Being Human in the event of a Pandemic

Human being is a social animal and needs company, interactions and conversations with others. This being of the biggest reason, even though I enjoy traveling solo, I love staying in hostels and meeting people.

On that bright Sunday morning, which was also the D-day of TabooDana’s Delhi Edition, I shared the breakfast table with a German, a Luxembourger and an Englishwoman. Since the spirit of the season is Corona, that also eventually became the topic of our discussion as well.

I got to know that these travelers experienced discrimination, panic stricken behavior from local vendors and plain passers by. They had been jokingly ragged as “you are walking corona virus”. As they wait to hear from their respective embassies and airlines for rescheduled travel advice, I could see growing discomfort on how they were being treated.

TabooDana In Delhi

With this in the background, as I prepped myself for TabooDana‘s listening circle, I got to know that there were 4 drop outs from the registered participants as they were feeling like having caught a flu. That being the case, with slightly dampened spirit, I set out to the event. In my mind, I was cursing the media for the over sensationalized news that has triggered this unnecessary panic.

Nevertheless, it turned out to be an interesting day.

Taboo Dana’s Delhi Edition and my second listening circle on Taboo (the first one being in Kolkatta) was graced by three people. The ones who braved the odds and the paranoia but stepped up to attend the event.

TabooDana Listening Circle
TabooDana at Kunzum Cafe, Delhi

I am in gratitude to them for the love and support. They

After a long day, I returned to my hostel accommodation. As I was resting in the common room, a lady co-hosteler joined me with a glass of tea and a cookie. We exchanged greetings and conversed.

My meeting with Coco
Coco and I

Conversation with Coco

  • I : “Where are you from?”
  • Coco : “I am from Italy”.
  • I : “It is a complete lock down in Italy.”
  • Coco : “I am here in India since January, much before the Corona Virus attack. I was traveling and was supposed to do a Vipassana Course in Jaipur, but they canceled my course. I am not welcome here anymore. I am going back tonight.”
  • I : “I am sorry to hear that and what you had to endure. But, if it makes you feel any better, let me sit next to you and get to know you.”

Coco smiles and her eyes fill up, dropping a tear. I offer to hold her hand and she gladly places her hand in my palm.

We continued our conversation and shared our respective stories of travel and what we have learnt and aspire to do, what we do at present etc. etc.I ended the conversation and exchanged numbers and gave her a hug.

My Two Cents

In all honesty, when media strikes panic in our minds, they really puncture every ounce of confidence, trust and faith in humanity. The consequences of hyped paranoia goes beyond education and precautionary measures.

For Coco, my Italian friend, the origin of her nationality became Taboo. She was no longer treated as a human being. Actually this human being doesn’t even have common flu

All things considered, is the excuse better safe than sorry enough for us lose our faith and our ability to be human?

Something I read which totally made sense

  • We need to wash not just hands
  • We need cleanse our thoughts
  • We need to elevate humanity
  • Before the virus is fought.

Supporting Solo Travelers

Solo Travelers are out there open to experience people and cultures. More often than not, travelers carry way experiences and memories than most living in mundane loops. My conversation and connection with the China Man is something I will cherish all through my life.

Overall, I very strongly feel that there is something we all can do.

There are a few ways I can think we can help or make a difference when we meet someone who might been be a victim of panic driven discrimination.

  • Have a conversation and listen to facts of that person’s journey
  • Offer condolence and consolation. Reach out.
  • Have conversations that can make the person feel better about themselves
  • Use some sense of humor that create an experience of laughter and happiness
  • Just be human. Balance and do the right thing to treat another accordingly

Let’s be kind, human and empathetic and reach out to make a connection that might just be for a lifetime.

The Toilet Saga: How not to use a toilet

Indians have a reputation, even from our own people, that we have a terrible toilet hygiene. Why is that the case? More so, when and where do we learn toilet hygiene?

For starters, it is largely from our homes and then we are conditioned at our educational institutions (from prep to PHD). The latter is usually the culprit for us for accepting poorly maintained toilet. As we grow and are employed in various organisations, this continues to be an issue. Admin teams across organisations at times fight a few losing battles, like the one to apply the best janitorial practices, train people, implement tools, and what not.

