Much like asking Sona to marry me when I didn’t have any money, a job, or any possibility of getting one – I was in the middle of an MFA in creative writing while living with my parents in Fresno (and she still said yes!)- the decision to drop everything and go backpacking through India isn’t a difficult one for me.
After teaching English in China for two years, I went solo backpacking through whatever countries came my way while getting into India for several months, it was a constant adventure and exciting to have the luxury of time, and exploring a place from the inside out. When you have the luxury of time, you can chill out in a place without feeling like you should constantly be doing something, or visiting some historic place. You can always do that tomorrow. Or in three months, you can decide to pop back to a place.
The culture shock I experienced when I returned home was quite isolating, especially since nobody I knew travels in quite the same way I do. Some people had gone on little jaunts to China, and thought our experiences were similar, even though they’d seen more historic sites in ten days than I had in the two years. I had them beat on food though. It’s difficult to put the experience into words, so when Sona mentioned that she’d like to go vagabonding for a few months, I didn’t hesitate in saying, “so, let’s do it then.”
Many people have grand dilemmas of dropping stable jobs, responsibilities, and leaving. I have none of that. I don’t have a stable job or any prospect of one. I don’t need to make any declaration of quitting. They’ll find someone to replace me in a blink of an eye. I am an adjunct English instructor at a community college, where I teach students how to use words so they follow a sequence, convey thoughts, and present arguments in a structured way. Sona just quit her job at People Magazine and started freelancing, and we decided on India because, well, it’s India. There’s never a dull moment, unless you’re in South Delhi, where all the VIP kids live and have deep conversations about French New Wave Cinema and Dogma 95.
Maybe more exciting than seeing a completely new place, it’s going to be fun experiencing places like the Golden Temple in Amritsar, or the Taj Mahal with Sona, who has only been on very short 2 week shopping trips to India. Even though she’s familiar with the street food that her family in New Jersey gets in pre-packaged boxes or at the gazillion restaurants in Little India, it’ll be interesting to see how she does at a street food stall with a guy making alu tikka, or filling gol guppas with homemade panj-pani from a large blue jug. It’s also going to be fun seeing places in India I’ve never been before, like in the South or maybe all the way up North in the Himalayas.
Before I went exploring India by myself, my experience with India is very similar to Sona’s, except for the shopping trips. When we lived in Dubai, we’d come to India every year for a few months in the summer. I remember the airport in Delhi, the inside of my paternal uncle’s Maruti car, followed by a succession of houses in different parts of Punjab and U.P. I loved hanging out with everyone, but it was exhausting not being able to go freely anywhere because my relatives assumed if I ventured out on my own, someone would kidnap me and try to sell my organs. That would require quite a bit of explaining to my mum and dad.
My first mini-adventure to India on my own was when I was 20, as a reward for myself for failing all of my classes at community college. Yes, community college. That trip made me quickly return to California, determined to focus on my studies, perhaps not exactly for the right reasons: I wanted to be finished so I could go travel some more!
The second I graduated with my Bachelors degree, I went gallavanting off to China, and ended up living there for 2 years. I eventually made it back to the United States, but not before backpacking from China into India via Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Tibet, and Nepal. I took the scenic route.
Growing up all over the world, in England, Nigeria, Tanzania, the Middle East, America, and going on holidays all over the place, travel has always been a part of my life. I’m more at ease when I’m away from “home,” and my parents have always made it a point to learn about local customs and cultures, while remaining true to their own identities.
Traveling as a couple is obviously going to be much different than solo traveling, although I’m sure Sona would be just FINE if we winged it and ended up in the back of a cattle truck instead of a train, or in a dorm style hostel with shared bath.
Sona’s phobia with bugs is probably going to cause some drama on the road. She isn’t on friendly terms with bugs. Here is what happened yesterday:
We’re under the duvet and I’m in a deep sleep while Sona has the lamp on and is reading when a moth flies in, attracted to the light. The book flies up into and lands on the floor. I still don’t stir, until Sona ever so gently clasps my t-shirt and shakes me vigorously.
“There’s a flying thing. Get rid of it,” I make out in between her screaming.
“What?” I say, opening my eyes.
“Get rid of it!”
“Get rid of what?There’s nothing here.”
She insists there’s a moth in the house and it must be killed for existing. I tell her to just turn the light off and it’ll go away. But she decides the only rational thing to do is to drag the blanket I was covered in out to the living room. Then switch the hallway light on to attract the moth back so I can kill it. And for her to lie awake on the sofa in the living-room (which only sleeps one).
I was once eating a delicious tomato and beef stew in Xi’An, China, when a cockroach started walking towards my bowl. I picked up my bowl and continued eating. Sona would probably have wanted me to go out and find an axe to kill it. I’ve told her that the Green Revolution eliminated all of the ugly bugs in India, but left the pretty ones like butterflies and ladybugs, but I don’t think she’s convinced. I am dreading having to deal with creepy-crawlies. Or rather dealing with Sona dealing with creepy-crawlies in India. But I am quite curious to see what Sona’s solution to moths being in our vicinity will be. Or crickets, mosquitos, ants, fireflies, wasps, and cockroaches. Maybe I’ll roast them and put them on a stick for her.