Ramesh Shukla
Master and the muse: Ace photographer, Ramesh Shukla, with some of his works Image Credit: Supplied

The lure of revenge travel has been aiming at us in that determined, salt-sprinkling stance of Salt Bae Nusret Gökçe, and it’s got people beaming onto planes for a trip to the good times.

Metaphorically speaking, that’s where everyone plans to go, I reckon; back to the future and before the bothers of the pandemic were coiled into our psyche.

After mulling over this scenario, I’ve taken up an alternative POV on why we actually travel. Part credit for this exemplary discovery goes to Yuval Noah Hariri’s best-seller ‘Sapiens — A Brief History of Humankind’.

What struck a cord, is that Sapiens do not forage for food and materials. They forage for knowledge. In fact, they were highly successful at taking risks to achieve rewards. This could be the Alma Mater which compels us to tour distant lands, that is, to understand our world and beyond.

Lured to explore new horizons, I’m reminded of UAE’s unrivalled historic photographer Ramesh Shukla. Despite sea sickness, he’d boated to Sharjah from Mumbai in 1965 with his Rolleicord camera because this desert port had offered his lens the chance to absorb something completely new.

'Don’t leave this region. Stay'

When UAE’s Founding Father, the late Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan saw Shukla’s impressive photos of a traditional camel race, he said that he was a ‘fannan’ (artist). Shukla heeded Sheikh Zayed’s words to him, ‘Don’t leave this region. Stay’. Captured in those photos were visionary Sheikhs who would later form the United Arab Emirates in 1971.

Arching on with this outlook on foraging, its rewards proved to be phenomenal. Our ancestors mastered not only the surrounding world of animals, plants and objects, they also aced the internal world of their own bodies and senses. Could it be then, that travel urges us to march on, despite the threat of feisty variants?

Either way, opening up to risks appears to be soaring through the air. Aeroplanes, bees and butterflies whistling in cahoots with the jazz of springtime. Egging us on.

What’s tweaked the formula in 2022, is to make up for lost experiences, or rather, for knowledge. We’re curious about cultures, well-being, and lately, the actions of certain billionaires.

After assessing the risks, the forager in me took over, possibly sparred on by lyrics to Footloose in my subconscious playlist. That wasn’t sufficient reason to roll the dice and board a plane, until I was reminded of a personal incident — pretty UAE by the way, which you’ll see in a minute.

I’d won a Nissan Sunny in my twenties. It was the final day of a Ramadan millennium raffle draw at Nad Al Sheba in Dubai where I’d gone to watch the horse races.

My darling mother Kathleen had insisted on buying three raffle tickets at the very last minute, which is why when ticket number 10112 was announced with my name on it, we were utterly awestruck! Although the Sunny wasn’t exactly our dream car, the stroke of winning it had taught us back then that ‘in order to win in life, you have to play the game’.

So, off I went to secure a welcoming hug from an aeroplane’s seat belt. On this familiar airline, a biography called ‘Matisse — The Life’ had travelled with me. Out it came after take-off, plopped open beside little packets of salted peanuts. Grin.

Speaking of little, the artist Henri Matisse survived on a pittance during his years as an art student. He’d travelled from Saint-Quentin to learn to paint at Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. He failed at it. Miserably. He admitted that he wasn’t good. In fact, far from it.

His father was consistently furious every time Matisse insisted on continuing down this doomed path, and for a number of years, tightened his son’s allowance.

Undeterred, Matisse forwent food for days in order to exist off of a shoestring budget, which is peanuts, really, in a pricey metropolis. The rest, of course, is history.

Like Shukla, Matisse, too, was acting out a will to forage for knowledge. They knew that people actually want to absorb and to know more about life and how to engage with the world around them.

On that note, safe foraging.

Melissa Randhawa is a UAE-based journalist for 27 years. Born and raised in Dubai, she writes with fondness about this dynamic hub and its wonderfully diverse community.