As I have been travelling solo and on a budget for a fairly long time now, I observed quite a few things and now I am pressed to call the masculine out there to be mindful of a few things. I would be mentioning about the other gender agnostic observations as well.

First and the foremost : The Toilet Seat

We as “men” have been trained to be in the fire rescue services and at times be Robinhood through our numerous “pee the farthest”, “straight in the hole”, “pee above this height” competitions. In other words, what might have been a matter of pride in those days, is just supremely uncool now.

However, during this backpacking journey of mine, I have came across situations where limited toilet options are available. Few are small ways we can be courteous to others.

  1. if a toilet seat is the only option available in a space, then use it to sit on it and pee comfortably. on the contrary, when you stand and pee, there are often droplets on that seat which isn’t cool and absolutely unhygienic. On masculine pledge I swear, sitting and peeing wont make to any less a man and definitely you wont fall down the drain.
  1. If a toilet seat is down, then PLEASE DO NOT pee over it. Please lift it gently to its position and resort to the die-hard penis pledge that every man is conditioned to follow because that is how a man is supposed to pee! Standing! I have had the misfortune of having to clean up for my use. Ideally if there is clean seat, sit on it and do the honors.

Second point to note : Spitting

  • Spitting Gum into the Urinal or even the wash basin. Absolutely uncool. Imagine somebody has to clean that up. Always spit the gum by wrapping it up in the dustbin. Be considerate to the ones who clean this.
  • Spitting Pan on the wall corners inside the bathroom. It is an ugly sight. Just to let you know most often people curse the ancestral genes of the person who would have done it. Therefore, it better not be you.

Other Vices

  • Smoking in the bathroom and leaving the butt in the toilet. This supremely uncool! Even the sight of a floating cigarette butt is disgusting. It makes anyone else going in there squirm in disgust, like they are inviting themselves into a gas chamber. I mean non-smokers and children alike. And if there is someone with an allergy, you are almost killing them and having them triggered.
  • Sex in the toilet is a great kink. Don’t leave a used condom in that toilet seat. See if there are other traces you can leave that motivate others to try it.
  • Leaving the toilet wet. Tip Tip Barsa Paani is a great song.  I still can’t get over Raveena Tandon in the song sequence. But it is a lousy sight when you enter a toilet wet and have water dripping. Try and leave it dry. And definitely turn off the tap tight. If it still doesn’t work, please let the space manager know about it. It would help save some water.

Toilet Saga : For My Dear Ladies

Menstruation is a blessing of fertility. When you do have to change sanitary pads, please don’t flush the used ones down the toilet seat. A blocked toilet is not a pretty sight and the quality of cuss worded song you accumulate when the reason is a sanitary pad, is definitely not grammy worthy. It would be very kind of you to take it back home and dispose responsibly.

Photo by Vanessa Ramirez

Toilet Saga : On A Serious Note

  1. Be the reason for not passing on urinary infection or any other diseases to other users.
  2. Be the reason for making it comfortable for any form human existence to use a convenience for their personal hygiene.
  3. Be the reason for the world to visit us without having to attend vipassana
  4. Be the reason for “Swach Bharat” to be a personal value than the photo ops cleaning up dry leaves and garbage.
  5. Be the reason for us men not earn the title of “Pig”

And The Disclaimer:

Any resemblance to anyone dead or alive, known to me or otherwise is purely uncoincidental. If this triggers you, then get your act cleaned up.Several animals were observed for their practices before writing this article.

And my Dakshina to the trolls

If you decide to troll on this post, I swear to you on my retort would be choicest words from god’s own country as we practice abuse as a praise to koduganllur bhagavati. Go find out more about Bharani Paatu. Just for general knowledge.

“Ni Hao”: Building bridges with a Chinese Man

When I started my journey, one of my biggest challenge was to overcome the difficulty to trust strangers. “Don’t talk to strangers” has it’s own local and regional flavours in our families and like most of us, I have grown conditioned on it. In new places, I have been warned of people who will put me in harms way and therefore to not drink water, to no eat anything a stranger would offer. The warnings are endless and the outcome is a castle of fear, which you spend more time trying to climb over.

