Akram Feroze, a solo traveler living on Robert Louis Stevenson's saying - “For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.” He is also a theatre artist, director, and a solo traveler. He has been traveling across the country for more than two years now. He is often locomoting on his bicycle but every now and then he takes a break from his cycle and hitchhike for a while.
Let's read about a traveler's perspective of the world and life with an insight into his journey:
1. Before we begin, tell us about yourself in a nutshell.
=> I am Akram Feroze, a dropout, hailing from a small town Jagtial, in Karimnagar, a district of Andhra Pradesh. I love food, talking, rains and fantasies. I am emotional, excited, and I strongly believe in living in the moment. Theatre is my passion, something which makes me complete.
2. Interesting! What is your earliest memory of being enchanted with travelling?
=> In my 12th Standard, an elderly man (must be in his 50s) from Yugoslavia came to our college, he was travelling across world by foot, I don’t remember his name, but that was something which has always been in the back of my mind, though it never came out openly until one day. Then there are always those fantasies built in school days when you’re sitting idly bored of your monotonous life thinking of something to do. And in my case I had rarely journeyed out of my town.
3. You dropped out of college, what was the reason behind that impulsive act?
=> Well, you can say it was pretty much an impulsive act, I was pursuing my graduation in Genetics, but one day in my second year I suddenly discovered my love for arts and social sciences, I felt like leaving genetics and pursuing my graduation in arts or social sciences, and more over I was not coming in terms with certificate education but had no choice, that’s how the system works. Though I could not drop out in second year, but in the final year I had one of the toughest phase of my life, a relationship failure, which had broke me completely, I could not come in terms with the reality, I was shattered, it was tough emotionally, tougher than I could handle myself then, if not for few good men like my professor Moloy Goswani, my story was dead end. I was fighting with myself, trying to rediscover myself, and then there was a moment when I felt “I should allow myself to be what I am, if I want to drop out, I shall drop out”. And now I feel that, that impulsive decision helped me to relive what I believed in internally.
4. What made you take the sudden leap to going solo with your bicycle? Was there any plan?
=> I come from a middle class town family, where savings are more important than living and traveling is a dead culture. I had generally travelled from my town to Hyderabad city that too only for my graduation apart to that I had not seen much of life around. Those fantasies were building inside, I want to see life away from that 4 walled room, away from boundaries of my town, beyond the Hyderabad city, beyond the reach of states, and I was not coming in terms with society, which judged me with my success and failures, It was strange for me as if I was carrying a burden of theirs to succeed, I wanted to break free, I wanted to move away from the world of insecurities and quick judgments, and that’s when I heard the call of my Fantasy from the back of mind. But financially that’s something my family could not afford, after a thorough thinking I decided to hit the road by walk, and travel across the country for 2 years, but when I revealed the idea to my parents, after 2 months of discussing the idea, my Dad suggested me to go on a bicycle. Nah there was never a idea of bicycle before, it was just a day before the start of journey that I bought a cycle and hit the road, before that I had cycled in my school days years and years ago. And for 2 years travel, I could not find a person to leave his job and join me, so I had to start solo. Forget about finding a person, people were laughing at the idea in itself.
5. How difficult was it for you to convince your parents to take the difficult road when a comfortable one was in option?
=> It was difficult, damn difficult. It took couple of months of regular talks to convince them about the whole idea. I didn’t want their son to be a run-away from home; I wanted them to understand that I can do this, and there is no wrong in it and I will be happy doing it. But it was more of a crisscross of culture, I was trying to explain them a complete different way of life, and they weren’t willing to accept the idea. It was like you are trying to explain a staunch follower of one religion to change to another. And then they had the worries of my security, they had n number of “what & ifs”. What if you are robbed? What if you fall ill? It was tough, because even I didn’t have the answers to those questions; all I had was a blind faith in my dream. I convinced them to allow me to try for 15 days on the condition that they will allow me to continue if I survive those 15 days well. I suppose I am doing awesomely well that till now I have their confidence to keep me continuing with it. And my whole travel journey is just not my own feelings but it is also a journey of my relationships.
6. Definitely, convincing our parents for allowing us to do what we want to do is tougher that doing the thing itself. And the very fact that you didn't give up shows how firm you were with your decision. Well, tell us Akram, at any moment were you scared to be alone on the road? Did you have moments of insecurity?
=> Scared? If you are beaten by drunkards in some unknown village, don’t you get scared? If you are arrested for murder cases, don’t you get scared? If you are having lunch with robbers in an unknown village, don’t you get scared? When you find snakes in your bed, don’t u get scared? You stay with unknown people who get drunk and start fighting among themselves with knifes then don’t you get scared? When you see a truck run over a body scattering blood all over the road as you pass, don’t you get scared? I certainly do, I have my fears and insecurities. You constantly have to keep on over coming them.
7. You wanted to break-free and see more of the country as you had not traveled much before, and even traveling is not a comfortable endeavor, like you just told us how unpredictably scary the journey gets, what is the motive that keeps you going?
