Not all who wander are lost..

All of us travel. And for most us travel is something joyous, something fulfilling, something to look forward to. But can we say the same thing when we travel for work ? If you are not sure then read on..

I for one, used to hate traveling for work. I used to balk at every opportunity that demanded me to pack my bags and be off to a foreign land. Then slowly I realized that it was not really the journey that tired or irritated me but it was my attitude. I had this notion that I must feel uncomfortable – long flights in coach class, stale airport food, no “Indian Vegetarian” meals, jet lag for days on end and so on.

As time elapsed, it became clear that there was no escaping this reality of my corporate existence so I decided to make peace with the situation. It did not come in a day and I had to train my mind to focus more on the positive aspects of travel than the ones that bothered me. I now enjoy my business day out and travel for me is a chore no more but a great friend, philosopher and guide. I have learnt that what travel can teach us in few days and sometimes in a few hours, it may take a whole lifetime to learn, to imbibe. Let me list few of the lessons I have learnt from my journeys. I will start from the physical and move towards the meta physical. 

1. Fear of the unknown – This is one of the most common impediments for anyone who wants to enjoy discovering new places and meeting new people. We are so used to our comfort zones that to step out is a challenge. Somehow our minds have been trained to the concept of “aliens” who are to be feared no matter how good or friendly they may turn out to be. We assume a lot of stuff and keep asking questions to which there can be no answers unless they actually happen. These are questions like – what will happen at the immigration? will I get a cab at the airport? will my baggage arrive safely? hope the hotel is good, I don’t even know the language and so on. I have figured out that the probability of everything working out just fine is quite high as things have been structured not to fail and even if they do there are mechanisms to take care of the eventuality. And just by the way, I am not the first traveler who arrived in a country. What ever happened to everyone else would happen to me as well as long as its not North Korea ! The joy comes when we decide to turn our anxiety into an adventure. That is what it makes it all so exciting. Isn’t it ?

2. Your body can endure much more than you can ever imagine – While this may be true for the mind it’s absolutely misleading for the body. One thing that all of us who are on the wrong side of 40 believe is that we are old now and our bodies are no more fit enough for 30 hour journeys. Not true at all. It’s all in the mind. Once you put your body to the endurance test you will realize that it has an amazing capacity to come back to its normal form in a short time. In fact if you practice Yoga or Meditation, Travel can be a very good time to relax. While on the plane you can perfect the Art of stillness, watch your breadth for hours, sit straight or practice Yoga postures while no one is looking. Once your meetings are done, you can go for long walks to explore the new environs, a different culture and even shop (something I never do willingly in India). I have walked for 15-20 Kms in a day on weekends and not felt tired at all ! No road is long enough if you can stop by to smell the flowers.

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking newlandscapes, 
but in having new eyes.” – Marcel Proust, French novelist

3. People everywhere are all the same – Trust me on this one. Folks in Japan & Saudi Arabia are the same as those in Europe and America. They have their quirks but apart from looking different they feel, think, communicate from the same level of human intellect and understanding. Once you start getting the hang of it you will actually start enjoying the differences. Through years of experience for example I can tell from just the way a person is speaking English from which part of the world she belongs to. I may be wrong sometimes but then it’s like a quiz in which my chances of winning far outweigh my chance of losing. When I meet someone from another part of the world I try to guess their origin and if I am wrong I promptly offer an apology in their native language and they are so pleased to know that I tried. As long as you know how to say “I cant speak xyz. English please”, you will be able to make friends. Cab drivers can be your best buddies in case you are looking for unobtrusive company. My phone has numbers of cab drivers from all parts of the world 😉

4.At the end of it there are rich rewards – No matter which airport you transit from the duty free stores have the best collection of Whiskey, Wines and Chocolates. I usually transit through either Dubai or Doha and both airports have a great selection to offer. And the price they are available when compared to India, you really don’t have to think much before you swipe your credit card. Now, some may argue if these qualify for the meta physical as promised earlier in the article but for me they do. Single Malts, Wines and Chocolates represent the finest that the world has to offer to the human mind and palate. All the culture that you soak in on your trips to foreign lands can be distilled and made part of your eternal being once you are back home as you sit quietly nursing your drink and nibbling on the coco from Ivory Coast that traveled to Belgium or Switzerland just for you.

