Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Honesty and truth in travel writing

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My philosophy is very simple: tell the truth so that when someone follows up on your journey they cannot fault you for inaccuracy. That is it. It is essential that a travel writer must always be meticulously truthful, accurate and honest. Anything short and the very purpose of travel writing is defeated, nay, killed.
Bear in mind that Plato suggested that travel writers must be examined vigorously upon their return in order to ascertain the quality of the knowledge he/she has acquired during the journeys. He went on to say that a traveller returning with corrupted knowledge should be forcibly isolated, perhaps even killed. This is as quoted by Roxanne Euben in her book Journeys to the Other Shore.

Even earlier, we have another greater exemplar of upholding accuracy: the 6th century BCE Athenian philosopher, statesman and businessman Solon. He once rebuked the dramatist Thespis for including what he considered untruths in a play. To this Thespis said make-believe was permissible on stage. Solon almost exploded, 'Yes, but if we allow ourselves to praise and honour make-believe like this, the next thing will be to find it creeping into our serious business.'

Such great minds such as these should be our guiding beacons. Not the puny, publicity-seeking, self-aggrandising pygmies that rule the roost today in Pakistan. I try, as far as I can, to follow the Greeks in the principle of truthfulness in reporting. If I misconstrue, as is the norm in Urdu travel writing, I am willfully fooling ignorant people who mistakenly read my word for edification. So, what knowledge am I offering? This attitude places me among fraudsters and liars. I do not wish to belong there, even if that means fewer people wish to read my work. But I would much rather stick to the truth as research has shown it to be.

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 15:32,


At 28 July 2017 at 07:59, Blogger LoneWolf - INTJ said...

The core of the problem seems to originate from the assumption that most people never want to hear the truth. Nietzsche said: Sometimes people don't want to hear the truth because they don't want their illusions destroyed. Mark Twain articulated it more sarcastically: Truth is the most valuable thing we have. Let us economise it.

Since centuries, both travel and fiction have been hand-in-hand. The average Joe and plain Jane have been indoctrinated into believing even the mythical travels to unknown destinations. One hideous example of such lunacy is the Zoroastrian text of Ardā Wīrāz-nāmag (The Book of Ardā Wīrāz), also spelled as Ardā Wirāf. The legend has it that Wīrāz’s spirit left his body for seven days and seven nights to undertake an extra-terrestrial journey where he witnessed both heaven and hell. Upon return, the spirit narrated the account of events it encountered (the possible plagiarisation of this tale is another grotesque story). Without a speck of proof to authenticate that such voyages were/still are in actuality possible in a given continuum, involving time and space; yet, billions of average Joe/Janes continue to believe it as nothing short but the truth.

In more recent times, the claims of Marco Polo have come under intense scrutiny for his knack for hyperbole while describing life in China and the lifestyle of Kublai Khan. In particular, Polo’s gross exaggeration of numbers and use of Persian words for Chinese cities and things is just plain amusement ["the Great Khan receives gifts of more than 100,000 white horses… (and) elephants, fully 5,000 in number"]. Some skeptics have doubt that he never ever made it to China and likely couldn't have travelled beyond the Black Sea. Librarian and Sinologue Frances Wood noted: There is no mention in Marco Polo’s chapters on China of the custom of binding women’s feet, use of chopsticks, drinking tea, or even the Great Wall. Interestingly, Polo’s "Book of the Marvels of the World" was written by Rustichello da Pisa while both were in prison [Rustichello was an Italian romance writer who earlier has authored a novel on fictional King Arthur titled "Romance of King Arthur"].

Such is the power of imagination and fiction over reality that prompted countless souls to actually search for the mythical Shangri-La since the publication of James Hilton’s ‘Lost Horizon’ in 1937.

It's easier to fool people than to convince them that they have been fooled. - Mark Twain.


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My Books

Deosai: Land of the Gaint - New

The Apricot Road to Yarkand

Jhelum: City of the Vitasta

Sea Monsters and the Sun God: Travels in Pakistan

Salt Range and Potohar Plateau

Prisoner on a Bus: Travel Through Pakistan

Between Two Burrs on the Map: Travels in Northern Pakistan

Gujranwala: The Glory That Was

Riders on the Wind

Books at Sang-e-Meel

Books of Days