What is it about Ghumakkar Authors that makes them so special? Now after talking to four of them I think I have some clue. Not only are all Ghumakkars blessed with unsatiable wanderlust, they are also armed with limitless passion that makes them attain whatever goal they set their eyes upon – from the versatile pediatrician Dr Taher, to the author with the Midas touch Ajay Sharma, to Software Engineer and Indologist Manisha Chitale. And this month was no different. It’s been six years since Roopesh wrote his first story at Ghumakkar, and this award was long due. So when Roopesh’s name was announced it wasn’t really a surprise. I have been a great fan of his stories and especially his Coffee, Hills, Foliage, and Beaches series that takes us on a picturesque car ride through Karnataka. Another reason why I was really looking forward to talking to him was because I have recently become a fan of Steam Locomotives, and in that sense share an interest with Roopesh. He is an fan of everything related to trains, and some time back wrote a very informative Insights article for Ghumakkar about railways. While balancing his full-time job and commitments to his family, Roopesh not only manages to travel as often as possible, he also takes up new interests from time-to-time, knowing fully well that the passion will demand his time for a really long time, for he is not the one to let go of things.
Roopesh was kind enough to take time out on a weekday for the interview even though he preferred talking on a weekend. When I called him at 7:00pm he was still in office but was cool and composed and not in a hurry to end the conversation. He handled all of my questions with immense patience and came across as someone who will always be comfortable in whatever situation he is placed in. There was no dearth of topics we could talk about and our conversation effortlessly moved from one to another, and by the time the interview ended, we had talked at length about several interesting subjects. By the end of the day my job of compiling the interview seemed quite daunting. Deciding what goes in and what can stay out would be difficult because every bit sounded important and interesting. I hope I have been able to do justice to my interaction with this incredible Ghumakkar, and hope you enjoy reading this…
Ghumakkar: Congratulations Roopesh! Much deserved and long due…
Roopesh: Thank you Vibha, and please convey my thanks to the entire Ghumakkar team. I feel like I know all of them personally. It has been a long association now.
Ghumakkar: Six years and a few months! You wrote your first story Ladakh Nostalgia in 2008.
Roopesh: Yes, it doesn’t seem that long back though.
Ghumakkar: Time flies!
Roopesh: Yes, it does.
Ghumakkar: But how did you arrive at Ghumakkar? What made you write your first story?
Roopesh: I was invited to Ghumakkar by Nandan. We were in same organization in the past and I think he came to know about my travel interest and invited me. I was already maintaining a personal travel blog which started with an urge to write and document my travels, and thoughts to be relished later in life and for others to read. I would receive occasional comments on my blog but Ghumakkar gave me wider and relavant reach and community and I immediately jumped on to it.
Ghumakkar: We are so glad you did! Your stories talk about solo travels, travel with friends, and travel with family. Which one do you enjoy the most?
Roopesh: Is this a trick question?
Ghumakkar: He he! We assure you, it’s not.
Roopesh: Thank God! Actually it depends upon many things. When planning a trip with family I plan it to be relaxing and family destination with good amenities. When the trip is more rugged, related to train hobby or some work-related I prefer to be with some company. However, if there is a compelling trip and window of opportunity is small, I wouldn’t think twice to go all alone. For travel, I follow policy of neither make anybody wait, neither wait for anyone. I do get put off by laziness of people or argument of what & how much time to be given to certain activity.
Ghumakkar: And what kind of places do you like travelling to? Do you have a list of “must-go” places like most of us here?
Roopesh: Generally I would visit any place as long as I feel it has something to offer. I am very liberal about travelling and feel every place has something to offer. Even an ordinary place has its ordinariness to offer. I would enjoy visiting a European city as much as our chaotic towns let’s say Patna (which I have not been able to visit till now) which is not even on tourist circuit.
I have a huge list of places to visit & experiences to have like Pyramids of Giza in Egypt, travel on Trans-Siberian railway, visit Central Asia and closer home to North-East, Rann of Kutchh & scale some mediocre mountain peak/pass.
