Not everyone has an opportunity to be an adventurer travelling all around the world or even all around India for the matter. But it is interesting to meet people who have done it during your journeys. Listening to them can be as fascinating an experience as doing it yourself. Lot of my friends had met such people in India and abroad. I had heard of Europeans, Australians and Americans taking a year off just to travel. But I have always felt I never meet such interesting characters. I always travel with ordinary boring middle class people who just go to office and do their jobs. The only time they travel is to take their families to nearby hill station for the kids’ summer vacations. Maybe that’s how India is.
These were my thoughts till one train journey from Nagpur to Chennai changed it partially. It took another journey from Bangkok to Bangalore to fully change my opinion and start believing in wander lust as an inherent human trait irrespective of age, nationality or financial status.
Those days I was still at college and I had not traveled much. I was returning to my college in Chennai after spending my summer vacations with my parents in Nagpur. Opposite to me sat an elderly gentleman. In Tamil, there is a saying ‘ Aall paadi, Aadai paadi’ which would roughly translate as half of you is defined by your personality, half by your clothes. Going by the gentleman’s clothes, he looked like yet another boring middle class grandpa. As the train started moving, he started attempting to make conversation with me. I was not at all interested and kept giving half hearted replies to his inquiries about me. Then just to be polite, I also decided to ask him about himself. That was the turning point of the conversation.
Some of the most travelled folks are people from the army. This gentleman however was no army colonel. But a defense person nonetheless! He worked at the ordinance factory. He had been working at the Chandrapur factory the past 3 years and had now been transferred to the one in Awadi in Chennai. I geared myself, expecting to hear the same old sob story about how difficult it is to pack and move every time. But I was in for a surprise. Apparently he considered transfers the best part of his job.
“I do not need to work for a living. We have a lot of farm lands in Varanasi and the farm income is more than enough for me to get by. But I love to travel and see different places. That’s what I love about my job. In a span of 38 years, I have lived in 15 different cities all over India. Chennai is going to be my last assignment. I am already beginning to dread the day of my retirement. But my wife and children will be happy to have me back home.”
This was a total googly. Who would have thought a farmer from Varanasi would have so much passion for seeing places that it would drive his career decisions! I had a delightful time the next 5-6 hours listening to him regaling his experiences in the different cities he had lived in. Listening to him, I realized one thing. Visiting a city for few days on vacation is like making a casual acquaintance. But only when you stay and work in a city, you really connect with the soul of the city. 15 cities had bared their soul to this farmer turned weapons maker.
Years passed since this experience and I had settled down in a software job. This afforded me opportunity to see a bit of Europe and I began to view myself as a seasoned traveler. But still my travels were limited to Western Europe and I looked forward to meeting globe trotters and listening to their adventures. A smelly middle aged man with a French beard speaking a bad mixture of Hindi and English was hardly my idea of an adventurer. I wrinkled my nose as such a person came and occupied the seat next to mine.
The rest of it turned out to be a déjà u kind of experience starting with him trying to initiate conversation with me and I trying to dodge him. Only this time I was talking to an international traveler. This man apparently worked as a cook on merchant ships. He had been working for almost 20 years and he had seen almost every part of the world. He had a few amazing stories to tell about the places he had seen and life abroad a ship. I had only read about captains and first mates and sailors in sea stories such as Robinson Crusoe, Sea Wolf and Mutiny aboard the HMS bounty. And here was a man sitting right next to me who had been there, done that and seen it all with his own two eyes.
His naval career had been cut short when one day suddenly his arm had frozen. He was unloaded at the next port and had to return home by flight. He had consulted various doctors. But none could find a cure. Merchant ships it seemed were excellent pay masters and he had already saved enough to see his kids through and have a comfortable retirement. But what he missed most was the travel. Then someone had suggested a pastor who did some faith healing. He had been skeptical but had taken his chances and that had proved to be his salvation. His career had been reinstated and he was back on a ship. That had strengthened his faith in God and he had become a devout Christian from that day.
These are but a few of the many interesting people I have met on journeys. Everyone says one learns a lot by travelling. The learning does not come by sitting quietly and saying “Mom says not to talk to strangers.” It is by meeting and talking to different interesting people that one truly expands ones horizons. And these two experiences have thought me never to judge people prematurely. All one needs to do is to keep an open mind and keep travelling. You never know what kind of interesting person you will meet each time.