J for Joyous
To have found kindred spirits
There are tomes written about travel and the why and how of it. And as much as I explain it with my head about why I travel, from my heart I must say that the real reason I travel is for the sheer joy of it. Maybe it is that I leave the everyday responsibility of life when I travel, but once I am settled in the bus, train, or plane, my heart wells up with joy. I can never explain it and now I have stopped trying to. I just flow with it while it lasts.
Recently I was travelling in central Rajasthan. I had lived and worked in Rajasthan for almost three years about a decade back. I was quite excited about going back but also blasé about the whole trip. As it turned out, the trip threw up several pleasant surprises for me— perhaps because I was least expecting it.
What fascinated me the most was the variety of jewellery that the women wore. Usually I try to be very business-like and focus on the discussions, rather than on the clothes, jewellery, etc., of the village women. This time, I simply could not help myself. The older women especially had some beautiful old pieces that were probably not even made anymore. They were very happy to be photographed close-up and explained to me the significance of each piece. This somehow intermingled with the main discussion
of whether they wanted to set up a ‘ responsible tourism’ venture in their village, and soon enough there were bouts of loud laughter as the women discussed the jewellery they received in their dowry. And how they would charge a huge sum to show these exquisite pieces to the urban women who would visit. All said in jest and fun, of course, and we soon buckled down to business.
For me, much of the joy of travel, whether on work or leisure, is these unexpected encounters with women (and men), where they prove every stereotype wrong. I love to sit with a group – in a tea shop, or a corner, or on a bus – and throw a question in their midst and listen to their responses. If there is an election around the corner, the responses are laced heavily with irony, sarcasm and wit. The wordplay and perspectives that these seemingly simple folk share never ceases to amaze me.
All the People We Meet
Increasingly, my travel is about the people I meet rather than about the sights that I see. Of course, nature has a way of capturing the heart completely during those few moments when it chooses to display its best. ‘My heart leaps up when I behold a rainbow,’ says it best perhaps, of the many splendours of nature from the magnificent snow-capped peaks to a serene sunset by the sea. As I type this out, the steady pitterpatter of rain keeps me company and soothes me with its gentleness.
A decade ago, one of the biggest joys of travel was how I travelled. I would look forward to the train journeys – the endless vendors with all kinds of interesting food, the fellow passengers who would open out their tiffin boxes to share, the kulhad ka chai, the insight I got through listening to random conversations... I used to say that my best holidays
were spent on the train going from one end of the country to the other.
Now, thanks to standardisation and technology, I dread train journeys. All I hear are one-sided conversations, most of which are updates on how soon we will reach. ‘Yes, we are just four hours away.’ ‘Yes, we should reach in another three hours.’ Not at all interesting to listen to! And since this continues through the night, there is no rest either. The less I say about the food, the better. Thankfully, there are still exceptions such as day trains between Chennai and Bengaluru or the Konkan Kanya Express between Goa and Mumbai, where good food is available, but never any silence. And so I now look forward to the destination rather than the journey itself. A pity.
Fortunately, most places I stay in nowadays are community-owned responsible-tourism ventures. So I have the double pleasure of interacting with some very interesting people as well as the joy of knowing that my spends there go directly into deserving hands.
However delightful the destination might be, it is the people we encounter at every step of the journey who make or mar the entire trip. Just as we expect others to be quieter and more polite, it is also up to us to treat those we come across with respect. It is the small things and gestures that add up to make travel joyful. Be courteous especially when making payments – often tourism is an important source of income and when you haggle to reduce the price by those five rupees, you are really hurting the seller. Remember to thank your taxi drivers and guides – your lives are literally in their hands. They are so used to dealing with rude guests that politeness brings out the best in them. Be patient and listen to people – your journey is enriched by what they share.
Joy springs from the little things on a journey – keep your senses open for it. Nothing is too small— anything is as trivial or as insignificant only as we make it out to be. Just think of all your favourite books. How writers do transform the everyday into the universal, the ordinary into the magical, binding us in emotions that resonate.
Finally, remember to give the joy back manifold. It is one of the things that keep Mother Earth spinning happily along her trail! Let’s remember this as we enter the festival and holiday season in India.