So my road trip across the Indian subcontinent was put into plan. Other more famous road journeys had gone before me. Marco Polo had claimed to have wandered East in search of fair profit, Magellan gave solid land a miss, instead taking ship and entertaining himself during a reciprocal meander westward by combating the daily boredom of scurvy and starvation. He died half way home, but gained fame in return. Shame he didn’t appreciate the nutritional value of the rats his less-ranked companions feasted on below deck. Jack Kerouac, to whom the term Beat Generation is attributed, road-tripped across the United States and Mexico. A progenitor of the 1960s hippie movement Kerouac for a while toyed with Buddhism, then gave it up. He wrote a lot, his subject matter spanning Catholic spirituality, drugs, poverty and travel, and found publishers enough for prolific writings of substance that strongly influenced my teenage culture; On the Road and The Dharma Bums among them. Road-trip as he did, Kerouac never made it to India, and he died young. That of my contemporaries less famously included a Hollywood inspired voyage called Easy Rider in which the actors Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda ‘motor-biked’ through the culturally unaccommodating regions of the United States of America, and Che Guevara as a young lad found a motorbike of less iconic appearance and brand that hauled him northward through Latin America. The actors found fictitious death by the roadside. And Che, meeting real death in South America, ultimately bequeathed us with a nice bearded self-image often emblazoned, without care of infringement of intellectual property rights, on t-shirts. I had one once. Though I hoped Che would be appreciative of my similarly hirsute form I doubted my road trip would bring about an image that could be later marketed for my financial benefit. More likely I would find myself in a ditch, but a victim of ebullient body function, not gunshot. I could only hope there was to be a plethora of trees to hide behind, and an absence of onlookers. Unlike Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda, I would not be requiring an audience to applaud my actions, and I did not need to be immortalized worldwide by film footage on someone else’s cell phone.
However, I had learned a modicum of wisdom from their fate. I wasn’t consigning myself to Indian highways on a motorcycle, unlikely as I was to encounter American rednecks with rifles there. Instead I was doing the macrocosm aspect of the road trip by four-wheeled vehicles of different sorts, and the microcosm parts of the journey by foot, mine: with a few internal airflights and a single India Rail ticket thrown in to span the spaces between far-flung destinations. And though I had fellow compatriots sharing my passage, this is my story. They have their own experiences to tell.
But a few words to the reader. First a warning of grammar for I am given to a predilection for ‘fragments’, sentences part-formed, words that seem to hang when written on a page, but that are seen to float sensibly when spoken out loud. That find their true home and comfort in the oral tradition. Equally, I am predisposed to the habit of changing tense, especially the past for the present, and vice versa. This is an artefact of being in the moment, so to speak, played out against frequent periods of reflection; and getting caught up between the two; and therefore getting lost in time. And I am inclined to go sidewards, extending my narrative towards subject matter that can only lay tenuous claim to the relevance of my central theme. Journeys are like that. They wander spatially and temporally, and are often delinquent with respect to their true chronology. There are whole textbook chapters given over to the psychology of it. Next is an act of fascism, licence, for I have taken the unilateral decision to delete all diacritics, those distinguishing signs and marks placed above and below letters used to indicate different accented sounds and values. Students of Sanskrit may admonish me for this. But to include them will add nothing but confusion for the average reader of the English language.
One last matter. Ancient Egyptians and contemporary Hindus, to the best of my knowledge, share at least one thing. To the outsider, both cultures are home to a complex and confusing plethora of deities. Be these manifestations of the One True God, or entities that are truly independent, there are a lot of them. And too many of the Indian ones are prone to be synonyms or regional variants. So if I stumble, and error occurs in my nomenclature of them, please forgive me. My only excuse being that I am mortal.