It was in Hyderabad that music lodged itself in my brain and refused to let go. When I go on long-distance walks I tend to get a song stuck in my head right from the start, and it keeps rattling round my cranium in time to my steps, all the way through to the end of the walk. For some reason Hyderabad kicked off the same process, and I found myself remembering snatched melodies and memories from ages past.
The most telling indication that I've been travelling for too long came as I was reading a new purchase, Video Night in Kathmandu by Pico Iyer, a travelogue about Asia and how its culture is being changed by the West1. I came across this highly accurate line: 'If the great horror of travelling is that the foreign can come to seem drearily familiar, the happy surprise of travelling is that the familiar can come to seem wondrously exotic.' Totally unbidden, the opening chords from the Eagles' 'Hotel California' started up in my subconscious, so loud that I had to put the book down and listen.
The astounding thing is that, despite 'Hotel California' being one of the most radio-friendly and overplayed songs in the history of west coast rock, in my brain it suddenly sounded fresh. Incredible though it seems, as Don Henley sang, 'Down a dark desert highway/Cool wind in my hair' inside my head, it felt original, fresh, almost inventive. I couldn't believe it; this was the musical equivalent of watching yet another repeat of the Morecambe and Wise Christmas Show and finding oneself surprised when Angela Rippon pushes away the news desk and reveals not only glorious legs, but a serious talent for dance. I couldn't believe it; indeed, the familiar was beginning to sound wondrously exotic, as the warm smell of colitas rose up through the air.
But 'Hotel California', alas, didn't have the staying power to bug me for more than a few minutes, and as I watched the sun set once again over Hyderabad, I started humming the song that has been haunting me ever since I heard it again in Singapore. 'I'm sitting in a railway station/Got a ticket for my destination,' warbled Paul Simon. 'On a tour of one-night stands/My suitcase and guitar at hand/And every stop is neatly planned/For a poet and a one-man band/Homeward Bound, I wish I was/Homeward Bound...'
I don't think I'll shift that one until I finally get home...
1 For some reason I find some travelogues faintly depressing, because other people's exploits always sound so much more interesting than your own. Amusing and earthy travelogues I adore, but those that detail incredible events that are unique and impossible to repeat – such as travelling in country X before country X becomes ruined by tourism, or stumbling into a piece of paradise in a country that has since been ravaged by war – make me a little sad and not a little jealous. This is annoying; I find myself falling into the trap of travel competition – 'my trip's better than your trip, na na na na na' – and I hate that. Why is it so hard to appreciate that what you yourself have achieved might be fairly impressive, and that this isn't a competition?