After all, ours are not the only journeys that there are and some business traveler like me would have made it possible through his own share of exploration, discovery and adventure…

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The Rainbow

Rainbow over coastline, Haena Beach, Kauai, Hawaii, U.S.

Chasing his corporate dream Nishant had literally been living out of a suitcase for the last couple of years. His air miles had kept pace with his rise in the company but now it had started to take a toll on him. He remembered the day when he was straight out of college and had gone to see off his uncle at Bangalore’s old  airport. Watching the plane take off  he had thought “Will I ever be able to fly and see the world?” His wish was granted and how.

Nishant traveled constantly, like a zombie on auto pilot, he got a signal for another meeting from his secretary and started from point A to point B whether it was Paris or Portland it did not matter. At home, his wife and 4 year old daughter had given up on him, getting used to living life in his absence. They had created a world of their own and Nishant was not sure if he was part of it or not.

Today, Nishant was flying from Bangalore to Chicago on Lufthansa which was his company’s preferred Airline partner. He entered the airport and encountered a familiar scene. All around him was a maze of people – Techies, corporate executives, family’s going back after vacation, old folks on wheel chairs travelling all the way to show themselves to their grandkids. He was so used to it that from the look on their face and the way they dressed he could tell who was a first time traveller or a typical IT guy going onsite or a business man raring to get that big dollar deal. But what he always found amusing was that people wore overcoats meant for freezing temperatures from Bangalore itself! His wife had told him that her friends did it so they could save space in their suitcase. Thinking of his wife he recalled how things had changed between them over time. In the beginning Aditi used to pack his bags and his daughter would make “come back soon” cards for him with her crayons. Both of them always came down to see him off and waived till they lost sight of him. Now he woke up by the alarm on his cell phone, got ready and left his home quietly so he does not disturb anyone. They slept in separate rooms for this reason or that’s what they told each other. The truth that both of them knew was that they had lost that loving feeling.

The Luftahansa counter was at the far end and he waded through the commotion to reach the comfort zone of his business class check in counter. It was another thing that  Nishant knew that the welcoming smiles were as fake as his own. Battling sleep the only thing he was looking forward to were shots of Talisker to help put him to slumber.

Just then something caught his eye.

The frilled white top and faded jeans stood out amongst the black and grey formals. Curious, he changed his posture to have a closer look. His guess was right. She was a young girl in her early twenties. Even he was not that old Nishant thought. Just 34 – and a young achiever! He smiled at himself and thought – old habits die hard. To avoid getting distracted he started to look at the billboards around on the walls of the terminal building. Most were bright and beautiful with a promise of a happy family life. Nishant resolved he would not look at the girl again.

But the more we try to get away from something, the more it charms us towards itself. Nishant found himself stealing glances overlooking how indecent it would seem if someone finds out. She was at the counter now and the clerk was issuing her boarding pass.”Chalo it is over….you go your way baby I go mine” Nishant mused as he pulled out his passport from his laptop case.

At the lounge he gulped a few drinks and sat down to read as there was still time. He loved reading. It offered a journey into another world, a world he had always longed for but had never found. A world of stories,of characters,of far off places in mountains or next to the beaches. He had picked up a book of stories by Premchand from the Airport book shop . Nishant loved Premchand from the time he was a student. To him, Premchand knew the human condition like no one else. His stories though set in rural India had emotions and relationships so well thought out that one could relate to them no matter where they came from and who they were. His characters were so real that one felt as if they had met this person sometime. If he didn’t fall asleep, he planned to finish the book by the time he reached US.

The mechanical voice of the lounge executive announced that the Flight to Frankfurt was ready for boarding. Nishant grabbed his laptop case and started walking towards the gate. It was 1:45 am already and He was looking forward to a good sleep. “Guten Abend” he said to the hostess and took the left turn towards business class seating. Dumping his belongings in the hatchet above he ensconced himself in seat 2 C and asked the stewardess for a glass of water. The whiskey had made his throat dry and to avoid jet lag he wanted to make sure was hydrated. He took out his book from the laptop case and put in the pocket in front of his seat.

