I wish I were marooned on a balmy tropical island when this cataclysmic event befell us. But wishes are horses, and mine are stabled in a two-bedroom flat in a Bengaluru suburb.
In February, I was staring at a midsummer vacation and making furious plans, zig-zagging indecisively between the Seychelles, Kerala and Madhya Pradesh. I spent hours on Skyscanner, Tripadvisor and Airbnb. My wife and I redecorated the house in anticipation of the daughter’s homecoming from boarding school. We booked tickets to attend a slew of April weddings in the family, and planned out the whole summer, every long weekend and holiday pencilled into the calendar.
Suddenly, it looks like it’s going to be a long vacation from vacations.
WhatsApp groups are in overdrive dispensing advice on how to make the most of our confinement. These prescriptive conversations are driven by parents galvanised by the terror of having the children home early and, in all likelihood, indefinitely. It’s been only two weeks of isolation and we’re running out of ideas and patience. And, the time spent together, the quantity of which we usually have so little, is all we seem to have.
Work-from-home was supposed to make things easy, but the boundaries between work and life have blurred, and most alibis don’t sell (how many bathroom breaks can you take?). Sure, you miss the coffee machine and the pantry snacks. Having to prove you’re working takes the zing out of playing hooky. A friend confessed that he attends conference calls on mute and spends all day practising guitar. He only jumps in at the mention of his name, and picks up where he left off.
How many more days of this? If statistics and projections are anything to go by, it’s going to be a while. What if the travel lockdown lasts a year, maybe two?
Chin up, because who knew there could be so much blue in a March sky? The mornings reverberate with birdsong. And the wind speaks in rustles among the leaves of trees you barely noticed.
There’s no time like now for a virtual vacation. The family and I sat down this weekend to retribalise. We resolved to revisit our vacations, to share stories and memories.
In our household, this plan is quite convenient. I happen to be an obsessive photo-diarist, hoarding hard-disks filled with terabytes of photos and videos from the last 15 years. My Google Photos account is an archive of every family vacation, birthday party and evening walk, backed up in digital grey cells should my memory fail me in the future.
What helps is that my wife and I have different approaches to archiving memories. She tends to capture people and events, while I prefer places and moments, birds and wildlife. Together, we have quite an arsenal.
The daughter pitched in with a brilliant idea. She whined that she was too young on most of the vacations and wanted to know what she’d missed. That got us to relate the stories behind the pictures and videos. We started to dig deeper. Was there a souvenir in the house that we associated with a trip? Maybe a folk dance, or a song or movie? An earworm that refused to go away? Maybe, it was a book we were reading then, or unforgettable phrases from conversations with people we had met.
Out came more keepsakes that the wife has forever accused me of hoarding. Maps and ticket stubs and museum brochures. A small stash of fragrant frankincense from a souq in southern Oman. A strand of dry seaweed from a Maldivian beach. A deskside pencil from a haunted hotel in Ottawa. A fridge studded with magnets from everywhere we had not even been. Our home is a veritable scrapbook of travel memories.
I rummaged through my travel treasure chest and produced my coin collection. Currency notes, still smelling of foreign lands and foreign hands, enriched our stories. We laughed over how we had been millionaires for a week in Indonesia, rich with rupiahs.
And how could we forget food and drink? The bar cabinet has Singapore Sling, Seychelles Takamaka rum, Niagara Icewine, and Alpenbitter from Switzerland. On our grocery shelf, teas from Sri Lanka and coffee from Bali sit alongside pastes and mixes, spices and masalas from around the world. Dinner plans have become really exciting.
In the course of hectic brainstorming, we realised we had discovered the secret of time travel. It meant that we could go forward in time, too. We could travel to destinations we had always wanted to go. Virtual museum trips, imagined evening walks with Google Street View, and diving into Instagram feeds of marooned travel photographers who now have all the time in the world for post-processing.
This is going to be a vacation like no other.
Published in Indian Express Eye, April 6, 2020
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