Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page. ~St. Augustine

 'Traveling', indeed, is the best book one reads in life. Each page unfurls variegated backgrounds with multitudinous characters read through the prismatic glasses of wonderment, and each tell a different story with myriad plots; accompanied by multiple narrative, never the same - ever evolving, always avant-garde. But it is most unfortunate when people only flip through the pages , without an inclination to delve into the recesses of the world hidden in each page. I refer to those who travel to places (often to the most exotic of locations) only to check themselves into the most expensive hotels, sit with a beer by the hotel poolside and post pictures of sumptuous meals that have been the highlight of flying hundreds, thousands of miles to the destination. And, yes, a few fancy photo-ops in front of the most historic monuments of the place. Is that how you read or prefer to read a book? Well, then we are definitely not on the same 'page'.

Traveling, I believe, is all about exploring and discovering and living the alternate life, just as a book, but actually living it, and not just in imagination. God definitely has given us one life, but the Almighty ensured that we have options open to at least savour, even if for a short time, the joy of another existence. The onus is on us to live it to the fullest, or just squander the opportunity. When you live a life - you live it the wholesome way. You walk the walk - on roses and thorns, face the music and the storms, meet the people, talk to them, prefer some over others, listen to their stories and share your own, know them better - how they live, what they eat, what they do and what they did, master the place, know the nooks and the crannies and explore those untrodden paths to make the life more worthwhile and singular. Each travel is a life you live and it is you who choose how to live that life. You choose to be a tourist or a traveler.

As a little girl, my zest to see different places, live different lives in different settings, discover new stories, and create new fables, was fired by my dad's repertoire of tales. He ensured to fuel it further by taking us to trips regularly and encouraged us to soak in as much as we could and egged us to go all out and befriend all we come across in our journey, cause, enrichment, he said, is what you earn as you travel. I still recall, how I would stamp my achy feet and forbid to walk any further, and how he would coax and lure me with interesting anecdotes to what lies ahead if I just could make that extra bit. It has remained with me all this while; now I cajole myself for that extra bit by educing all that I had read or heard about the place, in my mind.

I remember befriending Christina, an Austrian, on our bus ride from Chennai to Mahabalipuram - she was probably between 25-27 and I was all of 8. I am not even getting into my english, but I still plodded on with my queries asking her where all she had been and what were the best places in India according to her and how was her experience and how was Austria different, and what could I see if I went there and at one point I had even started on Indian mythology, though thankfully she was rescued by my dad and sister.  I became friends with the kids - the brother and the sister - of the hotel laundry guy in Srinagar and would drench them with questions of where they lived, how did their house look like, what they ate, who made their clothes, what did they wear and eat on special occasions, if they could sing a song in their mother tongue and also dance to the tune...endless now they seem, but which they, quite strangely, answered eagerly. And then I still have the vivid memory of how the boy, Imran, with whom I had played and showered battery of queries till the previous day, had been smashing windshields of cars and autos that were plying despite a curfew; our cab (managing an audacious trip to Pahalgaon and back) stopping just a few feet short from them to avoid a wreckage - this was the onset of turbulence and terror in Kashmir in 1989. It had lingered in my mind's eye all this while, and I still wonder, what would I have asked if I had not left for Jammu the next day, and what would he have answered. I also relive often the turbulent dinghy ride from Dwarka to Bet Dwarka and back on the rough Arabian Sea, or the sublime experience at Somnath temple, enjoying the setting sun amidst the tranquility with the occasional roars of the surging sea, that seemed to complain of the countless abuse of this seat of chastity, and I smiled back that it still stands tall, sans its ostentation and riches but beautiful and resplendent still. I have flashes in that inward eye, no, not of fields of daffodils, but of the expansive salt marsh at the Rann of Kutch, pristine and white as far as the eye could see - dazzling in the golden reflection of the afternoon sun. And I still have a hearty laugh as I recall how my poor dad was spurned by a paan wala at Ahmedabad for asking him more than one question - my old man was asking directions for a bank, and he was dumbfounded at the reaction. Quite natural for a Bengali, that has the fame of being overzealous while helping strangers. 

I treasure the numerous memories of the winter picnics into the 'adivasi' heartland of erstwhile Bihar (now Jharkhand)-Orissa border, and the various interactions with the locals and visiting their homes, knowing about their lifestyle. I cherish those carefree days of teenage, cycling down Khowai and Prantik and Shurul and beyond, and enjoying the bauls on the way or the  stories of the 'mejhens' (the santhals of Birbhum) in their sweet twang and lovely intonations. And I remember the names of all the people I befriended in my endless train journeys.

There's no dearth of memories of the innumerable excursions and no paucity of inspirations to keep me going for the rest of my life. There was born an itinerant soul that pines for a new experience, a peek into the numerous possibilities of a different life that could have been its own, a new perspective, a new taste and an array of new characters in the story of its life. 

I am really thankful to my parents for initiating me into this book quite early in life. And doubly thankful to life for finding me A, who has been the most amazing ally in not only exploring the book better, but also making this whole experience all the more enjoyable.