There's always a first time for everything... And for the traveller in me, it was living in a hostel. I must admit that not only had I procrastinated over the idea of staying at one but in doing so had also deferred the decision until well, I felt somewhat ready for it.
So who better than *drumsroll* Zostel to have this experience with! Zobu not only ensured that I had a warm and comfortable stay but also helped me check two things off my list: a hostel experience and a Zostel experience.
Why the Zostel hostel experience?
The month of June sees me on the last leg of the Himsagar fellowship – an opportunity that got me to leave behind my home and city – Mumbai – in a pursuit where travel met social good. The past six months have seen me solo travelling my way meeting non-profits through the states of Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Odisha among others - places that may not be on most people’s travel bucket list! Back in the capital in an attempt to consolidate my learning and tie together the loose ends (to the extent possible) needed a roof over my head. Enter Zostel.
Finally, Zobu and I were in the same city – Delhi.
I do not exaggerate when I say that the Zostel hospitality receives you right at the entrance – prior to stepping inside! Because the security guard is the first fast friend you’re most likely to make before you’ve met your bunk-mates. He was mine, undoubtedly.
He’d enquired of my whereabouts the evening on my first day when I’d meandered a bit about the place in an attempt to placate the voracious beings that inhabit my stomach. And when I mentioned that I’d gone to grab a bite, he gestured in the direction opposite to the one I’d returned from and pointed to a place I could frequent for a wholesome meal.
You see what I mean by hospitality?
During my 10 day stay at Zostel, I met a person from every continent on the planet – well almost, now if only the penguins could find their way from Antarctica, we’d be covered! The conversations we had provoked me to try another something out for the first time.
Here’s what it was…
Here’s what it was…
I wanted to capture and share the conversations we’d had by assigning a visual to it that wasn’t their face. This was partly because I find the idea of shoving a camera in someone’s face a little intrusive.
To that end the question being answered was: “What is that one object you possess right now that you’d like to be remembered by 10 years from now?”
And because it’s an experiment I limited it to just five of the bunk-mates I met during my stint. Here's what that led to:
The one from China –
My friend here was the personification of curiosity in a small package. But her every question was prefixed and suffixed with a ‘Sorry! I ask too many questions…”
Can I wear shorts here? Not everywhere? So I’ll have to buy full length pants?
Don’t all children go to school here? Why not? Why won’t their parents send them? What do they do? What does the government do?
And she had observations too…
“People here are very helpful. Always smiling. Some cheat. But not all of them are like that”
I came up with ‘my question’ a little after my friend had already made her way to Agra. So what would remain as a memory of her for me would be the Xeroxed pages from a guidebook she was roaming with. Why? So she could leave behind the section of the city she had toured and thereby reduce her weight in her backpack! A little less painful than burning pages a la Cheryl Strayed, no?
P.S.: If she ever remembers me, it would be as the 'Indian Encyclopaedia' which is what she would call me her for being able to provide some answers to her questions.
The one from the Czech Republic –
She’d been travelling for a year and India was her last destination before she flew back home. For now at least – while she replenished her depleted savings. She’d prolonged her stay in Nepal in an attempt to help out with some of the relief activity there. It had shortened the time and the places she’d visit in India but she was okay with that. She had something of that no-nonsense vibe about her and didn’t shy away from stating her opinions – be it the status of women, politics, religion, solo travel or even careers.
When I asked her my question, she merely took out a paperback she was carrying along with her. It’s a book that had left an imprint on her.
P.S.: Besides her boots, she claimed that that only reason why her backpack was heavy was because of the books she’d been carrying.
The Moroccan in France –
For someone who I couldn’t engage as much with because she stayed in our dorm for just one night we did have conversations across an eclectic range of topics. I respect her for being open and sharing instances from her childhood, the move from Morocco to France and why she feels drawn towards those who are lesser privileged. We also went on to discuss soap ingredients for some reason.
For her, the answer to my question was her stole – the ever so dynamic piece of clothing that can be converted into a head scarf, a sarong or even a light bedsheet when required.
The one from Japan –
She was perhaps the only one I met who wasn’t in the city or the country for that matter merely to travel. She was here to perform – what I think was – a one act play at the Japanese Embassy. She was visiting India for the second time. She shared with me her and her husband’s fondness for mangoes and how in Germany (where she was partly based out of) they were always so expensive.
I was unable to ask her my question too but she’ll be remembered for extending an invitation to me to come watch her performance. And though she moved out of the dorm after the first night, it was very thoughtful of her to leave behind a little note for me right beside my pillow.
The one from California –
She checked in to our dorm no more than 15 minutes before I did and stayed on even after I’d left. In a series of unfortunate events, her debit card had been stolen and she’d been waiting for her bank to send her the replacement. She too had been travelling for the past couple of months and would continue to do so at least for a couple more weeks before she’d head back home.
When not attempting to figure out the possible coordinates of her debit card, she’d talk about her encounters with the locals – mostly men and how she was gradually beginning to trust them a little less than the previous day.
And because our waking and crashing to bed hours seemed to clash, I never got around to asking her the question either. I think I’m going to remember her as someone who seemed to be able to retain an optimistic disposition towards life in spite of running into some quirky scenarios (to say the least)!
Such are the things memories are made of, I say!
P.S.: Irrespective of the time and duration each of the bunk-mates I’d met had spent in India, they’d had the nicest of things to say not just about India but also its people. And Zostel too! It’s an indescribable feeling when you’re sitting back and listening to people – and in this case women – defend that how contrary to media reports and what people say they’ve felt much at ease and safe in the country. They also acknowledge the aspect where on their part they are now a lot more mindful of their surroundings and its culture.