My uncle R R Sastry went on a world tour for a month on a chartered flight. He was the first one from our family to go abroad. It was like Tenzing Norgay conquering Everest or Neil Armstrong stepping on the moon surface. When my uncle announced his world tour, I thought of Phileas Fogg of London. It was not Reform Club in my uncle’s case; it was Lions Club. There was no French valet Passepartout to accompany him. He sold a piece of ancestral land to cover the travel and spent Rs 11000(GB£600) for the entire trip, while Phileas Fogg spent GB£20,000. All of us were very excited.
Sastry was a tall man with dark skin and very sharp features. He was the first banker from my tiny village located on the outskirts of Bangalore, and the town had no school, no good road or a hospital. Different means of transport were necessary to reach the sleepy village, and it would take half a day to travel a distance of 30 km from Bangalore.
In a suit with a matching tie and polished shoes, Sastry was very dignified. Though Sastry was very traditional, he stood apart with his strict discipline and networking skills. Sastry reached out to people quickly, and his friends reciprocated his respect. He was a self-made man with a great sense of work-life balance. Apart from his job, family and social life were very important to him. He always found time to spend with his relatives and friends. In the family circles, the story goes that he helped forty-nine people to get jobs. He was a role model for us, and we always went to him for soliciting his advice.
It was a six-month preparation for him for the world tour. The whole process consisted of three components: documents, logistics and food.
Planning ran parallel for all three components. Without technology, each process took its own sweet time. Sastry delegated some of his activities to his two sons. He would review the progress with them every evening. Sastry was always restless and set the whole house on fire if the preparation is not up to the mark. As a man known for details, he would know precisely what suit and shoes he would wear on a specific day.
My uncle, being very meticulous, reviewed each letter for grammar, punctuation and spelling. Carbon paper was the only hope for copies, while the manual typewriter was the only tool. I remember seven to eight drafts for each letter. There were occasions when he would ask his son to reopen the note to change a specific word before posting. The letters went through snail mail to distant lands, and a long wait was imminent for the responses. Some of them responded positively, and some did not. Files started filling with pages with coloured markers as 3M stickers were not yet available, and photocopying was not on the scene. The calendar management was crucial as he had to pack some sightseeing visits to each of the places.
Along with the logistics, a detailed day-wise meal plan came into existence which was changing every day. His house became a factory, and my aunt was in the kitchen-24/7. Preparations of his favourite dry snacks and eating powders were in full swing. The fresh smell of roasting and grinding of spices filled the house. Tension and anxiety prevailed, and everyone was running around doing something or the other. My uncle became the centre of gravity for many of my relatives who came forward voluntarily to support his travel. Guests and relatives dropped in unannounced to meet my uncle to wish him a safe journey. In addition, my uncle and aunt had an obligation to attend lunches and dinners. The whole ambience was as if he is never going to return.
As the day of the travel approached, all the family members spent sleepless nights. Many of them had the unstated desires that my uncle would get them foreign presents — perfume, a watch, a dress etc. Modifications came in every hour into the checklists, and three files came into existence on the day of the travel. Even while the baggage went into the car boot, the lists and the composition of the bags saw last-minute changes.
At least two hundred people saw him off at the airport, and it was also the first visit to the airport for many. He was like a rock star waving at us in his brown suit before entering the check-in area. The day after the ceremonial send-off, my niece took her mother to see the famous Hindi movie, Aaradhana, playing in Sangam theatre. The purpose was to give her a break as her husband was away for a month. If you know the story of the Sakti Samantha’s tear-jerker, you will know that the first Rajesh Khanna dies in an air crash. After seeing Rajesh Khanna dying, my aunt imagined that her husband also would find a similar fate. This scene gave her many sleepless nights till he returned.
My nephew went to the US last week for a Graduate program. While the travel requirements and the process were the same as in 1969, he could complete all the needs online all by himself using his mobile phone: no need for manual checklists, drafting detailed letters and enlisting many for support. No one saw him using any typewriter and paper. However, his internal motivations and anxiety remained the same. My nephew worried about his courses and classes, and his parents were anxious about the cultural influences during his foreign stint. His parents were concerned about how he would live in a foreign country, what food he would eat or what friendships he would make. While my nephew was rising in Maslow’s pyramid, his parents climbed up ahead and calibrated him with others in the same age profile. While my uncle returned in 1969, many of us are uncertain whether my nephew will return.
Every Hero has his unique journey! The caterpillar enters a pupa with many discomforts. My uncle emerged as a beauty with great cultural exposure, and I am sure my nephew would also appear as a beautiful butterfly in some distant land.