This piece was originally published on Tripoto on 5 May 2015.
The first thing that comes to mind when I think of my childhood travels is a blue Milton water carrier that faithfully accompanied us on long train journeys. Along with carefully rolled chapathis, fried snacks and biscuits, it formed our portable kitchen, a place where us kids periodically gathered around to recharge ourselves. Like an Indian family typical of that decade, we didn’t travel without sufficient stock of food and entertainment.
I belong to a fairly restless family who can’t go too long without getting away from routine city life. As kids, my brother and I were often whisked away by my parents to a variety of places – be it on long summer trips or quick weekend getaways. We travelled mostly by train, playing UNO cards and antakshari, with my brother and I fighting about who gets the window seat and trying to get a glimpse of the train engine when it took a bend.
When I look back today, I realise what a big role travel has played in our relationships. When you travel, you step out of your comfort zone. You stand outside of your daily self that’s bound by the restriction of being in the same place – travel makes you shed off that skin . While on the move, my family transforms themselves into a bunch of jokers. Each one’s peculiarities surfaces – ones you don’t get to see at home. I remember my dad booking a hotel room on the phone once – Is the shower pressure good? – I heard him say, quite matter-of-factly. Appalled as I was back then, I see now why this question took priority over others.
Some of our heart-to-heart conversations have taken place while tucking into a warm dinner high up in the mountains, or during on a long drive through the hills. We’ve crossed landslides, been on life-changing pilgrimages, taken dips in rock pools, had countless chais on the roadside, and soaked in the mist of the mountains. The minute we leave the house we are primarily travel companions and only then parents and brothers and sisters. We get to know of each other’s strengths and weaknesses, fears and ambitions. We get to know of family traits that we have in common (as much as we deny them!). We learn of each other’s (somewhat surprising) skills and secrets – my mom’s sense of direction suddenly comes alive, for example. We learn of each other’s ‘travel selves’. My brother and sister in law constantly keep their eyes and ears open for adventure. My dad settles into a blissful reverie of being away from his phone and laptop, a blessing that we are more pleased about than him. My mother, to whom we surrender our precious items for safekeeping, keeps a check on us as well as the wild animals she’s convinced will emerge from the woods. I stumble along, scouting for material for my comics and being easily impressed by handsome local guides.
We’ve often done road trips, where we would be supplied a car along with a usually morose driver, out of whom my dad would be determined to get a smile. We’ve driven through Karnataka and Rajasthan, sailed on the backwaters of Kerala, made friends with locals and fellow-travellers, walked extra miles in search of dosas and marvelled at the temples of Cambodia. Each experience has been exhilarating, and more importantly, fun.
We tend to take family for granted – we’re used to treating family as family and not as individuals. I think travel allows you to not only break away from those familial bonds, but also strengthen them.