When I was growing up in India, 'foreign' or 'phoren' as it was known as where I grew up, was a noun. It was a place. Even movies used 'phoren' whenever they wanted to refer to any place outside India. Remember the scene in Hum Aapke Hain Koun where Mohnish Behl comes running to Alok Nath and reports that "foreign se abhi abhi fax aaya hai"? Like seriously? You can't say the name of the city or even the country? You're holding the frickin' faxed document in your hand. It really says 'From: Foreign'? Anyway, my point is that this is how it was. Unlike today, back then, phoren for me was this very faraway impossible-to-get-to place with awesome clothes and yummy chocolates where the cool people of the world lived.
I used to have close brushes with phoren during some of my summer vacations when my mom's sister would fly down from London with suitcases full of clothes, toys and chocolates for everyone in the khandaan. And to me, that was the real phoren. London. Over the next few years, under the influence of Bollywood and more Bollywood, New York and Paris also got added to the phoren list and this trio was what defined phoren for me. And I dreamt that maybe, just maybe, some day I'd travel to these three places. Or maybe just two of 'em. Or one perhaps?
But things changed. 16 years ago, I got the scholarship to come to Singapore and it became my base, my home. And I could go anywhere I wanted. So I did. I checked off London from my list in 2003 (I'd been working for a year and saving up for it), New York in 2006 and finally last month, I went to Paris. After I'd climbed up the 704 steps up the Eiffel Tower and paused to take a breather, I looked at the view, speechless. And the little girl in me only had one thought - I've done it. I've been to phoren.
And now with that kiddy-bucket-list-item out of the way, big fancy cities don't hold much of a charm for me anymore. I'd like to explore the nooks and crannies of the world. Though my dad's job took us through a lot of places in India, there is so much unexplored territory there too. Like the northeast.
So yeah, now the big dream is to really see the world. But the sad truth is that seeing the world can be expensive. Viv and I generally live a very simple life, but the one thing we do set aside money for every year is a good holiday. It's a little more difficult now with Xena, but we have been managing and hopefully can continue. I find that nothing opens up the mind like travelling. There is so much beauty to marvel at, so many people to meet, so many unknown things to discover about ourselves, so many journeys to experience, and so many experiences to live.
And it is humbling to see what a tiny speck we are in the grand scheme of things.
Every time we travel, we meet so many elderly couples who have retired and their children have moved away and now they just travel the world. And Viv and I look at each other and think, some day that might be us. Hopefully. Life is so unpredictable that sometimes planning anything seems silly and futile, but hope is what the world runs on.
In the words of RL Stevenson - There is no foreign land; it is the traveller only that is foreign.