The ecstasy, excitement and nervousness that comes from travelling to a place whose name you’ve only heard, but it has no traces on Google, you know you’re about to embark on a journey that’ll be full of risks and adventures. But what is travelling without the uncertainties and the adrenaline rush?
When I first stepped onto a bus that had red lights flickering, men smoking and the creaking noise that came from seats being adjusted back and forth, I realised that choosing a local bus over a train, just to save a meagre amount of money was a bad idea. I, nevertheless, made my way past pairs of eyes staring at me and climbed into my sleeper seat. There was a rack where I could keep small belongings, a net to hold my water bottle. It was spectacular to look at the roads, and people were swarming in and out, like visual stories I had longed to explore. I chose to travel in a non-AC bus to save money that I could later use to spend on food.
One of the main reasons for travelling is the opportunity to try my hand on some lip smacking cuisines and ranting about it, in front my foodie friends.
Anyway, I tried sleeping around 2.30 am and realised that speed breakers are a curse to humankind, the kind that chooses to travel in a bus and expects a comfortable sleep. Somehow (I still don’t know how), I fell asleep and woke up to a baby crying on the seat next to me. I decided to cover my ears and tried sleeping some more, but that didn’t really help. I put on my pink headphones and slept.
By the time I slept, I wanted to pee. The bus had stopped at a deserted dhaba for tea. I had to decide whether I should hold it or make the effort to get down, pee and climb back. I decided to rush to the nearest toilet once I reached my destination. I slept again and woke up when the conductor banged the wooden door in an unpleasant way; the worst wake up call ever. I got down, picked up my luggage and rushed to the nearest toilet. The interiors were a horrifying sight and the absence of a flush made me regret my earlier decision. I got done with it somehow and walked out cursing the public toilet. I took an auto to the Zostel, the auto wallah suggested. It had dorms with multiple beds where backpackers, like me, found paradise.
The next morning after breakfast, I picked up my camera and decided against taking an auto. I prefer walking when I arrive at a new place. I like to touch the old walls, posters that are half torn and strike a conversation with anybody I meet on my way. I like the sounds of vehicles; it sometimes sounds like a symphony when the horns play in a particular tune backed by the occasional ‘tring tring’ of the cycles. I realised, it is not the buildings, the streets, the shops or the houses that define a place. It is not the people but their stories, their experiences, their anxieties and the excitement with which they talk about it. It was then that I realised that there is no better thing than listening to people, especially people who are longing to be heard but haven’t found a companion. It is strange how they comfortably open up in front of people they don’t know. Maybe, the fear of being judged goes away and they manage to bare their souls comfortably in the warmth of an unknown human.
It is strange how random stories either force us to think and question realities or strike an instant connection where we are comfortable feeling just as vulnerable as the other person. There are two strikingly different aspects. One which is so uncomfortable that we refuse to believe it and the other so convincing, that we accept it without any doubts.
On my trip to Tilonia, a small village near Ajmer, Rajasthan, I bumped into not just various kinds cultures but people who play an active role in constructing and taking that culture forward. This village is famous for its solar engineers, who are mainly women from different economic backgrounds and social status. The usual tradition of upper and lower class and caste is practised in the households but in the workspace, these women are taught to work together.
Another interesting sight was the presence of women from 12 different countries. They had migrated to Tilonia to become solar engineers so that they could light up their household and communities at large.
When I entered their workspace to click pictures of the solar lights and lamps, I ended up talking to one of the ladies from Tanzania who agreed to talk to me. She had an unusual hairdo. Each small section of her hair was tightly braided and twirled in circular loops on her scalp. It had coloured beads in the middle section, and a few strands were loosely left. I can barely tie a bun properly, I said.
She understood my actions as she could barely understand English. She laughed loudly and offered help in styling my hair the same way. I thought it would be the best way to spend time with her. Another kind woman offered to become our translator, but I chose to take up the challenge. We sat outside the room with two cups of tea and freshly fried pakoras.
My conversations with her were mainly about her family. She had come to India because she really wanted to change the acute problem of the shortage of electricity in her village. Although she was illiterate, she wanted her children to study for which proper lighting in schools and houses was a necessity. She came for a poor community and three square meals were a luxury for her in India.
She couldn’t contain her happiness when she showed me one of the solar lamps she had made from scratch. It took her almost two months to master it buts she finally knew how to do it. She knew it so well now that she could teach it to the women in her village. Her dream was to create a team of ‘Solar Mamas’ (a term used to refer to women in Tanzania). At the end of the conversation, she hugged me. She barely knew English but the way she said, “I love India”, touched my heart.
That very moment I felt globally local. Paradoxically it defined how beautifully travelling gave me the chance to be in a place that was remotely known and yet, had people coming there from across the world. In an era where people are alarmingly hiding in their own spaces and trying to live in their comfort zones, there are people breaking barriers. Breaking barriers of culture, religion and language.