Kismuth and the Way - 2019

White Noise

By Dipika Kohli

I'm in an airplane.

This would be somewhere between Kiev and Bangkok, and, according to the information on some of the screens at the front of the economy section here, it seems that we are flying over Gujarat. What time is it? I have no idea. They dimmed the lights a while ago, but exactly when is fuzzy.

I'm just glad I got to the airport and made it through all the things that happen when you fly budget and try to leave this region of Europe. Was a bit of a drama, last time. (“I see you've overstayed your visa by three days. What were you doing in Schengen? Writing? Really? Let me talk to... Okay. As your flight is leaving in less than half an hour, we will not fine you. Go that way. Run.")

Relieved to be on my way, I survey where I am. Some people are sleeping, folded over onto their tray tables.

Ten weeks ago, I was traveling the opposite direction, from Asia towards what was then, for me, a completely abstract concept: “the Baltic states." (I remember lumping the states together when talking to a then-acquaintance, someone with relations there, and who had fussed, quite rightly, at me about this. “They're not one thing, you know. They're three separate countries, with their own languages, cultures, and identities...") Absolutely. And so, why not go and see for myself? Find out.

Caffeine When Flying

There's so much white noise... I should fetch the earplugs, but they're in a pocket, I can't even remember which one, in my borrowed backpack, and besides, it's too much hassle to get to, as it's tucked up there in the overhead bin. Which would mean having to wake up the person next to me. Even if I had them, I probably wouldn't be able to sleep. Too much coffee. Really, why did I... they say you should avoid caffeine when flying. But it was such a good chat, and wasn't that the idea of going around and seeing places? Getting into conversations? Then, voilà, as if by magic or design a person with a tray of things to make coffee came around. The hour was dark. The conversations began. And so, “Why not?" But yeah. Let me think. Wait, I do have the water thermos... the paint's been peeling off it and it's been quite around the block, at this point. Where.... oh, it's right next to my foot. Great. The water is still cool. That's really... that hits the spot.

Well, now. Here we are.

Once I was in Gujarat

I can't believe we're over India. It makes me smile. Once I was in Gujarat... Diu. Sunset. That was a nice trip... and just like this, I start to daydream a little, mostly equations and probabilities, wacked-out interpretations one arrives at when things are murky, and you're flying, about interstitial time and space. Then, and now. Years, and distances. I meet the eyes of the people who, like me, can't sleep, and are up and moving around, smiling when we notice each other. I'm getting cozy. The window seat is nice. Row 29. I'm all right. What airline is this, again? The details...

I'm still trying to work out how I got here, from wherever I just was. Wait. I can backcalculate.

I'm still fatigued from an overnight bus I took a few days ago. That's thrown me off. Somewhere in Poland. Before that, an all-day train, from Zakopane to Gdansk. Before that, was in Slovakia. Electric train lines, in a spot called the High Tatras, where I got a few days of quiet, then got to do some art projects in unbelievably poetic places.

So many things to talk about, but it's too soon to go into the fullness of these stories without, well, first noticing right now. Blurry. Cloudy. Sleepy.

I try to see what's way below, but there's only a lot of darkness, with occasional lines of lights. Bluish-white. Where are we now? I check the screen, but there's a movie on. Maybe it's a documentary. Queen. Well, that's cool. I'm going to sleep. Or try. A metal arm rest gets in the way of everything. A seat belt.

A shuffling, in the aisle. Who else is up?

“Some coffee?" A whisper, almost.

“All right. Yes. Thanks."

Now that I'm fully awake, I'll try to make some kind of summary statement about all this movement of late. Ready? Here we go.

Snapping the Shots, Making the Frames

Often, the places where I land are nothing at all as I picture them; shortly I find that whatever vague expectations I may have had will pool in an uncomfortable mismatch with the actuality of arrival. That, curiously, isn't such a bad thing. In fact, reflecting on the last ten weeks, I think it's necessary. A jarring sensation kind of unnerves you just enough to help you begin to really see, to truly explore. And whatever your mode of documenting the experience (for me, it's writing and photography, for the zines), the stuff you create, I believe, will be better if you're just not sure what you are dealing with when you show up.

Ask me about that, sometime, if we ever...

Preparedness, in other words, can block you from fresh inputs. Snapping the shots, making the frames, learning the vernacular as best I can on these short, fast, mostly visual tours... these things have been challenging and not without impediments, for sure. Ask me about that, sometime, if we ever meet in person. But the range of experience is good, I feel. These, of course, are part of Kismuth's bigger narrative: of drift.

Rarely on these travels do I have the space, really, to stop and think through what I have uncovered. That's because it's too in-the-midst-of-it to grapple with all the many pieces of information, and of course an array of feelings and emotions that also play out, often unexpectedly, in these channels of flux and flow.

Simply let yourself...just be.

I'm being vague, I know that. I'm sorry, it's just... too early to figure out how these patterns are going to look, when I have the distance I need to retrace them. For now, I'm trying not to overanalyze. Doing my best to follow the advice, I hope, of some of the great philosophers and poets. Who tell us to still ourselves, more than anything, and see the things that reveal themselves when you simply let yourself... just be.

Wasn't that the learning from the old trip to Finland a year ago? A full year... A man who has spent eighteen years painting white lines on the highways of that country, going north to south and south to north, told it to me that way. I'd asked how they pass the time in the darkness of the winter months. And he'd said, straight and sure: “I don't know...' (as if it were a silly question). “We just... just be."

Familiar space of transit

So many journeys since Helsinki. Touching down from there to Kuala Lumpur, then moving back for a short stretch to Phnom Penh, then seeing my parents in Singapore, then zipping around to some of my favorite places, spots like Hà N?i, Ðà N?ng, Hu?. Moving from there to Tokyo, to Thailand's Kanchanaburi, suddenly seeing spring in Riga. Shortly, a circling back to Thailand. To Bangkok.

Now I'm in the familiar space of transit, once again.

Where is the water?

Oh, here.

I'm not the only one who falls in love with movement for the sake of it: there's a word: wanderlust. Joy of unbound travel. There's also fernweh, longing for that which is far.

Am I coming home, or going on to a new adventure? Or are those things one and the same?

Think we're starting the descent toward the.... airport... Suvarnabhumi.

And then, wherever's... next.

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Dipika Kohli is the author of Kanishka, The Elopement, and Breakfast in Cambodia. See www.kismuth.com.