We are recent travellers — but we have also been travelling all our lives. I am sure this applies to many of us who have visited different places within the country and out of it.
As children we went where our parents took us. We had no preferences since we were not bombarded by visuals of sunny beaches or snow-clad mountains, the way children are today — and of course, no one asked for our opinion. So, without question and without research about our destinations, we just went along. We may have learnt a bit about each place quite by accident, but we certainly didn’t set out to do so. All we wanted to do was enjoy ourselves — and we did. Whatever learning happened was purely incidental and no one cared if it was entirely missing. We certainly didn’t have to collect specimens or photographs for school projects and when we went back to school, we just dove into the syllabus and didn’t bother to ask each other about the holidays.
During our adult lives, however, the focus of our travels changed. Every couple of years we had to pack our bags and make our way to strange sounding places in different states of the country, so when it was “holiday/annual leave time” we were very clear that we wanted to go “home”. It did not even cross our minds that we should spend time at a beach or a mountain resort to “get away from it all”. We were already away from it all in the middle of nowhere, so we were happy to go back to our homes and the frenetic pace of a city. That we could not afford a trip anywhere but home was beside the point: Our focus was our parents’ homes, which we never doubted were our homes too. No invitations were required. No year-long planning was done. When we got our leave, even at a moment’s notice, we packed up and went home.
It was only when our parents were no longer there to go home to that we began to look around elsewhere at holiday time — and suddenly the whole world was open for us. All we needed was the time, the inclination and the money — and after several false starts, thanks to one or the other of the three requisites being unavailable, we finally set out.
We began to pick and choose. We researched, we discussed, we weighed what various tour operators had to offer — and only when we were satisfied that we were getting the itinerary of our choice in a budget that suited our pockets did we make our moves.
All considered, that worked out quite well and we travelled to many more places than we had ever thought we would and names like Ballarat, Krakow, Yaroslavl, Port Arthur, Helsingor, Keystone, Mostar, Ljubljana fell off our lips easily as we recounted minor adventures and major attractions we had stumbled upon in each place.
One would think that this awareness of wonders everywhere would give us a yen for destination after destination, but suddenly we find that it is people that attract us, not places. From observing different cultures and ways of life of people in other parts of the world, we now prefer day-to-day ordinariness with old friends, new ones, siblings, cousins, their children and grandchildren … We would rather be with them than pursuing the breakneck pace of a see-it-all-in-a-day itinerary that we had earlier enjoyed.
And thus, we set off to school and college reunions, to weddings, or sadly, to memorials for the departed — and everywhere our focus is on the people we call our own.
Cheryl Rao is a journalist based in India.