November 20, 2013

Travel Memories: Plane, Road, and the Train

Books are the plane, and the train, and the road. They are the destination, and the journey. They are home.

-Anna Quindlen, How Reading Changed My Life

The last few weeks witnessed me literally on the plane, the road, and the train, as I traversed from one coast to another, border-hopped, and enjoyed a meandering train-ride between two states. Each mode of travel had its specific charms - and yet, for me, the crucial word essentially is: travel. Travel makes me so much more closely aware of and inclined to seek out life's beautiful, bizarre, and unique moments than I would do so, when stolidly reposing at home. When I come back home and unpack my bags, the scents of journeys, destinations, places, and people rising from the suitcase interiors, the memories meanwhile restlessly swirl around in my mind, like water gushing from a tap. I close my eyes and let them swim over me...few brilliant flashes then leap out, akin to gorgeously hued pebbles or fish one espies in a flowing stream. At times, it's often the spirit of these memories, rather than the memories themselves, which breathes into my life and subsequently, weaves itself into the fabric of my writing. While interpreting a memory of that journey and destination, the unknown then turns into the familiar, a part of me. 

Browse through my memories below...

By Air: LA
The dreamy sunset

Lady Gaga, suitably attired and presented, almost like a piece of performance/installation art
I had previously been to LA but it was more of a transit encounter than anything else; this time, we had gone there to attend a wedding, which was a beautiful affair atop a hill, encircled by painting-like mountains and a dreamy, smog-imbued sunset. We also took out a day to explore LA's heartbeat, Hollywood and strolling down Hollywood boulevard, we happened to stumble upon a Bollywood tour visiting Madame Tussauds. Quite frankly, I was a little disappointed by well, how, waxy looking the majority of the statues appeared; as for the Bollywood stars, apart from Aishwarya and to some extent, SRK, none of them could be said to be replicas. Having said that, I find it amusing as to why I am disappointed; it's as if I claimed to know them personally and was therefore in a position to gauge how accurately they had been cloned in wax. A bit like visiting the Taj Mahal and then, complaining that it did not live up to the grand expectations that we had accumulated after encountering it in countless photographs, films, and written descriptions. The stars' wax clones meanwhile gazed aimlessly into the distance, islands of soullessness dotting the ocean of celebrityhood.

By Road: Toronto

CN Tower from below

Uber-fied Wall Art
We drove to Toronto, which was about a seven hour drive from Pittsburgh. As we entered Canada and drove upon the Queen Elizabeth highway, I couldn't but recall those occasions during my childhood when we used to drive up to Dubai from Muscat - and upon crossing the border, I would often muse about how the place so seemed like Oman - and yet not. The Toronto sojourn was brief but eventful, including a spontaneous conversation about art, art being boxed in academia, and writing about art in a Starbucks, exploring a costume shop, whose costumes were redolent of multiple lives and inviting you to assume them, discovering funky wall art-packaged walls, witnessing the vista from CN Tower, reuniting with a school friend after 13 years and buying miniature rainbow hued earthenware diyas in preparation for Diwali.

Panda-spotting at Toronto Zoo
We also spent a morning visiting the Toronto Zoo. Of the latter, I am always a little ambivalent; in fact, if given a choice, I would opt out of visiting them altogether, just as I no longer attend circuses anymore as I am always concerned about the potentially inhumane conditions the animals and indeed, the human performers may be subjected to in quest of entertainment and seemingly awe-inspiring antics and feats. However, the prospect of seeing the panda lured me and while it was definitely a 'too adorable for words' moment, I wondered if it was worth coralling them up for our momentary pleasure? And yet, the truth was also that it was precisely for glimpsing the pandas that I had decided to visit the zoo. It was a rainy day; drops of rain and yellow leaves dripped from trees and as I mulled over the zoo (which admittedly houses the animals in a perfectly humane context), we walked past dozing tigers and glimpsed hungry lions, the hunger plain and undressed in their topaz eyes. Standing next to a window, which revealed a cross-section of a pond, two turtles continually swam towards and away from us. How did we appear to them, peering through the looking glass? Or were we just incidental to their lives, like ghost reflections in a mirror?

By train: New Jersey

Moody Sea

I have always loved train-rides; I have taken plenty of them in India and a few times in United Kingdom...and so I was looking forward to my first train ride in the States, which I took to meet another old friend. Even though it was admittedly a long journey, I was lulled into the comforting rhythm of the train as it navigated the tracks and cut through streams, fall foliage, farms, and towns. I felt as if I could examine and wonder about the passing world at leisure, rather than hurriedly and indifferently tearing through it with scant interest for the many nuances and details that constituted it. A lone brilliant tree shedding tears of leaves, the leaves pooling around it, a horse-driven carriage steadily weaving through the farms in North Pennsylvania, clusters and clusters of snow-enveloped trees, stoically and poetically watching us rush by, I felt as if I was watching a film montage past me.

Unfortunately, I did not have any photos from the train journey (too preoccupied in absorbing, than compulsively picture-taking for a change!); what I do have is my memory of briefly encountering the sea for the first time after several months. It was also my first encounter with the Atlantic and even though it was a moody day, the sea was flat, calm, and still as an antique mirror - and I was content to inhale the marine air and hear the waves say hello. 

What does travel mean to you? Do you have a favorite mode of transportation?


  1. its all so pretty P... cant wait to hear it all in person.. :):)..

  2. Me too, can't wait to meet in person, rather than just virtually;) been far too long!


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