Travel for me is far more than just places to see. It is about sights, sounds, tastes, smell and the history or heritage of that place. I like to call myself a traveller than a tourist. However, with family I try to balance the tourist and traveller. I choose places which satisfy both criterion – something interesting for the traveller & amenities for the tourist.
Ghumakkar: Who all are there in your family?
Roopesh: My wife and 3 year old son, my parents and two elder sisters.
Ghumakkar: Does your wife like to travel too?
Roopesh: Yes, she does. However she is more into leisure travel but is cooperative with a little discomfort.
Ghumakkar: And your son? How about him? Has he started travelling too?
Roopesh: Yes, in fact he has even been on an international travel. He was barely two then. And one little tip I feel would be useful for any Ghumakkar family is that infants, which means children below the age of two, get good discounts on airfare and most other services do not charge for an infant at all. So avail it while you can.
Ghumakkar: That is indeed a very helpful tip. And it seems that you intend to encourage your son to be a Ghumakkar too.
Roopesh: Yes, completely.
Ghumakkar: And Where did you get your travel bug from?
Roopesh: The urge to travel is I guess there in my blood. My father has been travelling by virtue of his job in Indian Navy and later in Central Govt. Even though till schooling travel was mostly to home town for summer holidays but once my father got transferred to Shimla for 3 years, it shifted to travelling to Shimla. I travelled alone for long distance when I first travelled to Shimla being 14 years old. My first serious travel as hobby happened only when I started working. My first serious travel was part group, part solo in 2003 when I travelled from Delhi -> Chennai -> Tirunelveli -> Kollam & back (by Meter gauge train) -> Kanyakumari -> Trivandrum -> Kollam -> Alleppy (backwaters ride) -> Ernakulam -> Hyderabad and back to Delhi.
Ghumakkar: Your first travel covers a mix of places – ranging from thriving state capitals to laid-back picturesque locations. Have you lived at a variety of places too?
Roopesh: Yes, I was born in New Delhi and spent most of my time there and a little in Patiala, Punjab very early. I did my education and first two jobs in Delhi. In 2006 I left Delhi and since then have lived in Hyderabad & currently based in Pune for last 6 years. My parents are from Nagpur, Maharashtra but I never lived (only vacationed) there myself. Because of this there is a small identity crisis about where I belong?
Ghumakkar: Well, where do you belong?
Roopesh: he he! While I was in Delhi, I used to claim that I am a Delhite but since I left I say I belong to Maharashtra and specifically to Nagpur thought I never lived there. Living in a central govt. quarters & studying in Kendriya Vidyalaya led me to interface with people from most of the regions of India. This multi-cultural living has positive impact that I have become far more adjustable & tolerant. I have much bigger world view and wouldn’t have problem getting along at any place.
Ghumakkar: And what about after school? Where did you do your graduation from?
Roopesh: I did my B.Tech from IIT Delhi. I have now been working as a Software Professional for the past several years.
Ghumakkar: And who is Roopesh apart from being a Software Professional?
Roopesh: I am also a rail enthusiast. I was always fascinated by railways and train travel which was an annual ritual going from Delhi to Nagpur for summer holidays. I recall in my early childhood my father would take me to a railway crossing (“phatak”) to watch trains. Later in Delhi we stayed at a place close to railway line. During my school or graduation days, I loved to read timetables, calculate average speeds etc. In year 2000 with the advent of Internet a small community formed of rail enthusiasts. One day I was searching something about railways and ended up with this community and suddenly the interest which was there in subconscious came to fore.
Ghummakar: Which community is this?
Roopesh: It is the Indian Railways Fan Club Association. Their website is www.irfca.org.
Ghumakkar: Oh! I believe I have read articles on their website.
Roopesh: You have?
Ghumakkar: Yes, someone called Shankie..
Roopesh: Of course! Shashank. He writes well. And so do Bharat Moro and Mohan Bhuyan. Read them as well when you have time.
Ghumakkar: Sure! Will do. They are on my list now.
Ghumakkar: so tell us more about the IRFCA. What do they do?
