A lover of words and wanderlust, Sheila Kumar’s adventures can give anyone the inspiration to not just travel around this wonderful world, but also to pen down delightful stories about it.
An independent writer and manuscript editor, as well as the author of a collection of short stories titled Kith and Kin, Chronicles of a Clan, a romance No Strings Attached, and co-author of A Gluten-free Life, Sheila Kumar is an avid traveller as well. Here she talks about her adventures around the world and how her love for literature influences her travels.
1) What was the first place you travelled to that made you fall in love with travel?
Sheila: The Nepal-Bhutan border, years and years ago, and it was an epiphany of sorts. I realised there were many places as beautiful as this around the world, and that I needed to see as many as I could!
2) What’s the best part about being a woman traveller? What’s the worst?
S: The best part is that the world is (still) full of courteous people who will stop their cars to let a woman cross the road, hold a revolving door for her, strike up a conversation if she is the friendly sort, offer suggestions and valuable tips. I find people do that with women more easily than with men.
The worst part is… well, actually, the manspreading on public transport, the mansplaining at some spots, and the leering at some other spots. I just realised all this has to do with men but there you go!
3) How would you rate travelling solo v/s travelling in a group and why?
S: I usually travel in a small group of kith and kin, so I wouldn’t be able to do a comparison on solo v/s group travel. The latter, I would imagine, offers more scope for giggle-fests, hysterical meltdowns, in-house gags, comfort and cheer when needed, and saucy, sassy fun. Plus, it’s always great if you have someone around to share in the delights of what you are seeing and experiencing, right?
4) Tell us about a couple of memorable incidents – your best and/or worst.
S: My best experience was watching a theatre production of King Lear in Stratford-on-Avon, just a short distance away from Shakespeare’s house. Goosebumps moment!
My worst experience was having my purse picked on a train and discovering the loss while trying to pay for a bowl of onion soup in Chartres. Money gone was bad enough but I’d been carrying my passport in the purse, too. This was a major disaster but the Chartres police swung into action, contacted the train authorities. The thief had taken my money but had thrown my passport into a corner… he had no use for an Indian passport!
5) What’s your favourite place amongst all your travels? One that you’d go to again and again. Why?
S: Oh, that would be Paris. Each time I visit, the City of Lights reveals a different facet to me, and the revelations are endless and stunning. The light on the Seine, the statuary on the bridges, the loaves of pain, the jaw-dropping chic appearance of Parisian women… just recollecting it all quickens my pulse!
6) What’s a quirky tradition/ritual you follow on your journeys? Tell us the story behind that.
S: It’s not so much a tradition or ritual as a contention. I call it the “Sheila Effect” – a staunch belief that everything will turn out just right when I am at the spot. So far, the Effect has held good… rain clears up, the sun shines, the light softens, the queues are not too daunting or else, the long snaking lines actually move quite fast, the food is perfect… you get the picture, don’t you?!
7) And now for the tritest question of them all – what does travel mean to you?
S: Travel satisfies my endless curiosity about how people live in other parts of the world. Earlier, my travels used to be tinged with pure wonder; now they hold a touch of sadness because I inevitably think of how we squander our heritage for reasons witting and unwitting.
8) Any tips/tricks/words of advice to aspiring travellers?
S: Pack light, read up on the place and set off with your head seething with curiosity. Curiosity may have killed the cat but it opens up a vista of delights for the traveller, I assure you!
9) How do you plan a trip? Things you make a note of, do’s, don’ts, itineraries, the process of selecting a place, where to stay, et al. What are your pet travel peeves?
S: Once I fix upon a destination, I do thorough research into the place, the B&Bs I plan to stay in, the food I will get there, the walks I will sign up for, the coach trips I will take. I’m a copious notes-taker and by the time I board that plane, I ’ll have an exhaustive list of just about everything concerned with the trip du jour.
My pet peeve, if peeve is the word I want, is the amount of time spent in the air to reach anywhere interesting. I watch movies, I read, I walk about the aisle but it’s still tedious.
10) Let’s talk about the safety factor that comes in when you are a “woman traveller”.
S: It’s an unavoidable fact – a woman traveller is safer if she just follows some basic tenets about dressing appropriately, moving about in the safer areas, being watchful at all times, carrying pepper spray if she’s visiting areas not known to be safe, and generally conveying an air of utmost confidence. Women also have a finely honed sixth sense, and I’d advise tapping into that at all times.
11) How does your love for literature influence your travel or the stories you look for/at?
S: Oh, that’s a heavy influence. When I visit the Opera House, I’m thinking of Gaston Leroux’s phantom. When I visit Hobbiton, Tolkien is on my mind. I read Louis de Bernières’s novel Birds Without Wings just before I visited Turkey and that really changed the way I looked at the country. The way I look at a place is subtly tinged by the literature I have read about it.