“Who am I? The question keeps beating inside of me.” We were sitting by a window overlooking Bandstand. “Everything I do, I think, is an attempt to answer this question for myself. Who am I? You need to be more like me, you know.” Advait was showing me how the Enneagram system worked. It was about two and a half years ago.
This post is about Advait Dikshit’s story. Or to be more correct, it is the story of what gave him some of the answers to his question. Advait is a change consultant. But that’s the outer part. He is also an adventurer.
The person inside is constantly experimenting with his own life—partly for the kick it gives him, and partly to overcome obstacles and, as a result, feel powerful. But we humans are too puny in the face of nature to deride ourselves that we could ever conquer it, and it would be merely feeding our vanity to believe otherwise. And he knows that, deep within. The experimentations, thus, are more of an attempt to find his authentic self, much like most of us would secretly like to do. But are scared of, for the answers that may show up or the awkwardness of experiments.
Earlier this year Advait decided to travel the Konkan coast without a penny in his pocket, all the way from Mumbai to Mithgave, his father’s village, arriving on his dad’s birth anniversary. His learnings over a 6 day journey he explains is: “All our needs are met. We simply don’t have a say on who meets those needs.”
When he set off in May, soon after, on a solo cycling trip from Kanyakumari to Kashmir, little did he know what this particular journey would reveal. Let it be clarified from the outset, Advait is not a professional cyclist. His cycling in fact has consisted mostly of commuting down Bandra’s narrow historic lanes. So the question was how do you cross 3,649 kilometres when you are not even trained for it. And does it matter? As Tony Robbins, life and business strategist says, it is about resourcefulness rather than resources. Advait’s journey is a classic validation of this theory.
Advait also knew it wasn’t going to be about the sights. His travels have always revolved around the people, the unplanned connections he made en-route and the emanating stories. This journey was going to be no different in that respect. But there was going to be one difference.
Two months and 10 days, 3,649 kilometres, and a penned facebook journal later, it struck him, out of the blue, that he had discovered his “voice,” his style as a writer. The deeply personal journey spanning a subcontinent helped him find a part of his song and how to sing it.
Dear Reader, I would like to share this journey with you, in his own words, of a foray into the question: “Who am I?”
[Note: Advait Dikshit’s pictures and excerpts in this post have been reproduced with kind permission from his facebook journal. All copyright to the below content lies with him.]
Bicycling solo from Kanyakumari to Kashmir. Thanks Rhys Schulze and Howard Smith for inspiring me to go beyond what I think is possible. Cheers guys!
List of breakdowns since yesterday followed by joy:
1. Brakes jammed on the highway.
2. Cycled 10 km in the wrong direction. (Wah wah Advait!)
3. After 15 km of further riding, got sun-stroked on 43 degrees Celsius heat.
Lost sensation on my fingers and felt dizzy. Stopped to rest and devoured 3 glasses of butter milk (delicious) and 2 coconuts.
Now settled in the shade of a shop. Using their laptop. Guess who the owner is? A Tamil lady from Mumbai who has moved to her village after marriage … and we speak in Marathi! What’s better than coconut water to relieve sunstroke? Speak in your mother tongue with a Tamilian.
When it’s burning hot on the road, harassed travellers find refuge together under a bypass, and make it a home. A dining room. A bedroom. And yours truly in the living room. You are welcome to join!
Met these Bangalore guys by the roadside … Like ants, we exchange our adventures as we cross each other … Their motorbike broke down, and they have just finished pushing the heavy beast 30 km in search of a mechanic. 30 km!!! Holy cow! How does someone do that on a road that is constantly rising and falling??!!
I am in awe of their grit. And they were in awe of my audacity—Mutual respect. That’s the brotherhood of the Road. Hope they find a mechanic soon.
2 June, 2016, Indira Nagar, Bangalore, Karnataka
A guy who had never bicycled except around his neighbourhood, crossed the entire state of Tamil Nadu and entered Karnataka yesterday afternoon. 666 km to be exact!!! That’s the number of the devil, remember? And it must have taken a devil’s prompting for a novice like me to undertake this outrageous odyssey.
8 June, 2016
Cycled 122 km today. (Aided by a friendly terrain and cool weather.) Let me see if I can put it in another way so the non-cyclists among you can relate: Climbed 122 floors today. My ass is not impressed.
They were excited to see an odd-looking man on a cycle. Waving out cheerfully, they urged me to stop. I didn’t. “Can’t lose the momentum,” I yelled out.
Then I noticed the words printed on his T-shirt: “Do not wish to be anything but who you are”
I squeezed the brake to a halt, pulled my chain from under my shirt and showed them these words embossed on its pendant: “And Above All Else, To Your Own Self be True”
There was a brief moment of intense connection between a city man and the village youth. Phir kya, picture to banta hain na?
