In a world that is steadily changing, Deepa Bhasthi explores the ideas of travel and how it changes the perceptions that eventually led to revolutions. How it happened during the times of Che Guevara, and how it happens today …
Something happened the other day. At the crack of dawn, my favourite friend and I willed ourselves to go for a walk; we were 2500 kms from home. Folding into ourselves because it was very cold, we told each other that the mountain air would do us good. A few paces in, across a cliff that opened to our left, the very first ray of the day’s sun fell on the very tip of the Kanchenjunga. I remember both of us gasping, like in some well-rehearsed play, right on cue, in unison. We swore because we didn’t have any poetry to react to the way, first, a pale orange, then a deeper saffron light was spilling over from the peak, spreading then to the neighboring snow caps in the same mountain range. It overwhelms you, that’s what a mountain does. That is what travel does. It prepares you for revolution, prepares you for a lifetime of knowing that there is the steadiness of the mountains to ground you, to make you humble. That there is something greater out there. That you are human, alive, capable of change.
“A revolution without guns? It would never work, Mial,” Fuser tells his friend, leaning against a wall built by the Incas in Machu Pichu. He was to become Che in a few years’ time, the most important revolutionary of those times, a cruel killer, and an enduring pop icon. One man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter. And all that.
It was a ritual once that you travel, fend for yourself, be on your own to graduate into manhood. The open road, those quiet mountains in the distance, valleys and journeys make you an adult, even if you don’t ask for it. Somewhat vicariously, I saw the picture postcard-prettiness of Latin America of the 1950’s yesterday, re-watching The Motorcycle Diaries, an old favourite. Is it a good movie? Is it a cult movie? We had had this debate a week ago, two friends and I, in a distant land. It wasn’t particularly a well-made movie (the book is worse). Sure, the scenes look like postcards you might pick up in the hotel souvenir counter. But, we concluded, what makes the movie so famous is the cult, the image of Che Guevara, the handsome boy who became a firebrand revolutionary. For me, it was also because a favourite professor had included it in Film Studies class and given me the DVD to keep as a going away present after university.
We all like our bad boys, don’t we?
Some smart designer put the face of Che Guevara –photographer Alberto Korda’s shot, among the most recreated in the world – on a bikini. It is an image that buried its creator into oblivion and became more than the man it represented. Someone I know gave me a keyring with that image on it once, a beautiful, expensive, glossy looking piece it was. The Che of all those romanticised stories of the David who took on the Goliath capitalism of the US would have been appalled, surely. That is what we best seem to do. Take someone important and reduce to candyfloss and butter popcorn all that their convictions stood for. Yeah we do that well, in this world now.
But then, I was half convinced to believe recently, a revolution will come. It is nearing that time when things and economies come to a head. The tipping point, sometime in our lifetime, will come, we ought to believe. Isn’t belief and hope all that we have? More of the multi-billion dollar chains will enter this country now, we have a PM who loves those kind of things. In a cycle stand, give the first one a gentle push, the rest of the dominoes will fall, one by one. Give the liberals a small bite to chew on, very soon, the cascading failure of their convictions will make sure they all fall, one by one, into line. A magazine ran a feature sometime ago on how hot the new PM is, like a wildman with that beard of his. I laughed. And then stopped. A school of thought must have been similarly amused by the hotness of Che, many decades ago. Perceptions and different realities we live with. Will the capitalists win again? It looks so. But you have to believe that will not be so, not in the long run at least. You have to, because hope is all you have.
Something is happening, most times, quietly. There is something brewing. There is a rejection of old money models, out with the old, in with the new. Feels good to see that, it isn’t always a bad, bad world that we live in as adults. There are many worlds, different worlds for different people. Let’s not talk about that just yet. Just that it is a fragile world, one that, like a love relationship, needs working upon every day, a full time job.
In this fragile world, travel we must. Just like Che did. Just like the journeys that changed Siddhartha into the Buddha. It would be nice to take the open road ever so often and see the mountains and the sun’s rays upon them. If not those, there are other journeys, not in the least within, but also to the local grocer’s, the butcher by the corner stall, the tea shack that is not well lit, the neighborhood market day, trips to localisms. Revolutions are made not by guns alone.
Over a discussion on globalised world’s recently, there emerged an idea of how we vote best with the currency notes in our hands. That’s where the real democracy is, in this largest democracy in the world and elsewhere. With that note, you choose who gets to lord over you, the consumer. That note, the way you spend, that walk to the many locals is where the tiny springs of revolution water from. For that you have to travel. The reasons, if you should need any: self-discoveries, realisations, mountains, or the seas, the peoples – unlike you, but not wholly different either.
Travel you must. Down the road is where the revolution is waiting for you.