Around the world, in his own sweet time
What's the best thing that can happen when one man quits a stressful job to travel the world? Waiting at a traffic jam to let a tiger, an elephant and a nilgai cross, 120 short films shot across the country and, sometimes, the occasional danger of being bashed up by alleged Naxals for trespassing their territory. Apurv Satdev lives to tell his tale to Faheem Ruhani
One fine day, on October 11, 2011, 39 year-old, former visual merchandiser Apurv Satdev quit his routine in Mumbai and took off on a journey across India, accompanied only by Jazz, his Rottweiler, in his Toyota Innova (no, it was not a bet with friends to see if he could explore the subcontinent in a limited number of days). Nor was Satdev inspired by Forrest Gump to embark on a journey of self discovery.
It’s not spiritual
“I always wanted to retire at 35 and travel the world. I was not looking for spirituality or searching for something. Unknowingly, I had become someone I never wanted to be — unhealthy, abusive, angry and short-tempered. For the past 10 years, my job gave me a lot of money but it came at a price. The squeeze was not worth the juice.” So far, Satdev has travelled across south India — Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. He has also travelled to Chhattisgarh, Orissa and parts of coastal Maharashtra. “I’d love to travel all over the world in the next 20 years but, for the next two years, I want to cover all of India.
Today, Satdev is a changed man — in mind and body. Over the past 10 years, he has lost 14 kgs (he now weighs 58 kg) and his body mass is only 17.5 per cent of his total weight. In 2002, the economics graduate and designer from NIFT, Delhi, set up his own design firm in partnership with his brother. That is when the trappings of an upscale urban existence got the better of Satdev and he decided to give up on his job.
After ending his partnership with his brother, Satdev purchased seven acres of land in Kolad, in Raigad district, and learnt farming for a year. “Travelling was always dear to me — in fact, I’d jumped at any chance to travel even during my white-collar job. I’d offer myself for all site executions in and out of the country. Over the past 10 years, I have never been in the country on my birthday and New Year’s Eve,” he smiles.
The traveller and his car
To sustain himself, Satdev takes up small jobs wherever he travels. He has even converted his Innova into a cab when needed. “I am very aggressive. I have even stood on the road with a placard saying, ‘I am going to Pondicherry. Short on cash. I will drop you’.” Sometimes, he does odd carpentry jobs to make a quick buck on trips. “I have all the carpentry tools in my car — it’s my passion. I can cut any wood anytime, anywhere. I can drill, screw, do anything with it.”
Satdev also makes some money by teaching yoga and Tai Chi wherever he goes. He learnt Tai Chi seven years ago from a guru in Kalimpong and got his yoga instructor certification from the Sivananda Ashram in Kerala.
When it comes to his boarding and lodging, Satdev says he has been lucky to live with locals in their homes. “People, mostly the women of the homes, host me. The men don’t even reply to my requests. In India, people can be very choosy,” he says.
On the days Satdev is not lucky enough to find a home on his travels, he sleeps in his car. “At times, I sleep in jungles, too. I have a tent and I can regulate its temperature. I allow myself five days of luxury in a hotel once a month but the remaining 25 days, I really rough it out. It is important to keep a check on my expenses.” Satdev carries his laptop with him and connects with his family and friends every Sunday via email. His cell phone has been switched off since the past one year and he is available on the phone only during emergencies, if any (connecting with him was definitely not easy. To get back to us, Satdev borrowed his cook’s phone).
Traveller or trespasser?
Satdev is not new to adventure and uncertainty, he has faced his own share of perils, too. “There is always the threat of being mugged. In fact, I was beaten up twice, once by the Naxals in Chhattisgarh.” The entire left side of Satdev’s face was paralysed and needed 15 days of medical care. He laughs at that now. “That was entirely my fault. I was told not to drive into certain areas — even the army doesn’t go there.
Well, I had to pay for it. The group which beat me up couldn’t let me go unharmed because they had to send out a message to other trespassers who enter their territory, and the price they must pay.” Interestingly, there were stray occasions when the travel enthusiast has had to go to bed on a hungry stomach. “Generally you don’t starve while travelling in India. In our country, someone or the other will feed you and do so for free.”
One of the other reasons, says Satdev, he decided to travel was because he wanted to tell stories from across India through his camera lens. Now, after 11 months of non-stop travel, he possesses 120 short films of not more than five minutes, documenting nuggets of life across India. These are painstakingly made, produced, meticulously arranged, shot and edited by him and feature rich, fascinating accounts of the different lives people lead in India.
Satdev happily shows us 40 of the 120 films. Among the many interesting stories captured on camera are those of him getting stuck in traffic jams on national highways. “It was a traffic jam of cows, buffaloes and ducks!” he laughs. Another film shows vehicles patiently waiting sans the honking, engines off at a crossing in Ooty at 5 am. “Everyone was waiting for the animals to cross. I managed to see a tiger, an elephant, a nilgai and a leopard crossing to drink water from a lake nearby. Now, that is the sort of traffic jam I’d always want,” he exults.
Isn’t it true that he is able to afford travelling and pursuing these dreams because he is single and unattached? Satdev agrees, but only partly. “I will fall in love and marry while on a trip, I’m sure. If I come across a mosque, I will marry in a mosque. If I come across a mandir, I will marry in it. I will marry and make kids — but all while travelling,” he laughs.