Take a journey into yourself
“Life”, said Helen Keller, the deaf and dumb political activist and author, “is either a daring adventure or nothing”
"Life", said Helen Keller, the deaf and dumb political activist and author, "is either a daring adventure or nothing". All of us, at one time or other, have experienced the feeling of being grabbed by wanderlust, the urge to see new places, meet new people and experience exotic sensations. Human beings, and animals, alike, have recognised from times immemorial the value of travel.
And, thanks to the annihilation of distance by modern means of travel, travel nowadays is much faster, and cheaper too. Having conquered the challenges of travel by land, water and air, mankind has not succeeded in making more than a good beginning in the exploration of outer space, referred to as 'the last frontier' in the fictional fantasy of yesteryear 'Star Trek'.
Travelling gives us the opportunity to disconnect from the compulsions of daily life, a chance, as it were, to get away from it all. What is more, upon return, one realises the value of what one had left behind. It has been said that you never know the value of what you have, until you lose it. Travel is also a wonderful way of relaxing and recharging one's batteries so that one can come back invigorated, to the daily routine. Being dropped into a new environment engages a dormant part of your mind and gets those synapses firing again.
The interaction with different cultures, diverse traditions and distinctive lifestyles also serves to broaden one's mind and allows one's authentic self to surface. What is more, the exposure broadens the vistas of one's knowledge and widens the perspective. In a manner of speaking, it kicks you out of the comfort zone and forces you, for better or worse, to try new things! It is like acquiring a new set of mental filters, and being ready to take on the next big project or challenge. "The more you know", as the saying goes, "the more you know how little you know!"
The importance of travel in adding to the roundness of one's personality, as a result of the journey one makes into new worlds one has not earlier been exposed to, recognized in many ways. In ancient times. For instance, kings and princes took to what was called 'Desatana', not only as a measure of understanding the mood of the people and the conditions in which they lived, but also to broaden the horizons of their outlook.
In a similar manner, IAS officers are taken on 'Bharat Darshan'. The incorporation, in the mid-service training of IAS officers, of a capsule involving foreign travel, serves a similar purpose, an experience no less valuable for coming at a late stage in service.
I, myself, have found that extensive travel has added to my ability to develop a cosmopolitan approach to food, clothing, hobbies etc. According to the great travel writer Pico Iyer, "Travel is not really about leaving our homes, but leaving our habits." In addition, I have found that I feel liberated from the inevitable sense of ennui that one experiences sometimes, the feeling of being stuck with what one is doing and wondering what the purpose of life is all about.
The exposure to different places, people and ways of life a great solution for resolving the dilemmas which the youth would usually face, when having to decide on their educational paths, professional careers or their lives in general. And it can be a surprising and rejuvenating solution. Which is probably why Mark Twain advised people to 'explore, dream and discover'.
Immanuel Kant never so much as left his village. Still, he wrote with a depth on political philosophy which only the widest exposure could have provided. Similarly, William Shakespeare was never known to have travelled much. Still his plays display a knowledge of life that even the most extensive travel cannot provide. He wrote, for instance, about a biscuit becoming crisp on account of exposure to salt air – an experience only travel could have provided!
Travel can, very often, have the effect of dispelling illusions about one's quality of life, either personal or professional. It is all a question of the benchmark against which comparisons are made. In my service, for instance, I always found that comparison with one neighbouring state provided a feeling of satisfaction, if not pride. On the other hand, a similar exercise with another neighbour caused disappointment, if not frustration. It would be labouring the obvious to state that, either in terms of personal health, professional satisfaction, or economic status, one can experience a similar feeling of elation, or sorrow, depending on the benchmark chosen.
A hard day at work suddenly doesn't seem so bad when you see people in developing countries toiling in sun-scorched fields from morning to dark, or begging for a drink of water seeing different social classes creates compassion and really makes you feel more blessed and content. Large portions of the world's population, for instance have to deal with daily threats such as hunger, disease, and landmines.
Until you visit a place, and form your own opinions, your understanding only comes from what you were taught in school, read in books, or newspapers, or came across on the electronic or social media, which may or may not be the complete truth. It is almost as though one has pressed into service a kind of life reboot! "To travel is to take a journey into yourself" – said the legendary Hollywood crooner and comedian of yesteryear, Danny Kaye.
(The writer is former Chief Secretary, Government of Andhra Pradesh)