Airports are places which have always fascinated me. They are the doorways to different worlds. Airports- a place where one can spend a whole day without getting bored. It is a place where dreams come true and all emotion are present simultaneously in a muddled thought of different people. What are the chances that the guy next to you is not thinking the same thing you are or that the old couple in the seat across yours’ is leaving their son’s family and going home just as you are leaving home to get back to your life in a foreign city. Sometimes I feel lonely when I leave home and seeing those families going on vacation to Ladakh absolutely tear me up. Smiling faces, sad faces, indecisive faces, despairing faces, apprehensive faces, ecstatic faces, scared faces, indifferent faces, all of them together under one roof- a sort of collective thought process, all very different from each other and yet have the same underlying feeling- one of change. No other place is a classic example of how nothing in the world is ever constant. Flights leave; flights arrive; flights get delayed and flight get cancelled. Success, failure, stagnation and death all under one roof called life.
I remember having spent the Christmas of 2010 stranded in the Delhi airport with my little sister. We spent 10 hours sitting on the airport floor observing people around us. During those 10 hours, we ended up speaking to a wide variety of people. I struck up a conversation with a young man, in his early twenties sporting dreadlocks and tattoos. He was from San Marino, a small country in Europe. He had come on a tour of India and was travelling to Amritsar from Delhi. He told me about his country and how it is almost the size of Delhi. We spoke about the way people in his country are different from those we see in India.
He seemed to be intrigued by the idea of eating food using ones hands and licking the dripping curry off their elbow. The way folks in our country start talking to each other on the roads without any proper introduction seemed strange to him but interesting, nonetheless. I grilled him about how to go about travelling the world on a low budget- the dos and don’ts. He was more than happy to answer me. His trip would end in another month and he would go back to university in his country the following year.
He was travelling from west to east and had covered most of the countries. But he had to leave a few. For that, he was sad. That is when I realized that I would never be able to see the world in its entirety. No matter what I do, what job I get, how much I earn, there will be some small corner of this vast world that I would never visit.
This corner would be beautiful and have its own flaws. There would be a new kind of flower growing. The people will speak in a different tongue. They would have breakfast at a different time and might skip lunch. They would celebrate Christmas differently. The horizon would be green instead of yellow. The water would be greenish instead of blue. They would grow coffee beans in their backyard and keep lamas for pets.
So many places to see, so many things to do and I had no idea how much longer I would be stuck at that airport. My only dream is to travel the world. But now that I think about it, I will never be able to travel the world. I will probably just visit the Eiffel tower, Notre Dame, the Pyramids of Giza, the hanging gardens of Babylon and the Big Ben. But what about the rest?
The places not spoken of, not written about and not photographed. Those where no one went and even if some did, they haven’t dared to speak about them. That moment I was attacked by a sensation of impending doom. I could never fulfill my dream. Why couldn’t I have an easier dream? Something like ‘going to Disneyland and posing with Donald duck’ or ‘writing a book’ or ‘opening a restaurant’? Why did my twisted brain have to choose the impossible?
Jules Verne did claim that with the advancement of technology the world has become a smaller place and that man, if equipped with the resources, can go around the world in 80 days. But what of experiencing the very places he visits. Is it enough to have an airport view of the world? Look outside the glass walls of the huge building and see the traffic and the neighborhood. That is seeing but not experiencing.
That Christmas day, sitting on the floor of a packed Delhi airport, talking to a stranger from a foreign land whose name I was hearing for the first time, I realized what Onism was. The realization that I would never experience the whole world and that I would get only a taste of it in my mortal timespan, was a depressing one. It was like being told that Santa Claus isn’t real and it’s mom who has been leaving the gifts all this while. My dream can never be fulfilled and I would have to be content with seeing Moulin Rouge from afar.