Our Kahani means Our Story, but I won’t ever call it that for the same reason I will never say What is your problem? instead of What is your funda? Or say chai-tea, or naan-bread. And if anyone translated IshqInABackpack as LoveInABackpack, a beat down would ensue. We are major bibliophiles, so a literary reference is in order. One of my favourite short stories is Anton Chekhov’s, “The Lady with the Little Dog,” which also happens to be my favourite translation of the title. Other translations, like “The Woman with the Pomeranian,” or changing the opening from, “a new face had appeared on the promenade,” to “a new person had appeared on the promenade,” are playing with fire. And we don’t do that here on IshqInABackpack. As a wise poet once said, “A chappal is a chappal.” Fine, it was me, after getting altitude sickness in Tibet. It loses everything that’s fun about it. Also, it’s silly. And I refuse to abide by any silliness.
As lovely as Sona is, she is a ruthless editor, cutting out sentences, sometimes entire paragraphs and cruelly saying, “just get rid of this,” as she presses the delete button. She is used to working within the confines of word limits for magazine articles she writes. I told her she’s trying to cage me, and I am a bird who must fly free. I interpreted Sona’s response of, “Fine. Do what you want,” to indicate that she loves me and all of my words. So, this will be a long post. In case that wasn’t clear. There will probably be tense shifts, tangents, seemingly irrelevant information, which makes complete sense in my head, commas in places that will, drive, Sona, into, a fit, of rage. Usually, I will heed Sona’s advice to stay on point, but today, I am going to ramble. I hope you’re sitting down.
It’s difficult to imagine a time before our daughter, Kavya existed and our world didn’t revolve around her. But then again, it’s difficult to imagine a world when there was just me and no Sona, when I’d travel in the backs of cattle trucks and go around with one dusty backpack, as opposed to nice, clean, colorful little rolling bags. In 2007, we decided to quit our incredibly stable jobs in freelance and adjunct teaching to go travel through India for our second honeymoon. The whole point of the site was to keep our families updated. This, children, was a time when this: #, meant the pound sign, when nobody’s parents was on Facebook, and twitter was the sounds birds made. If there had been Facebook, we very well may not have created this site at all. But we had lots of fun during the trip and connecting with folks who had stumbled on our site, that we wanted to keep things going. We were the backpacking honeymoon couple, and planned on going around the world, keeping the honeymoon spirit of adventure alive.
We returned from India on separate flights because of some dodginess with our frequent flier miles. After a few weeks, I had to return to California, while Sona stayed on in New York, and we figured out where to set roots. New York was the obvious choice because Sona doesn’t drive and her work in entertainment journalism is much more manageable in NYC.
Our Kahani began with a profile on a website called IndianDating.com in the early 2000s, a site for the non-committal. Not as committed as one of just a few sites at the time with the word marriage in it, and generally the folks that came on it were sketchy. Except me, of course. As the first paragraph has established, I am totally sane. I had gotten on it because of a messy breakup where the girl I was seeing (also desi) decided she wanted to “see what her options were” through this site, and find someone more financially stable than an English major. But didn’t want to break up with me until things were finalized.
After much silliness, we broke up and I did what I do best: left the country for the winter. Came back, left again, this time to teach ESL and backpack in China and South East Asia, as well as a few other countries that came along the way. My gut reaction to this girl putting up an ad was for me to put up one in retaliation. I had put something silly like, “Hairy Brown Male Seeks Girl With Functional Limbs (negotiable) and Fast Car, Bungalow, and Hella Good Gramer. Caste No bar.” I’d hidden my email address in the profile with shennanigans of the ywho variety, and miraculously Sona emailed me.
We started writing long, epic emails to each other. Pages upon pages about thoughts on old school Bollywood films, the awesomeness of Lollywood, and a lot of tangents, most of which never found their way to any linear narrative thread. Eventually we spoke on the phone, and spent hours on the phone in addition to long, epic emails. Take into account the time difference – Sona was working for People in NYC, while I sat around my house in California finishing my MFA, and it’s safe to say we were existing on fumes.
Sona and her sister were doing screenwriting at the time, and came down for some meetings, which was the first time we met. We clicked the same way we did online, and I still think she’s pretty, with a cute proportional nose, a lovely laugh, and the most kickass personality in the world. Kavya is the same way, although she is a bit naughty, which definitely didn’t come from me.
The Big, Fat, Desi Wedding, and a Six Month Honeymoon!
I flew to NYC for New Year’s a few months later. A bunch of stuff happened, our wedding planning got away from us, so we got married in Vegas in secret. Then let both sides of the family do what they wanted in planning the Indian wedding several months later, which was dramatic with Bollywood melodrama, colorful costumes, turbans, a dhol, bhangra, and a horse. But no juicy mangoes. Only kidding. Of course, there were juicy mangoes. Sons of bitches at the wedding venue refused to let us have the traditional Indian delicacy of chilled monkey brains though.
