“You are mad“, she said.
“Yes, yes”. For some reason, I was reminded of Dean Moriarty.
I do not know what came of us, back then. I am confused as to which year it was. On a whim, it had struck one of us that we should ride a long way. Or perhaps, both of us. ‘Through’ one thing or the other. All we had was a couple of maps, printed. I was not acquainted with these sophisticated ways back then. We picked a satchel each, with some minimal clothing. We made a kit out of some spares – a clutch cable, a spark plug, patches, those levers to pry the tyre out of the wheel and so on. All these were stuffed into a gunny sack, and neatly suspended along this accessory on the motorcycle that I hardly needed, but got anyways.
The motorcycle was packed and sent on a train to Delhi. What was planned, and what turned out to be, in the meantime, is another story. We did eventually get to the motorcycle, and rode all the way back. Two young men, and just the roads. At some places in this (erstwhile) state, there wasn’t a road to speak of. If I remember right, it was around this time of the year, and the rain was unrelenting. There were nights when we’d reach another town, find a place to sleep, and then have to unpack everything, strip, dry all our clothes and bag and shows and everything else under the fan before we slept. And by the time it dawned, we were on the road again. In retrospect, apart from all else, it seems that we were fortunate. We did not have any trouble, and including the detours for free bed and rest days, it was about 2500 km and 10 days.
I do not remember much of the details, except that it was exhilarating. And that looking back, we perhaps had (and still do!) underestimated the nature of our travels. I had not told anyone, not even my family. It was only when I came back that I revealed to a few people. Some were shocked, some perplexed. I remember Appa trying hard to conceal a smile.
And despite the years having gone by, and the fading memory, one thing that stands out among the ruinous images from that trip, is the various encounters with people. Throughout, there were all kinds of people, and it strikes me now that barring the unruly cop in Gwalior or such occasional irritants, we were fortunate to meet some of the most interesting inhabitants of this planet, kind, helpful and cheerful, most of them. I remember feeling grateful.
Ever since, my favourite aspect of travel has been meeting people. To live life vicariously through the other, living in another space, in ways very different from my own, is a delightful experience – a journey within a journey, for the discerning traveller.
And so when Syed Mobin remembered me the moment I called him, I was surprised. I had been dropped by him, in the historic town of Aurangabad, in his three-wheeler, just two days back. He would instantly recognize me, and agreed to come down, pick me up from that god forsaken place where I slept, and drop me off at the train station. When he came, we were a few minutes late, and I had to apologise. I do not like being late. To my surprise, he picked a small box from his pocket, handed it to me, and said –
“Gareeb ki taraf se ek chchota sa tohfa” *
It turned out to be a box of sweets, made by his eldest daughter. They tasted delicious, and I imagined her to be a beautiful girl, just like her father. I did not know what to say. We spoke a few mundane things as we rode to our destination. As we parted ways, all I could do was buy a box of one of my favourite sweet dishes, and request him to pass it on to his kid.
When I woke up in the morning, I found that I had missed a call from him, past midnight. I called him back much later, to find out that he had called to make sure that we had made it to our train. I felt small, as he said loud and clear, “Mention it not, sir”. And in that smallness, I felt grateful, yet again, in a familiar sort of a way. And I realised how that man, was anything but poor.
The true adventurer goes forth aimless and uncalculating to meet and greet unknown fate
– O. Henry –
Why do we even go forth, sometimes, I wonder. What pushes us? Or is it a pull? And then, do we just get pushed and pulled, on and on, forever, and until we break the cycle?
* – Loosely translated to, “A small gift from a poor man”