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A Calmer You, by Sonal Kalra: Go solo, and life will follow!

Jobs fill your pocket, adventures fill your soul –Jaime Lyn Beatty

columns Updated: Dec 13, 2017 12:35 IST
Sonal Kalra
Sonal Kalra
Hindustan Times
Sonal Kalra,Go Solo,Sonal Kalra Column
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that after a certain age, a trip only means pilgrimage(iStock)

I toured Australia a couple of weeks ago, and was greatly impressed, among other things, by the Australians’ love for travelling. Saving up for travel is apparently way higher in their priority list than investing in stuff such as a new car or property. While this seems to be an exciting trend internationally, what struck me as different, and really beautiful, was seeing a lot of senior citizens travelling to domestic and international destinations, on their own. Women and men in their late 70s or 80s, cheerfully looking around the sights, backpacks in tow.

I met Mary, supremely beautiful at 91, walking around at a fascinating historical spot in Mannum on the banks of River Murray. Mary’s back had a hump, curved almost to an inverted U, and she slowly walked uphill, with a stick. The tour guide as well as other visitors waited patiently for her to make her way to every tourist spot, before the significance of the place was narrated.

I found Mary to be as fascinating as the place, and went up to her during the walk. “Maa’m, who are you here with?” I asked. “You,” she looked up, her wrinkled smile making her face glow. “Of course,” I went all sheepish, “I meant from your family.” “Ohh dear, I’m on a holiday. Alone. It’s a dream vacation,” she went on to tell me about how she had saved money from her retirement fund to go on vacations, especially to places that had historical significance for being home to indigenous Aboriginal Australians. I really liked Mary. And then I got back home and made the mistake of telling my evil neighbour Chaddha ji about her. In fact, call it blunder.

“91 saal ki? Ghar se nikaal diya tha bachchon ne?” (Had she been abandoned by her kids?), Chaddha ji opened his eyes so wide that I feared his brains would slip out. “What’s wrong with you? Mary was amazingly healthy and perfectly happy travelling alone,” I retorted. Chaddha ji, meanwhile, went on his own trip of speaking without listening. “Tune kiya nah mummy ke saath aisa, phir dekhna,” (don’t you dare do this to your mom), he growled at poor Bansuri, who was happily munching away on Australian chocolate, and looked bewildered at his warning-laden finger. After unsuccessfully trying to get some sense into his head, I got out as he stood shaking his head, muttering “90 saal di umar. Poor lady has to unfortunately travel. That too alone. Kalyug.”

The point was lost on Chaddha ji. As always. But I hope to God not on you as you read this. Mary wasn’t poor, she wasn’t unfortunate. In fact, I found her more blessed than any other person present there that beautiful, rainy evening. She was living a dream. On her terms.

I love Indian culture and our family system more than a lot of people I know. I love the fact that we, in India, feel so much pride in taking great care of our parents as age catches up with them. I love it that as compared to a lot of countries in the West where old age homes is where old people live, we, in India, live with our parents till we get old ourselves. But amid all this care, we sometimes let an old parent get too dependent on us. Especially when it comes to leisure pursuits. A typical 91 year old woman in most Indian homes has surrendered life to the drudgery of staying indoors, perhaps since decades. Even if the state of health isn’t an inhibitor, most aged men and women in India limit their outings to parks, places of worship, or homes of relatives – accompanied by relatives. Yes, a lot of senior people these days go for vacations, but mostly in groups, or when they are ‘taken for a holiday’ by their son or daughter. This is particularly true in case the aged person has lost a spouse, or is single for any other reason. I feel that there is nothing wrong in outings with the family, but there’s something not quite right in no outings without family.

Today, through this column, I want to plead in front of my elderly readers.

Sir, Maa’m, if health, safety and money are not concerns that disallow it, PLEASE take a vacation on your own. You’d be surprised at how empowered you’ll feel when you’ll see all the lovely places you dreamt of visiting, without having to depend on another person’s liking, mood, timings or choice being similar to yours. You’ll also love the fact that when you travel alone, you’d meet and talk to new, interesting people, rather than talking to your own family members, something you’ve anyway done all your life. And it’s much easier to travel now than it ever was. There are many, many places, both in India and abroad, that are accessible to people with varied state of health and fitness. And please, don’t make the mistake of thinking that after a certain age, a trip only means pilgrimage.

That day, Mary’s eyes twinkled with satisfaction and delight over being the one commanding her own life. Your life is waiting for you to take command. Go solo, life will follow.

Sonal Kalra decided to travel alone, and booked a trip. Her loving family decided to surprise her. Sigh. Mail your thoughts at sonal.kalra@ or Follow on Twitter @sonalkalra.

First Published: Dec 09, 2017 18:36 IST