As a person dealing with crippling anxiety and paranoia, I never thought I would be writing this article. I have lived most of my life scared of public spaces, social interactions, events and anything that deviates from my routine. A lot of it has to do with my PTSD but a lot of it is influenced by the simple fact that I am a woman. I think there is so much that we subconsciously adapt to our behavioral pattern solely because of living with an extra X chromosome in the world.
For example, that my sister is always apprehensive about dressing up nice everyday because she does not want to attract unwanted attention. Or that many women are scared to travel alone or at all because of unpleasant experiences or the fear of having one.
I have always identified as a rebel; society’s blatant sexism and discrimination towards me only fueled my need for equality, voicing my opinions, empowering the women around me and in turn having them empower me. One of the most important things I learnt from existing as a woman is that, you need to stubbornly want to exist ― in the streets, markets, colleges and cities where you are not necessarily made to feel welcome. You NEED to want it!
My first solo trip was an impulsive decision. I was so tired of being scared, anxious, paranoid, defensive and scared again of just everything, that I got my tickets booked without a blink and set off. And it was the best decision I ever made. So, to the women who want to travel ― I want to share with you little happenings from my trips that has added to the person that I am today, that may inspire you to set out on your own journey. Here I go:
Būta Kōla ritual on a midnight-drive to a nearby town
One of the nights when I was out in Mangalore for dinner with a friend and three of his buddies, one of them asked me, “Hey, do you want to go to Chikmagalur? There is this place that serves the best Neer dosa!” “Sure, what time tomorrow?“, I asked and he responded, “No, now!” I took a moment to contemplate if they were serious because it was almost midnight and Chikmagalur was a four-hour ride — that’s not an usual woman-thing to do. “Ah, why not?” I replied and we hopped in a car, with the windows rolled down and the radio turned up.
Now I had no idea this was going to be more than just South Indian cuisine and a long drive; the night unexpectedly got quite interesting. At a distance I spotted a tent with bright lights and music blaring out of large speakers. Given it was the middle of the night, I asked the guys if they knew what the function was about. “It is Būta Kōla! Do you want to check it out?“, they asked and I was not about to let such an opportunity go. See, Būta Kōla is an annual ritual performance in the area, where spirits or deities are impersonated by passionate specialists in vibrant and elaborate costumes. We parked the car and entered the tent, and the people were surprisingly welcoming! They took us to vacant seats and served us tea with rice cakes. I was dazed and overwhelmed by the magnificent goddess dancing in the middle, oblivious to the audience. Can you imagine how surreal it is when you are in for just a long drive at night and you come across a dancing deity instead?
The pilot whose son studied filmmaking
My flight to Kolkata was on a monotonous evening. I got through the security-check; got myself a coffee and sat down absentmindedly looking at airplanes takeoff, while I waited for my boarding call. “May I sit next to the pretty lady?“, he asked. I jumped from the unexpected interaction, almost spilling my drink and looked up to see the middle-aged, charming man in a uniform standing in front of me. “Sure!“, I said, trying hard not to look as bothered as I was, being the awkward and antisocial person that I believe I am. He introduced himself, his co-pilot and sat down next to me. This conversation with him became such a significant one; it is the one I will always remember.
A random pilot ― a stranger, turned out to be this cheerful Ukrainian person who was passionate about travelling, had a son who was in South Africa also studying filmmaking as I was at the time and was so happy and fulfilled in life. I cannot think of a better way to spend time in an airport, than getting to know another person also on a journey to explore.
A shared cab with a friend I made at the airport
I talked to her when our flight to Chandigarh was delayed again and we were stuck at the Mumbai airport for a couple of hours. “I am going to Shimla for a conference,” she said while we were making small talk. “I am going to Shimla as well!” I exclaimed in response; one thing led to the other and we decided we would share a cab from Chandigarh to Shimla. This lady was so, so wonderful that every time I am anxious about a trip now, I remind myself that I would have never met this woman if we weren’t individually travelling.
How much can you talk about in a three-hour road-trip? A lifetime. From mental health, gender discrimination, her parenting techniques and morals to food, culture and families ― we shared a lifetime. You will be surprised how many fascinating, inspiring and heartwarming people there are, that you would meet in an unexpected turn of events; who would end up changing you in beautiful ways.
Little doorknob in an antique shop
I am big on souvenirs. Every time I go to a new city, I am so in awe that I feel the need to carry the place away with me, but I obviously cannot do that so I take a little part of what it’s made of instead. Sometimes it is a ceramic bowl, a mirror for the apartment or just a pebble that I took a liking to. I believe there are hidden treasures scattered around the world and if you are in the right place at the right time, it will make itself known to you. So when I was strolling through an antique store in Delhi, with all kinds of shining, beautiful things and I stumbled upon this little doorknob, I knew I had found it ― a hidden treasure of the world. A flower shaped, glass doorknob with light blue-red patterns on it. It might seem like a small nothing, but it is going to be a part of my home someday and I would have completely missed it if I was not in a new city, on a seemingly insignificant day.
Hotel room conversation and a blue-hill view
When I sat in my little hotel room with an old school-friend in Shimla and she said, “I wish I could travel but my parents would never allow me to; they are concerned about my safety.” I looked out to the blue hills outside my window, buried my hands in my jacket and wondered about the person I would be today if I had submitted to such restrictions. Maybe it was the cold or the imagination but I shuddered and did not know what next to say. My anxieties take away half of my stimulation and opportunities in life; if not for my stubbornness to get on the road and explore cultures, people and communities while resisting any restriction, condition or unnecessary infantilization ― I’d be a square. Hardly an ever-growing, living person.
A handwritten letter from a girl I just met
Fortunately, I have been able to focus on the constructive side of social media most of the time. I have come across and made friends with quite a few women across the world who have influenced my perspective in wonderful ways. I first started talking to this amazing woman when we discovered and admired each other’s writing, thoughts and beliefs. A beautifully opinionated, feminist with such good things to say ― I absolutely had to meet her while I was visiting her city! A few texts later, there we were in a sublime restaurant meeting each other for the very first time. We were friends before we even met! Isn’t the internet just wonderful? She handed me a letter that she wrote for me just before I was about to leave, and I cannot express how happy it made my heart when I was at home in Bombay, tucking her letter in my travel-journal.
To the women who want to travel in India ― life is greater than a house; greater that your overprotective parents, the mean people, sexism and the bounds they have constructed around you. You deserve a big world. Just GO!