I come from a family which was “middle class” in the true sense of the word. Yes, I know, these days everyone is called “middle class” right from the software engineer who earns a six figure salary to the call center dude to the government employee who barely makes do. But back then in the days when my parents were called middle class, we had “enough and a little more” as my father would say. But I digress, as usual.
The point I actually wanted to convey was that we were very middle class in our thinking as well. Money was there – but for a “solid” education, a long awaited home, a second hand Premier Padmini, and a rainy day. But, money for travel? – never occurred to any of us. Vacations meant the annual month-long trip to Kerala, and if you got excited about the three day train journey, or poetic about the scenery, it was attributed to mallu blood running through your veins. Perhaps, it was – I am not sure. As like any bookworm, I loved to read descriptions of different places in all the books I read -right from Kirrin Island in the Famous Five, to the old English countryside in Jane Austen’s England, to the hills described by Ruskin Bond. I did fantasize about being marooned on a beautiful island, or kidnapped to an exotic rainforest with a beautiful waterfall, but I would be lying if I said I wanted to..or desired to visit a “real” locale. Fantasized – yes. Desired – no. Tried – no. It was always an unreal world – people who did wonderful things but who were very different from me. So, if the Famous Five took their bikes and went camping, it was so awesome and wonderful – but it never occurred to me that I could too. Yeah, of course, I did the pretend stuff – using a sheet as a tent and making “chakka puzhukku” with cousins, but a real trip? Hell, no!!
My maternal uncle was considered the “hip” one in the family. Every year, he would plan a “family vacation” with his wife and kids; maybe with his wife’s extended family too. They would hire an Ambassador and visit places like Kodaikanal, Ooty, and Mysore, and when they went, my folks would act as caretakers of the house. And every year, I would watch them leave, happy to have the huge house to myself, but also quite envious about the adventures I was sure they were having. One year, I think my uncle caught the faint wistfulness (or envy!) in my eyes, and suggested that I come along with them. This time it was a religious trip to Parani with a stop over at Peechi dam – but religious or not, I was thrilled. When my father nodded his consent, I could hardly believe my ears – I knew I was going to have so many adventures. And I did! Well, every single thing seemed like such an adventure to me. The cramped journey in the Ambassador, the stops at “chaya kadas”, eating lunch in the shade of huge trees on the road side, staying at a small lodge with the entire family fighting to get the most comfortable beds, the climb up to the top of the temple, even fighting the rush to get darshan at the temple. I do not remember too much of the places, but I do remember the excitement, the spirit of freedom, and the feeling that I was exploring something, away from my comfort zone.
Years later when I came to Bangalore, the world was changing. People had started talking of travel as a passion, as a hobby, as a noun. I was amused. How can that be a passion, or for that matter, a hobby? But then I dismissed it – after all, tennis is an expensive sport, and I supposed rich people do play it. People continued to write ‘travel’ as a hobby in online forum – I continued to ignore it. I was now living as a paying guest with four other girls, and we were slowly getting to know each other. One boring afternoon we had just each other for company, and nothing to do and one of them piped up with “Let’s do a trip together!” It started with Coorg..and went and back and forth…and landed, guess where? New Zealand. I just hadn’t expected that, and that’s when I first met (in the real sense) the two most influential people in my life – RG and LB. Both of them very different people but with one common desire – to see all the beautiful places in the world. I was amused, but I was beginning to understand that these people were actually passionate about “travel” and I really didn’t have to be scornful about it. They were serious – how could anyone doubt it, when they were ready to spend 70k on a week long trip? (These were the days when we earned 6 k and barely had enough money for a Coorg trip). I passed. As excited as I was, I had grand plans of studying abroad and every penny saved made a huge difference. They went and came, and I duly admired the pictures. But I didn’t really feel too upset about missing out on the trip.
