Monday 21 August 2017 News Updated at 08:08 AM IST
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A journey with no limits - Deccan Herald
A journey with no limits
Meera Venkatesan,
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Meera Venkatesan

l stretch my neck and twist my head around, shaking off the tiredness from them. The sounds of the day still fill the city, overflowing into the quietness of the night. There is the screech of brakes, the blare of horns, a train rumbling, music on the radio, casual conversations of people, a little baby crying, and others.

The workaholic city lights refuse to go to sleep and end their work day. The bloating, burgeoning city is pushing outwards in all directions, like a giant balloon claiming everything that comes in its way - space, time, water, and even air. Everything around seems thin and rare, made up of expanded particles, which have moved so far away from their nucleus, each particle anonymous and unknown. Secrets will be at home in the city.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not complaining about urbanisation, pollution, or unnatural life. I enjoy it and thrive in it. I cannot imagine myself in any place other than this. Just like this city, I am addicted to overreaching beyond myself. I find strength in its willingness to stay alive every minute, surpassing all the doomsday predictions of impending disaster, water crisis and unimaginable pollution levels. I agree with its philosophy of living in the minute, for the minute, and by the minute.

I cup my eyes with my palm, giving them some much-needed pampering. They never let me down, and never complain. I am a typical workaholic and get my relaxation from my work, not from the lack of it. I am sure that you have seen many like me in the metros of the world.

I can hear Ann turning and twisting in her sleep. She will be here any moment now, to admonish me on my late hours. I am glad she is a sound sleeper. I must put up with this annoyance only once every night, listen to her tirade and her advice, and ignore them. I have at least 15 more queries on my FB page and emails to answer before my nap, and it is only 3 am.

These things are taking more time nowadays, maybe because the queries are getting more complex, or maybe I am getting more distracted. For example, someone wants to know about the best three-day backpacking trail in Chile, which does not involve mountains, suitable for five-year-olds, and can be completed in two days. The child has severe flower and food allergies.

If you are curious about me now, I am glad, because I am proud of what I do. Let me explain.

It all started with a travel blog, one of the millions that are floating on the internet. You know, the typical experiences and things to do. I started it just for fun, as a natural result of my passion for places and destinations. Maybe it was the way I wrote, or the depth of the details or the breadth of my travel, my blog soon became wildly popular with over a few hundred visitors every day. People told me that they could live the experiences through my blog, and they loved the fact that it was so independent and frank.

I never expected it, but my blog swept me into the epicentre of the huge travel wave that is sweeping across the world. These days, I get at least a hundred queries through my blog, my Facebook page, email, and WhatsApp. The queries are on personalised, comprehensive travel plans and suggestions. The questions come from across the world, and span destinations across the globe, too. I make sure I answer them to their complete satisfaction, tailored to their personality and requirement. In addition, I am always available when they need quick information from their destination, and respond within an hour at the most.

I charge a nominal fee, which they can send to me after their travel. Most people pay, but I have no complaints if they don’t. For me, the reward is in their satisfaction and their wonderful reviews. I have only one condition - I will not take any phone calls. Nobody seems to mind.

My phone buzzes with the WhatsApp notification I am waiting for. It’s from her. She must have gotten out of the Egyptian museum in Cairo. I pick up my phone to respond.

She: You were right as usual. I loved the exhibit of Ramesses. You are a mind reader.

Me: That I am. Right now, your
mind says coffee.

She: What…? Direct me.

Me: Three blocks to your left.
Aboudi Coffee.

She: I know better than to
question you now! WhatsApp?

Me: Nothing much. I was waiting for you. I liked the shoes you sent! Thanks,

She: I was wondering what
happened to the shoes. When did
you get back from Sri Lanka?

Me: Did you find the coffee shop?
Why did you send mountain boots?

She: To swim in the great Pacific,
idiot. It is for our trek, next week, baby. I have it all planned, for a change. Don’t back out now like the last time. If you do, I will come hunting for you! C’mon, did you fall asleep, or is this one of your grand silences? Don’t do this to me!

I switch off the phone and throw it on the table. I haven’t fallen asleep. I am very much awake. My head is pounding.

I cannot explain this relationship with her or how it came to this level. Of course, I know how it started. It sprouted from the seeds of our common love, travel. I can share this with you. I don’t see anything secretive about that.

