“Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” – Ibn Battuta
Now, this quote left me speechless, for it conveys exactly what is on my mind at the moment.
Most people visit a lot of places around the world for various reasons. And, the myth is that all of them are travelers. I am sure you do know that most of them are tourists,whilst only a few are travelers! For better understanding, let me cite a few exemplary characters from famous Bollywood movies. The character portrayed by Ranbir Kapoor in “Yeh Jawani Hai Diwani” is that of a true traveler while SRK and Kajol roaming around in the lush green meadows and typically touristy Swiss locations is a perfect example of a tourist. Got the difference? See, being a movie buff comes in handy, at times!
Well, now let us come back from all the glamour of tinseltown to meet someone who is a profound writer. Ketan Joshi isnt new to the World of Writing. He has a flair for writing not just about travel but also on Marketing, Fiction and the like. While he is celebrating the success of his newly published book “Three men on motorcycles“, we caught up with him to know much more than what he describes himself on his website.
As I assimilate the facts of how one person can be so versatile, please take a read of our conversation. Here it goes :
Ghumakkar: Ketan, please introduce yourself to our audience.
Ketan: Hello Ghumakkar! Well, where shall I start from? Alright here I go. The first part of my life was pretty normal. I was born and brought up in Bombay, and did my MBA from the Jamnalal Bajaj Institute. After my MBA I worked in various consumer goods companies for more than a decade as a Brand management professional.
Ghumakkar: When did that normalcy in life change its course?
Ketan: I was just getting to that details. My life took a different turn while I was still working for that company. The travel bug bit me in my late twenties, and I became a passionate backpacker and traveller.
Ghumakkar: It is getting interesting! “Travel” I heard, I am all ears now :) Please go on..
Ketan: You are a Ghumakkar yourself! So, yeah.. I started with solo travel when I went to the Maha Kumbh mela at Allahabad, and I met a crazy girl while trekking to Everest base camp in Nepal. She was a much more hard core traveller than me and we travelled together to all parts of India and to some neighboring countries. We got married later and celebrated our honeymoon by backpacking to Bhutan.
Ghumakkar: Sounds like a kahani mein twist as in movies! Interesting that two Ghumakkars got married! And then?
Ketan: And then..I moved from consumer goods companies to IT startups, when I joined a telecom VAS startup in Bangalore. This gave me a taste of startup life and I loved it. I worked in other startups from there, and finally started a startup of my own.
Ghumakkar: That is a great! Am sure it gave you a taste of success!
Ketan: Definitely! It is more a feeling of accomplishment!
Ghumakkar: We always ask this in our interviews. And, it is what we all love to know. How did the passionate traveling kick-off?
Ketan: No worries! It is something I will love to answer. I never had a two-wheeler as a teenager or adult, and it was never even on my radar as something to be desired. I bought a car when I started working and I was happy as a four-wheeler man. But when backpacking in Spiti valley in 2003, I saw a bunch of Royal Enfields parked in front of a hotel and I was hooked! I was in love! After waffling about it for several years, my wife bought me a Royal Enfield Thunderbird Twinspark in 2008. I learnt to ride on that bike at the age of 34, but it wasn’t till 2010 that I went for my first long ride – on the Royal Enfield tour of NH17. 2010 was a special year for me, because that was when I started on two new passions – long distance motorcycle riding, and wildlife photography. Highways and jungles became my two new passions and I spent a lot of time in both. I have ridden to many parts of India on my bike, and have visited quite a few jungles as well. But our country is so large and has so much to see, that I can say that I have just made a start till now.
Ghumakkar: You are right. It might take a person’s lifetime to explore India’s finest places!
Ketan: You bet! It offers a wealth of attractions that suit each individual!
Ghumakkar: Do you also wish to go exploring other countries?
Ketan: Travel has no boundaries! So, yes.. I also enjoy discovering new countries and try to travel to at least two new countries every year. I have covered 35 countries so far, but am far behind my wife, who is closing in on 50 countries now. She has a solo vacation every year, to balance out the time that I spend on my bike!
Ghumakkar: That is amazing! I hope that you both reach the 100 count together!
Ketan: Thank you! And, I really hope so too :)
Ghumakkar: You stay in Mumbai. With the traffic and congestion prevalent, how do you explore places around you?
