When I think of a life with zig and zag the name that comes to mind is Tony Foley. This was a guy I met on a flight to London in 1998. I was going to intern with the Daily Telegraph on a scholarship, he was on the final leg of a one and a half year discovery-of-the-world trip.
Tony was from New Zealand, a country where it is not unusual to chuck a well paying job at Cadbury's to fulfil ones wanderlust. Which is what he had done. After spending a few months in Africa (where his expensive camera was stolen), and s e Asia, he travelled the length and breadth of India.
At the end of it, he was down to almost his last penny. He took a local train to Sahar airport, single bag in hand. In London, he had friends - and was to collect insurance money for the stolen equipment. And he seemed so cool, confident and unconcerned about the future - I couldn't help but envy him.
So I'll say once again, it's not about money. It's a cultural thing. I didn't take up the campus placement after my MBA - I wanted to a bunch of 'different' things. Like work with CSE (Centre for Science and Environment) for a while, then spend a month or two travelling around India (alone). Neither plan materialised.
The travel bit was shot down by my parents. (Ladki, akele? No way). Instead of CSE I joined the TOI where I was offered a job in 'brand management'. It paid peanut ka chhilkas, but allowed me to stay connected to my first love - writing.
It's your life but...
Of course, had I been more strong-willed, had I been more of a rebel... Things would have been different. But I cared for 'approval'. As most of us in India seem to.
Approval comes from following the rules laid down in society. The rewards of following these rules are that you enjoy the warm cocoon of family, which an individualist like Tony probably does not.
And of course, in their own way, parents are right. Life in India is a struggle. If you take off for 6 months someone will replace you and you may have to start from lower down the ladder again. You can't take even a basic upper middle class lifestyle for granted. You have to claw your way to a 'good job' and then hang onto it.
Family is social security - emotional too. Which is why you think a million times before doing anything which may upset the applecart.
As we get more economically secure, this may change. But cultural influences are quite deep rooted - so it will take a generation or two to strike the right balance.
The other side
On the other hand, one can argue that 'backpacking' for a firang is an activity pursued, at least partially, for approval. Everybody's doing it - you do it too.
So much so that backpackers who start out thinking they're going to 'discover' a new country and culture simply walk down the path set down by the Lonely Planet guidebook. So in Mumbai they stroll down Causeway, eat at Leo or Mondy's, visit the dhobi ghat and chor bazaar.
And in Goa or Manali, stay in 'backpacker hotels' which serve muesli and banana pancakes for breakfast. And only take in other white skinned residents.
The other point is that travel is something that a lot of young people in the Western world experiment with at some point. But then settle down to predictable lives. It's only a small minority that 'lives to travel'.
As Vicky from Tasmania puts it:
"Forget having kids, buying houses etc: travel light. So many people, not that much older than us, seem so full of regret about the things they never did and places they never went to, and now probably never will. Their lives just seem so empty.
I don't think I could wait until retirement: I could get knocked over by a bus tomorrow. In other words, carpe diem! When people tell us to settle down it seems a bit like a conspiracy: are they jealous that they're stuck with 20-year mortgages and time-consuming children?"
I'm just saying if you are born in India but would like to be a Vicky, you should have the choice. Currently, it doesn't seem like we do.