The romance of the road trip is alive and kicking
Yes, I know that everyone who has seen Piku has been giggling about the constipation trope and raving about how wonderful the cast was: Amitabh Bachchan playing the hypochondriac crochety old father to perfection; Deepika Padukone bringing the bad-tempered but essentially tender-hearted and devoted daughter alive on screen; with Irfan Khan bringing up the rear with his customary understated brilliance.
But for me, the most memorable part of the movie was the road trip. As all the lead characters piled into a car, their luggage strapped above (with Bachchan’s ‘toilet chair’ taking pride of place on top), and drove down Grand Trunk Road to make their way from Delhi to Calcutta, the scenes took me right back to my own childhood. Come the summer, and the Goswamis would set off to visit extended family in Agra and Delhi. And that’s exactly the route our two-car convoy always took.
Of course, we had a rather more leisurely approach to the whole road trip thing. We would stop by for lunch at a scenic spot, walking along verdant fields to stretch legs that were getting cramped sitting for long hours in the back seat of an Ambassador. We would halt for evening tea at shacks that sold the most amazing samosas, pakoras, or any other deep-fried delight. Night stays were meticulously planned at the bigger cities along the route so that we could spend the night in a comfortable room, and use a somewhat clean loo before setting out again.
In a way, the journey was almost as important as the destination. I would spend days agonizing on which books to pack, stock up on my Amar Chitra Katha comics, and take a pocket transistor along for the times when it would be too dark to read. But as it turned out, boredom was the last thing I should have feared. Head pillowed on my favourite cushion, I would spend hours just gazing out of the window as the world rushed by in a pleasant whirl of colours, sights, sounds and smells, taking in every detail until it felt that my head would explode with sensory overload.
If we were stuck in traffic we played silly games to while away the time. If nobody had the patience to play with me – and all too often they didn’t – as the youngest in the family I had infinite inner resources to cope with it. I would retreat into my private dream world, spinning tales of castles and princesses and fairies in my own head to entertain myself, inventing tales of derring-do in which I was invariably the heroine who saved the day.
Of course, there were times when tempers frayed, arguments broke out, sharp words were exchanged. Everyone took turns to sulk, to throw the odd tantrum, or even to have a complete meltdown (this was the height of summer after all, and things had a way of getting heated up very fast).
But nobody ever uttered those fateful words: “Are we there yet?” Because we all knew, without anyone saying so expressly, that we were, in fact, already there. The holiday had begun the moment we accelerated down the driveway, where it went from there was only a technicality. And often, after the romance of the road trip – with its unexpected encounters, the occasional breakdown, not to mention family sing-alongs – the actual ‘holiday’ itself felt rather tame and uneventful by comparison.
It makes sense then, that a road trip is often seen as a metaphor for our journey through life itself. We start off as relative innocents, being tutored in life lessons by all that we encounter along the way. And we finish the trip infinitely wiser than when we started out. Perhaps that is why so many coming-of-age movies rely on the road trip as a plot device, a journey in which the central characters confront some central facts of life, and grow up in the process.
Zoya Akhtar, for instance, has made the road trip a sort of leitmotif of her work. In Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, three male friends head out on a road trip, driving through Spain, and rediscovering each other and their friendship. In her new release, Dil Dhadakne Do, a cruise along the Mediterranean takes the place of the road trip. The Mehras from Delhi go on a cruise with family and friends to celebrate their 30th anniversary, but end up re-examining their lives – and life choices – instead.
I have to admit that none of the road trips I’ve taken have been half as eventful. But nonetheless, I have no hesitation in recommending that you hit the road with your loved ones the next time you have some time off. There’s nothing quite like being stuck in close quarters in a car to stimulate discussion or even spark off meaningful conversations. And there’s nothing like talking to one another to bring a family (and friends) closer together.
Just be sure to lay down one ground rule. No smartphone usage allowed, unless it is to take a picture of a particularly beautiful vista (or a spectacularly silly selfie). No Facebook, no Twitter, no Instagram, no Pinterest; just interest in what the other person is saying or feeling. Remember, it’s only when you take the media out of social media that you can truly be social.