Ketan: It is easy for me. Nowadays, my latest interest is cycling. I spend my Sundays exploring Mumbai and its surrounding areas on my cycle. Mumbai is extremely rich in historical spots and beautiful places and is surrounded by a great coastline on one side and beautiful hills on the other. Nowadays I discover places on cycle and write about it on my blog.
Ghumakkar: Great idea Ketan. I mean, both cycling around the city and penning down your stories, both!
Ketan: Thank you. I hope to do it more often, again, I mean both too!
Ghumakkar: Talking about writing, you have an incredible flair for writing so many genres! How do you manage writing such variety?
Ketan: Being a keen reader, I always had a taste for fiction. I grew up reading Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie and great short story writers like Saki, Guy De Maupassant, Isaac Asimov, R K Narayan and new ones like Jeffrey Archer and so I loved the concept of a short story. I love detective stories and twist-in-the-tail short stories and started writing both genres.
Apart from the detective stories, I also wrote a number of stories inspired by normal happenings around me – I used to see something in real life and weave a story around it. A great writing advice is ‘write about something you know’ and I tried to use that in these kind of stories. Thus the stories are about Mumbai life – travelling in local trains, office politics, going to the dentist, life in a block of apartments – but with a difference. A twist.
I created collections of these stories and called them the Bombay series. Bombay Mixture, Bombay High and Bombay Special.
Ghumakkar: Wow. That is a lot of writing! I know that is not all. Please go on..
Ketan: I am humbled. Yes, it is not all :) While short stories are great, I always wanted to write a full length novel. It is much more challenging to maintain a story over 50-60 thousand words than to write a short story of a few thousand words. You have to create multiple characters, situations and the plot has to be robust enough to sustain interest over a long period. I tried for many years to write a novel, and finally succeeded after several tries to produce full length novel. I was extremely happy to have finished a book and writing fiction after many years. This book was published as ‘Keep calm – and Screw the boss’
Ghumakkar: I like the title! I am sure it would have been an instant hit in the corporate world, for it’s title!
Ketan: Haha.. Yes, thanks!
Ghumakkar: And any books on your fondest passion, backpacking?
Ketan: Yes! How could I not write about it :) As I got started with serious travel and backpacking to interesting places – either solo or with a single companion, I started writing about my travels – first in the form of mails to friends, then as short and long form blogs and finally in the form of books. I have travelled and backpacked to all corners of India, and to about 35 countries, so there is a lot of writing to be done there yet.
Ghumakkar: That is precisely how writing evolves! Excellent and please share a few with us too!
Ketan: Sure, I would love to!
Ghumakkar: I see you are complemented by Mr.Royal Enfield in most of your pictures. Tell us about your love for bikes and about the places you have been to riding it.
Ketan: I fell in love with biking and Royal Enfields at a very late age – I bought my first bike and learnt to ride when I was 35. But after that I made up for lost time, and biked my way up and down the country. One of our very memorable trips was when just the three of us went to Ladakh and Zanskar and I decide to write a book about that. Not just a normal ride travelogue, but something really fun and different, but also useful and informative. That was my first travel book to be published – ‘Three Men on Motorcycles.’
(Click on the link to get a preview of the book)
Ghumakkar: That brings us to the next question. Your new book “Three men on motorcycles” has a very informal cover page, which gives me a feeling it is more light-hearted than a serious listing of anecdotes. Please give us a preview of it. Who were your comrades during this trip?
‘Three men on motorcycles’ is definitely a light-hearted book and I want to thank my fellow biker Aditya Dhurandar, who was kind enough to draw and design the cover page!
There are a lot of books and articles about riding to Ladakh and they are largely grim and serious tomes about people conquering the elements, conquering themselves, attaining self realisation etc etc. This is very different from those. It is irreverent, funny and enjoyable.
The fun thing about our trip was how sudden and impulsive it was. I had just come back from a trip to the US, and we decided over a round of drinks to do the ride we had been dreaming about for ages. People obsess about this trip for months and months and plan down itineraries to the minute – we just decided and were on our way in a few days. Normally people go in large groups to Ladakh – and carry a mechanic, doctor and support vehicle and spare parts etc – but we were just the three of us. It was like a backpacking trip, but on bikes.
Another interesting thing about us is the group composition. One guy is in his twenties, one guy is in his thirties, and one guy is in his forties. We started riding together at the same time and are very good friends. That didn’t stop me from pulling their legs unmercifully in the book though.
