Having grown up in a Hindu home, I have a tendency to contemplate my past and future lives. But after several years of slow travel around the world, I’ve discovered that there’s a more pressing concern: considering my hundreds of present lives. This is what traveling does to a person—the constant renewal of self, or rather the proliferation of selves, is why I won’t, or can’t, stop traveling.
Before I set off down the almighty Road, I didn’t think about travel as something that would leave my life as something made up of countless fragments which did not even come from one unified source.
In fact, I thought my travel adventures would have the opposite effect—to neatly, tidily close over and heal the doubts and weaknesses in my life by pulling the drawstring on the pouch that contains all of my scatterbrained days and the thoughts that rise and flow through them.
If I look back I can say I was not prepared—but that is how the Road expects you to begin. As I traveled, I did the one thing that I knew how to do—move forward. I kept going.
When I grew weary and had to slow down to a reluctant stop, when I had to pause somewhere for a month or three, I didn’t fully understand what had brought on such exhaustion. Because it wasn’t only the 50 pounds of material components that I thought couldn’t do without (layers of clothing to survive any climate, a few favorite books and at least one unread, a couple writing notebooks, toiletries, laptop, small camera), that I hefted upon my back halfway across the world. It wasn’t only the tropical sweat mingled with city bus fumes and remote village road dust that clung to my skin and hair and clothes and lived beneath my finger nails. The heaviness, the exhaustion, the mental tilting and shifting—it had accumulated from each time I wriggled into place behind new eyes, each time I inherited yet another life, each time I discovered yet another way to be. It began instantly upon arrival, as I breathed my first breath of strange air upon a strange stage.
I do not travel to find myself—I travel to lose myself. When I wandered through a Czech town filled with stoic pedestrians and fierce gargoyles, when I encountered a shepherd and his cliff-climbing goats in a Turkish Cypriot village, when I feasted and drank homemade wine with generous locals near the Caucasus Mountains of Georgia–I became someone else. I became them. As a traveler, I do not have a choice but to give in and get out of the way of myself. I sacrifice the person I think I am to that which I inhale through all of my various senses.
I dove deeply into the postures and gestures of the people who smiled from across the table or walked beside me. I absorbed their faces and their arms–reserved and doubtful or wide open and warm. I have concluded by now that this dissolution of self is not something in our control as travelers, it is how travel works in its most pure form. And I welcome it hungrily as if I have always been empty.
You become, you are: your surroundings.
In that case, I have been many people. I have lived, even if fleetingly so, many lives. Some I loved more than others. In some, I had my happiest dreams fulfilled and was okay to leave those lives and places behind to enter content and peaceful into the next unknown. With other lives, I felt the tension, the repeated mistakes glaring up at me, lessons still mostly unlearned, and I tumbled out of that life bruised, with threads of regret, hidden shame, sadness, wondering how an experience of such beauty had been smeared by my foolish traits (from which self, I don’t know) or inability to fully connect to the present moment, to my present life due to a lingering connection with my most recent past life.
Not surprisingly, this infinite unzipping of ephemeral life costumes takes a toll. Pausing to rest in an oasis that, through the distortion of mirage, looks and feels like home, becomes a nagging desire that trips up your rhythm on the Road.
But it is how I landed in Buenos Aires, my current temporary home sweet home: a Jumanji-like scene of vine-draped fences, buildings with artful graffiti, wide avenues canopied by grandly arching trees, slow tango in the plazas. This was what froze in the screen when I pressed the pause button earlier this year to refill my renewable (at least so far) energies.
Almost an entire year has passed–a very long time for me to remain in one place, and again, I have involuntarily begun to miss motion. Feeling the glistening, icy blue and white city trains rush by me on the station platform here injects me with euphoria. Looking out from my sixth floor living room window at the multi-colored passenger planes descending beyond the bushy tree tops fills me with yearning and wondering (where are they coming from? how long will they stay?), but also makes me smile as if I have noticed an old friend across the street.
Many times in my motionlessness moments, I scolded myself into believing that having a home was something inevitable and life-affirming, something to be happy and thankful for (and I really am) after being “homeless” and in motion for so long. But there are still so many lives to live and so many homes to inhabit. The Road has become the home I never had, the glowing source of my many new lives, and how I can ever turn my back on that which gave me life?
So as expected (but never said aloud), I’ve finally found my next movement. The wheels will groan and eventually escort me from here, out of my head and into motion, pushing me into my next series of lives. I sigh in grateful relief to know that I am not yet through with the Road in my 30-something age. There are many more lives to come.
I know that even as I return to the Road, I will soon tire of motion, but when that happens, I will do what I have been doing for past year—sit still for awhile until I cannot sit still any longer. After all these years of travel, after the series of lives that I am unfurling and accumulating, piling up like fresh leaves that soon dry and curl up at the edges, I see that this is simply a roller coaster, a see saw. Just like it has always been my entire life. Just like it is for everyone, travelers or not.
The Road seems infinite but it will only take you to the place where you need to be. And there is no other way besides up and down, and then back up and then back down. There’s no way to escape this rhythm. And yet, we surely do try…