“Hold on! Give me a minute! I am getting a little old!”
This was from an 84 year old, I met while traveling in Lucknow in Northern India. A Canadian lady in her mid eighties was backpacking solo across Asia. When I skipped stairs and got to the top of a temple in seconds, she subtly remarked: “Hold on! Give me a minute! I am getting a little old!” That was the moment I seized for the rest of my life. I told myself – that’s exactly how I want to get old, exactly how I want to live the rest of my life. It was my first encounter where somebody I just met, defined what it means to live this beautiful life in the most beautiful manner.
We spent a day together exploring the city and not once did I realize that my 23 year old self was thoroughly immersed in the company of an 84 year old. While we were parting our roads at the end of the day, that lady said – ‘My friend, ageing is just a mental process. So don’t get old! Keep traveling till our paths cross again in a different part of the world.’
Ever since then, the free brave soul inside me has traversed frontiers and crossed continents, in an endeavor to explore how beautiful and kind, this world and its people are. And there’s always a choice – to enjoy a vacation with people I know back home or connect with the world and its people I don’t know yet. I often find my finger choosing the latter. Starting with short weekend trips in India, I began traveling alone to different countries. In the process, I realized that it was not about capturing the touristic sites in my camera; it was about those beautiful relationships I built on the road. I remember of a time when I had just met a Brazilian and a Chinese in France and we decided to hit the road to Belgium together. With only common language being French, a week across Belgium was a lot of head cracking, struggling to convey with actions and broken French in Chinese, Brazilian and Indian accents. Every time, when I look back, it is something that brings a smile on my face and urges me to pick my phone and send a quick, ‘Ca va?’ to Brazil and China.
Travel has brought me closer to reality and the world at large. Slowly and subtly, I was also intrigued by the depth of my inner self, turning into a passionate yoga practitioner. I feel that this world is such a beautiful place with so much to explore that if I were to try one new thing every day, I would fall short of a lifetime. Hence, my eagerness to confront challenges outside familiar comfort zones helped me decide on my first study abroad experience. I chose Ecole des Mines de Douai in France.
My fantasies of experiencing French culture and mesmerizing myself with French desserts were all laid in front of me, ready to become real. Along with a cultural exchange, it was an educational exchange too where I could compare and value the teaching-learning processes in France and India. For me, that was an encounter with beauty. I was learning about a new culture, and at the same time, valuing much more the one I came from. My stay in France gave me a platform to learn a new language. The sheer pleasure of interacting with an entirely new Franco-phonic segment was extremely rewarding. I remember how once in Nepal, I met a Tunisian football player who didn’t speak English and couldn’t manage to make a hotel booking in Kathmandu. I quickly translated everything into French for him. He hugged me and said, ‘Thank you. Now, you have to come to Tunisia and be my guest.’ I told myself, ‘That’s beautiful!’
As a child, I was made to believe how beauty is determined only by the color of your skin. But, all these experiences gave an absolutely new dimension to my understanding of the term ‘beauty’. The best of my friends today are the people I met in the Elephant Orphanage in Sri Lanka, in a super market in Thailand, on a train station in Morocco, on a trek in Azerbaijan, or in a yoga course in India with no bar of age, nationality or religion. I remind myself how when I met with an accident in Laos, an old French couple took care of me; how once in Pakistan, the restaurant owner refused to take money because I was a guest in his country. Having these wonderful connections in different parts of the world is what beauty means to me.
Coming from a small town in Northern India, my solo travel wasn’t accepted so easily. But all I knew was that the travel bug had bitten me for life. I had a much better sense of the kind of life I relished. I gave up spending on clothes and shoes, and started saving for traveling. My endeavor is to continue following my passion.
Another backpacker friend once said, “When you get a cardiac check-up, the ECG (Electrocardiogram) graph goes up and down. The moment it gets straight, they call you dead. That’s the beauty of life. It has to have ups and downs. So go live it and live for yourself!”
Falling in love with this beautiful world and even more beautiful people was so addictive that I cannot stop myself now – striving to see how life unfolds, striving to travel the road not traveled and striving to cross paths again with my ‘young’ Canadian friend in her eighties who changed my perspective of a beautiful life in the first place!