It’s been ages since I have been on a road trip. Even longer, since I went on one with my parents. This needs to be said, because trips like this were par for the course when my sister and I were growing up. Ours was a family that was always ready to get up and go. We did this an awful lot, with far too many Sunday mornings that saw my parents overcome by the sudden need to take us on a picnic. Amma would quickly pack up some sandwiches, or puliyogare and curd-rice with some assorted nicknacks – chips, sugar-boiled sweets. It would all get stuffed it in a large bag along with a thermos full of juice for the kids and juice or tea for the adults. We’d wear our outdoorsy clothes, throw on our sneakers, pile into the car and take off. We never went to picnic spots or resorts, as was typically the norm. My dad would open out his most recent road map, show us the direction in which we’d be headed and we’d simply just drive, listening to music – everything from cassettes playing old concerts of my grandfather’s to The Beatles. The fascination of that kind of meandering trip, with no real plan or purpose but to just be together was enchanting. I always felt like I was on an adventure.
We’d converse a lot. We’d learn to identify birds, be told about important landmarks, our curiosity over everything from a roadroller at a new road coming up, to a tractor in a field where we’d stopped, or how the rain falls and why the trees are so many shades of green, would be piqued. And our questions entertained. We’d talk about all kinds of things and have most of our numerous questions answered. When we’d have driven out far enough from the city, my dad would pick a nice big lush tree and we’d pull over. Sometimes beside farmlands, sometimes overlooking a lake or river. Sometimes close to a little hillock which we would then climb, and I’d feel like I’d scaled the highest mountain. We’d spread out our trusty olive-coloured tarpaulin over which we’d open out all our food and drink, eating out of banana leaf plates, and making sure to gather all the waste, leaving the spot with no trace of us having been there, before we left.
In words, in conversation and in action, by example, I think I learned many a lesson about being on the road, and outdoors from my parents through these trips. It was very simple, but I distinctly remember those outings being my first experiences with understanding the concept of getting out, of travelling, of venturing into spaces outside where you usually belong. I could perceived the meaning of words like destination, duration and the passage of time.
Later, when we were slightly more grown up, there were innumerable trips to the jungle. My father is (used to be far more enthusiastic then, than he is now) an avid wildlife photographer, and was wont to making surprise plans with his photographer buddies and take off into the jungles for a weekend of photography. Every now and then, we’d make a family trip of it. I have fond memories of being huddled up in the porch of a jungle guesthouse, in the dim light from a naked bulb, thanks to the lack of electricity in the wild, listening to jungle noises creep around me, building impossibly imaginative animal stories in my head, giddy with excitement about the morning safari the next morning and the prospect of seeing a tiger. The forest guesthouse had a kitchen where basic meals of rasam/sambar, vegetables and rice would be prepared and brought to us in steel tiffin carriers. We’d turn in early and wake up in time to ride off into the jungle in an open jeep. Simple, invaluable things like dressing in sober colours that don’t stand out in the jungle, speaking in whispers or not at all, of looking behind you (because sometimes that’s where the best view is!) and most importantly, being patient began there – in the jungle. My urge to get out into the wild was stoked then, I’m sure.
For many reasons, these trips waned away. My father no longer goes away as often or as enthusiastically as he did back then. Over the years that my sister and I grew up and developed our own interests, family outings of this sort took last priority, as is known to happen. Ten years ago, my sister moved away to Bombay. Seven years ago, I came to Goa. And ever since, getting the four of us together at the same time has taken so much effort and orchestration, we’re mostly just happy to be under one roof – either in Bombay, Goa or Bangalore. Barring a family holiday to Sri Lanka in 2007, and another to Mahabs (that I could evidently not be bothered to write about!) in 2008, there haven’t been too many trips out of this sort.
So today, as I’m driving through rolling fields of sunflowers and marigolds at the edge of the Bandipur forest, I’m running on network fumes as it is about to disappear entirely out of reach, I realise this is a day worth recording. Especially because these are the views I’ve seen, en route to Wayanad.
Heartbreakingly beautiful colours sweeping through swathes of plains, usually give all four of us the completely raw and visceral urge to just stop, get out and get as close to it as possible.
Par for the course, while we were growing up. I’ve touched sunflowers, held them against my face and marvelled at how large they actually are, dipped my toes in hill-side streams, touched passing clouds as we climbed mountains.
This is probably the last of my posts for a bit. I don’t suppose I’m going to have any network in Wayanad where I’m headed. I don’t have my laptop either. So yes, I’m going to be MIA. For about a week, depending on how long I’m off the grid. And how long it may take me to surface once I’m back. See you on the other side.
(17th August, 2016, edited to add: I returned to Goa and once I was over the post-holiday stupor, I filled in the gaps with back-dated posts about the trip away.)