Nishant took off his shoes and pulled back his seat to relax. It would take a while for the plane to be airborne so he thought of finishing the story he was reading in the lounge. As he moved forward to take out the book, he was distracted by a sweet fragrance. He looked up and could not believe his eyes.

It was her – the girl whom he had seen at the check in counter!

Nishant had a strange feeling. He didn’t know how to react or if he should react at all? He hoped his eagerness did not show up on his face. Nishant realized that the girl was not only beautiful but there was something that was pulling him to her – like a magnet. Her big brown eyes, her long straight hair, her flawless complexion somewhere on the darker side and her figure that made her absolutely desirable. Attraction is not about someone being perfect – it’s about someone being just right for you. Each of us has an idea of beauty, almost like a frame waiting for that perfect picture. Only if you are lucky you come across a face which so exquisitely matches your imagination. A whole lifetime can pass before such a miracle happens and sometimes even that is not enough. Nishant was witnessing one such miracle.

She was on seat 2 D.

Nishant requested for another glass as he gulped the one brought by the hostess. Soon the plane took off changed its course to move northwest. Nishant wanted to roll up his sleeves but he felt as if his every move was under a scanner. He remembered he had felt the same when he had fallen in love the first time. “Take out your Premchand and read. A book in Hindi won’t spoil your impression” He chided himself but his hands did not follow his brain. He closed his eyes and sat quietly. Half an hour had passed and he could no longer pretend to be asleep. He opened his eyes and found that she was reading the In-flight magazine. By her watch it was 2:30 AM. Her hair was falling over her hands tempting Nishant to touch her but he figured out that she was a bit afar. “Damn business class ! Why do they have the seats so far from each other?” he thought and pulled away instead. He tried to sleep but it won’t come. Normally, he would have been dreaming by now. But his dream was sitting next to him so how could he sleep.

To end the dilemma he pressed the button and called the hostess. “Do you have Lemon tea?” he asked.

“Yes Sir, we do have.Do you care to have one sir?”

“Yes please, and please get sugar separately” Nishant cursed himself for not remembering that they always did. This was the business class of a premier airline not the student canteen of Lucknow University.

“Lemon tea and low sugar. You are such a fraud!” his inner voice mocked him.

“OK – I do like Red Label boiled 5 times with 3 spoons of sugar because it keeps me alert. I wish to sleep now and Lemon tea will help ” Nishant argued.

A fresh thought came to his mind. One should always try and make friends with fellow passengers and how can you do that unless you start a conversation. Nishant mused and opened his eyes to look over his shoulder. She was asleep. The magazine was lying flat on her chest. Did he expect that she would be awake and looking for someone to talk to at 3:30 in the morning?” Nishant realized his stupidity but felt relieved as he won’t have to put up the show anymore. He felt at peace with himself. Finally, alcohol did the job and he drifted off to sleep.

When he woke up it was 9:30 by his watch. He never set his watch to foreign time zones, it made him feel connected to his home. He wanted to stretch but he didn’t. She was still sleeping and he did not want to wake her up. Also, this way he could look at her without getting noticed. Soon the plane would land and he would never see her again. Why didn’t he talk to her? He could have at least asked what she did or where was she going? What was her name? Who knows they could have become friends. The plane started its descent into Frankfurt. As the moment of truth approached his heart began to sink.

At about 10:00 AM the plane landed at Frankfurt airport. It was cloudy and it looked like it had rained earlier through the night. Everything was clean and fresh. The plane began to taxi.

Nishant felt as if someone was looking at him. He turned around and saw that she was eyeing him. She smiled. He smiled back.

“Can I show you something?” She said.

Nishant was out of his wits. “Ya sure” He nodded.

“What a beautiful rainbow” She said pointing out of the window.

Nishant bent a little towards her to get a clearer view. He could smell her. It was Davidoff Cool Water.

“Actually, I wanted to speak to you the whole night” she said as Nishant pulled himself back.

