To begin with I would like to congratulate the fellow ghumakkars who have already published their stories in the new year and also those who are planning to travel somewhere soon. It is hard to ignore that gentle tug deep inside our hearts that makes us take the leap and hit the road at the slightest of the excuses. It is indeed fortunate to be inspired and to have a calling. It makes you do stuff you are proud of and would perhaps not do otherwise – the kind of stuff for which you have to be slightly ‘out of your minds’. Be it driving across India on an auto-rickshaw for charity or a tough trek up the Himalayas knowing that mortal risk lurks at every turn. When you’ve got to do it, you simply have got to do it.
There are times in all of our lives when we need inspiration. Sometimes we try to find it. At other times, it finds us. It happened to me during my trip to San Francisco last year when on a considerably windy, summer day, I met a very old man. This was also the time when the first shreds of fear had just started creeping into my thoughts about how I would soon be over the hill – too old to do anything exciting. At 30, I was still struggling to find what I wanted to do with life. And even though I knew what I would like to do, I was too scared to step out of my comfort zone to try it.
Anyways on this particular day in May 2010, I had to get to the Ferry building, San Francisco to meet a friend and was lost. I saw this old man standing on the sidewalk and decided to ask him the way. He was so tall and old that he had to bend low and also turn up the volume of his hearing aid to comprehend what I was saying. “Sir, which way is the Ferry Building?” I asked. He looked at me contemplatively for a few seconds and asked “What did you just say dear?” I repeated my question a little louder and a bit slowly. “Oh! Ferry building? I am afraid you are walking away from it. Go back the same way you came. It is about two miles.” After thanking him, I turned around and walked away in the direction he had pointed to.
I had barely walked a few steps when I heard muffled footsteps behind me. I turned around to find the old gentleman catching up with me. “Was that an Indian accent?” he asked. Recovering from my surprise at his agility, I replied “Yes”. “I am planning to visit India at the end of the year. I have read Bhagwad Gita many times. Tell me—is India as spiritual as it sounds?” he asked as enthusiastic as a child. He walked with me all the way up to the Ferry Building and on the way we exchanged notes about India and the unbelievable place he belonged to, the Mackinac Island, Michigan. If you do not know about this island, do look it up. You will not be disappointed.
During the course of our discussions, I forgot that he was at least 80-year-old, his age hidden behind the child in his heart. I also learnt that he was a Ghumakkar to the core, travelling at every excuse and to faraway places. Upon reaching the Ferry building, we shook hands and parted ways.
I have always been wary of strangers and that was the main reason why I did not ask for his email address. And I really regret that. If his plans went fine, he would have visited India at the end of 2010. I hope his visit went good and he was not disappointed.
The point of sharing the story about this old man was to highlight how his youth hadn’t abandoned him at all. Age has always been such a huge mental block with most of us. So much so that everyone wants to stay young forever imagining old age to be the killer of all joys. It is important to realize though that it is possible to be young at any age. The killer of all joys is not age or, for that matter, anything external. The killer lives in our minds, nurtured by the stereotypes we see around us from the time we are born. If we learn to tell this killer to shut-up, it simply fades away in time. And if someone at 80 can indulge in something as adventurous as traveling to the high mountains of India, who are we to give up on the simple joys of life anytime before that?
The fountain on the top of this post is not the Fountain of Youth though to me it does symbolize one. This was perhaps the place where I started thinking seriously about my calling. Since ancient times, great explorers have embarked on exhausting voyages to search for the Fountain of Youth. Little did they realize that this fountain was with them wherever they went! They already had what it takes to be young forever. Passion! And on the top of it—a passion that involved travelling. If you have a passion, half of the battle against age is won. And if the passion itself is ‘travelling’, you can rest assured that you will be fit and young forever.