She had posted a very caustic comment my FB page. Well, let me tell you that I believe in ensuring that no comment or question directed to me goes unanswered. She had commented that she totally disagreed with my assessment of the Singapore Merlion. I had felt that it was too overrated and not worth a visit. She disagreed and said that I was simply trying to be elitist! The battle of comments spilled over from my blog to messages and then to WhatsApp. I am not sure, though, when we moved away from our differences to the discussion of dim sum, but we did. Let me look back on our WhatsApp chat. This is the conversation we had:

She: I think it was a mistake, dude, trying to reason with you!
You simply cannot appreciate history.

Me: For me, history is anything more ancient than 100 years. Otherwise, I would deem it a tourism promotion exercise.

She: I don’t see what your problem is if a country wants to have a modern symbol. Not everything needs to date back to the dragons! It can be about dim sums as well!

Me: Dim sum??? Let me inform you that dim sum is one of the oldest dishes of China.

She: Forget it. I just want to
eat some now

Me: You should proceed to the
Summer Palace, Cuscaden Road,
the best in Singapore.

She: IDK. Well, I will go there just to prove you wrong. You know, I sort of like you!
BTW, why do you use such formal language?

And even as we had dived into the dim sum, I knew with an incomprehensible clarity that I had found that one special friend. If you ask me to explain, I can’t. Maybe it was the long wait that had left my heart malleable and waiting to melt?

Before you decide to form an opinion about me, let me tell you that I am not the kind who believes in instant attractions or romance. I scoff, I laugh, and even leave a book unread at the first hint of unrealistic fatal attractions. Yet, within a few weeks, I had metamorphosed into someone unknown to me, waiting for her message every moment, impatiently picking up my phone every time there was a notification, and thinking about her whenever she was away from my phone.

We were so different. She was so impulsive in what she said, and I would never write a word without doing my research. She was evidently young and rich. She never told me what she did for a living. She just seemed to have a limitless reserve of finance. She was more often on vacation than at home. I was ageing, faster than normal humans, and well, we were running more on courage than currency. I never told her what I did either - she never asked me.

But, I do admit that this joy is the best in the world. The joy of knowing that special someone, whose one word is enough to lift you up, however low you are. I was swimming in bliss, satisfied with my secret love for her, secure that she would never know. I never gave her any inkling of my thoughts. I never asked for anything special. We just floated along in this humongous virtual ocean, from one destination to another, always so close, yet always apart. This vacuum of the virtual world was my only contact with her, and that was how I wanted it to be.

But unfortunately, the ocean currents changed eventually. After almost a year, she started breaking our unspoken rule of staying away from personal conversations. She wanted to know more about me, and tell me about herself. I became privy to her personal problems, and she had many. I realised that being away from home was her escape, to keep her sanity. I also realised that she was from a very powerful and well-known family, whom she hated with a vengeance that bordered on the maniac. She had once revealed the ways in which she had taken her revenge on them.

I was a great listener, she had said. I was the kind of person she had always been waiting for, she reiterated. She had said that talking to me magically made her problems evaporate. She seemed to have the uncanny ability to predict my moods and know my thoughts. I had never known this proximity, this mind-share with anyone, other than Ann.

And then one day, when she asked me to describe myself, and share my photograph, I lied. I described my brother and sent his picture. I could not bear to tell her about myself! You know, in all these years of struggle and sorrow, I had never ever experienced one feeling. That one feeling was - shame. I had never been ashamed of what I was, what I am. She had made me feel that - that deeply uncomfortable feeling of not liking myself - for the first time.

I started getting edgy and avoiding her. But it was not easy. My digital footprint was omnipresent. I was present in a million places in this virtual web of the earth and the space above, and for the first time again, I felt threatened by it. I felt that it was strangling me. There was no way I could escape, other than purging my presence on the internet completely. That would mean formatting my current life, the life which is my mainstay. What would I do after that? Besides, I had become so addicted to her, her messages, and her thoughts. I was someone who prided myself on my self-dependence, despite everything. Now, I had become so dependent on the thought of her. It would break me if I didn’t have her in my life.

