To travel is to willfully leap into the unknown – to give up the secured confines of home and wander into the exigencies of the world. This is true whether one journeys from home to a nearby town to see an event, or lose oneself in the sights and smells of a ‘Mela’ (fair), or to another continent in search of work. Over time, the world and its moralities seep into our lives and into our hearts. In doing so we come closer, howsoever marginally; to becoming – as the Greek philosopher Diogenes first called himself – a “citizen of the world”.
Predictably, travel arouses a swirl of responses in us. The world can either repel or inspire us in its reflections. But for a majority of travelers, travel forces their minds to think, to adapt, to reevaluate the prejudices and to gauge the responses in ways far removed from what they have been perceived to view. Travel in short is learning while on the move.
For many like me, the journey is always the destination – the essence of the short trip or the long journey always lies in the million ‘Chai’ (Tea) stops, the smiles or gurgling laughter of a baby, those impromptu romances between co-teen travelers, a lazy cow lying in the middle of the road and refusing to move, or a sudden downpour that hits the window panes and reduces the visibility to just a thin streak of light of a vehicle in the distance, in watching the green canopy of trees that welcomes every thoroughfarer with their arch, in washing my face and feet at a small gushing stream, in watching the outline of a small hillock from the distance, and sometimes, in just doing and thinking nothing at all…
Predictably, the idea of India as a traveler’s paradise – whether as a geographical or cultural space – is increasingly distorted in the minds of many. Many perceive travelling as the kind they see in Bollywood movies while the more privileged know more about Dubai or Venice than they do say about Bhubaneshwar or Shillong. Many parts of India are virtually foreign to many young minds, though no real fault of theirs. Who wants to ‘think’ about a Nizamabad when there is a jet plane taking off to Singapore? Our collective consciousness is slowly getting fragmented along the comfortable lines of global travel than the rustic feel of one’s soil.
Should this matter? Yes.
In a heterogeneous democracy like ours, where resources and geographies are vastly varied, where peoples, cultures, food, language change with every district – it is paramount that we see past our immediate environs. Our collective challenge is then — how do we offer, to the generations of Indians to recognize our collective destiny? Our soil and its manifold beauties. Lester Pearson, the late Canadian Prime Minister, said in his Nobel Peace Prize Lecture: “How can there be peace without people understanding each other, and how can this be if they don’t know each other?” To him, and to all of us, knowledge of the other was to simplify, to get past the banal and to learn to treat each individual according to their character. And the best way to do this is to travel. To explicitly encourage personal explorations within India and make India more accessible.