Travel Telltales 

Travel to me is road trips. Rocky roads and really long drives. A car trunk flooded with luggage, and some more in the rear seat. And by the feet. And on the lap. How it all fit into our little car, I’ll never know. I’ve been traveling for as far back as I can remember. The places I’ve been to are very few; I could count them on my fingers. But I’ve frequented some of them so often in all these years, I know them like the back of my hand. The known voices of familiar people, the recognisable bumps and cracks on the roads, the shopkeepers that know you by name… It is an extraordinary feeling to go somewhere and feel like you’re home. I constantly realise how people in faraway places lead separate lives but have a common existence.

Adventure to me is a forest. A familiar forest that I know the routes to. Yet ever so strange, unknown and enticing. Rugged jeeps navigating through craggy pathways as the dust gently powders your face and clouds your vision. A thudding heart, a camera held firmly in an unsteady hand and utter silence. The thrill of seeing nature through a lens in its wild, unmade, tousled form is unlike any other. With a still body and wide gaping eyes, I’ve learnt patience through a viewfinder. I’m not a great photographer, I must tell you. But growing up around my photographer dad, I’ve never been too far away from a camera.

I’ve always fancied putting on a khaki attire paired with brown boots and a dark green hat, as a way of being one with your surroundings. It’s a subtle part of maintaining the jungle decorum. And off we go in our jeeps, bumping away on weathered roads, the excitement building up. And a sudden halt – squint eyes searching in the dry, desolate expanse. The jungle in all its discreetness uncovers itself in the form of a ravishing beauty – a leopard. It stands there, half-hidden behind a tree trunk with a still, unblinking stare that makes the hair on your neck stand on end as it pierces through the silence. Thrill rides on the shoulders of suddenness. Eyelids flutter and the camera clicks away, taking shots that try to do justice to the breathtaking sight. It doesn’t know that the mind’s eye has already captured and ingrained this spectacle for the rest of time.

img_8755

These memories have grown with me, from childhood to adulthood. Experiences need to be remembered, taken care of, and nurtured like a relationship; lest they be long forgotten. They have asked for unremitting love and attention, and I’ve obliged. Each trip has been a journey closer within, while the pleasure excursion proceeds on the outside. I wait to see where the next trip takes me, while I hold on to my true north.

Travel

A majestic sun
Plays hide and seek
With dense clouds
Impervious, yet so clear.
Below sags a lowly hill
Crowned with crystals
Yellow, purple,
Orange and blue.

The cement structures
Grow smaller
And smaller
Until sight leaves them
Deserted
To take in the vast fields
Of cotton pieced out
From the clouds above.
A stork white as a ghost
Smoothly slices through
The air like a blade so sharp
It bleeds
Over hutments of mud
Neatly lined below.

And where does your journey
Take you?
Across continents
Time zones
Sunsets
Skies
Mountains
Forests
And oceans.
Do you travel
To find a home
Or to leave it behind?

We’re globe-trotters too
Like you
Voyaging through seas
Flying through clouds
Riding through mountains
For adventure,
Newness
Change.

But unlike you
We seek,
And so
We seldom find.

Stop a while
Take my hand
As I empty my pockets
To lighten and disburden
To fly to no end.

Nostalgia

Every time that bus vroomed, it was her sign of time fleeting. She did not want to go. Ever. Just the sight of that bus made her furrow her brow and grimace. Even when she wasn’t supposed to be on it, yet. She did not like the destination or the journey. That sound she heard was her source of nostalgia. Every other month, she would leave home and board that bus to go 220 kilometres away. And every single time, she hated it. Not the idea of leaving home, that – she could handle. But the place she was going back to – not. Three years is what that place took from her. Three years of an environment of dullness, discouragement, and zero lifelikeness on strange faces that never got familiar.

She was back home that day, driving gaily on the roads she knew so well, humming to the tunes of her favourite songs after a good day when she saw that bus a second after she heard that sound. It was about to leave. Passengers were waving goodbye till the bus left and they were no longer visible. She thought of the feeling she would unmistakably have when it would be her time to go, again. She frowned.

It took her a moment to realise that that time, that day, was never going to come. This time, she was back, for good. That phase of disdain, that journey, that motion sickness, the dullness on the faces of those people she had to see, was not a part of her worries any longer. It was finally over. She grinned at the word ‘over’. After a long time, that bus – no matter what sounds it made – did not give her wrinkled brows and a feeling of nostalgia. She drove away and nothing could bother her – not even the uncontrollable traffic that usually made her swear at it, a lot. In that moment, she gulped down the realisation of a change of path for a better, newer journey; to a destination she knew was great, and unknown.

