A friend once remarked: ‘Travel nurtures and strengthens an individual’s soul.’
‘What?’ I said, ‘Is that the first line of your stand-up comedy?’ And then went on to tell this friend that when people talk about travel nurturing and nourishing souls do they even know what they are talking about? The soul, and I’m only hazarding a guess here, isn’t a start-up in the wild world of souls and probably doesn’t need any nurturing. The soul already knows the sort of bad influences that the body is capable of inflicting upon its nature. Let us come to the travel component in the fallacy that talks about travel nurturing souls… the soul has seen more worlds than we can imagine if we go by all the theories surrounding every possible religion in the world. So now that the matter of soul-travel-nurture is settled, let us talk in earnest about the travel-spark-inspire relationship.
It appears that there is no doubt that travel sparks inspiration. Why else would so many people want to rush to writing or painting or meditation or health workshops snuggled between clouds and high on rarified air, whatever that means. Or why would so many wannabe successful CEOs rush to hear the sound of mesmerizing profits that crashing waves make on pristine beaches, whatever that means. Or why would the hoi-polloi try and copy every smile-inflicted selfie of strangers on unknown streets somewhere far from apna desh India? This is all because of the fallacy spread by a bunch of enterprising travel agents who want to tell everyone to buy expensive tickets, stay in expensive hotels, participate in every expensive activity, and enter every expensive museum because ‘travel nurtures and strengthens an individual’s soul’. Their brochure says this. Travel articles in newspapers say this. Travel programs on TV say this. When everyone is saying the same thing, a poor individual’s poor soul possibly has no alternative but to believe this nonsense.
Travel is not going to inspire anything. Wrong. Travel does inspire every traveller to click every mundane picture and over-load the social media with their unique picture of that peanut seller on Tower Bridge, some charmingly stirring cloud formation on top of some hill, that winding road that seemed to be guffawing endlessly, that snow-clad view of an otherwise bare mountain from a running train, railway stations that have more automated kiosks than people, and you get the picture. Let me clarify here that every hurriedly clicked picture works wonders if the background is of a place a few thousand miles away. This is why the picture of every second expressionless hawker on the streets of Delhi, for instance, is celebrated only in countries other than ours. Travel inspiration doesn’t stop here. It goes on to inspire lots of idiots who have clicked a few hundred pictures to assume that photography or travel is a passion that must be pushed ahead… and they ring their lives with that inspired word called ‘profession’ and passion becomes their profession. In simpler words this means that the gang of travel agents just got bigger. So yes, travel does spark a lot of inspiration.
‘What about all those writers, painters, CEOs, and other inspiration seekers?’ asked this friend, ‘Do they too become travel agents?’
No, they don’t. I mean, not always. You see, the difference between inspired and non-inspired rich kids is that the latter opens a guest-house in Manali or Mussorie and the former buys a wee house–on-some-village-slope in a remote village and charges a hefty amount on sites where home-stays are listed… because the view from the window nurtures the soul.
‘So how does sparking an inspiration differ from inspiring a spark?’
‘Now you’re warming up to my concept,’ I said.
On inspiring sparks
No, these aren’t abstract sparks with inherent qualities that inspire some rare economist to publish a volume of poetry but about people and actions that inspire real sort of sparks that can hurt.
‘Ah! The sparks that inspire conflagrations. Is that it?’
Yes, this is what I mean. Look at the massive garbage dumps that extra foot-falls of travel enthusiasts have created. Mussorie, Shimla, Dharamshala, Darjeeling, Ooty, Goa… name any travel-infested city or region and I’m sure it will have massive land-fills it will be embarrassed to show. Plastic water bottles, plastic food containers, and plastic-everything litter quite literally chokes our mountain slopes, beaches, and even streets. More travelers means more garbage.
Look at the way the construction of roads with six and more lanes have destroyed the cover of trees so vital to our eco-system. Drive from Chandigarh to Shimla or from Jammu to Srinagar and you’ll know what I am talking about. Look at the traffic snarls even on the highways on a weekend and on long weekends besides vacation times and look at the way fields along these highways are fast being converted into high rises and malls. We need to be clear about our vision. Do we need flyovers going from one dump to another or do we need an effective road-network through fields where the fertility of land isn’t insulted? More and more travelers have inspired this spark.
More travelers means more sparks. Sparks like less water, influx of large corporates and the death of the local trader… and every view-point showing less and less of open skies and more of irregular piles of construction material and malba.
I do not despise travel
Please understand that I do not despise travel. I am simply informing you of the perils of too many travelers going out and destroying all that they had gone to appreciate and learn from.
This friend who had been asking me sporadic questions about travel, then wonder aloud if there was a solution to this increasing mess. ‘Yes,’ I said, ‘regulation is the answer.’
‘Regulation? Are you crazy? India is a democracy and not ruled by an autocrat.’
‘Not sure of who rules us,’ I said, ‘but compare unregulated parking spaces like the ones we see in Lajpat Nagar with multi-level parking lots where each floor has a specified number of cars parked. Regulation helps.’
‘Sounds autocratic,’ he insisted.
Well, if travel has to continue being an inspiration for all good things it needs to get regulated. No, I do not mean travel should be expensive or only for a few. Travel and exclusivity do not go together. Travel must remain a pleasure and must continue to nurture our being. (I still find that soul bit a bit too impractical.)
23 July 2018