Why would four Indian women leave the comfort of home to bike 17,000 km across six countries over 56 days? In a stunning new memoir Road to Mekong, author Piya Bahadur recounts the journey and her motivation. An excerpt:
Taking in the full moon rising behind a ridge, I reminisced what had put me on this path. I realized that the most important event in this journey had occurred long before we left Hyderabad. It was the day I decided to be a part of this expedition and stopped making excuses for not wanting to go the whole distance. When I decided to no longer be limited by anything – be it societal norms, imagined duties and responsibilities, handicaps of age and fitness, circumstances of exam timings, fear of bad roads and foul weather, or, most insidiously, the fear of appearing to be a selfish wife and a negligent mother.
It dawned on me that it is indeed liberating to not have to tuck every square peg into a neat square hole of being efficient, reasonable, or convenient.
But really, why had I been thinking that I wasn’t up to it? Until Aditi [writer’s daughter] cut through the fog of doubt enveloping me, why had I burdened myself with so many imagined limitations?
We all make plans. Most of them crumble when they come up against the overwhelming question of ‘why’. It’s that imagined threshold on which we stumble first. We live lives of many distractions; being successful, or seeming to be successful, is one of them. And in this pursuit of success, illusory or real, one resorts to several tools, most notably the appearance of being busy and having multiple responsibilities that make oneself seem irreplaceable and indispensable.
There is a thriving body of self-help literature that professes to aid us in keeping up such appearances: ‘12 Steps on How to Make Yourself Indispensable to Your Organisation’, ‘5 Essentials of Being the Perfect Spouse/Parent/Friend/Colleague/Entrepreneur’, and so on. Down that road it becomes harder to extricate oneself from the pursuit of perfection.
To take time off from that seemingly real adult world is to risk being seen as forfeiting the game. But it is worthwhile to remind oneself that it is only just a game, a pretend game. A game of contriving a success story, one that each of us is expected to subscribe to regardless of ability or willingness.
The lucky ones escape from this prison of expectations, but most play along, sometimes because it is convenient, sometimes because one is too lazy to think up something different, and sometimes because they actually enjoy the rat race.
But sometimes one wants to step back for a bit. This dramatic journey through the mountains of Southeast Asia was me stepping back for a bit. ‘Hai tujhe bhi ijaazat, karle tu bhi mohabbat’ (‘You can also fall in love, you have always had the permission’)…
I wonder who we are waiting for. And for what? A permission? A stamped approval letter? How easily we forget that finding happiness lies in our own hands. Riding through the rain on windswept roads astride a powerful motorcycle pushes out every thought from your head except the reality of navigating the path, eyes scanning the horizon ahead.
This is when you realize that no further approval is needed. And that the buck stops right there, on the wet road, under the front wheel, and in the glint in your eyes.
Excerpted with permission from PAN Macmillan Publishing India. First published in eShe’s November 2019 issue