A couple of weeks ago I made the mistake of clicking on an article about a Mumbai rickshaw challenge and had barely read the standfirst when the phrase “sacred cows” leapt out. It was with the lowest of expectations that I continued to scroll down this putrid piece – which enlightened readers with such gems as “not enough is made of the stench of Indian cities” and “everywhere we go, people take photographs of us” – before I realised I’d read this piece before.
In fact, I’ve read this stereotypical, clichéd pile of horseshit about India in every UK national newspaper, Sunday supplement and monthly glossy. My colleague and I play a game called Travel-writer Bingo while we edit, deleting the “white-sand beaches”, “crystal-clear waters”, and all the other “hidden gems” “tucked away down alleyways”, that “don’t disappoint”. But when it comes to writing on India, these articles take on a whole new dimension, patronising and reducing a country of 1.3 billion people to little more than titillating exotica for the intrepid Westerner.
So I decided to sample genuine chunks from national newspapers and magazines and sew together the most obnoxious, jaw-dropping, breathtakingly awful article ever written on India. My god did it rile up the readers! That obnoxious woman, taking photos of people when they didn’t want to be photographed; spelling the name of the railway station incorrectly; suggesting there are autos in Colaba; failing to talk to one local person; judging a city on arrival; learning nothing about the country. Annoying, isn’t it?
For me, the most amazing part of the exercise was that so few people recognised a fake despite signposts in every line. So poor is the level of commissioned and published travel writing on India that despite my deliberate errors of spelling, grammar, facts, names, and the total lack of story, readers accepted that it was just another rubbish piece about India. And sadly, I suspect it won’t be long before another Chubby Mummy and her Chubby Hubby get a sponsored trip for the whole family and run a nice big piece at the weekend under the headline “Colour and Chaos in the Land of Contrasts”. C