The first destination on my solo travel was Aurangabad. As I climbed into the train and found my seat, I made acquaintance with a young researcher, Masters in law and currently working for the Justice Department. He was on an assignment to collect data on check bounce cases across India. We connected and talked and discussed quite a bit. Eventually deciding to accompany each other and explore Ajanta Caves together.

Introduction to Chinaman

We took a ‘Shivshakti’ bus (government bus service) to Aurangabad. The ongoing infrastructure constructions made the journey very difficult, both as an experience and for the time taken to reach the destination. As we set out to explore the caves, we noticed that the bus staff was trying to communicate with an elderly East Asian man about the time of return. Both of them were trying their best to communicate and comprehend, but the attempts were futile. Obviously, your’s truly volunteered to help.

Native Greeting-The rope of trust

Having visited china for 10 days on work, many years ago, I had picked up a few words and greetings. ‘Ni Hao’ is the Chinese greeting for ‘hello’. I had taken a note of his passport before greeting him. “NiHao” I said and he looked at me surprised. His face lit up like a neon bulb. Very greedily, he tried responding to me, and obviously, I had to disappoint him. All my knowledge of Chinese language ended at ‘Ni Hao’. I could not converse with him beyond the greeting.

Dumb Charades is great skill to build

Thanks to the dumb charades that I and my wife were damn good at, with careful choice of animated actions, I was able to get the message across to him. He knew no word of English and we didn’t know any Chinese. Even then he decided to tag along with Hussain and me for the rest of the journey. Now, I would like to you to visualise the conversation between me and this man because it was all via actions!

With our guide at Aurangabad, Hussain and Cheng. Our Start.

After a lot of effort, I was able to pronounce my name to him and he gladly shared his name as Cheng. We shook hands on it.Now, he officially showed me his passport so that I get his name right. Continuing in actions, I showed him how old I was, which was 40years and he shared his as 55. He we went ahead and used the calendar on his phone to show me his date of entry into India and his date of departure. I was amazed, he had been around for a month already.

India-China Bhai Bhai- My man Cheng

We spent a lot of time in each other’s company, which was an experiment in itself. We explored Ajanta Caves, had dinner together and also shared all the expense. He also asked me what I was paying for my stay. I told him that I was paying Rs.350 and he very emphatically responded that he is coming with me.

Trust Achievement

I introduced him at the hostel. He stayed the night there and we continued explore Ellora, Daulatabad Fort on the following day. He was set to leave for Bombay (mumbai) that night. He showed us his wallet to tell us that his Indian currency is exhausted and he needed help. He reached in his pocket to draw out a 100 dollars and gives it to me to help him with the exchange. I was honoured at the trust he had placed in me. That feeling in itself was something I will cherish all through my life. I negotiated on his behalf and got him a good deal. He left for Bombay after saying a warm bye to us.

On Day 2 at Ellora with Deb.

The learnings were significant on this first solo destination after attending the course with traveler’s university on “Transforming from Tourist to a Traveler”.

Here is this alien man who knew no word of English, travelling in India with just a translator app, trying everything non-native to him and placing trust in someone non native. This was my moment of understanding that the Universe takes care of everyone and everything in it, we just have to trust the Universe and have faith that that it is all going to be okay. The roads might not be as smooth as we want, but eventually each curve, each stone, each ditch and each high will be an experience adding to this journey.

Take Aways

My take away from the interactions and experiences with Cheng, Hussain were many. I have put together a few points for anyone who intends to start traveling solo.

  1. Start with the belief that you can survive
  2. Acknowledge other travelers, they are in the same boat as you are, with same anxieties and excitement.
  3. Learn the art of small talk with any stranger- Name-Place-Eat-Weather-Clothing-Music-Age. Use your identity card, and google translator wherever necessary
  4. Learn greeting of the land. Google helps here too
  5. Smile more often
  6. Share and give more to your fellow travelers
  7. Be in the interest of the others

Go Solo!