The Unbearable Lightness of Travelling

19/01/2015 8:07 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:24 AM IST
Priyadarshini Chatterjee


"And what can life be worth if the first rehearsal for life is life itself?"

- Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being

As the bus rolled out of the bus station my heart lurched ever so slightly. I pressed my face against the cold misty window and risking torticollis twisted my neck at an impossible angle to catch a final glimpse of Esra Yolalan and her friends. They were still standing on the same spot where minutes ago we had hugged and said goodbye; Esra was waving at the bus, at me, almost frantically.

I was waiting for my bus to Antalya, at the Urgup bus station in Cappadocia, Turkey, late on a chilly November evening, when I spotted a young Turkish girl walking towards me. There was a hint of hesitance in her stride, behind her a group of young boys and girls were cheering aloud, her friends prodding her to go ahead and talk to me, I reckoned. It made me a little uneasy. She was nervous too. I could read it on her face. Finally she came up to me and asked "India?"

I nodded, still wary. She squealed in delight. "Aamir Khan?" she asked, beaming, and before I could wrap my mind around what was happening, she broke into a high-pitched "All is well," mimicking the iconic hand gesture from the song in Khan's blockbuster Three Idiots. Bemused at first and then amused, I joined her. Esra Yolalan declared in her broken, heavily-accented English that she loved India, especially Bollywood, and that she was, without a doubt, the greatest fan of Aamir Khan. Then she resumed singing, at the same pitch, and poked me in my stomach signaling me to join her. Her friends joined us too.

So, there I was thousands of miles away from home, in a quiet bus station right in the middle of the land of the fabled fairy chimneys, singing at the top of my voice with a bunch of absolute strangers who did not speak my language, only they seemed strangely familiar, almost like friends. Now, that the bus had taken a sharp turn left and a white-washed wall cut off Esra Yolalan and her friends, from my view, I couldn't help feeling a stab of pain, as it dawned upon me that I wouldn't see them ever again.

The fundamental nature of travelling, I think, manifests in these sudden, haphazard, moments you simply can't hold on to. Nothing prepares you for them, there is no time to think, weigh, probe, or consider; you can only react. A breathtaking view that swooshes by before you can commit it to your memory, a smile flashed from across the street that vanishes in the crowd just as suddenly, a quiet meeting at a pub hundreds of miles from home, an engaging conversation that ends abruptly because you have a train to catch, a sudden intimacy that has no future - nothing lasts for long when you're travelling, nor are likely to recur. In the larger scheme of things they might even seem insignificant, of little consequence.

Few interactions are longer, deeper. You promise to keep in touch, to write to each other soon and often, and even slip in a cordial invitation, knowing in your heart as you say an optimistic 'till we meet again', that it is, in all probabilities, the last time you will see each other. But the heart yearns to love, to hold on, to hope. And "When the heart speaks, the mind finds it indecent to object."

I often feel exasperated by this unbearable lightness of...well, travelling. They sadden me, at times, yes these fleeting, fading moments. The quintessential temporariness of travelling breaks my heart. But every time hope is restored by the promise of the new. So, I travel.

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