Friday 27 April 2007

The Strange-r Connect...

6.15 p.m. : Mapusa Station, Goa, India

The Sun sets beyond an unassuming brown hill as Sam and I sit on the benches of this picturesque Goa station. Our eyes meet a firang backpacking couple's as they prepare for another 'Indian Railways' journey across our diverse lands. "Would you wish to sit?", we offer the lady some room on the bench. She gladly accepts it. I wasn't surprised (the backpack seemed heavy).

"What train are you taking?", "Where are you from?", "How was India?", "Ooo.. How's the weather like in Italy?", "What you saying, you don't like cricket?", "How can 10 men wait for the ball to come and do nothing till then?", "Varansi is mystic, don't you think so?", "What! You haven't been to Varanasi?", "Ain't India a religious country?", "Is India still elephants on road and snake charmers for westerners?"

What started as a simple act of chivalry ended up becoming one of the most beautiful human connections i've experienced so far. Fred and Joe, the lovely Italian couple, allowed me to marvel at the unpredictability of life and the realisation that there must always be room for such unusual, unexpected connections. The kind which make life not seem like a computer generated programme.

Because when you look back at life, you don't want to see a time-table that you followed rigorously. I don't intend to prophecise a vagabondish existence nor am I promoting randomness. What I wish to share is : that in my humdrum of daily existence I have lost so many Fred's and Joe's that, until I met them, I had come to a point of indifference to the strangers around me.And you may wonder why the need to be open to such random quirks of fate?

All associations - frivolous or intimate - begin with a mutual statement "We were strangers till we got to know each other." So you never know, there may be a beautiful person waiting to know you.

Again, It is a very personal choice and one that I strongly adhere to. One of "my" primary reasons of existence on planet earth is to travel new lands not through a Raj Tours & Travels but with my Lonely Traveller book, camera, backpack and compass. To meet new people not because its cool to chat up with foreigners but to genuinely exchange a part of my life for theirs. To part with some of what I am and what my country and my upbringing has made of me and take back some of theirs.

My travel ideas are primitive and it probably explains why I get this strange sense of comfort when i meet like-minded foreigners travelling in India. I feel responsible to fulfill their need to explore by showing them not what the guide book asks them to see but to help them connect with our country, our people, our joys, our sorrows. Its no good to travel as a tourist because what you come back home with is mere photographs of exotic locales, magnificent monuments and a heavy shopping bag. But the essence of travel is beyond these obvious. As Coelho says "Its in the cafe's and bars - the alleys and small homes - Its in the ordinary guy who you may be able to talk to and who shows you the oft unseen"

The essence of travel is in meeting the one stranger who makes the journey worth it. It is in this very strange-r connect that the heart of true travelling lies.