Around the World in India
Five months on and the road is not often easy. People say that the adventure starts when the plan ends. If this is the case, then our adventure is an all-time epic. My doubts return frequently. But I begin to understand the process, and how to flow with it all. Each day teaches me where the limits of my control lie. And I learn to work within these limits and surrender to everything else.
For the first three weeks, torrential rain hounded us. I felt insignificant and vulnerable in the face of it. I faced something of an existential crisis as it dawned on me that I no longer had a home and the external structure of safety and security I had always taken for granted no longer existed, and had never really existed. From now on I would need to find it in myself.
I was born an Indian. I was born a Hindu. I didn’t have a clue what it meant to be either. I was a stranger in a familiar land. I had a lot of belief, but no faith to put it in. I had a lot of questions, but no answers that fit them. If we are a nation of farmers, why are we driving them to collective suicide? If we think motherhood is divine, then why has womanhood become a curse? Why is killing a cow wrong, but burning alive the cow-eater an acceptable way to spend Sunday evening? Why are all our patriots queuing up at the American Consulate? And more importantly, why does my mum think I should join the line?
It was all so frightfully confusing, and I intended to rectify the situation. The plan was ingenious and quite simple. I was going to explore India like few people ever had, by taking an inordinately long journey around the country on a motorcycle: 40,075 kilometers to be precise. Kaya – my soul on two wheels – and me, and anybody who wanted to come along for a ride. Why 40,075 km? Well, that is the length of the equator, and going ‘Around the World in India’ sounded exactly like the sort of inanity that impressed prospective sponsors. If everything went according to plan, my presumption was, by the end of the journey I would be the complete Indian. Ironically, my very quest to understand India was deemed un-Indian.
“This boy thinks like a Westerner,” my uncle bemoaned. “What kind of an Indian quits his job to gallivant around the country on a motorcycle?”
Animals travel on all fours. Mankind, on two.
With Kaya, I feel the sun on my back and the insect in my eye; I smell the forest and the exhaust fumes; I listen to the song of birds and the blare of traffic. Reality isn’t mine to create. Once on the road, my motorcycle and I become one. She is an extension of my body, my heart racing to the beat of her engine. When she hugs the roads, I hug it with her. When she knifes through the wind, I cut it with her.
Philosophical dribble notwithstanding, the most important effect of travelling by motorcycle, one that I hadn’t taken into consideration, was that Kaya brought me into contact with more people than my invisible personality ever could have. Throughout the journey, regardless of where we pulled up, Kaya always managed to attract an assorted crowd of curious onlookers. She was the icebreaker once people recovered from the initial surprise of finding a regular, Hindi-speaking human under the helmet. She made me approachable, and more importantly, worth approaching. Kaya opened the doors to their thoughts, drawing me closer into their circle.
Who Stole my India?
All that happened in 2005. Why then am I talking about it now, eight years later? Well, because that is how long it took me to put that journey into perspective. ‘Who Stole My India?’, a book on my travels that was published earlier this year, comes out of my trying to make sense of what I learned on the road and the idea of sharing that knowledge with people who have similar interests.