Indians love to circumnavigate the globe and international destinations and foreign trips are the hottest craze among Indians. However, travelogues or travel accounts by Indians are quite rare. Sunil Mishra, a software professional with over two decades of experience in the field of banking technology has come up with a travelogue “Transit Lounge: An Indian’s account of travelling to thirty countries across six continents”. Currently working with Infosys in India and having earlier worked with McKinsey, Accenture and I-flex solutions, his work required extensive travelling to different parts of the world and this constituted the basis of this book. The author Sunil Mishra speaks to Chirdeep Malhotra about his debut book, his travelogues, anti-immigrant policies and his literary travails in this candid conversation.
Being a software professional, you have forayed into a totally different domain and authored a book. Were you inclined towards writing from the start?
I was fortunate to travel to so many countries as part of my work. I used to write personal notes of individual travels, anything that I would find interesting. As I started blogging about some of these travels, I received positive reviews from many of my friends and well-wishers. It is then that the idea of collating this and publishing it as a book occurred to me.
So though I had some interest in writing, this book was quite accidental. It covers a travel of 15 years compiled over the last 5 years with repeated attempts in getting published.
Can you give us a brief overview of your debut book ‘Transit Lounge’?
Transit Lounge is a contemporary book consisting of short incidents, observations and reflections while travelling to 30 countries across six different continents during the last 15 years.
The book is a personal account of travels to places in Africa, South America, Asia, Europe, the U.S., Australia and New Zealand. It was interesting to observe all these different cultures and people from an Indian’s perspective. The book is a compilation of small incidents and events during such travels.
Visiting which countries did you like the most? Can you share with us one or two good experiences that you had?
From a traveller’s perspective, all my travels have given me great learnings. So, it is difficult to call out favourites. I enjoyed visiting the less travelled to countries like Ghana, Nigeria, Iran, Georgia, Croatia and Venezuela, to name a few. If you look for specific purposes like working for a short duration – I found Singapore quite good. It is one of the most systematic, safe and well-organized city-state.
There are many such interesting incidents in the book.
I recall our business trip to Tbilisi sometime in 2005. One evening, we were informally invited by the hotel staff to join their anniversary party. Only one lady in the group spoke broken English. One of the ladies, I was surprised to hear, knew some old Hindi songs – of Raj Kapoor’s era. She sang those songs verbatim, it was great to hear. I had read that Indian cinema was popular in Russia but it was quite surprising to see a Georgian girl singing a Bollywood song when she could hardly speak English.
Another incident that I recall is of our business presentations in Tehran. An English translator was hard to find. The best we could find was a local partner, who spoke good English but was a veterinary doctor by profession. He would translate every word after I spoke and he would take at least thrice as much time and a lot more sentences to explain. After sometime, I got suspicious if he was only translating what I was saying or adding his own story. It was tough for him to explain banking terms being a veterinary doctor. He brought a book of English dictionary every time to our presentations. He would refer to it during meetings as well. At one instance, he took some 15 minutes to explain “interest” and I was told that he used some medical terms to explain that.
What were the perceptions of people towards Indians in the countries that you visited? Has there been a change in perception towards Indians in the recent years?
My travels were over a period of 15 years. My personal experience has been that as an Indian I got more warmth and connect than possibly any other nationalities. Whether it was the countries less travelled to like Iran, Argentina or the most frequented ones like US and UK – people were very receptive towards Indians in general. India is always seen as a friendly nation in most part of the world. So if one plans to travel the world, I can say that the Indian passport is the best and safest of all.
In terms of change of perception over the last 15 years, I think it has been mostly positive. I have mentioned in the book that if there is one country that has changed the most in the last 15 years, it is possibly India. India has progressed from being perceived as an exotic country to a country known for things like software industry. The earlier generations of migrants have created a rich Indian diaspora worldwide and now they help create a positive image of Indians.
So I would say that India and Indians are better understood today in different countries than earlier.
What do you think about the recent trend of anti-immigrant sentiments and xenophobia that some countries in the west are experiencing?
I did experience some undercurrent of anti-outsourcing sentiments in some of the western countries like US and UK. They were quite subtle though and did not intimidate in general. It was more of a business decision that some of them saw clear benefits.
The recent rise of anti-immigrant sentiments especially in US is of a different nature. I have covered in the book about how some of the western countries have turned paranoid about immigration and to their own detriment.
You mentioned that you are an avid reader. Can you tell us some of your favourite authors and books that have inspired you?
I read books but not as many as I would have wanted to read. Some of the classics that I like are Siddhartha by Herman Hesse and Animal Farm by George Orwell. I also like books on Indology. Among the contemporary writers I like Sanjeev Sanyal’s writing.
Any travel book that you read and liked?
I have not read too many travel books. Most my readings have been in the form of travel blogs. Incidentally international travel as a genre is a less explored one, especially among the Indian writers. You may find many books written about the world travel by foreign authors. That is why I thought that my attempt of writing this book from an Indian perspective could be unique.
Apart from writing travelogues, are you also considering writing in some other genres?
Though it is my first attempt of writing a book, I do blog on LinkedIn and sometimes write articles on themes such as start-ups, entrepreneurship and digital technologies. I have also written a few articles on the changing role of mainstream media in the new digital world.
Are there any other forthcoming literary projects?
I enjoy writing in my spare time. The reaction to my first book has been truly encouraging and I do look forward to writing more books. I am currently working on a fiction, though it is yet to shape up fully.
Can you share with our readers any quote/ book/ philosophy that keeps you going?
“The world is a book, and those who don’t travel only read one page.” – St. Augustine
Another one is on the difference between a traveller and a tourist – “The traveller sees what he sees. The tourist sees what he has come to see.” – G.K. Chesterton
My attempt to write the book has been to capture the traveller’s account, I enjoyed writing it and I hope it is equally liked by the readers.
Written by:- Chirdeep Malhotra
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