Testing for India Syndrome

There’s nothing like being back home to quickly dull memories of having been away. Now, that which was vivid and immediate only a week ago, is rapidly being overwritten by more ingrained memories and perceptions from 25 years of living in the same small town. It feels like a robbery’s in progress.

They say travel broadens the mind,…“, and Chesterton continues “… but you must have the mind”, to which I’d add, and the memory. Part of the reason behind this trip to Sri Lanka was to take a break from the confinement of Lockdown; that I found so many other westerners on the beaches of Negombo and in the Safari parks of Yala reminded me how, back in the day, I couldn’t believe the number of motorbikes also dodging the storms over the dusty plains of La Mancha. Then I was the only lad in the village to contemplate taking a bike abroad, but once there I saw many others. I realised then the idea was not at all unique, that the world is vast, diverse and with plenty of other “outliers’. We can decide how broad or narrow a view we take.

In 2000 Régis Airault, a french psychologist, wrote Fous de l’Inde – Crazy About India, a book about the people he’d helped whilst working at the French consulate in Delhi. In it he describes “India Syndrome” where tourists get lost in the experience of the subcontinent, forgetting who they are and where they’re from. I wonder if such a manic obsession just substitutes one perspective for another that’s just as limited: black or white.

Back down to Earth and knowing where to stop.

I’ve found returning hard: I was met at the airport by disappointment and heartache and accompanied back home by the the rain and gloom of midwinter, yet I’m relieved to be regaining balance. It’s been good to meet friends and neighbours, rebuild a brake calliper, pickup work, binge on cheese toasties and lie in a bed free from mosquitos. The Taoist parable mentioned in the last post pointed to events being in themselves neither good nor bad when taken in a wide context, that significance has everything to do with one’s perception and disposition.

“Send me a pot of cheese, so that I may be able to indulge myself whenever I wish.”

Through these long, dark winter days I intend to contest the everyday usurping the memories by editing videos of Sri Lanka and trying to support some of the folk I met there with digital skills and bike parts. Swapping life here to pursue exotic dreams not only risks madness, but missing out on an enriched perspective and relationships. So here’s to the après trip work of challenging beliefs, changing perceptions, stimulating, inspiring, and building, whilst not forgetting who or where you are. If we can only change within our own paradigm, then perhaps travel should expand its boundaries rather than replace them. I’m with Chesterton, and looking forward to returning to Sri Lanka, hopefully sooner than the six years since I last rode in a tuktuk.


post cover image from Apocalypse Now, (Heart of darkness) where Kurtz might’ve had an extreme case of India Syndrome.
Inline pics illustrating the more familiar yin/yang of old brake callipers and cheese toasties.

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