Having just made it back to the UK after a short and hectic press trip to Frankfurt (Article to follow in due course!), I did not have much time to relax. So far, this week has been ridiculously busy, with my sponsors, Lufthansa German Airlines, going on strike during my press trip, which meant me being very lucky to have made it back to London (thanks to British Airways!) in time so that I can get on with other important things to do. The weather had been miserable all day (nothing new here!), and in any case I headed for the Nehru Centre in London, an organisation which fosters better understanding and relationship between India and the United Kingdom. It is a key cultural wing of the High Commission of India in the United Kingdom. The Nehru Centre has been the host to many renowned influential people, from both India and the United Kingdom. Indian and British Cinema Actors, famous Writers, Musicians and other influential people have held performances and key note speeches here. Tonight, the Nehru Centre was host to one of the most influential British Actor, Writer and Comedian in our times, Mr. Michael Palin CBE. He is also the President of the Royal Geographical Society. The event was by invitation only to a selected few.
Michael Palin firmly established his reputation with the well acclaimed comedy, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, where he worked with Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle and Terry Jones. He made a household name for himself by writing books' to accompany his seven very successful BBC travel series- of which the most famous is "Around the world in 80 Days". He is also the author of the play The Weekend and the novel Hemingway’s Chair. In 2006 the first volume of his diaries, 1969-1979: The Python Years, spent many weeks on the bestseller lists and in September 2009 the second volume 1980 -1988 Halfway to Hollywood was published. I grew up in the 1980s watching programs such as Monty Python, and especially "Around the world in 80 days". If I am honest, it was Michael Palin that inspired me to get into travel writing- I used to look forward to watching his travel series in the 1980s- he brought the sights and smells of places like India, China, Dubai to people’s homes when worldwide travel was not as accessible as it is in today's day in age. People used to talk about “The World in 80 Days show”, and no one took a trip to, say, Hong Kong or Singapore for granted as they do nowadays. For British food, it has to be Keith Floyd, and for travelling, it goes without saying that Michael Palin set the trend for global trotting. In actual fact, if I ever get the chance, I would love to go around the world in 80 days. Not for travel writing (because, of course, that’s already been done!), but just to see what's like, and to experience the thrill of travelling around the world in such a hectic way.
But for now, above all else I could not resist the temptation to take a freshly bought paperback copy of "Around the World in 80 Days" for Mr. Palin to sign for me. The audience included Baroness Shreela Flather and His Excellency the Indian High Commissioner to the U.K., Mr. Nalin Surie.
Mr. Palin commenced his talk to the fully packed theatre by describing his first visit to India in 1982 with his friend, and Monty Python colleague, Terry Gilliam. With the assistance of photographs which he and his photographer, Basil PaoHo-Yun, took on their journeys across India right from landing in Delhi in the north, to Mumbai to the west and Kolkota in the east. In typical Michael Palin style, there were some moments of comedy thrown in too, much to the delight of the audience. Some of the experiences shared by Mr. Palin included his passion for meeting the natives in the villages around India (and how friendly they are compared to your average resident in, say, Beverly Hills!), watching a rare football match between a village team from India and one from Burma, trying the hottest curry on the planet, and giving a fully fledged bath to a giant Elephant (the Elephant enjoyed having his nose rubbed).
One very peculiar incident he recalled was watching ladies fishing in a village in north-eastern India, and then placing the live fish in between their blouses...rather strange. He also shared the touching story of meeting some of the original crew members of the dhow on which he went from Dubai to Mumbai (or Bombay as it was known when “Around the world in 80 days” was filmed more than twenty years ago)
Here are some Questions and Answers with Michael Palin (MP) (not all are included, and not all questions were asked by me):
Q (Navjot Singh): Sir, in the 1980s and 1990s, when you did your travelling, there were no websites and hardly many travel books or forums where the average person on the street can write their travel story, and give their opinions. You set the trend for world travel. But with so many websites, such as Flickr, Trip Advisor etc., and personal forums these days, plus the fact that almost everyone has a high resolution digital camera these days, what are your thoughts about the fact that literally anyone become a travel writer or photographer?
MP: Yes, a valid question. It’s always good to comment on a place that one has been to provided that particular comment is not just a copied description from a brochure or a displaced comment that is too critical which will simply put people off. My thoughts are that it’s a good thing to have different opinions on various destinations and in actual fact the more the better- provided they are different to each other.
Q: What next for Michael Palin?
MP: For the moment I am very happy to spend time to watch my two grandchildren grow up! I am writing a novel at the moment, which is set in a place similar to India- actually I may just set it in India now. I am thinking of doing one more trip to one or two places I have not been to, but that’s still under consideration. For the time being I am also very busy with the Royal Geographical Society, and so am based in London because of that.
Q: What’s the hottest food you have had on your travels?
MP: Ahh...yes, it was a really scrumptious looking dish on one of my trips to Mumbai- dare I say that it did not have a very promising effect on my stomach!
Yesterday was a memorable day for those of us who were fortunate enough to share a few rare free moments with this very generous, very kind and great man. He knows how to travel well and he is able to convey that in a very genius manner. Many thanks to the staff at the Nehru Centre and Transindus for arranging this visit.
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