It is that time of the year again — that in-between-kind-of-feeling when memories of the bite of a winter intermittently made melancholy by low-lying fog are still somewhat fresh, while the hiss of summer is already upon us.
April. Darn. TS Eliot’s endlessly quotable line from The Wasteland: ‘April is the cruellest month…mixing memory and desire….’ said it better than most anything else. And, now, since I have used this line all too often, I have to let it go. Start this column differently.
April. It is also the time that thoughts turn to travel. To leave that hiss of summer for cooler shores. For Arctic cruises skirting the infinity of ice and the sublime Nordic regions where night only puts in a guest appearance; for cruising down the Mekong river in Vietnam and Cambodia; for the vineyards of Bordeaux and Napa Valley; and closer home for the aromatic coffee plantations of Coorg or homestays in desi exotic places run by eccentric Europeans or Indians, where the lucky traveller can gorge on both fabulous food and tales.
Relishing the journey
But it is not the destination that is important as many a wise one has said; it is the journey getting there. The American writer Ernest Hemingway put it succinctly in his sparse prose: ‘It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.’ The journey itself allows the voyager to gradually leave behind where she is coming from and get into the mood, perhaps mode is a more accurate word, for what awaits at the ‘end’.
The word gradual is key here, one that is becoming increasingly elusive. Today, before you know it you are already there: the time between departures and arrivals is shrinking. Jets get you there faster than your mind can keep up and grasp the changing time zones. The precious time for reverie is increasingly evanescent: time that enables you to not only relish the journey but think about where you are going, the chance to re-tune to the changing landscape passing by from train windows.
Today, superfast trains also eat into that suspended time. Sailing at leisure across oceans has become too expensive — no longer possible for the average Joe, Jane or Jain to get from one place to another, as it once was. It is more about cruises where more of the fun is probably onboard, with passengers just stepping on land to tick places on their to-do list. Where would all the fun and thrills be if suppose Agatha Christie’s marvellous creation Hercule Poirot only travelled on jets and in fast cars on non-descript highways? Murder on the Orient Express and many of her mysteries are set on ships moving leisurely down the Nile or elsewhere.
Travel is not just about going from one place to another — and getting there fast. Slow travel, like slow food, enables you to savour what is before you. In a gentler-paced era, it wasn’t just the landscapes that fed your mind; conversations with fellow travellers also expanded and enriched it. Not mired in your quotidian lives at home — and not yet across the threshold of a different place elsewhere at the other end of the journey — you are in the frame of mind making it possible to peep into the lives of others, to live a bit vicariously. The writer Anais Nin put it so well in her diary: ‘We travel, some of us forever, to seek other states, other lives, other souls.’
For the not-so-peripatetic, those afraid of venturing far from home and its comforts, familiar like old shoes, you don’t actually have to displace yourself to travel. Many of us merely tend to follow the herd and congregate in the same place, afraid of being left out from what’s the current hot place to be in. Instead of letting the wings of a plane transport you elsewhere; you can give your imagination the wings to take you there.
The imagination is the best transporter — faster than a bird, a plane, Superman and Superwoman. And, slower if you want, than a hare, allowing you to make time stand still. Or, even more special, travel back in time. The mind’s eye, even more effective than a magic carpet, can carry you to the past. To the time and place where family and friends, no longer in the world, are present: you can be a child again with your parents benignly watching over you. To school or college, and you can recapture the thrill of bunking class or to the days of first blushes and the surreptitious exchanging of glances with a ‘crush’. (Perhaps, the word crush will soon have to be excised from the dictionary, to be replaced by obsession. And mooning over edged out by stalking.)
We can also reclaim the act of savouring — that word again — one which may be losing its raison d’être. Travelling to the era of first crushes or past flames is all the more pleasant because it is a two-way journey: you can offload the pain on your trip back. Nothing is as bitter-sweet as reminisces of past romances and the could-have-been romances. With the distance of time, and usually place, the feelings of bitterness or regret may fade and those of tenderness and excitement become stronger. Because, it might also be revisiting a different self, a different you.
There is also another option, my chosen one, for the staying-put amongst us. Lose yourself in a book, a work of art, a poem. They are also great transporters.
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