Saturday, 9 November 2013

The Outlander

Written by: Prachi Shrivastava

I am a city-girl. I was born and raised in a metropolitan. My family is city-bred, my tastes are city-bred and city-bred have been the boys I have loved. My life has been about floating from art gallery openings to trade fairs and the drama theatre, sampling global cuisines within a radius of 20km from my home, prancing about in high-heeled boots around streetlamps, and get-togethers with family and friends in family homes that are meant to be lived in for a lifetime. I have planned quite a few of those get-togethers months in advance because I knew with surety that nobody from the invitee-list is going anywhere!

I have dated in coffee shops, movie theatres, malls and city-centres. With luck sometimes on my side my date wouldn’t be the videogame-obsessed type and would instead pick up and play the guitar in that coffee shop we’d gone to. A bit more on the streak of luck would buy me a drive to some star-studded destination not more than an hour out of town, after that expensive dinner he took me out to on one of our anniversaries.

A never-ending propensity to talk about books, a suave sense of humour, discourse-worthy knowledge of eat-outs and wine and an impeccable taste in shoes were enough to get my stomach-butterflies up and fluttering. A cushy job and an aptitude to decorate his posh apartment well, and voila! I’d ask nothing more of this focussed and reliable yet colourful boy!

Then I took a plane to the beach and then a bus to the mountains, and then a month later a train to the desert, and then another bus, and soon I was buying and making plans to buy more tickets out of the city I live in. My feet started itching most of the time. I started travelling. More than before. Much more. On my own.

And on these travels, again and again, I met a certain kind of boy – the kind who opened my eyes so wide, I haven’t been able to shut them ever since.

This boy is not just one boy but a whole brotherhood, actually. It stands for a personality type.

This boy came in long shorts or Khakis and muscle tees or sweatshirts that looked like second skin – worn over and over again, without a change for days, on countless trips. A band of some sort usually adorned his wrists and a camera-bag or a Jhola embroidered with cross-stitch, was usually flung around his neck. I’ll call him the Outlander – naming him after one of my favourite books where girl meets boy, adventure and romance after time-travel.

The colour of the sturdy ankle boots of one Outlander matches another Outlander’s because they are all muddied brown. An Outlander has great hair, soft and glowing skin and a body in great shape – albeit without an ammunition of hair and skin products and gym memberships. His routine itself serves as both his gym and his spa. An Outlander could be fair-skinned or dark, blonde, brunette or a red-head, rugged or clean-shaven (though mostly rugged!) but he is almost never seen without a tiny notebook and a pen, or a Lonely Planet guide, a book of maps, or a Nikon, a drawing book and charcoal pencils, a joint or a pipe and a faraway look in his eyes.

I initially mistook the dope for the force behind the faraway, zoned out look in his eyes – now I know better. The Outlander – always ready to venture beyond the end of the world – is looking to quench another kind of thirst.

“I want to do something different in life,” I told an Outlander one day and with a knowing smirk he said: “Why not do the same thing again and again, differently each time?” “My nails are dirty and my throat is dry as a desert,” I declared standing in the midst of knee-high snow, to another Outlander one day. He scraped it from right around my knees into a bottle, warmed it under his thigh, and made me drink the melted snow. That divine thirst-quenching sip knocked away my doubts about sanitisation and stomach infections.

Flexing his feet to stand on tip-toe above the rest of us so that he can catch a better view of everything, running in the direction where the air breathes lighter, and recklessly barging in uninvited, right into the cellar where lies the object of his desire – the Outlander has repeatedly knocked away my assumptions and pre-conditioning about life, and continues to do so.

When I met him in the mountains, I secretly tried to compete with him in speed, climbing up trails that were easy to fall from. I didn’t win, but in my zeal to out-climb him I learnt how to quickly get over the pain from my shoes pinching my toes continuously for miles. Together we dipped our feet in ice-melted streams, slept two feet below a million stars from where we could raise our palms and touch the moon, pulled out herbs and figs to use in authentic mountain cooking, drunk tea in the morning mist, shared Chillam, he taught me how to light a fire out of damp firewood in a windy cave, how to come back on track when lost in the mountains, and promised me Tibet, treks, Kilimanjaro, the moon…

When I met him on the beach, his skin was sun-kissed and bathed in the sodium of the seas, and the salty wind was entangling my loose-worn hair into sea-wave like ringlets. Courtesy him, I learnt to fish a lobster out of the sea and make a meal out of just it and some salt, no army of spice available to enhance its natural flavours. Mixed with the juices of the Outlander’s fingers that fed it to me, that lobster was the tastiest lobster I have had to date. Together we sat gazing beyond the infinity of the sea into a purple and orange magical sunset, until it turned silver and disbursed into tiny diamonds studding the moonless sky. Together we silently mourned the death of a beautiful Olive Ridley turtle. “One day, we’ll settle forever in that coco hut over there,” he said pointing ahead on the beach, and I agreed – because really, what more is there to life?

When I met him on the canopy of a fort, the Outlander was bent for 45 minutes over his Nikon on a tripod, his brow furrowed, before he noticed my presence. When he looked at me, I recognised the trippiness in the pupils of his eyes as matching my own – we were both kicked at devouring the view from the top, of the golden city outstretched before us. Together we sat in silent meditation for an eternity, the cold stone beneath us, the soothing golden sunrays warming our souls, time coming to a standstill. Then he broke the silence and gave me an animated history lesson on museums and the Louvre, block printing and folk dances, Dal Baati Churma and chilli Pakodas, and I sat there relishing less of what he told me and more of how he recited it all to me. I relished his delectable drive to know and be a part of an era that existed much before him!

His trekking boots, his Lonely Planet guide, his maps, his ponytails, his multiple braids, his marker, his wrist bands, his headbands, his fishing net, his camper van, his Nikon, his lenses, his canvas, his biker goggles, what he likes to call his motorcycle and not his bike, his backpack, his adventure sports, his never-ending road trips and never flinching energy and determination, his perennial youth, his injury scraped legs, his world beyond worlds.

The Outlander has chosen freedom, and when he chooses me I know I am freedom! Boy, does it feel empowered to become freedom!

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