11 June, 2016
Today my heart wasn’t into it.
A few feet felt like a thousand miles.
The road that loves its wavy dance made itself flat and welcoming.
The wind stopped its furious play and rested long amidst the trees.
Even the sun swallowed its fiery pride and hid among the clouds forever.
All for me! All for me!
Today my heart wasn’t into it.
A few feet still felt like a thousand miles.
A few feet still felt like a thousand miles.
(Hyderabad, I will reach you tomorrow. Promise.)
There is one Rajinikanth who plays characters. This Rajinikanth, on the other hand, IS a character.
A son of working class parents. One evening, 2 years ago, he is thirsty and trespasses into the Hyderabad Yacht Club looking for water. Soon he is drinking water and asking questions. About the boats, about sailing, about winds, about navigation.
The coach who is strolling nearby overhears. Is intrigued by the young man’s passionate inquiry. Asks him if he would like to learn sailing. The young man nods. BOOM!
2 years later he is the national champion. Dig that!
Isn’t the coach some character too??!! He needed to be in my selfie as well. But in my celebration of the obvious, I overlooked the source who made it happen. He also happened to be at the wheel of this boat.
The lady is ASP (Additional Superintendent of Police), Adilabad district. She climbed the Summit of Mount Everest a few weeks ago. (Yes, you right. That one! And yes, that’s me with her bouquets.) This is her message to all of us, especially women. So listen hard. Listen well … I did. And I am glad for it.
“The stuff our heart really yearns to do is dangerous. All worthwhile things are. Go ahead, DO it anyway. Do it at the first available opportunity. And don’t allow your reasons to fool you. You will regret it. If you are honest, you know you already do.
Especially, don’t let the fear of danger and concerns for security stop you. Because you cannot eliminate danger or risk entirely. Forget unknown places, it’s an illusion to believe we are secure in our very own homes. So, women need to plan and prepare. That’s the way to deal with risk. That’s the way to …”
She hadn’t even completed this sentence … and the phone rings … she excuses herself and picks it up. It’s a woman Tehsildar from the nearby Taluka. And this is what she says:
“A technician visited a home to fix an antenna, Madam. Finding a girl alone in the house, he attempted to rape her. The girl is traumatised. Please come urgently.”
We look at each other, stunned at the timing of the call. The universe, it seemed, had just affirmed her point of view. Neither of us spoke for what seemed like a long time.
Now, remember the message here is not that women are not safe EVEN in their own homes.
The message is: We cannot eliminate dangers and risks. Don’t let these concerns steal your dreams. Instead—Anticipate. Prepare. Plan. And jump off with all your fears. Have faith that they will evaporate on your way down. You will surmount. You will survive. You will summit. And your heart will rejoice in the end. Have faith.
My salute to this empowered woman.
There comes a time in our journeys when we are called to pause and look back at the road we travelled.
Today was my moment. 8.52 am. Crossed into Maharashtra.
21 June, 2016, 0 mile, Centre of India, Nagpur, Maharashtra
The sandstone edifice in Nagpur is at the absolute centre of India. In other words, if you were to take the whole of the country and spin it wildly, it will rotate around this pillar. Dizzy already? So am I. Dizzy with joy for the distance travelled. Dizzy with the challenge of the distance left.
27 June, 2016
The question I get asked most often is, “Where are you going to?” When I tell them Kanyakumari to Kashmir, their faces break into wonder, surprise, or plain disbelief.
This question is almost always followed by, “And purpose, Sir?” That’s a complicated one to answer because it’s a soufflé of many reasons. I give the reason that feels most real in the moment, but they are seldom satisfied.
One Sunday afternoon in Tamil Nadu, I meet 2 truck drivers. We sit down for lunch on a bench laid out under the burning sky. I mean I sit down for lunch. They sit down with their Rum.
“No thanks I don’t drink.”
Soon enough the inevitable comes: “On a cycle to Kashmir!!?? And Purrpass, Sirr?”
Instead of answering, I ask: “Why do you enjoy drinking?”
“Kick, Sirr,” the talkative one answers. “It makes the world become a happy place, and many things seem possible, Sirr.”
“I too am doing this for the Kick,” I retort.
They look at each other and laugh a knowing laugh of men who have Rum on their breath. As I get up to leave, the talkative one puts one arm around his partner, raises the other as if in a wave, and says, “Have a good Kick today, Sirr.” I nod in amusement, preoccupied with practical concerns of the ride ahead, and leave without saying my goodbyes.