The most arresting character in the book is the shadowy figure of SHE WHO MUST BE OBEYED – my wife, Bharathi. She was more engaged in this trip than any of us, and was in constant touch with us through phone, email and later through voodoo means – and told us where to go and what to do. The whole of Ladakh and Zanskar still quakes in fear of SHE WHO MUST BE OBEYED. (I quake too – but am used to it now.)
I consciously made this book as different from any Ladakh travelogue as I could, and it is seriously funny – but at the same time very informative and useful to anyone planning a ride. I have given all kinds of tips from how to load bikes in the train, to seat-of-the-pant motorcycle repairs, negotiating tips, destination information and life-hacks on the road.
And most importantly, it shows you how much fun it can be.
Ghumakkar: I cant wait to grab a copy! It sounds too interesting already.
Ketan: Many thanks. I would be glad if you feel so after reading too!
Ghumakkar: I am sure you will agree when I say “Not all writers are travelers. But most travelers turn writers!” Could you recall which one of your trips made you wear the cap of a travel writer?
Ketan: The first travelogue that I wrote was about my first backpacking trip. This was when I heard the word ‘backpacking’ for the first time and discovered the existence of a book called ‘Lonely Planet’. Me and a friend of mine decided to travel to the North East, and we just took off without any detailed plan or any bookings. He booked train tickets to Calcutta – I actually managed to miss that train, and had to buy a flight ticket – and we explored Calcutta and then made our way to Sikkim, peeked into Bhutan, then explored north Bengal – places that I had never heard of – Jaldapara, Cooch behar, etc- and then went on to Guwahati. We had no clear plan, but went wherever the mood took us. The only end point was to get to Tezpur, where my brother was staying.
As you can imagine, this kind of travel was intensely stimulating and I found it far more enjoyable than normal cut-and-dried travel. I wrote about this in a mail to friends, and their response was so good that I adapted it to a travelogue and posted it on a website called ‘Sulekha.com’ which used to be a very good literary website in those days. The positive feedback from total strangers was really encouraging and made me take writing more seriously.
Soon after that, I went on a solo trip – to the Maha Kumbh mela in Allahabad in 2000. A kumbh mela is once every 12 years, and the maha kumbh is held once in a cycle of 12 kumbh melas – that means once n 144 years! I was very keen to see this, but couldn’t find any company and couldn’t get any leave – so I just bunked office and went off alone. A company had invited me for an interview to their office in gurgaon, so I got a free air ticket to Delhi and from there I went in an unreserved train to Allahabad, sitting in front of the toilet all night long. I explored the Kumbh, and then went off to Benaras to spend some time in the ghats there and explored Kashi and Sarnath before flying back from Varanasi.
This was by far the most fun trip ever, and I really enjoyed writing my blog on that. It was very well appreciated on Sulekha, and more importantly, it got forwarded to a crazy girl who was on her own sabbatical at that time and was spending a year travelling the world. She loved the write up, and we corresponded and finally decided to trek to Everest base camp together and then travelled some more and then some more and finally got married.
So as you can see – being a travel writer can have unexpected side effects.
Ghumakkar: Indeed! But am sure not all get this lucky! So, what is planned next? Another book, another travel or a newer genre of writing?
Ketan: All three I hope! I have a whole list of travelogues in mind – and have started on the next motorcycle travelogue already. Well, to be honest, I have written only one page as of now – but hey, it’s a start!
Apart from travelogues, I hope to get cracking on the next fiction novel as well pretty soon. I have a plot floating around somewhere in my skull and hope to pin it down by brute force sometime soon. And its Ladakh season again! We are planning to ride again to Ladakh and cover places we didn’t see the last time – Pangi valley, Sach pass, Umba La, Panamik and Turtuk, Agham Shyok road, etc etc. God willing, will do the ride in August this year. It’s been a couple of years since I saw the Himalayas, and I am feeling the itch big time. I am also hoping to get some cycle touring done this year, and that will be something new to look forward to, and hopefully write about.
Ghumakkar: And I hope that you really do all three and we get to talk more about all that here! Many thanks for your time Ketan. It was indeed a very lively conversation with you!
Ketan: Thanks to you and team Ghumakkar! I had a good time too!
That was how interesting it got when I conversed with Ketan. Amidst all the travel and busy mundane life, reading about someone who has lead a lifestyle like ours and has done that “something” extra which probably we can derive ideas from, is definitely inspiring. Don’t you think? Ponder over that thought until I am back again next time with someone to stimulate your brain, again!
See ya real soon :)!