Roopesh: We discuss all aspects of railways like technology, operations, history/heritage, routes, timetables, economics, human aspects, rail photography etc. I am particularly interested in history, heritage of railways, human aspects & romanticism of train travel. Of course, as part of this hobby we plan some travel by train. The group also organizes an annual convention in different parts of the country which I try to attend.
I was spending lot of time on the hobby initially. However, with family responsibilities I am unable to pursue it fully as it would involve considerable time away from home. However, I follow the happenings through forums and occasional meetups.
Ghumakkar: When is this convention organized and where?
Roopesh: It is organized at the end of January or in the beginning of February. And the venue isn’t fixed. Members bid to organize the convention at their favourite destinations. The only condition is that the place has to be of importance in relation to railways. It should either be a main station or a major junction. Or the city should have a museum, a yard, a workshop, or a shed. Then there is voting at the convention itself. Once everything is decided, the volunteers work hard to organize everything, right from the stay for a couple of days to food to venue to agenda to printed material to momento . Everything.
Ghumakkar: Wow! and for how many people are these preparations made?
Roopesh: About 100 to 120.
Ghumakkar: Does one have to pay to participate?
Roopesh: Yes. One has to pay a fee. The surplus goes towards maintenance of the server of irfca.
Ghumakkar: How well are these conventions organized?
Roopesh: They are organized really well. There are serious discussions as well as lots of fun and play. There is a field visit too. And everything happens with lots of discipline too. At the end of it, you do not gain anything material, but the experience still is completely worth it. Just like Ghumakkar. The motivation comes from within and you make life-long friends.
Ghumakkar: Do women also participate?
Roopesh: In the forum, there are some women who participate but the percentage is very low. But in the convention, I haven’t seen any solo women.
Ghumakkar: Why do you think they this is so?
Roopesh: I think a lot has to do with the nature of this hobby. Visit to stations, trackside locations, or other places with railway footprint are inherent part of the hobby which may not be clean or safe. Railways are unclean, uncomfortable, unglamorous and are seen or used more as a utility item. Railways are all iron & steel, brick & mortar, dust & grime, which is not at all appealing to women.
Ghumakkar: I think I will leave this question for women readers on Ghumakkar to answer. Speaking for myself, I am very interested in steam engines. But yes visiting dirty tracks and shady places may deter me a little.
Roopesh: Yes, other women may have the same concerns too.
Ghumakkar: Apart from being a rail enthusiast, your profile also mentions that you are an activist. What are the causes that you feel most strongly for? And how do you take actions for them?
Roopesh: There are plenty of causes that I relate with but feel strongly about urban poor children. Whatever I do is very modest. I have been lucky to find a way to contribute meaningfully right in my backyard. I have forged relationship with a Marathi medium school which get students from poor economic background like migrant labourers. I along with some contributors in the past have conducted classes for English and Dramatics, arranged food, stationary & other material in kind for the school. The relationship is going strong for last 5 years though I would have liked to contribute more. It is one of the most satisfying experience of my life.
Ghumakkar: You talked about dramatics. Do you act as well?
Roopesh: No I have never acted. But I acted as a facilitator when a friend of mine was conducting the class. I made sure that things are working fine, the sessions are flowing well, and students are participating, doing their work, and maintaining order.
Ghumakkar: What did the students gain from the dramatics classes? Do you personally think that they were as important as the academic classes?
Roopesh: I think they were more important. The script for these dramas dealt with the issues these students face everyday, such as superstition, importance of education etc. It is a good way to make them think about the society around them. And we saw great improvements in most of the students as we worked with them.
Ghumakkar: Yes, I would think so. It is a great way to make them aware of the issues without actually preaching.
Roopesh: Yes. And apart from these activities, I have also lodged some RTI petitions with Pune Municipal Corporation. And I have got satisfactory responses.
Ghumakkar: Sounds really good Roopesh! It must be very gratifying indeed.
Roopesh: One only has to make a little effort.
Ghumakkar: But you manage to balance so many things at the same time. What does a regular day from your life look like?
