Unlike my super preparation last month when I was to talk to crazy and idiosyncratic Nikhil, this time I was much more at home. Having known Manish for over a decade and Jaishree since ever she got married, it was more like meeting old friends. I often cherish the only trip I did with the couple in 2002 (or may be before) to Orchha. Countless evenings of Tea, Rajasthani namkeens, sitting on those cool white marble floors at their place, discussing books, religion, morals, Hindi poetry and numerous stupid things which we do when we are young. Even the local market (the now famous sector 18 of Noida) was not at all busy and one can just sit alongside those rickety fountains and spend the evening, doing nothing. Sometimes we would polish the day off with a movie at Dharamplace or Alka theatre which still looked and acted like being in 60s, frozen in time. Old world charm is what some say. When you meet your old friends you always feel the warmth of assurance, the ether which connects you is just viscous enough to hold you together without restricting any freedom. But all said and done, a job is what a job is. I was running late for my story and the Editor was not liking it. I had a personal emergency that was keeping me busy and then there was whitwash happening at Khamesras’ place. Jaishree was gracious enough to extract a corner for us and offered us the comforts of tea. She also shielded us from the curiosity of Tanmay, the junior Khamesra. And then we ensued into a often formal, mostly casual conversation on things around travel, Ghumakkar, writing and everything else for next one hour. I made tons of notes, clicked pics from his notebook where he scribbles, tried to get a video shoot which Manish was not very keen and wrapped up, stepping out victorious and content.
So without any further ado, presenting the Ghumakkar featured author of March 2012, Manish Khamesra.
Ghumakkar: Congratulations and welcome Manish. My first question is always on how did you discover Ghumakkar.
Manish: I think it was in 2007 when Jaishree shared our Sikkim trip photos and you suggested to write a small log at Ghumakkar. Ghumakkar had just started, I guess and then Jaishree wrote and I got introduced to Ghumakkar.
Ghumakkar : Yes, I very well remember. The captions of the photos were pretty long, often explaining the picture. I suggested that if we can build further, it would be a great story to share on Internet and that resulted in the first series at Ghumakkar.
Manish: But that was when Jaishree started. I took longer. My first story was on Shekawati.
Ghumakkar : Yes, and I can say that it was the beginning of a new style of writing where a lot of focus was kept on facts, research and it acted as a great foundation, right in the beginning for fellow Ghumakkars and future writers. Later the story on Sikri cemented this style.
Manish : I think you are being very generous. I wanted to write and that is why I wrote. I have always been writing in my diary but not on a platform like Ghumakkar. I feel nice when I read my old stories. By writing our experiences, we ensure that they live forever. We give our memories a structure, which lasts much longer and going through an old story is almost close to a healing experience. You read an old story featuring a travel, which you did with your friends or family or kids, and you come back as if you just spent time with them.
Ghumakkar: Very well said. And probably for these reasons, you have an apt nick name at Ghmakkar which is “Professor”. How did you acquire this?
Manish: I was honored by this affectionate title conferred by Mahesh Semwal. To me it also represent the love, respect and regard we share among us in the close-knit and (at the same time open-minded) ghumakkar family.
Ghumakkar: Travelling is a tradition in your family. You caught the travel bug quite young with your father. What kind of trips were those and what are the differences that you have observed over the years in the attitudes of travelers or in the facilities available for travelers? On the whole, is travelling across India a more enjoyable experience now?
Manish: My father worked in a Public Sector Unit (Hindustan Copper Limited). The government policy was to reimburse LTA only for actual travels. I guess the concept forced people to break their comfort zones. And once they start travelling, first it becomes a habit and gradually become an addiction.
That used to be around twenty-twenty one days of travel. We travelled by train (sometimes for days without any fuss), carrying loads of homemade food/snacks, glued to our window seats of our sleeper coaches; stayed in dharamshala. At that time even planning of the trip was a social affair. We specially visited family-friends/neighbors (those who have already been to those places) gathered all the information (over the cup of tea and snacks).
These days travelling even for 24-hours in a train appears like a task, air-travel has become preferable specially while returning back, homemade food is replaced by the charm of local cuisine, AC coaches have taken away some charm of looking out from windows and now even the accommodation has become an important part of traveling.
In summary, travelling has now become easier, comfortable, still I remember the old days with nostalgia.
Ghumakkar: Your son, Rachit, is an enthusiastic traveller and is also a writer at Ghumakkar. How do you encourage his interest? How do you think travel helps children?
