Srinath Perur stood against the table with his legs crossed, softly reading sections from his piece ‘The Last Stand’, on Sachin Tendulkar’s last cricket match. “Cricket and Tendulkar are only the theme of this particular amusement park, the bonfire around which we dance our savage dance,” Perur read, and cricket fans in the audience began to smile. One would expect the writing to be like a running commentary on the match, but the piece is instead about the process of procuring tickets and being in the crowd. For those fans who could not make it there, Perur’s piece made it come alive.
Srinath Perur, with a PhD from IIT Bombay, chose to become a travel and science writer. His travel writing is not like a series of descriptions of exotic places, his book ‘If it’s Monday it must be Madurai’ shows this. “I wanted to cover this match as a travel experience,” Perur said, adding that he was not much of a cricket fan himself. He had decided to attend the match without being a part of the press, going with a friend for whom Tendulkar meant something.
But it was the idea of travelling that seemed to fascinate everyone—all talk about covering the cricket match was soon left behind. Questions from the audience very quickly brought Perur back to talking about travel writing—the process, whether he travelled alone, what he thought of tours. “When I travel, I make factual notes, take photographs, and develop an overall impression. I usually write in my head, only banging on the key board is the bit of real work,” he said. There is the feeling of both distance and being an active part of the things around him. Perur writes of what he sees and hears, sometimes as though watching from above.
There is the image of a lone traveller that one often has, of someone taking off to a place and then writing about it. Perur’s travelogue ‘If it’s Monday, it must be Madurai’ is about 10 conducted tours in India and abroad—the traveller here is always in company, and the experience of travel is both of place, and of one’s fellow travellers. Last Meta he talked about his book and the tours he had written about. There was Perur as the Indian among foreigners in a slum tour of Dharavi, and as he went on a sex tour in Uzbekistan with old men seeking “boom boom.” People travel for different reasons, and this is what Perur seems to see as important; there is no judgement on any reasons or things said. “Depending on the depth of focus, travel writing goes into the covering of other things as well. When you travel, places change according to people, and people change according to places,” Perur said. Interestingly, the cricket piece he began with does a similar thing.