Friday, January 27, 2006

Going the distance alone

July 2005, around the time a cloud burst. Traveling alone, I could sleep overnight at a station platform, would think nothing of wandering from one state to another in search of a bus headed home, and behave as irrationally as I wanted without being tut-tutted. It was independence – messy, unregulated, and revealing. I imagined traveling with others who insisted on taking regimented tours, and this made me feel glad instantly; it was the satisfaction of avoiding a cliché. Their route would be pre-selected, its rough edges cut, and only the brightest, shiniest, and picturesque things would be seen. They would be led to the token traditional craftsman who had cut a decent deal for himself. Having dished out the money, they would see a performance pass itself off as reality. While they shook hands with Mickey Mouse, my journey would be full of wonderful discoveries. Strangers would become friends for life, we would trade stories, there would be original experiences and old tales and wonderful things that hadn’t been named yet. Life looked after its boys, fortune favours the brave and all that.

Marquez liked to get on a tour bus to see the places he should avoid. Bryson walked into countries just about accidentally. Dalrymple moved in broken trucks, broken buses, through broken countries. There’s a precedent here. But who reads the fine print? That it’s lonely, that staring out windows for hours in strange places is a recipe not for wonder but for an introspection of the most searching kind. A leaky roof becomes symptomatic of life’s misfortunes. Just as the joys while traveling alone are intense, internal events, so is the misery. Of course, everything will be out of proportion. I’d find myself a little disoriented for a while everyday, desperately seeking an anchor in something familiar. That meant sipping a coke, or having Kurkure for that back-home feeling.

Mood swings are common. Between breakfast and lunch you’re doing optimism. Between lunch and supper melancholy is doing you. It’s inexplicable, though I think sitting still for far too long, just thinking, has something to do with it. There’s too much time to kill between venues. The journeys become a blur, distinctive only by the feelings associated with each destination. In buses I smuggle and snatch inches, becoming more frugal on each new ride. And what if an old lady turns up, her destination clearly hours away? There she stands for a few hours, toppling over in this rattling bus, completely unaware that a few feet away someone’s realized something horrible about himself. It adds to the isolation, the sense of being cut away from your moorings. All those moral science books, all those hours spent listening to what’s right and wrong from parents and teachers and friends, all gone.

Then you return home, as I did, relieved, alive, but feeling the urge to run back naked into the wilderness. You made it back once, so surely it can be done again? The misery, the sheer alone-ness, and the self-doubts are nearly forgotten. Sure, it wasn’t all joy, but it was something.

13 comments:

Prakriti said...

Rahul, that was stunning! I have been trapped in chains so long now I had seemed to forget that I lived this life too, not long back!

I shall link to this. Absolutely beautiful.

Do you write travelogues too?

Sumit said...

Amazing post Rahul..

You have put into words what goes into minds of most solo travellers.. I could relate to most of the stuff you are trying to convey here..

-Sumit

Anonymous said...

That is superb. Solo travelers, solo this, solo that, applies to all. Wonderful.

Gabrielle Eden said...

I travel with my best friend, God, and my two best animal friends (two cats) and I am never ever alone. I have more joy traveling, and meeting new people than anything I know.

I wish for you also, the rapture of life with God, through Jesus.

Salil said...

I'm a regular traveler - I've been through about five or six countries in the last year (New Zealand, South Africa, Hong Kong, India and Australia for various reasons) - but I always make an attempt to not travel alone to avoid such experiences.

I've often gone places with family or good friends. A couple of years ago, I'd gone with some friends through Vietnam, travelling through several of the small cities and villages. Alone, some of it might have been hell with the cultural and language barriers, with food problems and the lodging. In a group, it was divine. Card games at midnight under the leaky roof, exchanges of music and past travelling experiences in small rickety buses and so on and so forth.

With family, it's sometimes even more fun. I've discovered facets of my parents and brother abroad that I'd never have imagined at home. Try not to travel alone. It's always great experiencing something new the first time; it's even more fun when there's someone with you to share the experience. And quite often, you tend to learn just as much about those you travel with as you do about the places you travel to.

Salil

Oneirodynic said...

It was independence – messy, unregulated, and revealing

Very true.Being solo makes the "travel" itself wonderful.You dont concenrate on a target destination as such.

Anonymous said...

Very familiar. Although I don't travel as often as i'd want to, but this did remind me of a couple of journeys I've taken all by myself.

The feelings are a mix of good and bad, but there definitely is something to the experience that you crave for. Probably that's what you call "Wander Lust".

shilpa bisht said...

its true. when you travel, yo want to see, how much really will your unbilical cords stretch. till how far will they keep you connected to your outside world. and no,at no point do they break. however, alongide, your mind simply overlooks it...and automaticalls starts dwelling upon ones own self. what it termed as loniless,by the world, the womb.

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