I am most alive when I am exploring something new. A challenge that puts me to test against myself. Conquering what I haven’t before. Somehow all of these inherent needs of mine culminate in the idea of travel. Just like they do in my work. Being a journalist is like being on a journey. There is broadly a plan and it changes every few minutes. Stories develop, stories grow, and you embed yourself in them. The question Shaili Chopra explores through this blog is – Why do you travel?
The other day I was on the road staring at billboards that said, #SayYesToTheWorld. They set me thinking of some of the defining moments of my journey. I was on a vacation in Istanbul, sitting on a terrace in Sultanamet overlooking the Bhosphorus. I was in love with the city through the storytelling of Orhan Pamuk, an author I even met in Mumbai. This was a perfect scene, as seagulls landed and took off and I sipped some tart turkish fresh orange juice. From exploring spices to high streets near Taksim, the famous durum barbecues enticed me over to the Taksim Square for a roll. In minutes of my digging into a juicy dripping roll equivalent of a sloppy joe, I turned back only to see insane number of people running. Tear gas everywhere. Marches by young people. Protests silent and loud. Here suddenly I was reporting on what led to become one of the most transformational moments in Turkish civil society – the president vs the people.
This was a perfect scene, as seagulls landed and took off and I sipped some tart turkish fresh orange juice. From exploring spices to high streets near Taksim, the famous durum barbecues enticed me over to the Taksim Square for a roll.
On another day, I woke up to an opportunity for which I was willing to travel just for two days, all the way to Boston. To say hello to George Soros. Yes, that investor. That nemesis. When my plane touched down on a cold morning at Boston Logan, I simply got into a taxi and landed up in New Hampshire at a tiny place called Bretton Woods. Rings a bell? The Bretton Woods system of monetary management established the rules for commercial and financial relations for the modern world and I had returned to this historic place. Where bankers and investors were hoping to rewrite or certainly debate history. For me, this was a journey that was going to unravel the story of modern finance.
The thing about adventure is, it doesn’t have to scale a summit or do a bungee jump
The thing about adventure is, it doesn’t have to scale a summit or do a bungee jump. If that journey pushes you to think different, unlearn and learn and meet people who inspire you, that’s enough of a reason to take that road. I learnt this through my years of journalism, from the very day I began.
On the first day of journ school my professor handed me a video camera and told me to experiment. This was decades ago when I was in Madras. I came back with a collage of god posters and figurines inside the city’s autos. Limited income but unlimited belief – the reasons why these people had gods on their dashboards. Stories weaved in pictures and journeys.
I also discovered the beauty of sunlight streaming through a cobweb stuck to a broken pot. It told me something deeper. That beauty may lie in something complex and mundane.
One of my early stories was captured through the hands of a potter. Perhaps an early lesson in creativity and failure. Just how often he would make the urn and not consummate it because it didn’t take the right shape. In his little godown I also discovered the beauty of sunlight streaming through a cobweb stuck to a broken pot. It told me something deeper. That beauty may lie in something complex and mundane. Muck to one, home to another.
For you travel places around the world and inside of you.
Storytelling is a journey of experience. It’s not just the capturing of it. There is nothing literal about it. To me this was disruptive. It was a place I was willing to go to alone. I realized that day travel doesn’t become an adventure until you leave yourself behind. I didn’t say it, Marty Rubin did. And it stuck with me. For you travel places around the world and inside of you.
All of this amazing past in speedlines in front of my eyes. And walked out of the television screen on to the mobile. I wanted to take a chance on myself.
Twenty years down, it’s been an insane journey in front of and behind the lens. It’s also been a journey of taking chances. I remember when I bagged my first internship and refused to leave the global television company. In few months I anchored a substitute bulletin flawlessly and there was no turning back. Learning Hindi commentary to strengthening business acumen and meeting and interviewing Warren Buffett and other global shots. And being the face of a couple of channels. I travelled world over – to Arnold Palmer Airport in Pittsburg to Davos’ World Economic Forum. I climbed the top of the Burj in Dubai and moderated international conferences in Geneva. It was adrenalin in a tote. Like that fearless girl statue on Wall Street, I walked up my career with opportunities tucked under my arm. My dream of wanting to tell stories was seeing its form. The more I met people, the more I explored. Some times it was new things, places and people. At times the things were there but I could bring it a fresh story. As Marcel Proust said, the real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes. Perhaps that’s why to the storyteller nothing is routine. And there is beauty is everyday as well as in rare.
One day in 2013 I stood up. All of this amazing past in speedlines in front of my eyes. And walked out of the television screen on to the mobile. I wanted to take a chance on myself. Digital world was set to erupt. This is when SheThePeople was conceived. The channel that you are reading this on was born two years after that moment. I was back to ground zero. Laying the first brick. For myself and for many other women in India who were looking for a voice. As the country’s first storytelling platform dedicated to women, SheThePeople promised to be a powerful idea. 50,000 stories down, reaching 15 million women, we discover each day, so many new women, and I travel through their lives, and get to know them. Sometimes in Japan or Frankfurt, many times in Jabalpur and often in Satara and Saharanpur. For them life begins at the end of comfort zones, where they push boundaries. And that’s where we step in as SheThePeople. A space they could call their own. Where there is dialogue. And never in one language. The good news is our journey always seems like it’s just begun with miles to go. I have had two powerful allies in this journey a desire to see change and curiosity. Whoever said curiosity wants you as a follower.
Travelling is the new storytelling. And there is no more powerful thought than that.
Views are author’s own
[Feature Image Credit Slava Bowman on Unsplash]