Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Ridin' Solo

"people often talk about being scared of change/But for me I'm more afraid of things staying the same/Cos the game is never won by standing in one place for too long" Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Jesus of the Moon (Dig, Lazarus, Dig)

I leave before I have settled down; I jump ship just when things start getting comfortable. It’s a trick I learnt at Noam: always stop while you still want more. This has been the philosophy driving my journey, and it’s occurred to me that it’s remained relatively unchallenged. It’s time to redress that balance.

Even in our thoroughly individualized world, traveling alone still arouses suspicion. Why are you traveling alone? Isn’t it difficult in a country like India? Wearily you trot out the same well-rehearsed answers; wearily you ask yourself (yet again) if they still hold.

Why did I come alone to India? Four principal reasons (in no particular order): to detox from the army (even jobniks need to warm-down), to learn about India, to think about what to do next, and to reflect on what has already passed. Oh, and one more: to be.

It’s clear that the art of ‘confronting yourself with yourself’ is best done alone, without the distractions and compromises that come from traveling with companions. The flip side is that traveling alone can be a disconcertingly lonely experience. This means that the lone traveler is forced to be far more sociable than those that travel in a group, Luckily for me, that’s generally been easy. Something I’ve rarely lacked is self-confidence: striking up conversations with randoms is second nature.

So I’ve made plenty of friends along the way. Indeed, my journey so far could be described as a series of week-long holidays with two or three people, interspersed with nights of existential angst or physical sickness in a place like Kargil, which would make a suitable setting for Kafka’s The Castle.

Real recognize real, and I’ve met top people along the way – from all over the world – some of whom I’m sure I’ll stay in touch with in the future. Not everyone’s been cool, of course, but travelers generally give people more of a chance than they would in day-to-day life. To be brutal, there isn’t always enough choice to discriminate, which means you have to make do with what’s available.

The key question is why I’ve often moved on just when a firm friendship has been established, or when someone has piqued my interest, why I move on when security is at hand. Isn’t this willfully perverse, or anti-social? I hope not. The fact is that if I had come away for purely social reasons, I wouldn’t have chosen India in the height of the monsoon (water up to the ankles today). Of course making friends has been a part of the journey, a key part, but so have many other motivating factors.

As ever, the key word is balance. My aim is to juggle my varied motivating factors successfully, so I don’t lost sight of what led me away in the first place. This is the art of travel.

Which is why some of the most liberating moments have come after saying l’hitraot to new friends. Standing at the door of a bus or train, carefully selected music as sound track, this is freedom embodied in a moment, the rush of air the most powerful of intoxicants. This, above all, is what makes the sadness of an all-too-brief encounter bearable. This is what makes ridin’ solo the singularly powerful experience that it is.

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