The “Why I quit my job and began traveling” post

10 years ago, I quit the last regular paying job I had. I was working in a production house that cut Hindi film trailers and was one of the two main video editors working there. While the other guy handled the bulk of the trailer cutting for Hindi films, I was saddled with the responsibility of supervising the post production work of two daily entertainment shows that the production house had been doing. I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy editing videos. I loved it. Just the idea of making a coherent whole out of bits and pieces of footage fascinated me (and still fascinates me) and it didn’t matter what I was cutting, it could be a simple AV, a news piece or a trailer for a shitty Hindi film, it felt amazing.

I quit my job not because I hated it but because the environment around it had become too overbearing. There were too few of us doing too much work and work always meant you were in the office with your edit machine for days on end. Our loyalty was always taken for granted by the owner of the production house. All the crazy working hours meant that I was losing the few people I considered my friends, some of whom I lost permanently. In many years of working in the “industry”, the only people I met were the ones I worked with. There was no time for anyone else.

To add to this overworked, claustrophobic life, my salary stopped getting paid on time. Sometimes it would take weeks, sometimes months. My November salary was paid at the end of December and when I quit in the end of January, I hadn’t been paid for two months. 10 years later, I’m still waiting for my paycheck, money that I could have used back then and I could certainly use now. That’s the way the “industry” worked and everyone who worked in it understood it. I just wasn’t willing to put up with it anymore.

I certainly didn’t leave my job because I wished to travel. I had no idea what I was going to do. I was an inveterate cinephile and was hoping to catch up on all the obscure films that I had wanted to see. I also wanted to make films and I thought the time that freed up could be utilized in fleshing out some of the ideas I had at the time. Time could also come handy to finally commence reading the gazillion books that were (and still are) languishing unread in my home. I was also toying with the idea of joining another company where my talents as a video editor could be more effectively utilized.

So no, travel wasn’t even on the horizon. Cinephilia, bibliophilia, career, writing, films, these were my foremost concerns at the time. I didn’t even know people quit jobs and travelled because I had known nobody who had done that. The only trips outside Mumbai I had done up to that point were short weekend sojourns to Suratkal or the Konkan coast or to watch Roger Waters or Megadeth playing in Bangalore and I always went with friends. When I was a kid, the only travel my family ever did was to our village in Tamil Nadu or to Chennai or a pilgrimage to a temple where our relatives lived. So this particular hobby or passion or way of life or whatever you wish to call it wasn’t even in my subconscious.

Three things set off the spark that would lead to the most enduring occupation of my life. One, the jobless life became tiring very quickly. After years of having no time on my hands, I didn’t know what to do with such a lot of time. I didn’t end up doing any of the writing, reading, filming and socializing that I had fantasized I would do and after two honeymooning days of freedom, found myself sad and depressed and hollow and nervy. I felt like I had to do a lot of things but didn’t know what to prioritize and ended up doing nothing at all. I was also extremely worried about money because even after working for so many years, I didn’t have much of a bank balance. I had spent a lot of my money on CDs, DVDs and books and feared I would run out of money if I didn’t get another job soon.

Two, a few days into this insecure, ennuic period, I had a conversation with a friend about the number of places we had been to in our lives. She listed over 30 while I could hardly put together a dozen. While this was only a silly little game we played to kill time, I found it shocking, perhaps owing to the unstable state my mind was in at the time. I felt like if I didn’t remedy this soon, I would die having seen only a dozen places in my life. I stopped getting out of the house and went down deep, dark holes of the interwebs looking at all the places I hadn’t been to and filled my time imagining how life would be in these myriad different places. The more I read, the more I felt as if I had lived a wasted life. It made me antsier and more irritable because I wanted to get out and see these places but I feared I didn’t have the money to do it.

