Rosalyn D'Mello: Who said solo travel is lonely?

Updated: May 26, 2017, 08:48 IST | Rosalyn D'mello | Mumbai

Travelling solo doesn't have to mean being alone; if anything, owning your solitude helps you make new friends and memories

The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper
The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper

Now that I got my Schengen visa, all that's left by way of uncertainty is a slight tinge of nervousness. The idea of being on my own, yet being taken care of by friends, of being once more the recipient of generosities I may or may not be deserving of, is intimidating. And yet, when I close my eyes, I see myself surprisingly at ease in unfamiliar lands, at the mercy of strangers, struggling to communicate, yet somehow finding my way around while unearthing reams of joy on anonymous street corners, at traffic intersections, at the threshold of the underground. I'll be that freak Indian girl walking with an impish smile on her face, knowing that each step I make was pre-empted and hard-earned.

In fact, my most significant memories have involved being alone in a foreign land. I'm all for planning trips with friends and partners, and having someone to share in the exhilarating thrill of booking flight tickets and waiting for visas, having someone to share lunch or dinner, to subsidise your basic expenses. But it's quite another story when you're on your own and are compelled to make decisions, follow your whim, hone your intuition, listen to your body as it experiences a city without anyone to influence your opinion of it. It's a different kind of high.

The first time I set off by myself was in 2007, when I was a student in JNU. Diwali was around the corner and I had no intentions of being in the city. Months before, in Mumbai, I'd met this Tibetan activist and poet, Tenzin Tsendue, with whom I'd stayed in touch. So I decided to visit Dharamshala, where he lives. I went to ISBT, but all the buses to my destination were packed beyond capacity. I ended up in a bus that went to Hoshiarpur, after which I managed to get a shared cab with two sweet seeming boys I'd met en route. I hadn't even booked a room in which to stay. But mid-way, Tsendue offered to host me. When I arrived, I went straight to his stone cottage, I suspect the one he wrote about in a poem. He took me up to the roof and I drank in my first sighting of the Dhauladhar range, then I had tea, and within a few hours met a whole bunch of students from the Free Tibet movement. Diwali was spent with a lovely family, and the three days passed so quickly, when I returned to Delhi, the whole trip felt felt like an interlude in a dream.

Since then, I've prided myself on my ability to always encounter the right people. I have evolved an excellent radar that draws me towards interesting, imaginative sorts; artists, poets, writers, wanderers, activists, dancers, researchers, performers… For instance, a day after my arrival in Australia, when I was at Byron Bay for the writer's festival to which I was invited, I struck up a quick conversation with an older gentleman who was wearing what was clearly a photographer's jacket. He turned out to be Tim Page, one of the world's greatest living photographers, someone who Dennis Hopper's character in Apocalypse Now was modelled after. He and his partner, Mau, and Ben Bohane and his partner pretty much adopted me during the three days we were there. Every evening was spent drinking excellent red wine, stimulated by amazing company and the ensuing conversation. The highlight of my stay in Brisbane the next week was the two nights I stayed with Tim and Mau at their home, glimpsing through his archives, reading his books, chatting over many bottles of wine.

Another memorable encounter was with the irreverent Aboriginal artist, Richard Bell, whom I'd met when his gallerist, Josh Milano, had taken me to this paint factory where Bell and a range of other artists had their studios. When I entered, he was mimicking Jackson Pollock, but in a subversively appropriative way, synthesising the aggressive dripping of paint with a technique that was closer to his tribal roots. Stencilled underneath all the looming layers of paint was a simple political command — THE PRICE IS WHITE; a commentary on the principle of Terra nullius, by way of which the Aboriginal people native to Australia lost their land to the colonising British. A week later, I was in Sydney, at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Richard happened to be in conversation with the then director, Suhanya Raffel, and the evening ended with him and I walking out into the streets in search of a specific Tapas bar. I felt privileged to see Sydney through his eyes, through his skin, through his history of oppression and vindication.

It's likely that what many people say about me is true. I do lead a superbly charmed life. I'm tempted to think it's my reward for having the courage to own my solitude.

Deliberating on the life and times of Everywoman, Rosalyn D'Mello is a reputable art critic and the author of A Handbook For My Lover. She tweets @RosaParx Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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