Scene change: A few days later, I am struggling through the steep ghats of Bhimbetka wondering aloud why I got myself into this mess in the first place. I am almost tempted to give up. That’s when a solitary bird-call reminds me of the talkative man’s parting words: “Have a good kick today, Sirr.”
I haven’t fully understood why, but my eyes moistened. And I found myself muttering under my tired breath: “Fuck, Yes, I will. I promise.”
For most of the day, yesterday was a terrible day. Till I met Ranjit.
I was physically exhausted and mentally fatigued. On top of that, the rain was pissing on me all day long. Evening was approaching fast and I was far from my destination. That’s when I noticed him. Ranjit was on his haunches by the roadside, trying to fix his bike.
My first instinct: “Go Go Go Advait!!! You have your own shit to deal with already.” But the little voice in me said, “Help him.” Does that even make sense? Without wanting to, I turned back and did all I could to get his bike going. He thanked me profusely.
As I jumped on the cycle and peddled away, I noticed my body felt like air, and my mind was filled with songs. I rode like a bull the rest of the way and reached Betul Town, ahead of time. 🙂
What can explain this miracle? It could have been Ranjit’s blessings. Probably. But this could also be true: When I put my pain aside to bring happiness to another, miracles happen.
29 June, 2016, Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh
Some may say I compromised. The purist in me agrees.
The road from the foothills of Bhimbetka to Bhopal was a dangerous beast. It was narrow and filled with pot-holes the size of craters. As if that was not enough, the ground on both sides of the road was dug up. And its excavated soil, grown sticky with rain, sat all along the edges. Wait, there is more: The trucks that had sweated with me for an hour and more to get across the steep ghats of Bhimbetka had grown impatient, and were now desperately trying to overtake.
On this road? In this dangerous mess? Yes. Yes. Yes. But they are skilled and fearless. I am not. My cycle and I took a lift on a tempo. All the way to Bhopal. A distance of 41 km.
Some will say I compromised. The purist in me agrees. But I am glad I didn’t listen to him. At times, breaking away from one’s ideal is the ideal thing to do.
All of last week was strenuous cycling through the Ups and Downs … and the Ups and Downs … [Trust me dude, first and foremost, It was a boot-camp in attitude.]
Phew! Now having passed the test, I have been blessed with a relatively plain ground all the way … to Gwalior.
2 July, 2016, Sanchi, Madhya Pradesh
Buddhist Stupa at Sanchi
3 July, 2016, Sanchi, Madhya Pradesh
My Ass and Me— A story with a twist
There was a day lost in the fog of time when my mother said to me, “Advait, if you want to make friends, always remember this: Mostly, people don’t want your advice. Even when they ask for it. So, when they share their troubles or grief, put all your energy in listening to them. And if possible, empathise.”
My Ass has been sharing a lot this past month and a week. It was hard, but I religiously followed my mother’s advice. Today it gives me great joy to announce to you all that my Ass and I have grown extremely close to each other.
Venue: Sadguru Punjab Dhaba; Post-lunch siesta with friends.
7 July, 2016, Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh
Warriors and a Spa
Gwalior is an ancient city with a long martial history.
When victorious Gwalior armies would return to their beloved city, beautiful women would stand in their balconies showering flowers. They say this welcome had the power to revive the warrior’s scarred heart and battered body.
When I staggered into Gwalior last evening, no women stood by their balconies or flowers rained down on me. But I am no warrior. And I have won no victories. Except at times, against my own demons.
And this also is true: The world owes me nothing. Especially those who love me. I must remember this when I am most in need. It is a hard truth to accept. And my mind wants to wipe clean the black-board on which it is written.
But what a wondrous thing it is that every time I have let go of my expectations from others and have done all I can to meet my needs, help has come. Not only from those dear to me, but from circumstances and strangers.
So now, as I need to rest my stiff hands and sore legs, if available, I will visit a spa with a bath-tub and rose petals.
Interiors of tropical jungles. Dunes of the western deserts. Isolated villages of the Gangetic plains. Bharathi Nair, my friend Madhavi Nair’s mother has travelled places in the hinterland of India when most roads were mere dirt tracks; food at the railway stations was brought in by bullock-carts; and a welcome drink meant a tall glass of lassi served in a bronze cup. This was rural India. Early 1960s.
The words ‘Exotic’ and ‘Adventure Tourism’ were yet to be invented. And the concept of ‘Package Tours’ was not yet manufactured. Given the nature of the excursions, her luggage was stuffed with uncertainties, surprises and adversities. This woman would have had it no other way.
Today she is largely confined to her bedroom. Blood pressure. Arthritis. Heart problems. Confined but not bound. Confined but not limited.
