I travel a lot these days. There is an exhilaration, some sense of wild excitement that envelops every time I’m in a new place. I hate the part where I know I am leaving – the idea of packing and all the enormous set of decisions and planning to account for my absence takes a toll on me; always has, even through college, even when it is about the return – but the butterflies and frown lines dissolve the moment I am finally, irrevocably in a moving vehicle and on my way.
Trains are the best. Growing up in a hilly area, we frequented buses for all our travel, and trains were warranted only on the yearly trip to Wayanad to visit my grandparents during the summer. In fact, one of the first times I ever travelled alone was after I began this blog in 2016, and I have even posted about it. Travelling by train was something I saw only in poetry (umpteen readings of From A Railway Carriage by R. L. Stevenson), stories (We had an excerpt from The Railway Children in one of our lessons and I adored the book after that) and movies (Jab We Met. Period.), and the rose-tinted romanticism has probably percolated down to me very well. Every time I board a train, I smile in spite of myself. Perhaps it is that, for at least a few hours, I feel like my life is sorted and I am, literally, going somewhere good. Whether it’s meeting up with an old friend, or visiting a new place, or even being on my way back home, it makes me happy in a strange way.
Today, I read a post on Instagram in which someone shared reminiscences about his childhood family trips – how his mother and father decided on a place every year during the holiday season and they went away for a week. My colleague also mentioned something similar to me when we were on a flight last month; the airline’s magazine had a map of India, and we were trying to find out how many of the states each of us had visited at least once. Almost all of mine had happened over the last 5 years, and most were thanks to work-related travel.
Our family also did travel a few times, but they were group trips with multiple families. Precisely, those of Father’s friends. Sometimes it amazes me how they became a gang. Unlike people I am familiar with, they did not go to the same school or college, they did not work together. They were just a few people who happened to live in the same neighbourhood and decided to get along well during their adulthood, well after they had wives and children. And as with most of the world, the wives and children formed social groups where their husbands led them. Now that I think about it, almost all of our lives from that time belonged in a bunch, the way flowers from different plants are in a bouquet. Our destinies were tied together, when it came to any social function. Writing about this seems to have opened the doors to memories that have been locked away in an obscure time, like a board game we might keep away one evening as always, never knowing that we’d never play it again, only to be astonished as we find the dusty game one day decades later while cleaning up the attic. I now remember that we attended all the birthday parties, gathered at house warning parties, and enrolled together for local summer camps in which many of these adults acted as the organisers. We discussed crushes and played badminton in each other’s backyards, and plucked mangoes and guavas and rose apples in the summer. We had sleepovers at each other’s houses. And yes, we went on trips together.
I can only honestly recall three trips, and they were all in and around my state. Two because there are pictures in the album that Mother routinely to my college friends when they visit, and one because it was the first time I had alcohol. Well, technically, it wasn’t alcohol. It was toddy, a fermented drink harvested from coconut and palm trees in our part of the world that is sweetish and light when fresh, and intoxicating after sitting for a while or when taken in excess. I remember that I had an entire glass of the sweet version whereas my male cousin could not stand a gulp, and that everyone found that amusing. Or maybe that was with some other families. I cannot recollect anymore. All I remember are the coconut trees that swayed next to the toddy shop and the boat that we were on. And that its roof was brown.
I am rambling.
On my way home today, I saw big crowds at a small local circus/carnival. There was loud popular music blaring out; the board read something about it ‘sea world’ and the ground seemed to be teeming with vendors and families. My guess is that there is some kind of a small aquarium set up inside with large fish. I wondered if I would go there if I had a child. Perhaps. Probably not. The whole place looked tacky, and I would probably just scoff at it and walk away. I wondered why all those people were there at all.
Well, I told myself, maybe they are also just trying to go someplace. A break from normal existence.
Even when financially struggling, my father found the money to go places, even if those places weren’t long miles away from where we lived. Now I rush to take trains at the drop of a hat. I try to fill up my weeks and months with at much ‘life’ as possible, seeking out places to go to and friends to visit them with.
At times, I feel like I am frantically holding on to this zest for collecting new experiences, as if I am afraid of the day when I would have to completely come to a halt and look around. I see the teeming crowds at the carnival, at my father and his friends laughing at a hotel lobby, at the fleeting images at my rail window and ask myself – what are we all really running away from?