The last three months have been terrible. She has been continuously harping about meeting me and living with me, with desperation. She says she is going to surprise me. She threatens to walk out of my life if we don’t meet. She has started this new chant, that she will not live without me. That is something I cannot understand. For me, life is more precious than anyone or anything.

And she is clever. She is good at getting information from me. She then makes her plans to meet me and surprise me. I shudder to think of that, when it happens. I have been clever, too, always trying to be one up on her plans.

But, how long do I do this? I cannot bring myself to meet her, whatever happens. It would break us, and then break each of us. And I know her and her vengeance too well by now. She will ensure that each bit of my digital image would be shredded when she comes to know about me.

"Tears in your eyes? I have never seen them before.” It is Ann, swishing away those drops on my cheeks. I look up helplessly, shaking my head. Ann looks at my phone and reads the messages. She’s the only other person who knows all my secrets.
"Listen to me, if you have travelled this far without the help of tears, I am sure you can find your way to the next destination too, without their help,” she says, sitting down on the armchair.

My Dear Ann. I often wondered who is stronger of us two. She has been my backbone, my radar, and the driving force behind each of my steps ever since the tragedy that has shaped me. But this time, even she is not enough.

"You know, when you are between the devil and the deep blue sea, you have an advantage,” she is saying with a smile. I look at her quizzically.

She laughs a gentle laugh, "Since both options are a disaster, you cannot go wrong.”
"We have never played life on the defensive, have we? We have never hesitated to go on to the other side to score a goal. If you think whatever you are going to lose is worth fighting for, fight for it, score the goal. Trying to deflect the ball from your side will not work for ever.”

I look at her intently as she nods her head at me and puts her hand on my head. Football is her passion. Trust her to talk about football now!

"The game will end eventually, you know, even with extra time,” she says as she walks away.

I take a deep breath. I know what to do. I pick up my phone and send a message to her.

Me: Want to meet now?

She: You are in Cairo?? Where are you? Don’t tell me you are behind me!

Me: No, I am not behind you.
Go to the park on your right and wait there.

She: It is so crowded there!
Why don’t we meet here in the coffee shop?
Ok, I will go.

The messages stop. I open Facebook on my phone. She will message me once she reaches there. I brace myself and look at the phone camera and try my lopsided smile.

There it is, her message. How did she reach so fast? Did she run?

She: Ok, I am waiting. How long will you take? Why didn’t you join me in the museum earlier if you are in Cairo?

Me: Go look at my Facebook page now...

(I start a live feed video of myself in my room, on Facebook, with a caption, "This is me.” I want the whole world to see me. I then send a message to her.)

Me: Do you see me? Hello there!
Another one of your grand silences?
There is no response from her.
Maybe she has dropped the phone.
Would you like to see me too?

Well then, go to my FB page, or picture me as I describe myself. I am bound to my wheelchair, with a belt, because the muscles of my limbs will not co-operate. They are completely wasted, except for my left hand, which I use for typing. I am a 35-year-old man and I have been like this for the last 20 years since the freak accident, which affected my spinal cord and brain. I am a paraplegic. I cannot speak. I am on a liquid diet as the muscles of my mouth do not cooperate either. My mother Ann feeds me through a tube. Well, I cannot walk, eat, or speak. I cannot perform most other normal functions too.

But I can hear, I can see, and I can think. I can think with absolutely amazing clarity. I have a very high IQ. So, I hear all the time, read all the time, and think all the time. I spend every waking moment on the internet, pursuing my passion, travel! Surprised?

My mother is just managing to keep us afloat financially. I rarely ever step out of the house, and when I do, it is to the balcony of my house.

No, I don’t travel physically, but I do travel with my mind. I have visited every place there is to visit, I know more than most seasoned travellers about the food, places, and attractions in any corner of the world. You see, for me finance is not my limitation. I only need an internet connection to let my mind travel. My blog started as a joke, but today that is what is keeping me afloat. Yes, I cleverly gather information and photos about any place online, personalise it, and write it as my own.I am sure my friend is furious with me. She may never talk to me. She may even destroy me. I don’t know.You too are angry with me. You think I am a cheat.

I have built a business on experiences I never had! I have conned you. Maybe you will not follow me anymore? Maybe you will report me! Maybe the story of this journey is over. I take a deep breath to prepare for my next story. Maybe in the next one, I will travel the universe!