VideoNight in Kathmandu: And Other Reports from the Not-So-Far East byPico Iyer. Hardcover book published by Bloomsbury 1988, 376 pages.
“When Pico Iyer began his travels, he wanted to know how Rambo conquered Asia. Why did Dire Straits blast out over Hiroshima, Bruce Springsteen over Bali and Madonna over all? If he was eager to learn where East meets West, how pop-culture and imperialism penetrated through the world’s most ancient civilizations, then the truths he began to uncover were more startling, more subtle, more complex than he ever anticipated. Who was hustling whom? When did this pursuit of illusions and vested interests, with its curious mix of innocence and calculation, turn from confrontation into mating dance?”
In my younger years I backpacked my way through parts of Asia on more than one occasion (…you may recall my Camel comments in a previous blogpost). I loved it. There was something about traveling for a longer period of time outside of one's own comfortable, safe and secure life, that really left an impression on me. Somehow adventuring through alien places made me feel a little more grounded. It also gave me a different view of the world to the one i'd known and views and ideas that I still mostly hold today. It was the best thing I ever did... or nearly the best thing.
Before traveling, I had never read a travel book. Why would I want to read about other people traveling in places that I had absolutely no interest in at all. Sure, it might be interesting to those that had adventured forth and then scribbled down their tales of far off lands and diarrhea, but pre my own adventures I had absolutely no interest in reading about other peoples 'interesting' times. And then all of sudden, somewhere in India, I developed an interest. From memory I was somewhere where there was a limited supply of books in English and what they had was a disproportionate amount of travel. One of those books was Video Night in Kathmandu. I bought it. I read it. I liked it.
Back at home and being a keen secondhand book buyer, I stumbled upon and eagerly bought a lovely hardcover copy, which is fortunate as my previous copy had been traded or ditched somewhere in the wilds of The Rann of Kutch a number of years beforehand. A few years after buying this book for a second time, I had the great opportunity of meeting Mr Iyer at a forum of travel writers... yes my complete disinterest had evaporated and now I was even wanting to hear travel writers talk. I cornered Pico in the foyer and asked if he would sign my book, which he agreed to do. When I pulled out my hardcover copy he gasped, exclaiming that he hadn't seen a hardcover copy in many many years. We had a very brief conversation, he signed the book and it still sits in pride of place on my shelf to this day. He seemed like a nice guy.
I don't know if Video Night in Kathmandu is still popular, but when I saw this copy I figured I can't be alone in my appreciation of Pico's work and surely someone else would have read my paperback copy, where ever it is, and would now also like a nice hardcover copy.