I was 17, and had just given my board exams and decided to take a little trip. The summer of 1991.
I remember my friends thought it was so cool that my parents allowed me to do what I did. I never saw it that way. Cool? My parents?
I was never allowed to go for new year’s party or spend weekend nights out with friends. Almost all my socialising was in one or the other of our homes, and outings were the occasional film or Fountain Plaza visit during the day.
So why were my parents cool? They only allowed me to town-hop alone to visit relatives. With just enough money to comfortably get from point a to b to c, borrowing at every destination — because my parents would not let me travel with too much money.
I had already been travelling to Bangalore alone for a few years, because my sister lived there, and any opportunity to escape Madras was welcome. But that May was different. I was travelling without schedule. I was going to Ooty to visit my uncle who was posted there as a magistrate. His kids and wife were company I eagerly sought, his daughter M being my fave cousin.
The tickets were booked up to Coimbatore. After that I was supposed to find my way around, till I was expected back in Madras end of that month.
Once I got off in Coimbatore I decided to taste the legendary Gowri Shankara dosais. My relatives didn’t know when exactly to expect me, so I was at liberty to fool around. Mid morning I caught a bus to Ooty. However, en route, at one of the many stops, I was lured by the smell of tangy pineapples and boiled peanuts. I decided that I would take a pit stop and continue my journey on another bus. I had no camera, no walkman, just a tonne of books in my backpack, and a small duffel bag borrowed from my dad.
It was well past lunch time, and just minutes before my cousins were to return from school, when I landed at the gate of the pretty little government quarters on Jail Hill Rd in Ooty.
As much as I loved that trip, and unplanned stops, and roadside food, I was glad to be welcomed by the smells of egg drop curry and talcum powder that my aunt used — as always in her floral Naidu Hall nightie, neatly covered with an apron.
There was only so much I could share with her. I couldn’t tell her about the Wellington guys I was exchanging vibes with on the train, the cute boys on the bus strip, honeymoon couples making out by the roadside. All that was reserved for M’s ears as we took a walk to Main Street for hot chocolate.
My cousins had school during the day, and I would bum around with my aunt, and then go for walks looking out for film crew vans in the hopes of catching sight of celebrities. Saw zilch though.
About 10 days later, it was time to head to Bangalore. An overnight bus journey, with a head full of scare tales from the man fridays at my uncle’s court: Wild animals on the prowl, bandits on the bus… all that I had for company was a bunch of noisy kids and an old man with rattly cough.
Bangalore was the usual mix of deep boredom and endless fun. Being annoyed by my niece when she tired of being cute (she is 25 now). Once Commercial Street and roadside boiled corn lost their charm, I decided to head out… and the day before I was to board the Brindavan Express, I had this sudden urge to visit another set of cousins and aunt en route. In a little township near Vellore called Satvachari. Since the train stops at Katpadi Junction there was no major change required in my travel plans. From Katpadi, a moffusil bus and rickshaw ride later, I landed to what I can only hope was a very warm welcome, and a great cover-up of any shock at the unexpected visitor. Two things I remember distinctly from that visit. Ripe homegrown papayas soaked in milk AND snake skin — the transparent shedding — in the garden.
A few days later, I could no longer put off the return trip to Madras. Results were around the corner, and college admissions had to be secured.
Through the course of those 3+ weeks I never realised what that trip really meant. Even when my friends gushed about the freedom I had, I didn’t realise the value of that trust placed in me. I have looked back and felt kicked about that trip I took at 17.
But last week I attended an MBTI workshop, and I realised what trip was about. It was about me becoming an individual — I realise now that my parents were individuators. They alternated between great control bordering on tyranny and incredible liberty bordering on detachment. And scarily enough, I am more like them as a parent than I care to admit.
That trip drew the first line that defines who I am today —
Someone who is petrified of schedules, roots and boundaries.
Someone who will pickle herself as long as she is not made to feel that she lives in a jar.
Someone who will go out of her way to be there for someone as long as it’s not asked of her.
Someone who demands recognition not appreciation.
Someone who is difficult to be around, but still finds herself amidst a crowd all the time, wondering what she was doing wrong to deserve that company.
Somebody who is travelling 24×7 in her mind…
And for all those reasons, I am a perfect misfit for marriage. Fortunately for me I found another misfit. That story will be up in a few days…