As she described the wonders she’s discovered through her experiments, research and explorations around her home, I realised the central message I needed to remember: Adventure and joy can be found exactly where I am. In my daily, mundane life. All I am called to do is cultivate a pair of fresh and curious eyes. If I do, I am assured that the whole wondrous world will make its beaten path to my doorstep.
At the end, it seemed fitting to wish her a “Bon Voyage” instead of the conventional “Goodbye.” “Looks like you got it, young man,” she seemed to be saying as she cocked her head to the side, arched an eyebrow, and smiled.
ReAcHeD …………… DoNe
26 July, 2016, Charsu, Kashmir
“Hindostani ho? Kashmiri ID nikalo, chalo!” His eyes are burning coals. His lips quivering with contempt.
“Nahin hain,” I blurt out.
The boys sitting around him raise the wooden clubs ever so slightly … I feel such panic that my dry tongue sticks hard against my mouth and for a briefest moment their enraged faces turn hazy before my eyes.
It couldn’t have been me. It had to be wisdom from Above. For I instantly become calm, and am no longer gripped by concerns for survival. My focus shifts to the boys and their tiniest of movements. As a result, what I say and how I say it, gradually dissipates the rage and softens the tension in the taut bodies surrounding me.
I have seen men with parched throats desperate for water. Here were men with hardened hearts thirsty for an ear. The more I hear, the more they share. Of their pain. Of their humiliation. Of their fears. Passionately. Profusely. Eagerly. The wooden clubs that were ready to threaten moments ago, now lie limply in their hands.
“You see that tree opposite? Yesterday afternoon, my friend was killed right there under that tree,” says Tabak, the boy whose eyes were burning coals. As he narrates the incident he is so choked up with grief that it seems he would burst into tears any moment. Except he doesn’t.
Another says: “You are our guest. But we can’t offer you nothing. Our shops and our kitchens are barren shells. What can we do? We are sorry.” I try to make them feel silly for being apologetic. I fail. They point out a safer route for my onward journey. And I move on. But a thought throbs within my head as I walk through a village road flanked by walnut trees:
“Perhaps, there are no angry men. There are only men crying to be heard.”
Kashmir—into the Heart of the Storm
On 25 July, I visited Burhan Wani’s home in the village of Stal. For those not in the know, Burhan was the 21-year-old whose death in an encounter with the security forces has caused the current mayhem in Kashmir.
I spent an afternoon interacting with his father and his uncle. They were gracious to offer me lunch and I was gracious to accept it. This is the core of what they said to me:
1) People of India are our family. They are our brothers. They are our sisters. Our Humsayas. We will defend them with our lives. Don’t think we hate the Indian army. No we don’t. Surely their behaviour is atrocious. But we know they are merely doing their duty. It’s the Indian Laws that our are true enemy. And we will fight them to the very end.
2) When sons make mistakes, fathers sometimes slap them. But they don’t kill. Governments, like parents, should make it easy for wayward sons to correct their course. To help them find their way back home. Not eliminate them.
When they spoke, their eyes were not inflamed with anger. In their tone, I heard no hidden daggers of vengeance. Neither their hearts were crushed in grief, nor were their bodies stiff with pain.
On the contrary. Their eyes smiled. Their arms hugged. Their hands fed. Looks like reality is more multi-faceted than I would like it to be. People have more shades than I would like to see.
Every once in a while, comes a Season in my life that invites me to rearrange the pieces of my mind. And to do that, I ought to see my prejudices and stereotypes for what they are, and let them go. Often it’s hard. I admit. Because it takes extraordinary courage and immense humility.
I don’t know if as a nation we are in such a Season. But the Season is certainly upon me. I just hope, this particular afternoon, sitting in the cool shade of Burhan’s home, I lived up to the task the Season expects of me.
[Note: I wanted to hear the army side of the story. I tried but I couldn’t find a contact that would get me in the cantonment … that’s my regret.]
Valentia and I have journeyed together for 2 months and 10 days. For days and sometimes nights. Amidst heat and rain. Through thick and thin. All packed up, she now leaves for Mumbai for some “Me” time.
Suddenly without warning, perspectives change. If only for the briefest instant. All this while, I believed it was I who cycled from one end of India to the other. From its toe to its head.
Yesterday afternoon as I watched my cycle quietly resting against the wall, it occurred to me, that maybe, just maybe, it was she who had carried me all the way.
3 August, 2016, Mumbai
“The end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started, and know the place for the first time.” ~ T. S. Eliot
Back in Mumbai. On this journey, for the first time, I discovered my style as a writer. And my ‘Voice’. Feeling happy. Right now, if I could, all naked, I would jump off a cliff and plunge into the water. All at the same time.