Fond of travelling, the years in the army ensured an automatic peek across India. It was only after quitting service that the thought of exploring overseas dawned on us. My sister, an American citizen, was the first one to invite us.
What immediately struck us while there was the vastness of the place and the facilities which made quality of life worthy of human race. A vibrant law-and-order-cum-enforcement, disciplined traffic and sparse population busy with their own lives gave us the feeling of being in a robot land.
Back in India, confident of my country's potential to achieve world-class standards, there was no sense of remorse or inferiority. I muttered to myself, "Uncle Sam, well done. We are not far behind. Give us some time and we too will be there." Similarly, visits to other Western destinations gave me a high.
This time around, we decided to visit Sri Lanka, a country younger to ours. The exchange rate of our currency was double of a Sri Lankan rupee giving us a feeling of superiority. A developing nation, it has its own issues of a high cost of living, poverty and disparity in society.
The visit comprised wild life sanctuaries around Habarana, a hill station cum tea gardens at Nuwara Eliya (a round of golf at an altitude of 6,200 ft was breathtaking), relaxed enviorns at Bentota beach and a visit to Galle. A nine-day holiday!
We, a group of seven friends and families, had a nine-seater bus at our disposal with a driver and a guide for this essentially road trip covering around 1,000 km. Kumar, our guide was an encyclopaedia not only about his country but a range of regions and subjects. Roadside stalls of the famous king coconut, known for its refreshing content, were the hallmark of our road journey.
Rajeev, a chip of the old block, after a contented smoke and coconut feast forgot his haversack at a nondescript kiosk. It was only at the next kiosk, some 50km down the road, that the loss was discovered. The fellow sheepishly admitted that the bag contained all the money, his passport and the crucial cigarette packet. We visualised Rajeev taking on the business of selling king coconuts since without a passport he may have to settle down in Sri Lanka.
After a thorough but unsuccessful search of the vehicle we decided to traverse the arduous backward journey against hope. We were saved the agony by the sudden appearance of a youngster on an old mobike carrying the bag. The kiosk owner having discovered the bag had immediately despatched his son to deliver the property to its rightful owner, a gesture which made us discuss an event of this nature back home.
The recent Swachh Bharat campaign in mind, we were keenly observing the surroundings for loosely strewn garbage heaps, where there were none. During a stretch of road travel, someone from us threw an empty chips packet out of the bus window. Lo and behold, a highway patrol pursued us, signalled the vehicle to stop and penalised the harried guide since he was held accountable for our wayward action. Our experience during the jaunt convinced us that the country, a minnow compared to ours, is truly entitled to the tag of Swachh Lanka.
Back home, I, unlike my earlier visits to the Western world, feel low after the Sri Lankan visit. firstname.lastname@example.org
(The writer is a Chandigarh-based retired army officer)