=> “Motive” does travelling require a motive? Anyway as I said I wanted to see life beyond the boundaries, learn from people and share it back to them. Travelling is an evolving process, it has changed over a period of time, like at first I was trying to do theatre, then I was learning theatre, then I started exploring cultures, then I got closer to grass-root issues, it has been a process, I can only say the motive is to learn and share, and what I am learning and sharing, I will leave it to road!
8. Traveling is indeed a learning process. How has it changed you as a person?
=> Immensely, what I started as a 2 year tour across country became the way of my life in itself, I don’t see the end of road now, that’s why I break free from my cycle for a few months and hitchhike across the country and come back to cycle again. I no longer have a urge to settle, or have a house or own a car, when I can sleep peacefully and happily at any footpath I don’t understand the need of a comfortable cozy bedroom, I won’t say I have completely broken the shackles of materialism, but I certainly realized the difference between needs and wants. And the biggest learning has been the meaning of love and freedom, it has completely changed my thought process, I love people or things even if I am not attached to them, it does not matter if the person or thing is with me to love it. I can be detachably attached to the same. And the other important thing traveling teaches you is compassion, and a journey like this takes you closer to people and their issues, like I was always away from politics reforms which was like a boring front page news, suddenly that becomes the most important, and then when I look back and say I wanted to break free, I realise that I have rather become more sensitive and responsible about the same freedom. And I believe these changes would keep happening as you keep learning new things on road. Traveling in a true sense is nothing but a mere reflection of life.
9. Traveling solo is as dreadful as enchanting; you must have been through different kinds of troubles, what keeps you going?
=> “Awesomeness” If you look at my posts on Facebook, many times you will find “Awesome Feroze”, I constantly have to motivate myself, I constantly have to seek inspiration from myself, people might say its self indulging, it might be, I can be inspired by XXX person or thing, and start my journey, but when you are all alone on road, struck, tired and frustrated, you break down crying on road, no one comes to pat your back and say “get up chap , you are doing well, keep moving” you have to look back at the day when you broke free and went for your dreams, to remind yourself, you had the courage to do it, you are awesome and you can do this too, to start extrinsic motivation might work, but to sustain it, it has to be intrinsic motivation. I constantly keep going back to day1 or zero, because it was tough and when I remember that I survived through that I know that can do this too.
10. I am sure you must have explored India from extremely rural areas to the extremely urban ones, how would you describe what the combination brings out to be named India?
=> Now to answer this, I will tell you about an experience, I was paddling in Tamil Nadu in the south east coast of the country, I saw a beautiful church, the whole church looked like an architectural masterpiece, I was just struck with the beauty of the church, and as I paddled another 50 to 100 meters, I saw a women standing in front of a small hut, barely able to cover her sagging breast, with a baby in hand crying for food. I was lost, I was shaken, tears flowed down, and I didn’t know how to react to the contrasting nation I saw in few minutes. We are a lost nation unable to answer which is the right way ahead, we are lost in oppression , I am not talking just about the oppression by rich and powerful, but also oppression exhibited by the oppressed, we are lost in cultural transformation. There is a complete disconnect in the ideologies, in the culture and way to look forward between the urban and rural. There are land struggles, natural resources struggle, and people’s movements which the urban world just cannot connect to these struggles, because it does not pinch them directly and also there is a lack of understanding of rural nation. I could only say even being a strong cultural nation; we are still evolving with the culture. Yes a traveler like me have been able to survive without much cash but on kindness and love of people, that speaks a ton about the nation’s cultural greatness, but that does not mean we don’t have caste discrimination, child marriages, women oppression, labour exploitation, blind rituals, and all these are also a part of our culture, that why I say we have a long
11. Tell us about ‘The Cycle Natak’? How do you associate it with traveling?
=> My Bicycle Journey Is called as The Cycle Natak. I had been doing theatre before the start of my journey, and theatre is my passion, and like travelling fantasy, Cycle Natak was also a fantasy, I was introduced to theatre very late in my life, which was during my graduation when I moved to city. Before that being in town, I had never watched a theatre. And I used to hear the olden tales of how theatre groups travelled from villages to villages to perform theatre, so once I decided to travel for 2 long years, I didn’t want to disassociate with my passion for theatre, so I thought I would try performing theatre wherever possible. And once I decided I was gonna travel on cycle, the fantasy grew like “A man on his cycle came to my village stayed here, performed theatre and he went away in air”. Though it’s a fantasy, but I keep trying to do that wherever possibly I can.
12. How do you collaborate with different people at different places for your moving theatre (Natak Mandali)?
=> Like me, even my theatre has evolved through the journey, at first I used to do random monologues, which used to fail as I had no idea about folk and classical theatre which is preferred in villages, moreover having no scripts, no props, no costumes, no makeups , no stage, I was a complete flop show, then I started meeting various theatre groups during the journey and learnt whatever I could from them, then I worked on playback theatre involving the villagers stories and making them act casually, it was more fun, and as I traveled more, I got involved in grassroots issues and social problems, and I started doing theatre workshops with students in school, slowly got them in confidence and along with the students I do street theatre mostly which is very effective in reaching the message to the villagers, sometimes I train local organizations on how to use theatre for a change. It has been a process, and I am still learning the better way to collaborate and perform. Journey is long, so I am taking my time and moving on.