Manish: I don’t need to encourage Rachit. These days it’s he who starts forcing us to plan the next destination for his vacations. He loves travelling.
In my opinion, travelling generates and nurture natural curiosity in children. It broadens vision and creates interest in geography, and history. It prepares them to learn, enjoy and becoming more accommodative to different cultures, faiths, philosophies, people, circumstances, food and so on.
Ghumakkar: You seem to balance travel quite well with your demanding job as an IC chip designer. Can you share some tips about planning travel so that it does not burn you out and does not impact your work? Or, let me put it this way, can you share some tips about planning your work so that it does not burn you out and impact travel?
Manish: It is not so easy especially with ever changing technology arena, high amour-propre; desire to master the concepts, the theories; and the quest to know more and more. But then we look at calendars in January itself. Travel and holidays are planned well in advance. For longer breaks of Dussehra, Christmas and Summer vacation, we usually plan for farther destinations and smaller breaks call for sojourns nearer.
We make a point to not make a fast paced travel plan because we treat travel as leisured vacation. So even if we are going to Sikkim or Kerela, we do not try to cover more places. So when we return, we feel rejuvenated, not burned out.
Though, I must admit that even then, the days before actual travel are always hectic and uncertain because planning the work is not always possible. And I try to take leave only for traveling.
Ghumakkar: And once you are back, you start penning down your experiences. Tell us more about this.
Manish: Just like my leisured travel, I never rush to write it all up. Sometimes it is weeks before I begin any serious work towards writing. I spend enough time on the story before it goes for publishing.
Ghumakkar: Your stories are a product of intense research, a lot of reading and fact finding and it is quite evident that you have spent enough effort to ensure that it comes out well. What is your process of story writing ?
Manish: That is way too praise. But yes, you are right, I too spend a lot of time. To start with, I write all my stories during my travel to office. It is a 45 minute drive and I scribble my thoughts in a notebook. For first few days or rides, I just try to get a overall structure and once that is crystallized, I begin to build it. After numerous revisions and re-revision, when I am fairly certain that I have got a worthy piece, I put it in the computer.
Ghumakkar: Typically how long do you take to finish a story and before it publishes, is there someone else who is involved as well ?
Manish: Thank you for asking this. It takes me close to a month, 30 days, to finish one story. And each of my story are not complete with the able and valuable support from a close friend and colleague and Jaishree. While my friends helps me to build or weave a story, often helping me to get the right glue, Jaishree acts as the ruthless editor, often chopping entire sections of text. Without these two people, there is no story so I am glad that you asked this.
Ghumakkar: Apart from being a traveller, is there any other hobby that you indulge in?
Manish: I enjoy reading, movies, art events, sport events. In-fact Delhi provides many options to indulge as well.
Manish and Ghumakkar
Ghumakkar: Your association with Ghumakkar goes way back to 2007. In the meanwhile, Ghumakkar has grown and changed. How do you think Ghumakkar has changed from an author’s point of view?
Manish: I still remember, when I wrote on Fatehpur Sikri (which was my fifth post on ghumakkar), I was trying to publish it (and eventually succeeded) before ghumakkar touches ten thousand clicks. Ghumakkar touched this landmark with my post. Today that post itself has more than ten thousand views.
Ghumakkar has come a long way (with miles to go). We now have wider reach, large portfolios of authors and a good catalogue of places and experiences. I am sure we are motivating travelers and contributing to tourism. Admirable part about ghumakkar is that even with the high readership the decorum and dignity on the site is well maintained, even when we tend to disagree. It is our strength and USP.
Ghumakkar: At Ghumakkar, we firmly believe that travelling can help make world a better place to live in. Do you subscribe to the view and why?
Manish: I firmly believe in it and what is true for children is true for grown-ups as well.
Ghumakkar: How does it feel to be awarded the featured author of the month of March?
Manish: To be very frank, it does not generate any special feeling. For me being a Ghumakkar (as a traveler and a contributor) is a reward in itself.
Ghumakkar: Would you like to say something to your fellow Ghumakkars on this occassion?
Manish: My message to fellow ghumakkars is travel a lot, bring memories, photographs, and leave kind and loving impression in the heart of local people without leaving any footprints of your being there. Please keep the places intact and unspoilt for our next generation.
Thank you Professor for your words, inspiration and constant encouragement all through. Ghumakkar would not have been what it is today without the support of Khamesras. When I look at both of you, I sometime think that probably we should do a series of posts on ‘Ghumakkars Yugals’. Thanks and congratulations once more.