I’ve often heard someone casually parrot the cliché ‘travel is a great way to get to know people’ and felt a wee bit uncomfortable about letting a glossy half-truth pass without a murmur of dissent. For I feel that friendships are either strained or strengthened while travelling – not by any dramatic event, but by a succession of small incidents that throw the spotlight on hitherto unnoticed flaws or virtues.
Part I : Grouchy
Grouchy : given to grumbling, peevish (Merriam – Webster, dictionary)
Grouchy is a dear old friend, albeit a fussy, crotchety, difficult-to-please one; he keeps complaining about how badly I plan vacations, what boring company I am and how quickly I get irritated with him;nevertheless, he’s always the first to mumble ‘Aye’ to any trip that I suggest.
In Mumbai Grouchy’s tired, easily irritated and risk-averse ; will neither try out a new route to work on weekdays nor wear a different colour of T-shirt on weekends, the type of grouch potato who won’t even try out a different flavor of chips while watching TV. He won’t step out to watch a movie until he’s read at least 6 favourable reviews – especially Raja Sengupta’s, and will insist that his friends visit the same restaurant for dinner every time so that he doesn’t have to think about what to order.
While Grouchy is the most supportive and loyal friend possible, said support is gruffly offered only after a detailed interrogation to establish whether you’re really in trouble or just imagining things, does he really have to come to your rescue, and can he do it tomorrow instead ? For instance, on receiving a 2:30 a.m. S.O.S call from a close friend who thought that he was having a heart attack (let’s call him Needy), Grouchy’s first reaction was to peremptorily admonish Needy for wasting time on phone calls instead of rushing to the Emergency Ward of a hospital ; his next move was to suggest the names of other friends that lived closer to Needy’s home , and then to sheepishly explain that he couldn’t come as there were few autos to be found in his area at night.
Thankfully, once away from Mumbai, this crotchety lazy bones transforms into a cheerful lively sprite.
Thankfully, once away from Mumbai, this crotchety lazybones transforms into a cheerful lively sprite. He doesn’t want to miss a thing, whether it’s waking up in the bitter cold at half past five to watch the sun rise over the Himalayas from the viewing point at KMVN in Binsar (Kumaon),or staying up late to explore the night market at Arpora (Goa). He’s willing to spend hours pacing the length and breadth of an orchard in Seetla (Kumaon) on a quest to get a good photo of the elusive Red-billed blue magpie, and has enough energy left over to climb a tree and obligingly perch among the branches so that a friend who wants to improve her ability to quickly focus the camera on birds has a somewhat larger target to practice on.
Trekking in the hills is where he really comes into his own though, at one with the elements, comfortably striding along for a stretch, then doubling back a bit and waiting for tired stragglers in the tough portions and cheering them on with words of encouragement, even giving up on a trek to Dzongri (Sikkim) halfway and descending to a hamlet called Tsokha without a murmur of regret in order to accompany an unwell friend.
From Grouchy to EnthuCutlet*! Could it be the thin air at high altitude that brought about this change ?
[*EnthuCutlet : earnest eager-beaver who is able to muster up inordinate amounts of energy (samosapedia, guide – sort of)]
To be continued in the next issue…