(And now that you know them, serious advice on how you can avoid them!)
One reason we dubbed our eccentric journey across India on 500 rupees a day as ‘the Ultimate Relationship Test’ was because it really was the ultimate relationship test. As it is, vacations (chiefly, Christmas in the West and family weddings in the East) unleash enough drama, nerves and hate-yous from the best of us. Add to that the lunacy of a minuscule budget.
Even if you set aside the lunatic budget, there is something about travel that dislodges monsters inside. To us, dwellers of urban jungles, who have our engines fuelled daily with high-powered addictions (stress, caffeine, deadlines and retail), there is something radical about the sudden hint of endless blue blue skies, open on all sides for miles around, something about bracing mountain air, the fine spray of foam by the sea, or glimpses of rustic homespun faces of people who may or may not have travelled a hundred kilometers from their homesteads but know how to grow tomatoes in their backyards, that nudge anxieties and animosities, long buried, teasing them to the surface and letting them fly free.
But naturally, there are fights.
‘Are you packing your pet blue whale?’ said one to the other
(Round 1: #TheUnderpacker versus #TheOverpacker)
The first fight is often before the trip has actually begun. It involves alternate approaches to packing, and if allowed to blow out of proportions, can shadow the rest of the trip, which was supposed to be all moony handholding and candlelight dinners in the first place.
For instance, one party might believe in walking in golden stilettos down the Mall Road in Gangtok one evening, to match a dull gold cardigan, and pink kitten heels the next day to go with the dusty peony rose Burberry trench-coat. Said party might overpack.
The other party might want to carry minimum clothes and is deeply appalled at the other’s bulging baggage. But what that other party is not choosing to reveal is that they may not have budgeted space for golden stilettos and pink kitten heels but are planning, any way, to stash gigantic camera equipment in their bags, since their chief hobby is the pursuit of elusive birds.
First, calm down creatures. This fight is the Easiest to Avoid.
Dear over-packer, please realize that since you are tethered to such an underpacker, your spouse will not really appreciate the nuances of your daily outfittage. There is no point carrying all that stuff and paying extra baggage to airline companies, and straining your spine to boot, if you are only dressing up for Facebook – you may as well wear those same clothes and pose at home, letting Photoshop take care of the rest. Think of this, if your bag is khaali-khaali on your onward yatra, then on the return safar, you can bring back many many more goodies from your travels. (It might lead to other battles, but for that see 3.)
Dear underpacker, wipe that smug look off your face and put it away. Remember how the overpacker had taken that extra jeans and sweater for you the last time? Did it not come in handy when you tumbled into the pond, trying to take a picture of that polka-dotted duckling?
Be grateful and stop complaining. Now.
‘I will tear That Damned List into shreds, burn those shreds, scatter the ashes of the burnt shreds all over this world,’ said the Owl to the Pussycat (in an unrecorded moment)
(Round 2: #TypeA versus #TypeB)
Remember Edward Lear’s famous poem about the owl and the pussycat who went away on a pea-green boat, with money and honey wrapped up in a five-pound note? The ones who sang fulsomely under the moonlight, got engaged in an impromptu ceremony and finally got married in a moving ceremony officiated by the Turkey who lived on a hill? But in that charming epic there is no mention, alas, of the offending List. But there must have been the List somewhere. And it would certainly have led to fights. After all, by the same law of averages that tethers overpackers to underpackers, list-lovers often find themselves travelling with list-haters, or, at best, list-neutrals.
The list-lover makes a long list of things that have to be executed with military precision in order to have well-rationed fun; the List is prepared and laminated as soon as the tickets are booked. The list-hater, on the other hand, believes in waking up in the comfy hotel bed only when the body wakes up naturally, lounging in to breakfast lazily, chatting with the local gardener and coming up with a plan for the day depending on the gardener’s tips and their own odd whims. It is enough to drive the list-lover batty with rage.
There is no option but the equitable one. If it is a 10-day trip, each gets five days to impose their own brand of agony on the other. It could be alternate days or five days of military precision followed by five days of anarchic lounging. The choice is left to the owl and the pussycat. With this planned in advance, they would have got the stickiest fight out of the way even before the journey’s begun.
‘Will you stop dawdling by every shoe/ antiques/wine/book shop that we encounter?’
(Round 3: #Dawdler/Window Shopper versus #MilitaryMarcher/ Anti-Buyer)
Yes, yes, one knows there is limited money in the world, limited space in the house, limited time in which to execute the fun things enumerated in the List, but if one does not bolster the local economy while travelling, then one is a boring, churlish non-traveller. We are firmly in the camp of the dawdler in this fight. And therefore, we shall reveal here the secret highly attested ever successful ten-word sentence that will elicit victory in this battle.
‘This is exactly what your mother/father/boss wanted us to get. I’m so glad we found it.’
‘You said you wouldn’t watch TV at bedtime!’ ‘But you said you wouldn’t read your books!’
(Round 4: Addict versus Addict)
In this fight, we are sorry, but we cannot support either of you. You have not made such a lot of effort – and spent so much money – to bring the home rituals on holiday. It doesn’t matter if one of you needs Arnab Goswami screaming at you nightly to sleep well or the other cannot put away the daily page-turner.
On holiday, it’s lights out and time for rest, other stuff – if not sex, at least cuddling – and storytelling. When was the last time you fell asleep to the murmur of the other’s voice mingling with the distant sound of sea?
‘This is a ridiculous fight. You are not making any sense. Stop!’
(Round 5: the Hungry-Angry versus the Sainted-Sane)
Some fights will be for no apparent rhyme or reason; they will erupt out of nowhere, when the annoyances are external – somebody’s screaming kid, the weather, the world. Your co-traveller’s voice will suddenly become scratchy in rage, eyes begin to pop out scarily, hair fluff up crackling with static.
Do realize it is just hunger.
Stop whatever you are doing (list-following or dawdling) and take the other person, who had woken up too late for breakfast, to the nearest restaurant and order generously.
Who said overeating together couldn’t be a romantic vacation thing?
Devapriya Roy and Saurav Jha travelled over 16,000 kilometres in India on a very very tight budget, and lived to tell the tale. The first part of the proposed trilogy around their journeys The Heat and Dust Project: the Broke Couple’s Guide to Bharat is available at a bookstore near you.
Images: The lists are sourced from The Heat and Dust Project: The Broke Couple's Guide to Bharat
Cartoon: Courtesy Abhishek Chatterjee