There is a certain level of romanticizing that goes around, when you hit the road, wearing the badge of a ‘nomad’, ‘traveler’ or ‘vagabond’, whatever you like to call it. People look at you with rose-tinted glasses of admiration, sometimes baffled and sometimes completely jealous, unaware of bargains you make in the process of ‘leading a dream life.’ Sometimes these bargains are a heartbreak, some tears and at times, some earth shattering moments of ‘truth.’
Now don’t get any ideas here. I am not talking about meeting some random people on Tinder while traveling or meeting hot strangers for a cup of coffee accidentally in a coffee shop in Milan. Since the time, I have set my eyes on the road, with only a backpack, I have explored touristy tracks, unraveled well-kept forests trails, hiked into an eternity in the Himalayan Mountains and swam with the star-fishes in the Indian Ocean. However, if I were to pick my favorite travel moments, they are definitely the ones which have wrenched my heart, inspired me to think in ways, I never thought existed and exposed me to undiscovered people, unaffected by the whole fracas of globalization and economic developments. Here are some of my favorite moments and thought provoking conversations:
We are humans and we fall in love- Being a woman, and more so ever an Indian women, I am accustomed to rattling travel warnings about safety, interacting with strangers, taking public transportation, etc. But having traveled often, I realize a sense of futility of all the negative mongering that the mass media stipulates us to. On a recent travel to Assam, I got started talking to our car driver- Bijaei, who told me stories about women travelers he had come across. “This one time, a girl, traveled with one of my friends. She was on a family trip to Arunachal Pradesh, but soon fell in love with my friend. On the last day of her trip, she ran away with my friend and her parents were disgusted and aghast with “What will the society say? The couple got married and returned to our village. When eventually, they gathered their wits to meet the girl’s parents, my friend turned to them and apologized. We are humans and we fall in love.” My heart wobbled, with guilt. What was his or the girl’s fault? Yes, he was a driver and belonged to a not so well off family. But why would our society, deem him inhumane or unworthy of marrying a girl of his choice?
Just because, we belong to India on a map, do we become Indians? My wanderlust to explore the unknown, often leads me to places which are off the grid for the average tourist. On one such occasion, I found myself, floating in the abode of clouds or Meghalaya as it is officially known. One fine morning, when I sat at my local home-stay, a newly made friend ‘Morning Star’ initiated a conversation “The people living in this area, appear different from the mainstream India in every sense of it. These are tribal people with different languages, customs, traditions, etc. Publicly available resources trace back their origins to Myanmar and sometimes Africa. Today, we belong to India on a geographical map. But does that really make us Indian?” I was startled to participate in this conversation. I was being challenged. My notions of nationalism were breaking down. I questioned myself again and again, over the course of day. Who defines my nationality, my race or my choices after my birth? What makes me an Indian? What is my identity? Where do I belong? To a community, to a locality, to a race, to a piece of land on the world map? Or being human is my only true identity?
We are sad, but we are happy- Bhutan, or the ‘last Shangri-la’ as it is popular, is hailed for its ‘Gross National Happiness.’ A country defiant to measure its prosperity on the happiness meter, instead of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), seems to be leading from front, when it comes to being progressive. So when I decided to pay a visit to this landlocked Himalayan kingdom, I couldn’t resist from asking a question to one of the locals- Dorji, about whether nothing makes them irrespective of where the world is headed with wars, famines, corruption, etc. Dorji remarked, “We are sad to see people fight, shed blood and reel under poverty. But we are happy, because we have realized one thing. The only way to survive in this world is to learn that we all share the same planet and our actions are ultimately going to impact everyone.”
As soon as I heard those words, I could make sense of what John Donne meant, when he wrote down “Each man’s death diminishes me, for I am involved in mankind. Therefore, send not to know, for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee.”
Have you had conversations that left an imprint on your hearts and mind? Share them with me in the comments