Pico Iyer gave a talk in Ottawa last Saturday. It was a watershed experience for me. Iyers might be the salt of the earth, but let’s face it, they do not do interesting things (at least, they didn’t while I was growing up). Iyers are accountants. SAHMs. Bureaucrats. Professors. If they’re musicians, they’re of the classical school. Some strayed inspite of themselves into Indian cinema, but, in general, they are super-staid conservatives. (I rush to add that the community has its share of alcoholics and wife-beaters and so on; this post does not, in way, claim the group’s moral or intellectual superiority over any other community).
Anyway, modesty, conformism, and obedience are highly valued amongst Iyers; travel writing, not so much. So Pico Iyer was a demi-god to me–the only cool Iyer in a two million-strong community. He did not have a steady job. In the Iyer community, that’s like missing a lung–you can’t breathe easy without a pension fund lub-dubbing away in the left corner. He travelled the planet and authored fine books and had a Japanese partner and a Harvard education and wrote for the New York Times. I wanted to be him, failing which, I wanted to marry him. I’ve failed notably at both ambitions, but the fascination remains, and when I finally got this chance to see him in person, I was properly thrilled and apprehensive.
(This picture is taken from John W.MacDonald's site, http://www.flickr.com/photos/johnwmacdonald/).
Oh, it was that rare occasion, fellow bloggers, when my expectations were happily exceeded; not all our childhood fantasies are destined to turn to dust. Pico Iyer was as articulate and thoughtful as his impressive pedigree–child of professional philosphers–implied. And best, there was no disconnect between writer and speaker; I received the impression of a great intelligence allied with a profound understanding of the goings-on of contemporary society. I wanted his opinion on everything–Hillary or Obama, the new Indiana Jones, Cuba after Castro, my new jeans–just to know what a mind like his thought about it. Long exhale.
The talk itself was about Iyer’s new book The Open Road: The Global Journey of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama. The book has been widely (and positively) reviewed (see Pankaj Mishra’s review in The New Yorker, or this review in the New York Times) so I’m not going to talk about it here, except to say that I’m going to rush out and buy the book tomorrow. As you should too.