If there is one thing that brought me joy more than anything else, it was disappearing into the crowd - getting to meet myriads of people in their myriads of moods. Gokul, the painter and teacher who was kind enough to gift me a painting. His nephew, who had never visited Pune and wanted to do so because he had heard so much about the Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations there. The two brothers from Toranmal in Nandurbar district who had traveled over 300 kms to visit a hospital. The old Belgian lady in Dharamsala who followed her master across countries. The auto-rickshaw driver who was kind enough to oblige when I asked him to take me to the best saste me tikau restaurant in Aurangabad, and who waited till my meal was over because he wanted to know if I liked the food ! The Tibetan who talked about everything under the sun at a tea shop and who later ensured I took something as a memento from the place. The girl in blue dress who I mistook for a Spanish tourist, then replied in chaste Hindi when I talked to her and turned out to be an Indian from California. The two kids who guided me with the light from their cell-phones inside the dark stairs of a fort. The Tibetan momo-making instructor who taught me how to eat momos, and who, with a breath of sadness, explained how they had to India to escape Chinese atrocities. The guy who mistook me for a Korean and gave me a lift on his bicycle for over a kilometer. The American lady who had been a teacher in Thailand for the past 10 years and was taking a vacation in Dharamsala. The hotel boy who sneaked in beer and chicken for me in a Jaipur hotel. The kind people who treated me like family during my stay in Hampi. The three friends who were drunk/stoned like fuck and provided wholesome entertainment for one entire afternoon in Mussoorie. Every couple, children and family who agreed to pose for photographs.
I owe my sanity to each one of them. I admit it was by no means an easy thing to do. I had no plan of action - call it a sense of adventure or sheer silliness! But it surprisingly turned out fairly well in the end. I used my cellphone and the internet to stay in touch with people I knew, but it was pretty scarce. I was alone otherwise and I had my books to keep me company. I caught up with my reading for a whole year during the trip. Here was I who had read about 3 books the previous year. In the trip alone, I ended up gobbling up some 6 of them. Books were definitely a faithful companion during the trip.
I sometimes wonder how it would have gone had I taken the trip with a bunch of friends. A lot of people have asked me about that too - why I did it alone. I don't have a good answer to that. Perhaps it could have been a lot more fun and more replete with activities. While being alone, I spent a lot of time just sitting around ruminating or just reading a book at some secluded place - not really doing anything. This, and having no plans was in a way quite liberating and I doubt if going with a bunch of friends would have given me that. That being said, I went with a bunch of friends to Kasauli before I moved on from Delhi to elsewhere and it was a pretty amazing trip. (Except for the stupid cable car for which we had to part with 500 bucks each!) But I doubt if I could have enjoyed dragging along with them for a full month or more. I could be completely wrong about that. Perhaps we should plan a trip to prove me wrong. Or right.