Yaathra …

Tomorrow, once again, I am going to pick up my bag and travel to distant lands. Except that this time, I am not boarding a luxury bus or a train from Indian Railways, but a Boeing 767 operated by Delta Airlines. In all my years and situations that demanded travel, there has been a common element to my destination – it would be ‘home’ or places or people whom I could relate to ‘home’. The first trip I ever made alone was from my grandmother’s house, a place called Perinthalmanna in central Kerala, to my parents’ house at Bangalore. My uncle helped me secure a seat in the KSRTC bus that started at 7.30am and would reach Bangalore at 4.30pm. I was put on a day bus, to keep me safe from the evils of the night. I must have been about eighteen then. I always kept my single piece of luggage at bay. A person from Nilambur kept me company during this journey. Around noon, I made way for the sumptuous lunch that my aunt had packed so carefully for me. At that time, I was not into the habit of reading books, apart from text books, so the beauty of nature outside and conversations with the gentleman kept me company. On reaching Bangalore bus station, the relief on my mother’s face told me that she was happier than I was that I had reached safely.

The first trip made me, moreover so, my parents, confident, that indeed I could travel without assistance. This kick started the umpteen journeys that I undertook for various reasons to different destinations in the path of life. Every time I traveled, looking at the numerous co-passengers, this thought would cross my mind – where are all these people going? And to date, I don’t know the answer.

As I encumbered upon new journeys, which for some or the other reason, I had to do alone, I started liking the solitude while traveling alone. Sometimes traveling with friends seemed like a crowd. The excitement of boarding the locomotive by myself, finding the seat I reserved, reading my book on and off, looking outside the window and losing myself to my deepest thoughts; everything instilled a sense of adventure in me. The slight fear that I was alone, but the confidence that I am a woman and old enough to step into the world, encouraged me to make many more journeys, and each time to a farther place, touching upon places that I had located earlier only in the atlas.

Another significant ‘yaathra’ was the one I made with my father to Manipal. This was indeed a journey, to a new life, a new avenue. For the first time I was going to live away from my parents and from the four walls of my home, that had nurtured me in its warmth all through the years. This time I had two big VIP suitcases, felt more like I was going away forever. I first traveled to my grandmother’s house to seek blessings from my elders. I was the first child in the family going into an Engineering college. The next day, I went to meet my father at Calicut. Being a photographer, he was there on an official visit. While he was waiting for me, he said he had watched two movies in the local theatre, the only movies I remember him watching at a theatre. I should say – I was impressed. We checked out from the hotel he stayed in, and boarded a luxury bus to – Manipal. It was around December and Manipal was arid and dry. The place was a surprise to both of us and the heat dampened our spirits. We walked from the college to the hostel a distance of two kilometers, this distance which I would tread upon a thousand times in the next four years and would end up weaving so many memories to cherish. He registered me at the Ladies Hostel, and said he was going to leave. I stood at the gate, and watched him walk down the road, till he got an auto-rickshaw to take him to the bus stand. I don’t know how he got back home after that, which bus he took, I must have asked, but the memory of him slipping away from the horizon, leaving me alone in an unknown land to figure out everything by myself, has overshadowed the details he gave me about his return journey. After this I had many more travel experiences from and to Manipal, with friends and alone, every one of them etched and put away in my chest of memories.

The next milestone journey was taken on Indian Railways – Kanyakumari express from Bangalore to Trivandrum on Oct 13, 2000. The first job I won after a long battle of interviews brought me to this city. I stepped out of Trivandrum Central railway station, holding the same VIP suitcases that had once accompanied me to Manipal. I took a good look at the scene in front of me. A poster of a Malayalam movie, an array of auto-rickshaws, hustle and bustle of KSRTC buses at Thampanoor station and the big clock behind me standing high and telling me something. I am not sure what, or why I took a good look at the clock on the tower, but I did look at the clock, it must have been somewhere around 3 o’clock in the afternoon. Here I was again, in a new place, alone, trying to figure out everything, right from where I was to work to where I was to stay. This time there was no ladies hostel to register myself, but thanks to family friend whose parental house gave me shelter for a few days. That was the beginning of another journey, a journey that would shape my destiny.

This time I am picking up my luggage bag, which will be a single piece of luggage, to a place called Tucson in Arizona. The destination is my brother, who will graduate with Masters in Computer Science from University of Arizona. This travel is a dream comes true. When he walks on stage, I will see myself walking beside him, and being hooded as an MS Graduate; something I had wanted to achieve years ago, but as strange as life is, it took me to unknown destinations.

This excerpt from Nida Fazli’s ghazal, aptly describes life’s myriad ways –
“Apni marzi se kahaan apne safar ke hum hain,
Rukh hawaon ka jidhar ka hai, udhar ke hum hain.”

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