“I saw Premchand’s book in your seat pocket. It’s quite rare to get people who love Hindi literature in Bangalore. From my school days I really like his work. His characters are so real and his grip on human emotions is better than any other writer. A true master he is” She added.

Nishant didn’t know what to say and blurted taking the book out of the seat pocket      “You mean this book?” She nodded with a twinkle in her eyes.

“But you looked so serious and busy with yourself. I just didn’t want to disturb. In fact, if you would not have smiled back I would not have had the courage to show you the Rainbow”.

They had a few minutes to chat and she told that she was on her way to Los Angeles. She had won a scholarship to pursue a degree in management and as a special gift her father had bought her business class tickets. Nishant introduced himself and she said she would want to become like him one day.

They went together to Baggage claim area and bid good bye. Nishant turned away to catch his next flight to Chicago. He could see her going up the escalator. Her words were still echoing in his ears:

“If you had not smiled back, I would not have had the courage to show you the Rainbow.”

 

I had the time to stand and stare….

What is this life if full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare……
While going on a leisure trip with W.H Davies, all of us would have their own versions of what this idyllic place may just be like.Fortunately for me I found one such place – the Honeypot Bread and Breakfast,  in the charming little village of Husbands Bosworth in England’s Leicester County.
I had work at Lutterworth for about 2 weeks and while looking for stay options I came across this Bread and Breakfast place that was just something I was looking for.  All of us do mean to spend sometime in the famed English countryside at some point in life having read about it right through our childhoods. And I thought that this was a perfect opportunity as usually my travels take me only to large cities.
The weekdays were a little hectic and there’s no point boring you with shop talk, so I would like to take you through a leisurely weekend that I spent exploring all the little things that makes this place so special.
Morning 8:00 AM
You have heard of the famous English breakfast. Haven’t you ???
The break fast was a choice of hot and cold with Cereals, Fresh cut fruit as in Kiwis, Pineapples, Melons, Strawberries and even Mango if you were lucky. You could choose from a variety of fresh juices in case you were uncultured enough to say no to the Queen’s favourite drink – tea. 
I am quite a standard , cut and dry kind of chappie when it comes to food so it was butter and toast with hashbrowns most of the time for me but one could surely experiment with egss in all shapes and form – Ommlettes, Poached Egss, Half Fried, Hard boiled, Scrambled and even something called Egg Benedict. Probably there are more ways to cook the egg but I registered just these few. You could surely check with the lady of the house and I know you will get the version you want….
By the way did I tell you that the Breakfast table is laid out overlooking the vast Welland grasslands and rolling hills as far as your eyes can see. Sounds Inspiring. Isn’t it ? 
Aha ….and how can I miss the Honey pot. I am sure the house has one of the largest collection of these.
10:00 AM
After this treat of a kings break fast I wanted to relax a bit and a wonderful collection of books in the library was just what I needed. I picked up a book of poems by RL Stevenson and was pleasantly surprised to note that it was gifted by someone to the Houselady’s father in the year 1924!
Sunshine and fresh air with a playful chirping of birds set the mood as I lay on my bed browsing through some exquisite pieces of poetry. Well,  to be honest the fresh breeze had a bit of a smell from the nearby cowshed of the farmer next door….but I guess it just added to the authenticity of my ‘Village’  experience.
By 11:30 am
My tryst with Mr. Stevenson was over.I decided that to be up and about would probably be more becoming of me  than to waste a bright and sunny morning lazying around within the four walls of my room. Although the warm and cozy bed did tempt me to quit my industrious thoughts. Actually a Quote from the book I was reading motivated me :
It is the season now to go, about the country high and low
Among the Lilacs hand in hand , and two by two in fairyland….
So here I was all ready to explore the countryside at Husband’s Bosworth.
To give a little history of the village,its a settlement that dates back to 409 AD but the oldest living building in the community had its tower built around the year 1300 AD. I was curious about the word Husbands prefixed to the name and checked with the locals to know if there was a Wife’s Bosworth as well. To my amusement I was told that the word Husband comes from the word husbandry as most people in the village raised farm animals like cows,sheep and horses. Carolyn,the lady of the house proudly told us that all her dairy,Meat and Poultry needs were met locally within the village as Husbandry is still quite popular with the village folks.
