I did this journey by the sea five years ago. Something made me want to revisit it again. Maybe it's the birthday - Durga Puja time of the year combination. Maybe it's Soma's upcoming birthday or Jayantbhai's recent passing away. The book never got written and is still sitting on my comp. Enjoyed reading this bit again though today. Unusual, because more often than not we don't like reading something we wrote years ago because so much has changed meanwhile...
Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start…
New Delhi, 8 October, 2006, 1 pm.
Three days to go before I turn 35. For the classical Indian scriptures that believe a human lifespan to be 100, 35 is no big milestone. And yet, I cannot explain the strange feeling I get in the pit of my stomach – that life is passing me by, so much I need to say, must say, so much I must do. A paranoia of sorts. I mean, one doesn’t think of death when one’s birthday is approaching and yet I feel guilty of not doing justice to life.
Soma passed away. She was 43. A book two-thirds complete on her comp. It was her dream project. Another manuscript complete, unpublished. Adite says if there is one lesson we all must learn from Soma’s passing away it is to do the things we have always wanted to do, Now.
It’s been a year since I set out on a voyage of discovery. Every five-six years of work I get this itch to take off. As Radhika puts it – to throw everything up in the air and hopefully something will come out of it. Last time I had taken six months off to be in a ‘gurukula’ in a village off Mumbai. I had worked for five years, held three jobs – in a newspaper, a television company, a government set-up. To quit and go is different from taking leave and going because you don’t know where you will be next, you trust this will lead to that. The journey is important, very important, obviously, therefore you decide to do it in the first place. This time, I had worked for six years – wonder of wonders, in the same place. More credit to the boss and the organization, for sure, for the unique ability to be a university of sorts. Where the boss is a mentor, you learn not like a classroom setting but in just about every exchange however trivial it may seem.
It has been great to work in the nonprofit sector. Working on HIV has presented many opportunities to learn about the complexity of HIV – gender, women’s rights, violence, migration, poverty, drug use, sexuality, relationships. However, after six years I am not so sure where I want to be, what is my ‘profession’. As a media person, I feel I am just writing about what other people do, understanding of life superficial. In the development sector I am the journalist in disguise. So there is an identity crisis. Who am I and who do I want to be.
On the personal front, 34 and single, I want to know where home is. For all these years, this has been my home and family, and yet a gnawing desire that this is what I was born with, time now to seek my own, fly away, leave the nest, build my own.
Personal, professional, everything one big identity crisis so I decide to take a break. If the last time I suggested this, everyone thought it was insane for a 27-year-old to go and live in an ashram, this time around the suggestion is met with some trepidation but more or less people are happy for me. It has been a wish for seven years that I travel the Indian coast, solo woman traveler. The plan is to spend three months travelling along the coast: From Kolkata down to Kanyakumari, up to Dwarka in Gujarat – the great Indian peninsular. Along the coast, I will look at history, geography, sociology, ecology – just about everything. An attempt to better understand my country and my people, trusting that in doing so I will discover something extraordinary about who I am. Like a child exploring family history. So much of who we are comes from our lineage, so this then is an attempt to discover my own self through my country and my people. ore than anything else, I am looking forward to this experiment of just being on my own. As with most last-borns in the family, I have always had people doing things for me. I wish I had left home at 20. So this is my time to see how I fare being on my own, what alone-ness does to the mind.
The last trimester of the year is filled with festivity and the weather as pleasant as it can get. A chance to begin this journey in Kolkata during Durga Puja and I know it’s the perfect combination of right place, right time. It is ashtmi, the eighth day of the Navratri, and also my 34th birthday when I fly into Kolkata from Delhi one late October evening. Friends and family have sent me off with blessings and wishes and I feel the pilgrim traveler of yesteryears. The teachings of the Masters light my path and I feel so protected it is like being held in ‘the hollow of God’s hand.’ There is excitement and curiosity, the sense of wonder of a child as I hit the road a backpacker on a journey which promises to be as much of a journey within as without.
It’s been a whole year…