He sings as he drives, the beads hanging from his rear view mirror swaying like they’re part of the show. He puts his hand on the photo of Mother Mary sitting on his dash, brings his fingers to his mouth, kisses them in prayer. I smile to myself, refreshed by such an open display of the heart.
This is why we travel.
In India, men walk down the street holding one another’s hand. They wear sarongs and diamonds. They decorate their rickshaws with tinsel and marigolds. We pass dusty trucks painted in bright colours, different Hindu gods painted on each door, and as we sit at our table watching teenage boys pinch our children’s cheeks then gush at each other, we see that, in India, masculinity belongs to a different set of rules entirely.
This is why we travel.
Masala dosa for breakfast, chaotic road rules, bright saris, pollution, slums, rubbish, arms draped over each other by heterosexual men — it’s easy to see how different India is from home, and it’s easy to let these differences not only jolt us awake, but challenge the set of rules we inherited from the society we belong to about what is normal, and right. Maybe masculinity back home isn’t normal. I’ve got a hunch that the freedom with which men are allowed to exist in India is. In any case, differences are good for us to witness. They expand us as people.
This is why we travel.
But here’s the thing. Maybe I’m getting older. Maybe I’ve seen enough of the East to not be as shell-shocked as I once was. But now, on this trip, I see the differences, sure, but mostly? Mostly, I see all the ways we’re the same.
Women still value beauty, adorning themselves in bright colours and jewels, even if they’re poor. Communities still distrust the politics which govern them. (Joel: Are Indian people generally happy with their government? Our driver: Sir, our government is no good.) People still choose a religion to belong to, and they can still live peacefully alongside each other despite differences in their beliefs. Children still misbehave. Parents still scold. Food still gathers people, alcohol still loosens them, tea and coffee still welcomes them. There are still wealthy people and poor people; money buying the privileged freedoms the underprivileged don’t have. Children are still adored simply because they are cute. Money is still chased. Men still brag about their children, showing you albums full of pictures if you let them. Families still matter above everything else.
And so it is that this, too, is why we travel.
Because we are more alike than we are different.
And because it matters to know that.
It’s our last night in India, a whirlwind month full of everything we expected: highs and lows and tears and joy and fights and unexpectedly, some of the most tender moments of our marriage to date. We struggled and we cried and we laughed and we shared each other is ways we never would have back home. Our bags are dusty, our eyes tired, and like it goes with life, we are now looking forward to what’s next: Exciting new routines, our beloved friends and family, and that comforting thing called home.
Staying in a gorgeous old hotel while we suffered through four days of gastro.
Exploring Fort Kochi when we all finally felt better.
Note to self: Do not eat the fish curry.
Another favourite Kochi memory: rug shopping. That there rug near the door? She’s coming home with us. We shall have her forever.
Have I mentioned how much Indian people love children?
Travelling to the mountains of Munnar, staying on a tea plantation.
Our driver, who joined us for three days travelling.
We were so high up we were in the clouds.
And Joel claimed to have altitude sickness from a small walk we did which I still cry with laughter about.
There he is – in those clouds getting sick.
Feeding the elephants.
Then on to one night in a wildlife sanctuary.
And a highlight of our trip: two nights on a houseboat through the Kerala backwaters.
Stopping at the ‘fish market’ to buy tiger prawns for dinner.
And finally, tonight, staying our very last night in my favourite place in all of Kochi – the Old Harbour Hotel.
My awesome in-laws shouted us a night here – it’s their favourite place in Kochi too, and after arriving here with our dusty backpacks and tired eyes a few hours ago, the luxury is ever-appreciated. Outdoor bathrooms, gorgeous British Raj decor, live classical music, we’re all in heaven and so grateful to be ending our trip in style.
India: We bought the bangles, we ate the curries, we got the gastro.
And now, there are two giggly children in bed refusing to go to sleep so excuse me while I slip off and enjoy our very last night together.
“I soon realized that no journey carries one far unless, as it extends into the world around us, it goes an equal distance into the world within.” – Lillian Smith