The next morning, we went on a short cooking honeymoon to Mexico, with a sidetrip to see a volcano and cemented the fact I have the most awesome wife ever, when we went to see Lucha Libre, the art of the Mexican Smackdown. We had such a brilliant time travelling together, much like the first time we got married, that we decided to give it another go. Unlike our marriages, which we did stop after three, we never really stopped with the Honeymoons.
And Then There Were Three . . . .
We ate our way through India for six months, and after we came back, we had to figure things out again, but the traveling never stopped. Nor did the itchy feet and wanderlust. We were right in the middle of planning a Greek Island hop by bus when Sona became pregnant. All by herself. We thought perhaps going up and down the narrow steps of Santorini by donkey is perhaps not such a great idea. Sona being pregnant, having that baby didn’t stop us from travelling, but it obviously put an abrupt halt to our website, which was supposed to be about documenting our travels “one honeymoon at a time.” You can’t still be on a honeymoon if you have a kid, can you? Trick question. Of course you can! As much as we’d like to just say we’re those people who can adapt and just roll with it, we’re not. Our site had already slowed down drastically when the hard drive which contained all of our India pictures from South India broke. And it’s taken us quite a while to figure out how to shift our site to a proper blog that reflects who we are now. We haven’t abandoned that newlywed excitement, but there is a new addition to the team.
We started IshqInABackpack in 2007 and the whole purpose of the blog was to document our first backpacking honeymoon together, and to keep our respective families in California and New Jersey updated as to our whereabouts. And for them to know we hadn’t fallen down a well (there are many cases of people falling down wells in India, apparently). If our families all had Facebook and twitter in 2007 like they do today, including my father, Pashaura Singh Dhillon, a 74 year old Punjabi poet and singer, perhaps we never would have taken the time to create this blog! But we’re glad we did. Now, travel bloggers are extremely savvy when it comes to social media and actually have a proper business plan for how they’re going to make it work financially and otherwise before they even leave their city. We totally winged it.
We’ve learned a lot traveling together 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and working on our blog together while on the road. We’re very different travelers. Sona loves to shop. Clothes. Books. Bangles. Trinkets. Wooden Elephants. We even bought a Kashmiri Table from Srinagar and one of those ships built inside a bottle that I had to lug across railway platforms. She had to put up with my backpacker ways, of roughing it on trains, long local bus rides, staying in budget hotels, haggling with rickshaw drivers. But ultimately, it was the most amazing trip and we still long for days where the plan is to go roam around and eat street food, drink freshly squeezed juice out in the balmy nights, sit on a houseboat in Kashmir or Kerala. Or just sit next to each other and read for hours and hours. It’s an experience we cherish, and we continue to plot our next vagabonding travel with Kavya. But in the meantime, we’re more than happy to take shorter jaunts all with the goal of experiential travel.
When we returned from India, we had the inevitable “reverse” culture shock of having to adjust to everyday life again, and we quickly realized that despite some scary situations with local buses, the drama of haggling, and little tiffs between, like me not reacting fast enough to insects within Sona’s line of vision, and the “heinous” amount of shopping I felt I was “tricked into” being an active participant and/or bearing witness to, the fact was that we enjoyed traveling together. And we didn’t want our honeymoon to be over. So we kept the site up while we made the mundane decisions of life: where to live and what to do for money. It wasn’t long before the impractical idea of another extended backpacking trip to Greece started to form. We had to start thinking about setting aside a massive amount of money for normal baby supplies like nappies, formula, clothes she would outgrown within a week, more clothes, baby food, and an even more massive amount of money for insurance, a cold, hard reminder that we’re in America. So, basically, we blew our budget for about seven years of vagabonding in under nine months. An approximate figure.
But rather than reminiscing about that one backpacking trip we took before we started being responsible, law abiding, adults, we decided to pave our own path, and continue to discover the world one honeymoon at a time. Kavya is now 3 and has already seen both the East and West Coasts of the United States, ate herself into a frenzy in the Dominican Republic, seen an active Volcano and black sand beaches in Hawaii. We’re also looking at House swapping, while we think about our next vagabonding adventure. But first, we have our novels to finish, this blog to rebrand as a family travel and food narrative, with experiential travel.
The exciting thing about Our Kahani is that it’s constantly evolving, as any good Kahani should. We hope through our travel stories, we can inspire others to go travel for long or short bursts, and that we will soon be able to take Kavya on some fun adventures and allow her to experience the world and have some kahanis of her own to tell. Every traveler I’ve ever known has been a rambler, so if you’re a fellow rambler, please say hello. You’ll be surprised (or not) at how many long conversations begin with that simple word.