Manu Joseph on the Decadence of Air Travel

The author of the award-winning novel Serious Men discusses his fascination with families on holiday and his short story for our fiction issue

Click here to read The Fight, Manu Joseph’s original short fiction story for Cathay’s inflight magazine.

Can you tell us a bit about the inspiration behind your story?

I have long been amused by family vacations – my own and others. I like the joy of vacations, especially time spent with the children, but the most interesting thing is the pressure on the adults to pretend they are having a good time. I am sure most people do have fun but many other things go on during family vacations – tension between adults that’s often continuation of old feuds. I have often seen couples bicker and fight and cry on vacation, and it never seemed strange to me. A couple on vacation is a scenario made for fiction.

How do parts of it reflect India?

It was challenging to set the story in Goa because the place is deceptively hard to write about, like most beautiful places. The only descriptive play I have is trees, sea and sand, and I have to convey the charm of the region to the reader. I have also grudgingly revealed a secret place in Goa that very few tourists know about. I hope I have not given too many hints.

What would you want the world to understand about India today through your fiction writing?

Readers of something called ‘global fiction’ are often conned into believing that countries outside their own, especially in the orient, are exotic. They are conditioned to be disappointed when they discover the people there are exactly like them. I enjoy representing an authentic India and destroying the exoticism around cultures. This is not to say there are no beautiful differences between people – thank god there are – but the universality of literature has been greatly diminished by the demand and supply of charlatan oriental fiction.

As a travel magazine, we’re trying something a bit different by publishing an issue of original fiction. How do you feel fiction can inspire travel in a way non-fiction or travel articles don’t?

To feature travel-related fiction in a travel magazine is a brilliant idea. It makes so much sense. I have written journalistic travel pieces and I know how hard it is to convey the sense of a place through facts alone. Fiction offers several points of view of a place, even when they are conveyed through a single character. Travel fiction is a very interesting form of travel writing as long as the facts of a place are preserved.

What do you read when you’re on holiday?

I don’t read anything very different from what I usually read. I don’t seek light stuff just because I am travelling. Also, as I read mostly on the iPad I am unable to show off my personality to other tourists through the book covers. I hope they don’t do what I do – which is peep at other people’s reading devices and read a paragraph.

What do you do when you’re on a flight? Are you a reader, worker, film watcher?

What I tell myself before every flight is ‘I am going to be decadent, I am going to be decadent’. By this I mean I am going to drink and watch a silly film. But something about the size of those screens prevent me from enjoying the movies. I do look for The Simpsons or Curb Your Enthusiasm or Mr Bean. But mostly I end up reading or playing chess. But recently, on a long flight from Doha to Buenos Aires, I wrote a column. I was so proud of myself. It was the best use of flying time, and I hope I don’t have to do it again. I love the decadence of wasting time while flying.

Finally, what are you working on at the moment?

I am working on the proofs of my third novel, Miss Laila, Armed and Dangerous. It will be released in India this August.

Cathay Travell Book


Discovery online brings together all the inspirational travel writing from our two inflight magazines, Discovery and Silkroad. Be sure to look out for the print editions when you next fly with Cathay Pacific or Cathay Dragon.
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