But the truth blooms quiet late in life. By the time it comes our limbs would have run out of all youth it once was bristling with.
Remember the first trips out?
Parents chose our destinations at a time our language hadn’t ossified into intelligible whole. Either they or we played dumb. We pointed North, they took us South.
The folks took our prattle for ice-cream to a demand for movies. They heard ‘schools’ when we bawled out ‘playgrounds.’ They thrust temples and art museums on us when we asked just beaches. When we cried for toy-guns they took us to loos, and forced us sit. Oh, how we 2-year-old-kids traveled in the arms of our mothers so grossly misinterpreted!
We never traveled our travels. Sad.
Then we grew up gathering friends on the way. My pals, my companions, my travelmates. The first trip to Kanyakumari with them liberated my pent-up soul, and it soared like string-less kite to the blue skies. But within a few more journeys the very soul, shocked and punctured, plummeted and crawled back into the very bottle, licking its wounds, where the genie was entrapped for the last couple of decades.
The experiment was a fiasco, a no-show. Friends in journeys can be nightmare, I found.
Friends who were lazy to get up on time to catch the first rays trickle from a nearby mount, friends who were so edgy that they picked up fights with strangers for staring at them half a minute too long, friends who stayed too drunk that they remembered only the cover page and the last page of a wonderful trip, friends who never got out of the queue which crawled to the toilet spoiling all our chances of keeping an appointment with an early morn sighting of wild animals in a forest, friends who drowned the silent splendor of nature with their relentless yapping.
Friends are noble, at last I realized, if they stay back right at their homes when I travel.
But families…they are a different story. Sprinkle your marital life with journeys to keep the machinery well-oiled, old people advise. Travel defuses tension, lets out steam. At least you can change the wallpaper when you fight it out next time – some welcome change for the young hapless audience at your home.
The pleasure is there. I get the kicks whenever I see my wife happily indulge in a bargain at a market far away from our world. The father in me feels great whenever he lets his daughter soak up the mist straddling the mountains.
But, sorry dear I am a convert. I have tasted the manna and my soul would not settle for any blander bite. My journeys for the column, ‘Road Less Traveled’ which regularly appeared in the Hindu had given me a peep into heaven.
Ah the joy of traveling alone!
Rituals begin long before I hit the road. Where to alight, where to linger for tea, where to brush past… Spotting places in a map and threading them all in a single circuit on paper over a cup of tea is one thing. The actual drive on road is quite another matter.
There is fun when plans are rained out. There is fun when you miss the last boat out of an island. There is fun when the rooms of all the hotels in a strange town are all suddenly occupied leaving you out in the cold.
The unscheduled detours, led off by my sudden just-add-water friends (They stay away when I travel with my friends or family) are the bonus of every trip. Let them fumble helping me. Mistakes I welcome.
I still remember how I yelled at the conductor to stop a bus somewhere in North Kerala, when I caught sight of a series of signboards that read “Burqa palace.” I jumped out. The boards led me off deep into a nondescript by-lane. Burqa palace! I’d never heard of such a palace in my life; I felt like David Livingstone about to make the discovery of his lifetime.
May be, this royal family I am going to meet is related to the Arakkal palace; may be I am the one who will help them discover their parent family, I dreamt, as I bounced spiritedly through the road. Half an hour of intense walking under a punishing sun I reached the doorsteps of the palace…er… a tiny shop selling burqas.
Burqa palace! David Livingstone cringed in his grave.
Traveling alone makes us vulnerable; vulnerability gets us friends. “Come with me,” they say if you’re alone. Weird customs and strange people shake away their defense and open up the moment they find us unarmed and unaccompanied. They let us pry their deep chambers open if we are all on our own.
Mill around the streets at nights under the sodium vapour lamps; have the whole town to yourself: just you, a couple of lazy street dogs and a cloud of vapour just landed from outer space.
Stop for a while when the first motes of sunlight begin to dance in the air. I gently blow away the smoke that eddies up from my tea cup and decoct the essence of this exotic land. Through the smoke and the early morning mist my eyes pick the blurred image of a woman waiting for her bus in Kasargode town. The heavily lined eyes flit wildly this way.
Here stands a harmless traveler. Don’t fix me with that angry stare my girl for I am just a lonely tourist passing by, hampered by the splendor of a land caught in your wild, wild eyes. But I wait gingerly.
Picking my way into you I may sometimes trip into strange soulscapes within me. Hence I come.