And finally, and this is perhaps the strangest (and silliest) bit, the actual trigger came in the form of a film that released in the February of 2009 called Dev D. There’s a scene towards the end of the film where Dev, the protagonist who’s a wasteful drunkard and an asshole, gets almost knocked over by a vehicle while he’s stumbling out of a bar in an inebriated state. He finds a new lease of life when he realises he needs to make amends before it gets too late. I loved films but never took what happened in them seriously enough to make real changes in my life. But that particular scene kept running through my head and I saw that film again and again and I thought if I didn’t get out and see whatever little of the world I could with the money I had, I would die living a wasted life working for people who never valued my work.

I had no plan and took things as they came but I thought I would travel for a couple of months, come back and find a proper job with a fresher mind. Not in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would still be doing this full-time over 10 years later in 2019. In these years, I have torn my ligaments, broken my bones, stayed in the dankest of hotels, slept in bus-stations and pavements, wrecked my digestive system plenty of times, had a surgery in a country few people know exists, got bitten by dogs, almost lost my life over half a dozen times etc. But I’ve also seen some truly magical landscapes, lived in some of the most beautiful places and met some incredible people, all of which has given me enough material to write about for the rest of this life-time and perhaps the next. So a big thank you to everyone I’ve met on the road who’s made this journey so worthwhile, to all my friends and family, to the handful of people who read this blog and to my lovely partners at mediamagi who’ve endured my eccentric ways for so long and so patiently. Cheers.

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The pros and cons of a traveling life

Although I tend to look at people who talk about the transformative nature of travel with a hint of cynicism, I feel like I’ve myself been transformed considerably by the freewheeling life I’ve been leading over the past several years. And I’m not sure if it’s always been a good thing.

The positive aspects are many – the repository of incidents, people, places, landscapes, experiences is so huge that I feel like I’ve lived many lives already and even if I don’t do a single thing from today, I’ll most likely not have any regrets. I’ve been writing vigorously over the past several days, poring over my notes, recounting and remembering people and events, feeling utterly nostalgic, about Ladakh, Vietnam, Laos, Nagaland, Darjeeling, Sri Lanka, Hampi and I feel enormously fortunate for having been able to travel so freely and for so long. There are bad days on the road, lonely, depressing days, but it’s never difficult to overcome them because with every new place, you surround yourself with new people and a new setting to refresh yourself. I’ve never been stuck for very long during my travels and if I have been in one place for too long, it’s only because I wanted to.

But having traveled for as long and as relentlessly as I have, it’s becoming more difficult with each journey to come back home. Nowadays, I just go into a shell when I’m in Mumbai or Chennai. While earlier, when I was working in Mumbai, I used to be enthusiastic to go hang out with friends, binge on movie marathons in Fort and Colaba, eat and drink out at every available opportunity, now it’s all about conserving money for the next trip because money is a necessity and the next trip can’t come soon enough. So life here is an oppressive kind of monotony where I feel like I’m the antagonist to the character that I am when I’m traveling. There’s also little that I find that I can connect to here and the distance and the effort it takes to commute around the city takes a toll on me that it doesn’t in other places. Even on those rare social interactions, a sort of listlessness or boredom takes over. Sometimes, it’s because I feel the pressure to live up to the “traveler” tag which means I’m supposed to come up with a funny story at the drop of a hat and other times, it’s the retread of the same conversation a group of us might have had innumerable times. There was a time I used to take pleasure in these things but it just doesn’t feel good enough anymore.

Travel, at least for me, has an exciting journalistic aspect to it. You ask a lot of questions, try to find out about new places, hear out new stories and points of view, take a lot of pictures and I’m sure that can be done at home as well. But along with people who live in a place, you mingle with many of the travelers passing through. I guess, even though I bitch about their ways very often, I miss those interactions with people who tell you where they’ve been, what they’ve been doing and the things they’ve seen while you tell them about yourself. There’s an openness, warmth and unpredictability to these conversations that I miss dearly when I’m back home. Long term travel is addictive because people like myself can never have enough of it and once you’re used to it, you feel like a very strange person in a static, workaday world when you’re back home.

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