And perhaps never will. I know this sounds confusing. Or even absurd. But think about it. My father, whom we lost a decade ago, always wanted to go to Kashmir. He used to say, in his mother tongue, which is Gujarati, “Kashmir javanu rahi gayu. Dharti par swarg kehvay che. Have bija janam ma kadach.” Roughly translated it means – “I missed out on going to Kashmir. It is supposed to be heaven on earth. In another lifetime perhaps.” For my legally blind, 80-plus mother, it is Paris.
“Will you go to Paris for me,” she once asked me, suddenly out of the blue. “I want it to be my gift. I will pay for the expenses that you and Nandan (my husband) will incur. But go and see Paris for me, please. I always wanted to but could never go there. Your father went when he was in the UK on a scholarship. We thought we would go there some day together but then, we had other priorities with our money. And then, I went blind. I cannot see Paris, its lights. What will I do going there?”
I was taken aback. So was my husband.
We told her we might some day, not now. And the husband wasn’t keen on Paris, but neither of us told her that. We were lost for words, and I had welled up.
“Go while you are still based in Europe. It may be difficult later,” she continued, “And promise me, that whenever you go, you will take from me, all the expenses you incur. Your flight tickets, your hotel expenses…anything and everything.”
We would be beasts of some sort to take that money from my mother. Whatever money she does have, is for her well being and health, and so that the remainder of her life and medical related expenses are looked after. We would be fools to use that money on a trip for ourselves.
But we did not tell her that. We just said yes.
“When you do go to Paris, and when you come back, tell me all about it,” said my mother, as we wound up that conversation on Paris.
We hadn’t fixed a year or a date and then, the pandemic happened. Not sure if we will go to Paris this year or the next. Or the year after that.
But even with that loss (of not being able to travel), is an understanding, a compassion and empathy for travels that you and so many others can never make. The reasons for not ever taking that dream trip could be varied and diverse – it could be because of a lack of money, for the lack of privilege and opportunities, for reasons of health or simply because for a lot of people, getting a roof over their heads, sending their children to school and looking after their elderly parents would always come before spending money on that long-cherished trip.
So you have empathy, and also gratitude and awareness of one’s privileges that has made the travel that one has been able to make, possible in the first place. In certain cases, one also realises that some travels have been possible because of the sacrifices of others. My parents chose to not travel as much as they could have, or would have wanted to, because they enrolled me in an expensive school and several sacrifices had to be made for that. They put my education before their desire to travel.
However, what you cannot travel, you live via desires and a deep yearning, visit through good books, a photograph, an interesting story or an anecdote.
I live Kashmir through Our Moon Has Blood Clots and Curfewed Night. I enjoy France through A Year in Provence. Venice, always, always through that Bollywood song, in which Amitabh Bachchan and Zeenat Aman sing to each other, as they cruise though the canals in a gondola. The song, from the movie The Great Gambler begins with the boatman singing in Italian and Aman translating the song for Bachchan. It goes ‘Amore Mio, Dove Stai Tu, Sto Cercando. Sei Solo Mio..Do Lafzon Ki Hai Dil Ki Kahaani Yaa Hai Mohabbat Yaa Hai Jawaani.‘ This song has been my favourite since childhood and for me, has always stood for Italy. The Italy I want to go to. The Italy I have never gone to.
The Italy I may never go to.
After my marriage, I saw many mafia movies and series, and some in Italian with English subtitles, all because the husband is a mafia fan. I had never imagined Italy that way.
So we both have our own ‘Italy’.
I dream about mine often and seek it in a Bollywood song. My father sought his Kashmir in verses and poetry. My mother seeks her Paris in the hope that someday I will go there. A very close friend has always wanted to go to Turkey, and each time she has planned her trip, she has had to cancel it. For her, Turkey is like an elusive lover. One of my father’s ex-colleague has always wanted to go to Mumbai. It is an overnight train journey from Baroda, where he lives. And yet, now in his seventies, he has still not been able to go to Mumbai.
We all seek places, some exotic, some nearby but yet so far away, some nurtured since years in our dreams, and an intrinsic desire to see them someday.
Some of us will see some of those places, if not all the ones our list. Some of us will not.
But even the longing to see them, to experience them, is as important as going there.
Travel therefore is also about the places that we have never travelled to and perhaps may never do and it is easy to forget that as we mark our trail across the world through Instagram, Facebook or Snapchat. The paths that people have not been able to take or travel upon are as important as the ones they have been able to, because it is in these unfulfilled dreams and yearnings, and little sacrifices that travel also resides and lives, and like a pod with seeds, carries the unborn journeys that some others will make for them or make after them.
On World Tourism Day, 2020, I raise a toast to journeys never made, and waiting to be made.