Training for Life

There are people who are sent to India by the newspaper that employs them, and people like me, who are dispatched to exotic sites like West Kiryat Haim.

In my next incarnation (and there's nothing wrong with believing in reincarnation when one is about to embark on a trip to India) I want to be - if not a great explorer like Marco Polo, or someone who discovers continents - then at least a travel writer like Moshe Gilad, who writes for this newspaper. With all due respect to Immanuel Kant, who never left his home in Konigsberg, but nonetheless spurred philosophy students, at least, to view the world beyond in an entirely different light, by means of categories of time and space - I realized long ago that even internal journeys into awareness are easier for me when there is plenty of action outside.

Travel logs, when well written, are far more satisfying than the investigatory, logical-philosophical notations of Kant and his friends. Maybe because, as Socrates wrote generations before Kant, philosophy is training for death. Travel books, on the other hand, are training for life.

Obsessive types like myself, who visit Internet travel forums once every two hours (to seek a definitive answer to the question of whether one must purchase Polar fleece garments or can rely on an old wool sweater from home), are destined for constant disappointment while reading "travel journals." Though there is no denying that most trekkers find their trips "cool," "magical" and even "lots of laughs," it is hard to discern any real reflection of the India experience in their notes - about the philosophy, the people, the flavors, the aromas - or an answer to the question posed by my beloved friend, Nira Rousso, "Where does this leave me on Shabbat?"

The local press does have some decent travel writers (who earn money for writing up trips abroad, making me green with envy). In addition to Moshik, Yonatan Geffen on America, Yair Garbuz on Paris and Danny Kerman on England come to mind. But few travel writers are as good as Mark Twain ("The Innocents Abroad") or the late Israeli journalist Azriel Carlebach, who helped found Maariv.

"You must read Carlebach's 'India: Account of a Voyage.' It is simply extraordinary. It is absolutely impossible to describe what a great writer he was," a friend told me two years ago. But India was then far beyond my reach and I ignored his advice.

A week before my trip, I read it. Somehow, it happened that I read the book during a little jaunt that I organized for myself on behalf of the newspaper. There are people who are sent on extended trips to India by the newspaper that employs them, and people like me, who are dispatched by their employers to exotic sites like West Kiryat Haim. But I am not bitter. I also profited from the fact that Carlebach traveled to India rather than the greater Haifa Bay area. It is ultimately hard for me to believe that even if he were to combine a visit to Kiryat Haim with intensive tours of Kiryat Bialik, Kiryat Yam, Kiryat Eliezer, Kiryat Ata and Kiryat Motzkin, he would produce a book as wonderful as "India: Account of a Voyage."

This is a book that includes everything which is lacking in online travel logs, because its power rests in its ability to transform personal experience into general information that is relevant to the reader, regardless of the period in which it was written. Since its writing in 1955, the Indian population has tripled, and they no longer burn widows. (Though widows and women, in general, certainly tend to commit suicide there. Women's rights, in India, are in a very poor state.) I would like to believe that sanitary conditions have greatly improved since then - as have pest-control methods. And India is no longer a subcontinent that is unfamiliar to Israelis.

Despite that, Carlebach successfully captured everything that is eternal in India, the spirit. And we have yet to say a word about his magnificent Hebrew, which includes many dimensions that hint at the cultural wealth of a genius and man of letters, in the religious meaning of those terms in the earliest phase of his life, in his adulthood, and until the untimely end of his life, at age 48, when those terms had secular significance.

Where are such journalists now, who, in the dead of night and not coincidentally, lead an entire editorial board behind them to establish a brave, new newspaper? It is easy to comprehend why thousands of readers who never met Carlebach attended his funeral, choking traffic on Allenby Street. And where are there readers like that? It is hard for me to believe that any editor would now print a text like that written by Carlebach in the weekend supplement of any newspaper.

But if there were someone capable of writing like that, there would be readers who would read it, not only the elders of Ramot Hashavim - but perhaps in Tel Aviv and even in Kiryat Haim.