I woke this morning in a sleeping bag. Not in India – I haven’t left yet – but on my bed in my exchanged but uncompleted and now incomplete flat: stuff stored, shared out, given away; travel bags packed next to me – non-committal black, both of them.
Now, 11am, I’m sitting with a cappuccino and blueberry muffin in a coffee shop (handwritten brown card labels on everything, iPad for a till). It’s like I should be planning a start-up venture but instead I sit balanced in limbo: No work phone in my pocket, goodbyes all but done, yet the monsoons of India sit, untouchable over the threshold. From this quiet in the eye of the storm, I will share a few thoughts.
Opposites have attracted my attention of late. How, for example, doing something is often more relaxing than doing nothing; or how you feel like you have more time the busier you are (and how little you seem to be able to fit in when you are not working!). Also think how adversity often leads to advance or pain to clarity of thought. Minsky’s financial markets thesis anchors on the same point.
Choice too can be like this: too much and we are paralysed and so stay with the status quo but limit the choice and freedom often results. Similarly, my brother has often said that creativity thrives on limitation.
The last weeks’ goodbyes made me think again of this: the last chat before I leave has often caused relationships to open out not shut down: new conversations, new places, new warmth. Another recent example is that odd satisfaction of dispossessing yourself of your hard-acquired possessions. Mine have had to dramatically reduce to what will fit in the two black bags: a mixture of the intricately researched and the impulsively purchased, presents and things retooled from London life.
This packing has been complicated by a brief diversion to see friends in Africa on the way to India – luckily the climates are not totally dissimilar. Luckily too, I don’t find it hard to pack light. Aided by my considerate former colleagues who shaved off all 5 inches of my hair (for charity, they claim) on my last day at work I have no need for shampoo or conditioner. This has freed up space for a random selection of bike kit – a multi-tool, a compact pump, a gel seat cover, a map of India. Also, a puncture repair kit which felt sort of necessary.
Next, camping stuff (tent, bivvy bag, mosquito net, sleeping bag), a fire stone (size-to-weight the coolest thing I have), mess tin, water bag, Steripen and a head torch – all allowing me the freedom to stop where I drop; Also, a camera, dictaphone, and journal, to keep my memory fresh, and a tablet and phone (both trashed) for emergencies.
My adventurers hat is particularly natty, I’m sure you’ll agree, with some near-ruined sunglasses as the other ‘functional chic’ element of my wardrobe. Completing the picture I have a couple of sets of clothes and 5 pairs of boxers – many adventure blogs suggest 1 or 2 are enough but for now at least I intend to hold the civilised line. One pair is padded – I am told I will quickly learn their benefits though for now I remain sceptical! I also have a first aid bag, heavily over-indexing on Imodium, Diarylite and corrosively strong insect repellent.
My weakness when packing light is always paper – both written on, and soon to be. I have three blank diaries, ‘A passage to India’, ‘A History of India’, and I feel I should add a book on cricket – almost a second passport for a Brit on the subcontinent. Nevertheless, the real extraneous items will, I fear, be the pocket mandarin dictionary and ‘learn to read mandarin’ book. I claim I’m thinking ahead but perhaps I just never learn!
Three guiding principles, scrawled in bold at the top of my kit list, have led me here: minimise disparities of wealth, take nothing I cannot lose (or break or have stolen), and minimise size and weight.
Now what have I forgotten…?