Friday, 2 January 2009

Travel agent to the stars

On Tuesday, in my holiday stupor on a farm in Devon inhabited by evil ducks, I was awoken from my slumber by a broadcast assistant for the breakfast show of a big Asian radio network. ‘You’re the travel memoir writer’ she asked awkwardly as if she’d never spoken to a man of letters. I replied in the affirmative. ‘Would you be willing to come on the show and talk about good holiday destinations for 2009 and cheap spots too?’ Being a man with a need for regular self-aggrandisement, I replied that I would but I wasn’t a travel agent. ‘I know,’ she countered. ‘You’re a travel memoir writer.’ A niche of a niche of a niche.

In the archives of this radio network’s research database is, I imagine, a bunch of names and beneath each name a passable set of special skills. Under mine, it probably says ‘serial bloggist, comic geek, author, poet, travel memoir writer, musician, has watched the Wire, travelled a bit.’ A keywords filter obviously found me this morning and I was probably the first or the only to answer the phone.

Five minutes later, still with sleep in my eyes and wearing my Iron Man boxer shorts, the duvet wrapped around me like a quilt girlfriend and my computer whirring in the background, the cold Devon air beating on my window, I’m thrust on air.

‘Right now, we’re speaking to acclaimed travel agent… Nikesh Shukla… welcome. Where’s hot this year?’
‘Erm…I think there’s been a mistake.’
‘Are you not Nikesh Shukla, acclaimed travel agent?’
‘No, I’m an author.’
[Dead air]
[Shuffling of paper]
-At which point, I’m thinking, do your research… Do presenters not care who comes on their shows? They have quick turnarounds and little to no prep time, but seriously? I know I’m a minor celebrity in a tiny niche of a sub genre so my ego is a little bruised that they don’t know me-
‘Nikesh Shukla, travel writer, author of the acclaimed book “I’ve Forgotten My Mantra.”’
‘Err… it’s not been published yet.’
‘Have you planned your holidays for next year?’
‘Yes, I’m going on my honeymoon to Cuba in July.’
‘What made you want to do that?’
‘It seems like an interesting place. We both want to discover it and it’ll also be interesting seeing how it’s changing now Fidel’s no longer at the helm.’
‘Interesting? Interesting? You’re on your honeymoon. Why would you want to go somewhere interesting?’
‘Well, when you pay all that money for a holiday you don’t just want to sit on a beach for days. You could do that in Europe for a fraction of the price.’
‘Sounds like your wife’ll be bored.’
‘It was her idea.’
‘So tell us somewhere cheap to go on holiday.’
‘Well, how about your doorstep? I’m away in Devon and it’s lovely and cheap and you get to know your mannerz a bit more.’
‘Sounds boring. You don’t do many interesting holidays do you?’
‘Depends on what interests you.’
‘So you wrote a travel memoir. Why did you do that?’
‘I’m a writer.’
‘So you visited places and wrote about them. What made you want to do that?’
‘I’m a writer. I wanted to record how cosmopolitan India is compared to backward British Asians.’
‘Woah woah, pardon?’
I go into my whole diatribe about time capsule religions passed down through immigrant communities that haven’t evolved with cultures. Their eyes audibly glaze over.
They cut me short and get me off not before telling everyone to check out my acclaimed (but unpublished) book.

Why are British Asians so lame, so nationalistic about a country they’ve never lived in and a culture they can’t accept as flawed. They’re seen as backward and more traditional in India because they haven’t evolved their beliefs. I don’t get it. Yet I’m the ambassador for travel memoir writers, the comics auteur, the weirdo who likes all the things British Asians don’t usually, like antifolk and Wes Anderson films. I’m the resident coconut, called up for all issues white and when they need me to discuss something white people like, I’m only too happy to talk to them. Who’s the real fool? The fool, or the fool who answers the fool’s phonecall and agrees to be publicly interviewed by the fool.

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