-d in Lhasa you haven’t Karaoke-d at all,” begins Jugs and Bunny’s journey into Tibet. He ends the book and their Buenos Aires visit with, “We walk away, and as the music fades along deserted Lavelle our footsteps sound an insistent refrain which echoes the twin themes of tango. Of love and death and of the distance that joins them, full of endless possibility.” For me everything with Jug and Bunny or travelling with, “Where On Earth Am I,” has those endless possibilities becoming realised dreams. And still there is more.