There were a lot of places for sightseeing mentioned on the village website.http://www.husbandsbosworth.info  which were nearby but I settled for just a walk around  and a visit to the Grand Union Canal. 
The canal did not have much water at this time of the Year but the folks I was staying with shared some interesting instances about their picnic with the kids on the Canal.It was a pleasure to imagine a boat parked out in the front yard where our car was and the whole Goffe family getting ready for a day out on the canal maneuvering all the twists and turns, even the locks at the gates !
On my way back from the canal I saw the waterworks and had to step back and forth to avoid the farmers trucks carrying all kind of stuff to and fro from their farms.Once in the village I thought of exploring the two mainstays of any English village – The church and the Pub. It is my strong belief that the whole world exists between the gates of the Masjid and the Maiqada( Tavern). You are closest to your own reality when you have lost yourself – Peg or Prayer is just something you choose per your state of mind.
The village church was a beautiful building and resembled most churches in England although I fell in love with the Daffodils. While learning the classic form Wordsworth in my school days I had never imagined that I will be looking at a host of them in the English countryside. It is rather amazing how we can shape the consciousness of each other in different epochs of time ; Wodsworth would have also never imagined that his poem would have such an effect on a native Indian of all the souls!
I loitered around aimlessnessly for another couple of hours checking the Inventory at the local post office that doubled up as a convenience store, watching the sheep Graze on the endless rolling hills and waving at the numerous gliders from the nearby flying school. 
I came back at about 1 PM to grab lunch which was nothing great so I will skip the details. With my tummy full dozing off for an afternoon siesta was just the thing to do. I read a few more poems from Stevenson’s book and slept like a baby….although I am sure that baby’s don’t snore as much as I do !
When I woke up it was 5 PM and it was perfect time for a cup of tea. Carolyn an expert home maker had this wonderful selection of teas which was kept in each room ; you could choose from the regular English Breakfast to a mint flavored one to ease your sinuses to a more relaxing version of Chamomile Tea. The butter scotch cookies went just so well with any of them although my personal favorite was the freshly baked cakes that were always kept in the foyer. You could take as many helping as you want ! I sincerely believe that I probably ate half of it myself during the day even though it was meant to be shared with all the guests. Wasn’t really my fault you see – I have a sweet tooth and the cake was just so Yum and full of chocolate.
Refreshed I knew that it was time to hit the Pub. I had read on the notice board that they were having a Quiz there in the evening and the Rajpedia in me was just raring to race against the local Englishmen or women 😉 They had a great selection of draught beer at the Pub but I felt like indulging in some French Wine that would go well with the melted Cheese Pasta I was planning to feast my self on. By the time the Quiz started I had had half a bottle and was in no mood to pick my brains , not that much was left in there anyways. With me were few of my friends and we laughed and talked ( read shouted) about the usual office stuff. 
I don’t smoke much ( tobacco I mean) but with all the grape juice flowing though my veins I figured it was a damn good idea to indulge in this one last sin before hitting the bed once more .So we stood out there outside the B and B taking long drags to beat the punishing cold. I don’t know if any of you have smoked a full cigarette in -20 degrees temperature , I have once and it is just an out of the world feeling , I mean it feels like any moment you would go out of this world :-).This was much better than that…
I came back to my room and thought before go into a deep slumber once again it would be nice to see my kiddos on the Skype ( Wi Fi is free and the connection is good). My son Anant insisted that I tell him a story as this is my duty when I am at home. I did not have to go very far for getting inspiration and quickly weaved a tale of love and honour having Andy and Dora  , the donkeys as the main characters(Andy and Dora were the pets of the house and I had met up with them during the day)
Thankfully the story was so boring that more than my kids I started feeling sleepy so I quickly wrapped up the climax by saying that in the end Andy the Donkey met the She donkey of his dreams and both of them did the stupid dance forever !
Now, those of you who are beginning to think that what a great life the consultants have, I must tell you that you are absolutely wrong. Its only once in a while do we get to enjoy the day as stated above, its actually much better most of the times….. 🙂
So don’t just feel jealous.Choose to move to pastures greener …….