I often come across this quote, that life is like a book and those who do not travel read only one page.
When you read those words aloud you also, without realising it, make fun of people who do not travel. But to travel you often need two things: money and will. Many people don't have either, some neither.
But there are people who travel for a living — people who spend most of the week in airports and hotels, or in trains or buses — selling corporate solutions or FMCG products. I don't so much envy those living out of airports and hotels: they basically hop from one boardroom to another, and these days most boardrooms are usually located on the outskirts of a city. But I very much envy those who, to promote their brand of tea or toothpaste or chocolate, travel to the remotest of shops, occasionally hopping onto a passing truck or tractor if required in order to cover the areas assigned.
These fortunate people, since they have one eye fixed on the watch and the other on the target, largely remain blind to the places their work takes them to. They travel, but they wouldn't be called travellers.
Who, then, is a traveller?
A traveller, to me, is someone driven by curiosity: What lies there? The there could be a neighbouring town or a neighbouring country or a country 10,000 miles away — so long as you go there out of curiosity you are a traveller (if you go there only for the sights you are already familiar with, you are a tourist).
Which also means that you do not really need money to travel. I shall always cherish the trip I made to the town of Chandragiri, near Tirupati, in September 2011: I had driven down from Chennai with a friend and together, we would not have spent more than Rs. 2,000. We could have managed with even half the amount had we not chosen to stay in AC rooms.
There is another journey I shall never forget: I even remember the date — August 4, 2015 — because it happened to be birth anniversary of my idol Kishore Kumar. On that day, I took the morning flight from Chennai to Calcutta, and in the afternoon — after listening to a few Kishore Kumar songs on FM — took the flight to Bagdogra.
From Bagdogra airport, I was to drive south to Cooch Behar, to work on a story about the Bangladeshi enclaves that had merged with India just four days before. As the driver led me to the parking, I noticed a car with a red number plate, the registration number painted in the Devanagari script.
"The car you are looking at is from Nepal," the driver — a very nice man called Bindeshwar Yadav — satisfied my curiosity. "The registration says it belongs to the Bagmati zone of Nepal."
"How far is Nepal from here?" I asked him.
"The border is not even 30 km. Everything is close from here. Bhutan is hardly 70 km, Darjeeling 90 km."
My destination, Cooch Behar, was the farthest: 150 km. To come so close to these places — Nepal, Bhutan, Darjeeling — and yet not to be able to even peep into them, the thought saddened me. "I must come back someday," I silently willed, even though the possibility of another trip in the near future seemed remote, very remote.
Perhaps the hills heard me. Not even a year has passed since then, and I have already been to Nepal, Bhutan and Darjeeling.