By Palanisamy Vijayanand
I came to realize that I traveled best when I traveled no faster than a dog could trot - Gardner McKay, Journey Without a Map
That evening we were headed for Amalapuram in the Konaseema Delta. The mind willed it to be faster, so that we could join our colleagues for an early dinner. The machine had other ideas. The car journey at sunset, on the rain-battered rickety road, which ran alongside the long-winding canal, was at once perilous and picturesque. The self-assured musings among the compagnons de voyage was our way of distracting ourselves from the road-hazards which lay ahead – our way of whistling in the dark to keep our spirits up. We’ve traveled and taught for well over a year. We’ve come from the same beginning. We’ve seen the same sights along the way. That rainy evening, on the road to Amalapuram, we were trotting along, but as the pace and rhythm of the trot prompted us to reach for our inward frontiers we were traveling best. There was this little something that lingered in the recesses of our mind that had kept us going in this past year. Just when we thought that we had done our best, there was always more we could do and never enough time to do it. Such enthusiasm among friends invariably permeates the air and stimulates; it also overwhelms.
There was never a sharp distinction between work and play with Traveling Pain School. Getting off the train at Rajahmundry earlier in the day, in our bid to explore, we booked the boat ride that takes one along the serpentine bends and twists of the river Godavari. There was a formidable sense of power on boarding the newfangled outboard-motor speedboat at Pattiseema; as if we could solve world hunger or topple foreign governments with its spare horse-power. The Eastern Ghats through which Godavari pierces and flows in twists and turns had everything going for it – rich flora and fauna, thick rain forests, small waterfalls, beautiful water streams… The lunch stop of this rabbit hole of a trip to Papi Kondalu, the scenic gorge where Godavari is at its narrowest, was at Kolluru – the site of the beautifully lined up, picture-postcard bamboo huts. Just as the bamboo huts so were the chicken, carefully lined up inside the bamboo stem and cooked over a coal fire – our lunch. One could travel for decades, such as Marco Polo’s rambling in China or Ibn Battuta’s hitch-hiking in the Islamic world. Alternatively, one could have a day trip up-and-down the Godavari and yet have a rich experience. The vividness of experience seldom depends on the duration of travel.
Amalapuram had held a deeply felt resonance with us. The resplendent Godavari, the lush paddy fields, the gently swaying coconut groves dotted along the waterfront, the fresh catch of succulent prawns – all lingered in our consciousness like the white elephant. Only we’ve been Canute-like in our determination not to get carried away by the thought of all that, and of course, the warmest of welcomes. It was like telling someone not to think about a white pachyderm. We were constantly attentive to what we were deflecting as much as what we paid attention to. There was a reason. The charm of our travels, which comes with a bit of sadness too, is in the ephemeral nature of our visits, that we might not come along this path again. Just as the bumpy road to Amalapuram was beginning to exhaust us, we reminded ourselves of the pure reasons why we have played this game: enjoyment, camaraderie and enjoying each other’s success. We have yielded to nobody when it came to delivering the teaching. It gave us the sublime feeling that whatever we knew had a possibility of being transmitted and shared. That evening, we also yielded to nobody after turning left at Ravulapalem off the Asian Highway Network 45 to reach our destination.
The invitation – extended in a moment of unadjusted spontaneity – to travel and teach, came from a man who had hitherto steered the wheel of pain education with unrelenting spirit and conviction. When he is the President of Indian Society for Study of Pain, and also our mentor, it didn’t take more than a couple of minutes for us to accept it. Sometimes our travel has been as simple as driving down a few kilometres and sometimes it has been a two day journey, but regardless, the reward was the same. If there was an endless dance between idea and execution, it was due to our own anxiety to execute it well. The brief inaugural ceremony was rich with wonderfully warm and funny vignettes; and entertaining tales told with a precision bordering on haiku. We envied the ease with which the delegates, two hundred of them, were gathered in what is yet our largest audience. The well researched talks were in harmonious complementarity with the discussions generated by the participants. Those myriad inter-disciplinary inputs from the participants, which explored the darkest nooks and furthest fringes, illuminated the intricate web that is pain. We were left with sufficient time in the evening to discuss and fine tune our plans for the launch of the nationwide under-graduate pain education programme, and the celebrations of the tenth year of Indian Society for Study of Pain in Andhra Pradesh.
‘If you march your Winter Journeys you will have your reward,’ wrote Cherry-Garrard in The Worst Journey in the World, ‘so long as all you want is a penguin’s egg.’ The only survivor of Scott’s last journey to the South Pole was writing about the passion to follow a dream against insurmountable difficulties and apathy. Fortunately for us, in our journeys, neither there was apathy nor were the difficulties insurmountable. And, we only knew too well, that passion may be both that which drives us forward, and that which we must endure. Our own ‘penguin’s egg,’ was a gift bag of juicy, hand-picked oranges from the orchard of a friend who was catching up with us after quite some time. At a personal level, there was an answer to my existential crisis. The kind a man faces when he is of a certain vintage. Not that one has any control ever, but is it acceptable to go grey and bald at the top? ‘It is one or the other, but not both,’ a friendly senior colleague, who in the recent past held the highest office with Indian Society of Anaesthesiologists, chipped in. It’s hard not to feel attached to people once you’ve been allowed into their lives. We said our good-byes, took one long look at the town, and left Amalapuram with one less existential crisis and few more friendships.
(Event supported by a grant from Modi-Mundipharma & Sparsha Pharma)