28 January 2007

The Beginning

May 14th 2002. That’s when it all started. Two weeks back, I had walked up to the front of my Mechanical Engineering class and gave out an open invitation for anybody who wished to travel to Pune with me. A tall guy named Katan came forward and we left, bunking some brainless exams. We were later suspended for the same, but we couldn't care less and we had a story to tell.

I was 17, and looked 15. I don’t blame my dad for being anxious, for when I set foot on that 6:45 train to Pune I wasn’t quite sure what I was doing. I was answering the instinctive call to break free and explore. Pardon the exaggeration, but I was the Marco Polo of my own little world.

Six months back, Bobby, who was merely an acquaintance, had said “You should definitely come back next time… and plan for a longer stay.” It was purely out of courtesy, like when you’re at some distant cousin’s wedding, some uncle, who’s even more distant than the distant cousin, walks up to you and expresses his displeasure at you for not having dropped by for so many years. It’s the stupidest diplomacy game. When my mum tells some idiot “You should definitely come home sometime!” I feel like yelling the truth and begging the idiot to never come close to home.

I guess Bobby didn’t really say that for diplomacy and courtesy. He later admitted that he just didn’t expect me to accept the invitation literally. He’s always happy to have someone to roam around with. With all my innocence, I took his words at face value, and got off the train at an unearthly 2:40 AM and greeted his sleepy eyes with a big grin. Sometimes, innocence is a good thing. Think twice before you act? My ass!

I have fond memories of railway ticket counters. That’s where trips are crystallized. When I see the ticket in my hands, with the coach number and all that, that’s when it sinks in that I’m making a trip. I remember riding Katan’s moped to the counter at the airport to get our Pune tickets. Four years later, Katan and I would go back to the same ticket counter to get tickets for our trip to Madhya Pradesh. By then, we were both seasoned travelers, and when there were no tickets to Bhopal, we requested to be put on any train that goes close to central India. The ticket guy, without intent, fooled us into thinking that Nagpur is in Madhya Pradesh. We couldn’t have cared less. It just gave us a story to narrate.

I’ll continue the Pune story some other day.

Fast forward to May 2006. Paulo, Gopal, Valya and I were having lunch at some stupid place in Spencer’s, Madras. I had just got into IIM Indore and everyone was happy that it was worthwhile listening to my perpetual cribbing about work over the past 8 months.

We were about to leave, when I asked Paulo if she wanted to watch Hazaaron Kwahishein Aisi. She sat on the fence for a few seconds, and then we rode to my place. We opened the Lonely Planet guide book and scanned thru the India map for an hour, at the end of which, we were ready to make a trip to the north-east. Oh, and we never did watch the movie.

We rode to Marina beach, and sat by the waves, sharing our excitement about the trip, changing the world and everything else. As the last rays from the sun disappeared, we signed a travel pact on the wet sand and scribbled our names beneath it. That’s how it all started.

Pune would come back to haunt me later. But that’s another story, for another day.