Sometimes I wonder why can’t I just travel, travel and travel. It is so much fun! You meet new people, get to know about their experiences and get to share your own! And as far as I am concerned, I can go on and on about my trips! (Habit of blabbering it is!)
I met him onboard Kavarati, a ship, while we were on our way to Lakshadweep. I used to see him during the breakfast time. Early morning I was not at all interested in having conversations with random strangers but my father had talked to him. He was travelling alone but I couldn’t see any regret on his face. Always dressed in khaki shorts and a white shirt with a cap on his head. He would always be the first to reach the disembarkation area. A camera hung around his neck and a pouch around his waist. He used to greet me and my sister saying “good morning young lady”! The glow of his eyes hasn’t faded from my memories yet.
On the third day of our trip, we were on an island called Minicoy, the end of Lakshadweep islands. We all were taken to see a huge lighthouse by the people of the ship. We were going to the lighthouse in a truck sort of vehicle with seats fitted on the rear. I was just trying to fix a setting of my camera when I noticed this gentleman happily and merrily riding a bicycle. I bent forward to see him and the truck took a turn. I asked the manager later about him and I was shocked knowing what he told me. He told me in his own peculiar accent “Saab had demanded a cycle from us to go around the island! I told him Saab it will be too tiresome for you but he took an offence on it and said he will arrange it himself! And here he is merrily going around in the cycle which I suspect he took from a local!”
Well it is quite natural to be shocked; he was an old man, a merry one please understand, of age around 75 or 77! I did not mention his age before since human mind works in a strange manner you know, forms assumptions very fast and then all the perceptions are clouded!
Anyways, carrying on with this gentleman, I found myself seated with him in the truck again while going back to the beach. Luckily he himself started talking. His first statement being ‘the ride is so jerky, my bicycle was better’. I started laughing! And then he started asking about how we decided to come for the trip and stuff! As the conversation continued I started talking about my trip to Ladakh and how beautiful everything was. I guess he just needed a spark, I gave it to him. He started off. He told us he was a soldier in army, rank…. Pardon me I am really bad at remembering details, I forgot it! Well, he said he had been posted in Dras. Just for reference Dras is the second coldest inhabited place on earth! He told me how they used to manage with very less resources, normal shoes and living in tents! He told me about the biting cold and pneumonia! As the conversation continued he also told me that after he took an early retirement he along with his few friends climbed Kanchenjunga! He said he enjoyed this. Travelling, meeting new people, having new experiences. He added he wants to roam as much as possible, ‘something to tell my grandchildren you know!’ I can still picture his glittery eyes as he was animatedly describing his experiences like a nine year old narrating about a birthday party to his mother.
The ride was not enough to know his full story of Kanchenjunga sadly! Later when I found myself thinking about this again I thought he would have been in army during both the indo Pak war as well as Indo- China war. He didn’t mention it though!
Later that day while returning to ship, the sea was very rough and choppy. He was in the same boat as me. Though this time he was silent. Tired by the day’s events or maybe due to the ending of the trip; I assumed. Just before we went inside the ship, I asked him for permitting me to take his picture. He smiled, straightened his silver hair surrounding his bald forehead and said I am ready!
That was the last time I saw him. A big ship with lots of passengers. The next day we came back to Cochin.
Whenever I think of that particular day, I think of him. And what all he told me that day flashes through my mind. The experiences he told me about are all about the destinations I dream of going to. But that is not why I remember this so well. It is him. His excitement, Outlook and the energy. His ‘Do it before you die’ attitude is what I will remember forever.
For me he will be the old gentleman, a merry one, who preferred cycling around the island over a truck ride, always. A man whose experiences were even greater than his age and a man who did Scuba diving at the age of 75 years.
A year later I sent a picture for the Better photography’s photography contest under the portraits section, of a merry old man whom I had met once. The title being ‘The eyes speak a lot while the lips remain calm.’
I hope one day years later, I find myself in a jeep safari in Namibia with a group of children of one fourth my age asking me questions excitedly. My hair silvered with experience and mind u I will be a reckless old lady, though a merry one please understand.