At 17, a few days after saying ‘so long’ to my junior year of high school, I found myself desperately looking for friends in a Mumbai bookstore.
You see, promptly after touching-down in India I had concluded that if I intended to contemplate something other than my blonde hair, it would have to be through the distractions of some paper friends. The search time was limited, thanks to an onward flight, so the pressure was on. Perspiration brimmed my forehead/underarms/gap between toes; a sweaty combination of June temperatures in Mumbai and my frantic hunger for books.
As I scanned my options of companions — limited to those who could communicate in English — I tried to meticulously create a balanced circle. Aka, attempting to leave out that irritating girl unfailingly makes her way into every group. Feeling like a general picking out his soldiers, I discarded those I deemed to be too mundane or weak. After all, these characters were to be my army; assisting me against the inevitable challenges that tend to arise when a solo, blonde, 17-year old decides to relocate to Ahmedabad.
Without a doubt they all fulfilled their duties, but I only explicitly remember one book from that period. Albeit I do have it’s name permanently tattooed on my body.
I can’t recall how many times I read “On The Road” that summer, in the same way that I can’t exactly be sure of how many copies I have picked up and passed on through my subsequent travels. Back then — with limited access to the world outside my immediate surroundings — Sal and Dean became my most trusted comrades. On those days when I just needed someone to sit with me, they were there — recounting stories of adventures, heartbreaks, fights, and really good jazz — across America and Mexico. Our world’s intertwined around the basic fact that we all had an illness. The innate need to permanently be on the move. Irony intended. This lifestyle marched on, despite the difficulties others had in comprehending such a sickness.
We were the crazies.
Critics of his work like to point out the fact that loving his books has become a benchmark of hipster cliche. Despite my used copies of Nietzsche, Ray-ban glasses, and occasional pack of American Spirits, I am the farthest thing from a hipster. Yet Jack —along with Allen, William, and the rest of the beats — continue to be preferred genre. Outcasts of an entire generation, Jack and his crew embraced the modern ideas of backpacking and road-trips and casual sex and too much whisky, too much love, too much of everything, go.go.go. They stopped at nothing to sculpt their lives exactly as they wanted, regardless of the push-back from the rest of the 50’s.
Years after the first read (well only 4 years but let’s pretend I’m old) I have allied with other members of the tribe. Real homo sapien friends (!!!!!!) who share the insatiable itch to roam. On those days when my family and friends continue to ponder what I am “constantly running away from”, I take solace in other nomadic souls who consistently remind me that travel is not always a ‘running away’ response, but also can be a ‘running towards’ action.
That summer in India, I didn’t know anyone like me. Hell, I didn’t even know myself. Lying in bed, dressed in a nine-yard sari, more jewelry than my body mass, and a cup of chai in both hands, I would wonder how I got here. Surely it was a bad joke? To leave all my homegurlz doing all their gurlz things, to leave my car/dog/family/FRO-YO, and land straight-bang in monsoon season in a notoriously difficult country for female travelers. I was mad.
“The only people for me are the mad ones….”, he wrote.
“WHEN ARE YOU COMING HOME?” they Facebook message me.
“I am home,” I reply.
“No you aren’t. You can’t do this forever.”
But Jack understands, and for that I will forever be indebted.
Image shot by Robert Frank