Roopesh: Most of my daily time is spent around my family & work. In the morning I do some running & exercise. Then if time permits, I spend some time with son to get him ready for the day. Then its travel to work and back. During work timings I catch up with daily dose of news, analysis & other interests. Most of the evening is spent with son & wife. I catch up on my interests like Ghumakkar and other travel reading on weekends when I am most relaxed. Lately I have developed interest in cycling so go out on a longish ride on weekends.
Ghumakkar: Do you think we have the right infrastructure for cycling?
Roopesh: Not at all. In fact I think India is one of the worst countries to cycle around. In fact in Kolkata, there is one particular road from where cyclists have been banned from entering because they are an inconvenience to motor vehicles. The story was on the Internet. I find this extremely strange that our government is supporting modes of transport that wreck a havoc on our environment against cycling which is eco friendly. In Pune when Commonwealth Youth Games happened in 2008, the government built some cycle tracks but these tracks are only at some places. It is a very half-hearted attempt to make the city cyclist friendly.
Ghumakkar: That does ring a bell. We have cycling tracks in Noida as well but many have trees growing in the middle or some end abruptly.
Roopesh: In Pune, there is one track that if a cyclist follows blindly, he or she will end up in a river.
Ghumakkar: Ha ha…this is so not funny.
Roopesh: I know! The thought is not there right from the planning stage only.
Ghumakkar: And even the safety of cyclists isn’t of concerns to anyone.
Roopesh: Yes, there is no concern what-so-ever. But it is heartening that in spite of all this the trend for cycling is on a rise.
Ghumakkar: Yes, it is a relief and may be this will force the authorities to take cycling more seriously as a mode of transport.
Roopesh: I sincerely hope so.
Ghumakkar: And apart from cycling, do you have other interests as well?
Roopesh: I do read travel- or history- related books. I have read books by Mark Tully, William Dalrymple, Khaled Hosseini, and Bill Atkins. I also loved If It’s Monday It Must Be Madurai by Srinath Perur. It is very topical.
Ghumakkar: And are there any particular authors on Ghumakkar that you love reading?
Roopesh: There are some very good authors at Ghumakkar whose writings I enjoy, such as SilentSoul, Sushant Singhal, Devasmita, Dr. Taher, Aurojit and a few others.
Ghumakkar: And apart from these author, what else keeps you glued to Ghumakkar?
Roopesh: Even after playing multiple roles, the traveller inside raises its head from time to time and leads to Ghumakkar. For any travel reading, the first stop is Ghumakkar. Once I am back from any travel I make sure to post the travelogue to Ghumakkar where I am assured that there are people eager to read my stories. This is what keeps me glued to Ghumakkar.
Ghumakkar: And what would you want to tell the Ghumakkar community?
Roopesh: Ghumakkar is a nice, small, warm, unpretentious community of travel enthusiasts who are tied with a common thread of travel. Taking a cue from my rail-fan community, the next step for community to grow stronger is to have some kind of meet up may be once in an year where we can come together and meet face to face. Other thing I would like to say (which I keep reminding myself) to people who are going through middle life is to take care of their health so that they are fit & fine to enjoy travel when they grow a little old and have plenty of time. It would be sad to have carried out all responsibilities and secured your future but health is not in your side to really enjoy fruits of the labour.
Ghumakkar: Great! Thanks a lot Roopesh. That is indeed a beautiful message and a very valuable one too.
Ghumakkar: It has been great talking to you tonight, Roopesh. I have learnt a lot from this discussion. I hope you had fun too.
Roopesh: I did. And thanks once again. It was nice talking to you too.
And so ended our hour-long conversation. We had managed to cover much more than I had imagined. And still at the end of this transcription, I don’t think I had the heart to cut out any portion. I hope I have managed to hold on to all threads of the conversation as coherently as Roopesh presented his thoughts. It takes a very focussed individual with a clear and focussed mind to do all that he manages to do in limited time, and to convey everything as crisply and as precisely. I hope you will enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed talking to Roopesh.
Till the next time.