Monday, May 19, 2014

The Indian Ulysses

After a successful corporate career, Suresh Joseph has travelled solo numerous times, by car, all over India, setting records and now he is headed towards Europe

Photo by Mithun Vinod

By Shevlin Sebastian

One evening, in November, 2010, Suresh Joseph arrived at the border town of North East Khawdungsei, which is the link between Manipur and Mizoram. He had no place to stay. Being a border town there were no hotels. But soon he spotted a church. Just near it was a house which had the sign, 'Pastor Quarters'.

In front of the house, there were three men working in the yard. As a woman served them tea, Suresh asked her whether he could speak to the pastor.

Suddenly, one of the labourers stood up and said, 'I am the pastor'. 

Rev. R Lalsiamliana was wearing a torn banian and a pair of shorts. Suresh asked whether he could spend the night in the church. Immediately, Lalsiamliana  invited Suresh to stay with him.

"He never asked me who I was," says Suresh. "Later, I had dinner with him, his wife and child. I cannot imagine anyone in a big city doing something like this.”

Suresh had embarked on an all-India trip in a Swift car and was able to touch 28 state capitals and 17 Railway headquarters. The reason for the railway link was because Suresh had been a former Chief Commercial Manager of South Western Railways. Later, he was the CEO of Dubai Ports World, which set up the International Container Transhipment Terminal at Vallarpadam, Kochi.

The journey lasted four months and covered 23,500 kms. In the end, Suresh wrote a book called, ''Ek Swift Bharat Yatra: The Journal of a Railwayman's Journey Through India.' And the trip was an eye-opener for him.

"When you go to a new environment, and meet and stay with people, you become much more tolerant,” says Suresh. “It makes you a humble person."

There were other benefits too. "Since I was travelling alone, I had the chance to introspect about my life, and ponder about the people I had interacted with, over the years. I also had the opportunity to thank God for the tremendous blessings that I received.”

Thereafter, Suresh did several trips, which enabled him to set eight national solo records in the Limca Book of Records. He was the first and the fastest to drive a four-wheeler from Leh to Kanyakumari and back again (7659 kms), the first to complete an expedition from Koteshwar, Gujarat to Bakkhali, West Bengal (6996 kms), and the first to travel from Tezu, Arunachal Pradesh to Koteshwar (3799 kms).

To ensure that he has a successful drive, Suresh follows certain rules. "A driver has to respect the road," he says. "If you drive at breakneck speeds on bad roads, you will end up with accidents or having problems with your vehicle."

Interestingly, Suresh has a symbiotic relationship with the car. "My car is a living being," he says. "I talk to it, like I would, to a partner. I believe that my car has a soul. I have challenged it and it has always come good."

The people have been good, too. “Indians have a great heart," says Suresh. "They don't even want to know who you are before they offer hospitality. Secondly, despite the tremendous diversity, from Jammu and Kashmir, to Goa, to Tamil Nadu and the north-east, the people have a tremendous resilience and fighting spirit. They will do anything to ensure that their family is safe and comfortable.”

Suresh's next road trip, on June 16, is a 75-day 24,000 km journey from Kochi to London, through 27 countries, which includes nations like Nepal, China, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Russia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Czech Republic, Germany, Belgium, France, Ireland and UK.

Suresh will be accompanied by noted Mollywood film director Lal Jose and journalist Baiju Nair. “The trip is expected to cost Rs 75 lakhs, but, thankfully, we have got some good sponsors,” says Suresh.

Asked about his insatiable thirst for travel, Suresh says, "There is a Ulysses in all of us. Unlike most middle-class people, I have been able to satisfy my wanderlust."

(Published in Sunday Magazine, The New Indian Express, South India and Delhi) 

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