Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go,” said TS Elliot. Six months ago, I set out to spend a year looking for adventure and inspiration. I packed up my life in a backpack and took the proverbial leap of faith. Did I find what I was looking for? Am I inspired? Am I better person for having left? Was it worth it?
I can respond to every question in a different language. But lets settle for a simple ‘Hell yeah’!
Along the way, I found an orthodox Jewish girl in self imposed exile because she refused to join the army and fight a war she doesn’t believe in. I found a Serbian refugee who works three jobs to support not just his
family but his neigbours as well. I found heroes, whose lives are full of struggle and disappointment, but their hearts were big and their faces full of joy and kindness. I found courage, wisdom and compassion through my conversations with them.
I also found that ‘idealist’ is not a dirty word. A wanderer is not an escape artist. And, one is not a lonely number.
I’ve received emails every week, from young people inspired by this column. A German engineer called Tim, who I met in Budapest, recently wrote to me that he’s volunteering at a homeless shelter in Munich now. Howard, an American friend, with whom I discussed the power of micro-lending while I was in the Philippines, started a Facebook group and now he and his friends give 25 Dollar loans on Kiva.com regularly. For my birthday, he sent me a gift-coupon that I can loan to a deserving individual.
I’ve been offered my dream job with a radical women’s group, I’ve shared a room, a meal and a laugh with people from 30 nationalities. I’ve danced in an all-white gathering of Hare Krishnas in Poland. I’ve been lost in the milling crowds of Oktoberfest but was soon found and adopted by a German family. I’ve spent a cold and sleepless night after visiting the concentration camp in Auschwitz. I’ve attended birthdays, family reunions, farewell parties, Halloween masquerades and even the funeral of a beloved dog with new friends I made along the way.
I’ve been chased by police for jaywalking, frisked at plenty of airports and even been asked for a bribe by a railway employee (I paid the fine instead). I’ve sat on my backpack for five hours in the isle of a packed train coach. I’ve sat gazing at snow capped mountains in the Austrian Alps for six straight hours, with only a dog named Jessie for company. I’ve also been cured of my fascination for snowfall and I have a broken shoe and a sore toe as proof. After getting robbed, I realised I don’t need a bag with 3 packets of tissues, a Swiss army knife, hand sanitiser or even a cellphone to survive!
I’ve made friends from Uganda, Guatemala, Fiji Islands, Ghana and Bolivia… I was ashamed that I didn’t know their currency or their capital. I’ve brushed up my Geography since.
Someone I’ve never met nominated me for the Karamveer award. A people sector and citizen action movement by some inspired Indians who intend to ‘Right Every Wrong’.
So, as the year draws to an end and I make my way home for a pit stop, I hope that we will put more real heroes in the news and fewer fake ones in television commercials. Watch this space to meet some amazing Indians who are changing our country and start believing that it all begins when you change yourself.