Then started a period when weekend holidays became the fashion, and I was surprised by how much I started liking these. Goa, Ooty, Karwar, Wayanad. I had started to make lot of new friends, and before I knew it, we had a gang. One holiday happened..and then another..and then another. It was no longer surprising that as one ended we were planning for the next one. I guess I was perverse to very end, because I always insisted that I was having fun because I enjoyed the company of friends and not because I enjoyed traveling as such. It gave me great pleasure to say that the place didn’t really matter, just the company did. To some extent, I still think that’s true.:-)
And then Australia happened. One day LB and RG suggested that we go to Australia. I agreed, without even thinking. RG wanted to see the rainforests, and LB wanted to see the beaches, and I wanted to ..hold your breath.. “travel!”. Yes, I really didn’t care about which place I was going to – but it was an exciting idea, going to a foreign location. I wanted to sit in a plane, drink coffee in an airport lounge, take pictures out of a train, talk to different people, eat different cuisines and yes, see a lot of different places. Me, who had scorned the idea of people spending money to see places,…wanted to, and wanted to badly.
Sadly, Australia was not what we had expected – or rather what they had expected. The rainforests were brown, the waterfalls didn’t have water, and while the beaches were awesome, they did not compensate for a barren landscape. And yet..and and yet, it was beautiful to me. Oh, not because RG and LB were with me (that too), but because it was an experience. An enriching one. Each moment – new, different (I have learnt to respect this word!), and liberating. They added up to small experiences, each one of which I savoured with greed, but hid with a pretence of sophistication. Walking along the crowded streets of Sydney watching formally dressed people hurry by; or drooling at the hunks surfing in Gold Coast; or checking out an old deserted cabin in the Blue Mountains, shop in the deserted streets of Cairns; or the best one ( a hunky cabin crew member took my hand and took me on a tour on a cruise;-)); or walking hungry in Sydney and sharing an apple with LB because we didn’t have any money (okay, that wasn’t really such a pleasant one) – I cherish every memory. That’s what I meant when I said I didn’t really care about the place. I do to a certain extent, but beyond that, I have learned to cherish each and every moment, out of the ordinary.
Of course the journey had just started. Then followed quite a few trips – within the country and out of the country. The US a number of times, and finally Europe of course. Europe is the most beautiful place I have been to, but my favorite travel location? The US. The US was my first solo trip, and where I totally learnt to appreciate traveling. I had expected to be lonely, really lonely. I was right – well, to a certain extent. But I also enjoyed myself thoroughly. Suddenly there was a whole world around me, and there was so much to do. Small things, but it’s a huge deal for someone like me – someone who had never really taken the offbeat path, and worse, never really wanted to. The possibilities were endless, and I was totally overwhelmed by them. Whether it was going to jazz concerts, or camping at an Indian settlement, or eating bison (yeah, yeah, I know!), or trekking up the Georgia mountains, or going for architectural tours – I hadn’t done any of that, and definitely not alone, and it was such a high, I couldn’t understand it myself. I found myself getting excited about traveling by the Subway, about learning a smattering of Cuban because my cab driver was Cuban, about shopping in Macy’s, about attending a church service, about everything.
And yes, I have learned to appreciate beautiful places too 🙂 It wasn’t that difficult. It doesn’t surprise me these days when I hold my breath when I see the mist waft pass a mountain to reveal a glorious sun rise. It doesn’t surprise me when I listen to the sound of my boots crunch on the snow, and think it’s the most beautiful sound in the world. It doesn’t surprise me when I look into total darkness overlooking a Coorg farmhouse, and feel totally at peace with myself. It’s not rare that I huff and puff and curse on a five hour trek and then have conversations with the stars as I lie under them. In fact, it seems perfectly natural to walk along a beach and feel the waves lap at my feet, and think that I want to do this (read that as travel!) all my life.
I have come a long way. Traveling. 🙂 The journey and the destination both turned out quite different from what I expected. I guess that’s what traveling has given me – a belief that I could change my beliefs and that it was okay for me to do so. Its given me lots more too – new friends, new ideas, new possibilities, new hope. Yes, hope. When you see so much beauty around you – how can you give up on hope?
Am I passionate about travel? I don’t know – I don’t think so. I don’t think I will ever be a “vagabond” at heart, as RG is; I love my roots, and am quite anchored by them. But I do confess that it is nice for me to swing on those roots to some neighboring lands. 🙂 And…that is that. Quite a rambling traveling travelogue ha?:-)