Sonia is watching her screen like a hawk. The amount on display is changing by the hour. It's $6000 shy of fulfilling her wish of going to Antarctica on a privately led expedition to purportedly learn about global warming. Her solicit pitch on social media is complete with a photo of her with two smiling children from an underprivileged background thrown in for good measure. Her Facebook feed is full of relatives and friends invoking their contacts to "help her in her noble cause."
Two days later, the required amount has been reached. Sonia has managed to scoop up $18000 or about Rs 11,80,000 from well meaning (read: rich) friends doing their bit for her cause. Never mind the fact that the same trip when done individually costs one-fourth the amount, but lacks the glamour factor of having been "the chosen one".
"Since when is the collective milk of human kindness being used to further people's bucket lists, so that they can check off a country or an experience and gain bragging rights for posterity?"
Am I jealous? Of course, a little bit. I mean I have only been to two continents other than my own. Am I happy for her? Yes, that too, I bet Antarctica is going to be life changing.
Am I resentful?
Yes and not because she's going to Antarctica, and I'm not. Or because I'm writing this from my bedroom after having clocked a 12 hour day at work, while she's probably busy packing away her thermal wear. For me, the idea of raising funding to fulfill your personal wishes and fancies, unless you or someone you love is dying, is wrong on so many levels. Since when is the collective milk of human kindness being used to further people's bucket lists, so that they can check off a country or an experience and gain bragging rights for posterity?
Don't get me wrong. I get the whole deal with "to each his own", and also understand that it's not for me to dictate what someone to chooses to do with their money, or money raised from others.
We have seen enough news of X startup getting X million in funding. Someone's investing in a business because they believe in the idea, and someday, hopefully, it'll pay them back, manifold. But, when you raise funding for your travels, or to procure other material possessions, you're giving no one but yourself anything.
Going on an overpriced trip to the far end of the world for "global warming" is as much a "cause" as is "liking" a photo on Facebook to save a dying child. If you think that a 15-day package trip to see glaciers and penguins will help deal with global warming, well done, you've managed to kid yourself. By all means do that trip. The trouble begins when you make generous, if gullible, people buy into the idea of needing to fund you for it.
In a world where millions are dying of hunger and disease, where farmers are committing suicide by the thousands, where floods and cyclones are ravaging villages, where refugees in war-ridden countries have nowhere to go, the biggest fund-raising worthy cause you've decided to go with is... travelling?
There's a thing about travellers. Most of them harbour this misplaced notion that they're doing the world a big favour. As a traveller myself and as much as I love travelling, I've never considered my hobby of going to different places, experiencing different cultures as particularly philanthropic or noble. In fact travelling is one of the most selfish things one can do. When you decide to leave whatever it is you have back home, you leave colleagues to pick up the slack and others to shoulder your responsibilities. Just so that you, the traveller can cure that itch, that wanderlust. Your experiences are your own. You're pleasing no one but yourself. I'd go as far to say that travelling is a privilege, not a right.
"Going on an overpriced trip to the far end of the world for 'global warming' is as much a cause as is 'liking' a photo on Facebook to save a dying child."
Sure, you do help the local economy and aid tourism as a by-product of this hobby, but to present this as a noble cause that other people should contribute towards is but a misplaced sense of entitlement.
Again, as someone who's travelled a fair bit myself, I've made a few sacrifices. Travelling isn't cheap. But nothing that's as self-indulgent is. A massage at a spa costs a pretty penny, because it feels so damn good. So does travelling. And so, we work hard, sometimes we labour at things that we don't really enjoy, we deal with the everyday struggles of a big city so we can afford to travel, escape into a different world and have ourselves a little luxury. In fact, if you really get down to the brass tacks, a lack of money shouldn't really stop you from travelling if you're keen enough. For example, one couple were in the news recently for having worked their way through their travels, including scrubbing toilets and toiling in farms. Surely, they didn't think their cause was worthy enough to just ask for donations instead.
Sonia isn't the only one though. I've had an acquaintance personally get in touch to help fund his move to Australia, because he's a globe trotter and "would like to experience living in a different country for a change."
But at least there was no pretence of a higher cause here, just a sense of entitlement that he was deciding to leave the third world country of India for greener pastures in Australia and that everyone around him should immediately a "minimum" of $20.
As though the idea of crowdsourcing funds for travelling wasn't deplorable enough, I happen to know another couple that for an art project (which involves them travelling around and painting walls), managed to raise funding to buy a second high-end bike so each person could ride one, instead of, you know, riding pillion like the plebs. Never mind the fact that their much-publicised "cause" flies in the face of the other bigger cause -- the environment. Do we really need two people, a couple at that, riding a pollution-spewing bike each in the name of street cred each and contributing double the carbon footprint when one just does fine? And then there another case, again a friend, an ex-MNC employee, who wanted to earn a dancing diploma in a foreign country funded by a corporate, because why not?
"Who are the people who contribute towards making someone's selfish, self-indulgent dreams come true? "
And these are some educated, young, physically abled people who have their entire life ahead to work hard, save up, earn their trips, their possessions and their education. But no, that perhaps isn't as easy as creating an online campaign and urging your friends on social media to "help". And then gaining celebrity as your popularity is validated when you do get the funds, and buy yourself that trip or that object.
This makes me wonder. Who are the people who contribute towards making someone's selfish, self-indulgent dreams come true? What moves them more? Helping a perfectly healthy, financially sufficient person to fill up their Facebook with travel photos, or helping someone whose only alternative to your kindness is death or destruction?
And I only hope your answer is the latter or "both".
Contact HuffPost India