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Shivya Nath’s The Shooting Star begins as journey for the self along with being a travel memoir, and towards the end, the self is better understood and reconciled with.
We think we can control our circumstances, but really, what when we can control is our spirit. – The Shooting Star
When the questions are many, and a deep need to explore if not find an answer to them is not undertaken, a deep sense of restlessness and inadequacy takes over.
The Shooting Star by Shivya Nath has been plugged as a travel memoir, and it is. The book takes you through spectacular uncharted places across the world and extraordinary experiences with ordinary people. But the book also details Shivya’s internal journey of wanting to understand who she is and what she seeks. She often travels back to her childhood citing experiences that moulded her worldview and her subsequent fight to come out of the cocoon and see the world with fresh eyes.
The book does not glamourise travel in the least bit. In fact it advocates travel with the ‘leave-no-trace’ philosophy. As a traveller the author recognises that she is welcomed into the community and allowed to be a part of it, and then she exits. Her philosophy is to soak in the nuances of the community she is spending time with, experience daily life with the people who she boards with and leave gratefully.
Be it Guatemala, Rann of Kutch, Ethiopia, or Australia, she stays on course as a traveller who is truly open to new experiences and new ways. She is open about her anxieties and hardships as she is about the exhilaration of spotting a shower of shooting stars, or the Great Indian Bustards landing.
Shivya has a panache for seeking out remote, untouched spots and one cannot be blamed for feeling envious. She seeks out the quiet untrodden streets and mountains. She seeks out the small villages and lives as the people there do. Not for her the luxury of a well-equipped hotel. She is happy to travel with few belongings and important basics, and experiencing stunning locales often untouched by man. The best kind of travelling.
In today’s age and time with the far-reaching scope of technology, one would assume that travelling alone is not a biggie. Perhaps not. However, if that traveller is a young, single lady, everyone is concerned and curious.
Shivya traces her journey through an academic childhood, with a strict upbringing. Interestingly, her viewpoint is almost always as a woman, a fact she was made acutely aware of as soon as she hit her teens. The subtle but deep differences regarding curfew, and the company she can keep, are always there between her brother and herself. If it is not in the house, it is the unknown man who chases her on the bicycle or the person who flashes at her. That she is a woman and can be viewed only as a sexual object is made aware to her by strangers, and her parent’s fear for exactly the same reason makes her life fairly cloistered.
And yet, the very same parents send her to study abroad at 17, indicating perhaps that they recognised her nature but were sometimes curtailed by their own fears.
It is the same Shivya who can be found chatting many years later with a group of Buddhist nuns of all ages in the Pin Valley, Spiti, having finally freed herself of being chained to a desk. This leap of faith rewards her richly.
In the book she talks about her blog, her market-disruptor travel company, her relationship with cities and people. What strikes you is that this writer is grappling with fundamental questions about who she is and what are the things that really matter to her. She contemplates on the past too, observing what she did and felt in many situations in which she simply wanted to be, but was discouraged to. Travel for her is not just about ticking places off her bucket list but a way to truly understand achieving free will.
The book is rich with imagery, and one wishes one were there.
“In the knee-length gumboots and a hardy rain jacket, I climbed out of the old dugout canoe, carved out of a fallen tree trunk. Storm clouds playfully hid part of the sun, illuminating the sky with a smattering of golden light. Junior unloaded my rucksack on the mud-caked banks of the Yorkin River and together we waded through a dirt path, flooded after a heavy downpour. I could feel the muddy water rise above my knees, seep into my gumboots and soak the bottom of my rucksack.”
Her descriptions of the guides, hosts and people she meets bring the person alive. Her trips over hills and vales, desert and seas, from Africa, to central America, the Indian subcontinent to Australia and Japan is bound to make you speechless. All through her trips she makes deep human connections, reminding the reader that the more we seem different, the more we are the same. Barring an instance or two, she is never hoodwinked and her trust in humanity grows.
Shivya often talks about being a digital nomad,and how by moving away from a conventional life she has found a new normal. Her quest to be more rooted and seated within her true self has been largely achieved, thanks to her wanderings across lands. The many micro interactions with the locals enhance her sense of who she truly is and what drives her onwards. Her musing about this sense of being at home in so many places the world-over talks about a shift from home being only a certain place. Instead she expands the geographical borders of what she considers home, steps out of her comfort zone and finds that home can be everywhere.
It reminded me of what Pico Iyer often points out about home. He says, “Travel became the way I lived, my mobile home. But more importantly it imparted early on a sense of home as something inward. I knew that I didn’t fully live in England or California, and certainly didn’t live at all in India, which is where my ancestry is from. My home would be a collage, and a shifting collage, made up of those and many other places. So I’m glad now that I didn’t ever have the craving for a physical or geographical home
The Shooting Star, is recommended for anyone who is feeling a little lost or overwhelmed at the moment. Of course, it is a good book for vicarious travelling but it is also a book that tends to make you pause and think about the ideas of freedom, home and ‘others’. It makes sure that we readers ask ourselves, what really matters to us and our relationship with our amazingly diverse and stunning planet, as we continue to raid her for her riches. Shivya Nath may not have a burgeoning bank account, but her slim volume of travelling accounts prove she is a rich hitchhiker across the galaxy.
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Top image via Pixabay and book cover via Amazon
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Sheeba is the co-founder and editor at Little Kulture, a website dedicated to discovering
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