A Familiar Stranger

“What am I doing here?”, I wonder, standing awkwardly amongst a crowd full of devotees, being elbowed and cornered, with hands joined in prayer and in gentle deference to my upbringing. I take off my shoes, let the priest color my forehead red and stick rice seeds on it; I look around, not knowing where to begin and how and then, get a little embarrassed at walking into a place of worship like a sight-seer. Bizarre as it is, my hands impulsively join and my head does a slight bow down, my brain gets conscious of my limbs (which gives me a funny walk) and my heart beats gratefulness to everything around, living or dead. There is a desperate and preconscious need (of the ego, Freud might say) that arises to imitate fellowmen which would’ve never been acknowledged or felt outside such premises, being the eccentric person that I am.

I’ve been elbowed and cornered and confused and colored and embarrassed at these events, since I was a toddler. Wow. That’s long. Almost like a tradition that’s followed. I preach rationality but I see no trace of it here, which makes me kind of a hypocrite. But I’ll come to a resolve on it later. So, then I climb up the cold marble stairs and stop myself at touching the last one because well, why? My brain doesn’t process that why. It just shrugs. So I move on to the next habituated and trained action that I’d later regret , even though it’s quite fun, if you ask me. I ring the big iron bell hanging above my head, and so loudly does it toll, I feel the vibrations pass through my body in short shuddery fits. The hectoring verses of the prayer soon begin with the relentless chanting of the mantras that defy every speech sound, and not very pleasing at that. The drums beat in a fashion music might never have known. The tiny little hand cymbals add to the monotonous noise, seeming a bit much for their size.

Not soon, but the mind-numbing sound does fade out eventually with a screech from the speakers and the fervent piety of the visitors slowly quiets down once their, what only seems like, head-banging is done. I have my ears open for a hard rock alert, which I never hear, except in my head. They disperse, with overwhelmed sniffles, in different directions and the big iron bell sounds are heard again as other people feel the shudders through them. It turns from day to late evening, and the place gets scarce of life in and around it, except for mine. Above, I see the painted, carved ceiling;  around, the ornate columns; no seats, just a carpet; deity shrines and the sculpted figures of gods and demigods probably, on the walls, whom I fail to recall. Someone would know. I don’t. I admire the exquisite architecture that speaks to me in ways that art does. Pleasant. Silent. They say it is sacred, unassailable. I wonder what that means.

A day is what it took from me. This building where I’m at. The focus of people’s faith. A symbol of hope. Of unanswered and irrefutable questions. I have a feeling of intellectual falseness as I step out. Of verbal imposing, pronouncements and compulsions . Of feckless monotony. Of unilateral orders. What would happen when these temples become obsolete? Would anyone visit these places again then? I wonder if anyone would take care of the building that once stood tall and confident in belief and holiness. What would happen to the big iron bell, the exotic oil lamps, the stone idols, the decorous altars? Would anyone come to change the flowers, brownish then? What shall people turn to; live by? The experience was, let’s just say, satisfactory. The place was not worth stopping for, but I did stop there, all the same. In fact, I often do.

The weeds have covered the pathway now. Dead leaves, barely trampled on, cover the earth, as if hiding something underneath. Standing by the porch, I see a shape, a structure, less recognizable with every visit. There stands the building, once full of visitors, yellowish, dusty, in the want of color. I hear no tolling of bells, no blaring of speakers, chanting of prayers or beating of drums. Not even the tiny hand cymbals are heard. I strain my ears. No, certainly not. Not a sound. I step inside, in awkward reverence. The bell that gave me shudders is gone. If I had to, I would have struck it again. The stone idols have barely survived in bits. Rest, broken to pieces, then maybe turned to dust and blown away. The columns and altars do stand though, but not decorously. No oil lamps burn. I wonder who would’ve been the last one to see this place for what it was. Maybe some lost soul may have hiked here to find its way. Or some dubious adult would have brought his children here to touch a stone or two. Or someone akin to me, uninformed, tired, yet aware, may have set foot here to see the place he heard, made people wise.

Despite everything, it pleases me to stand here. Ill-chosen, the experience makes me reflect on that which was considered wise and holy. The silence still reverberates though no sound is heard. That never goes away, I think. I’m still a familiar stranger to this place. That won’t too.