Are You Experienced?

By William Sutcliffe

Do you travel? Or do you just go on holidays? If you don't really ‘get' the difference (I didn't), it's time you read William Sutcliffe's ‘Are You Experienced'. A fictional tale set in India, told from a 19-year-old-Brit-on-gap-year-tour point of view, this could've easily been a raunchy tale of debauchery; interestingly, there is much debauchery (how can there not be, when the randy teenaged hero's sole aim is to get his somewhat reluctant roomie to put-out?) but its largely over-shadowed by the actual journey, a wonderfully evocative one, around the country. Landing in Delhi, horrified by the sensory overload that is India (‘This was all wrong. I'd come to the wrong place. I hadn't even eaten anything yet, and I felt sick already — from the heat, the crowds, the claustrophobia — and pure blind fear.') Dave does not get off to a great start, especially when Liz, his travelling-partner leaves him mid-way for an ‘Intimate-Yoga-man'. But he journeys on, ably guided by ‘The Book' (a neat satire on “Lonely Planet”) and wisdom culled from chance encounters with veteran fellow-travellers (who ‘had fought-off kitten-sized cockroaches in Indonesian prison') not to mention crazy NRI's on the run.

It works because

It's a very honest, very funny tale, a rare one that both Indians and visitors will relate to. As you gallop through the book (and it does keep you riveted), you quickly get under the skin of the country, and see Delhi, Manali, Goa, Trivandrum etc. with a fresh pair of eyes. You realise, with a chuckle, that Indian train journeys are really banquets on wheels; that big-spending Western-tourists are envied and hated by backpacking Westerners (and all of them are mildly disturbed by big-eyed child-beggars); and tropical diseases, listed graphically, can frighten the butch-est male in the world; and that our namby-pamby hero really stands no chance! But just when you're about to dismiss him as a typical softie (paranoid, avoiding locals, seeking out other whites) he comes-over all enlightened, evolves into a self-proclaimed traveller, spouting profundities such as ‘if you want to find yourself in this country, you have to lose yourself'. You might think it's the unlikeliest of travel-books on India; but this rite-of-passage story, straight from Dave's confused, teenaged heart gives you more of a real ‘feel' of the country than many celebrated travel books can ever hope to.

A word of caution — Sutcliffe relishes gory details; so if you're the squeamish sort, for whom another person's diarrhoea is not exactly a conversational delight, skip pages 156-160; on no account must you skip the entire book though!

And this one stays with you

— On Bollywood Cinema

‘After that, the plot became a bit too difficult to follow. As far as I could tell, in the end the sexy people married each other, the ugly people got blown up, and the fat people ended up with buckets on their head.

Now that's what I call quality entertainment.'

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