Just like that, six months of this year are over. I laugh at the ease with which time flows, and we flow into it, thinking it lasts. Last year, at this time, I was super excited about my friend’s arrival from Ireland. The countdown had begun, and it was all I could think of. This year, I am excited about other journeys.
On Friday, I went to the passport office for the renewal of my passport. Going there brought back old memories. I had applied for my first passport in 2003, and the process then was nowhere as simple as it is now. I remember being anxious – I had to leave for China soon – and my passport application status kept saying, “Pending police verification.” Like they were waiting for me to commit a criminal deed. Then, it was known that you had to grease a few palms to get your passport. I didn’t want to do that. Eventually, a call to my cousin’s uncle who was a bigwig in the Indian Police System worked. The police came profusely sweating at the delay and telling me that my file had merely been misplaced. Ha!
A few days later, my first passport arrived.
It would see China as the first stamp before going on to Hong Kong, Macau, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia (many times), China again, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, a rather stern stamp from Singapore that detained us because we had no valid visa (A story I will tell you in person), Indonesia, Cambodia, and more. It didn’t last long, the slim 30-pages booklet, before I had to apply for another one.
The new one in 2009 started with the US – that most coveted stamp – and would then go on to the UK, Malaysia (Why do I keep visiting this country!), Laos, Japan, UK, Scotland, China again, Burma, the Philippines, Taiwan, South Korea, Nepal, Turkey, Maldives, UAE, Jordan, Singapore…I don’t know…I haven’t kept track, I realized.
I had applied for a 60-page booklet then. I was optimistic. There are still pages left from that, though. Now, when I applied for my third passport, the woman at the final counter whose only job, it seems, is to cancel the existing passport took a long look at my passport. Then at me. Then again at the passport. I knew what was coming. It’s a look I get at immigration counters everywhere. They scan the passport, look at me, look at the photo on my passport and then back again. “Shorter hair,” I respond when they look quizzical.
But from 2003, it’s been more than a journey from long hair to short hair. It’s been a journey. A homecoming of sorts where I still don’t know what is home. I don’t mean the physical home. I have had journeys where I have gone to strangers who seem like home and become beautiful relationships. I have had journeys where home felt like a cup of tea by the window while the sun streamed in. I have had journeys where home felt like watching the insides of my mind swirl and swirl, its gorgeous colors bathed in the chaos and serenity of my life. I have traveled on a road that never went anywhere – that road inside our self.
I have traveled with family, friends, boyfriends, colleagues, and strangers. And also, by myself. I discovered the joys of traveling solo – how it enriches our inner self. I have no stamps to record those journeys in my mind. But my soul is often lit up by memories. Memories of trudging endlessly on a little cycle to Kuangsi Waterfalls in Luang Prabang. Memories of sipping mulberry shakes. Memories of dancing in Taiwan with one of my dearest soulmates. Memories of running in Chicago. Memories of sharing tea with strangers on an island in the Philippines. Memories of conversations that linger in Shanghai. Memories of a hug in London. Memories of laughing with my Dad and Mom in Dubai. Memories of a road trip in Memphis with an ex. Memories of strangers who help you on to a train. Memories of watching alone the Kanchenjunga lit up by the morning sun. Memories of snow, rain, sun, wind, and sea, mountains, salt, and earth. Memories of bustling cities and vast landscapes.
I realize that if my life were to end tomorrow, I have already led a rich life. You don’t have to travel to make memories. You don’t need a passport to make memories. Not in the way you think. But you need to travel beyond the narrow confines of your mind – expand its infinite possibilities – and keep your soul as the passport. Check the stamps there. How rich is it? Are there stamps only by a few? And even if few, are those stamps rich and gorgeous? Are you stopping yourself from traveling further on that soul’s road? Are you even thinking about that journey?
Thank you for writing to me with your thoughts – I will respond to all of you who stay in other countries, but close in my mind, soon.