13. What drove your passion for theatre?
=> It was my maternal grandfather, with whom I stayed in city for graduation; he was a playwright, though he is best known for his short stories in Urdu. He introduced me to theatre, being a trustee of the biggest theatre foundation in Hyderabad, he used to take me to shows of Naseeruddin Shah, Arundhati Nag, Anupam Kher, Girish Karnad, plays of Habib Tanvir and the best of India theatre, I was awestruck with theatre, and I started experimenting in college.
14. You travel on a shoe-string budget, how do you sustain yourself through the journey?
=> I keep it simple, never stay in hotels, never buy clothes and accessories, even a torn t-shirt work for me for days, I avoid eating in hotels. I suppose travelling on bicycle or hitch hiking has helped me here, most of the labours who give me food, see the stinking t-shirt and connect to quickly, if you are going by a car and say that you are looking for food, I doubt many would offer the hospitality. Though I do require cash sometimes, for a few things so for that I work as an unskilled labour, in agricultural farms or construction units, sometimes as a fisherman, sometimes as a teacher, or trainer, and sometimes I use my skill of theatre in workshops. And I don’t travel in public transports (unless there is an emergency) so that helps too.
15. You have a huge fan following for your courageous endeavors. How did people take your decision initially? Were there any acts of cynicism or criticism towards you? How do you deal with it?
=> Fan following is terrible, I am strongly against that culture. Fans are required when you have to sell something, I don’t have anything to sell, I just have to learn and share. More over I would prefer people who admire and appreciate my efforts honestly and add critical value to the learning’s. And most of them have come late in my journey so they weren’t a part of it initially. But relatives and friends were a part of that cynicism and criticism initially; it was tough then as no-one was ready to show any confidence. At a friend’s gathering before the start of journey, I was the butt of jokes for everyone. It was very frustrating. The only thing I could do then was laugh with them and get more determined. Anyway I had never understood this society’s way on how differently they perceive a human being when the person fails or succeed. I better live my dreams, because the experience I get out of it cannot be weighed on a balance of success or failures.
16. You hitchhike, you seek help from strangers, you are always on an adventurous and an unpredictable ride, tell us about one interesting incident that you would never like to forget.
=> It is the most difficult question, because there are so many stories and to select one is always difficult. Well, I guess I have to choose one and tell you. I was hitch hiking from Jaipur to Mumbai, at around 10 o clock, after a trolley auto dropped me 120kms before Udaipur, I was looking for my next lift, after a long wait, a car stopped, I asked him for Udaipur, he signaled to get in, after ten minutes of silence, I decided to break the ice, and I introduced myself to him and as I asked about him, he shouted furiously “Don’t talk or else I will throw you out of the car!” the way he shouted it scared the hell out of me, I kept mum for some time wondering where was he driving in this night and I couldn’t make out the road, so I thought I will update about my whereabouts on Facebook, in case something goes wrong, I put my hand in my pocket looking for my mobile, he shouted back, “remove your hands, remove your hands from pocket or else I will beat you up!” I at once removed my hands out of pocket and I told him it’s nothing just my mobile, I took out my mobile and showed him, and then he replied I am dropping you in the next town, just get down. Even I felt I should get down, as soon as he stopped his car I got down saying ‘thanks’. After getting down I wondered was he more scared or me? :D It sounds funny, but it was dam scary then.
17. Where do you see yourself 5 years down the line?
=> I do not know where I am tomorrow, most of the days I don’t know where I will be sleeping or eating at night. It is impossible to tell anything about 5 years down the line, I have left it on the road to decide, like a obedient student, or a son or a lover I will move wherever it takes me. Don’t be surprised if you see me on road all my life, as I am madly in love with the unknown roads and the mysticism it unfolds!
18. Traveling enchants everyone but not everyone is able to go for it for different reasons. What would you say to aspiring travelers?
=>“Just pack your bags and move” stop looking at travelogues, stop wondering if you’ve the required stuff, start with whatever you have, road is an amazing teacher if you are open to learning’s, mind it I am telling this to travelers and not to tourists. There is a huge difference in both. As a traveler, you should be ready to move out of insecurities and fight with yourself and slowly you will fall in peace.
19. Do you think traveling is something that should be pursued by Indian women? What would you say to the ones who wants to travel on a shoe-string budget?
=> Travelling should be pursued regardless of gender, and why shouldn’t women pursue it? It’s a right to freedom of everyone. Though with all the crime news it makes traveling look unsafe, and people keep on talking about sexual perverts, psychos, but that is not the most important thing to think of, with psychos it can happen anytime, anywhere, to anyone you need not be travelling to experience that, it can happen to males too. But the major issue to think of will be the cultural cult, those cultural groups who are not ready to accept the cultural transformation. In India, women freedom is curbed and the shameful part is that it is done in the name of culture. Hence that way I strongly believe women should travel, and I don’t know how they would be received. But even if they’re not received very well, one has got to be humble and determined to move forward, as they will be building a new culture, and travelling on a shoe-string budget gets you closer to people, and new culture can be built only by winning the hearts of people. So for all aspiring women travelers my suggestion is same “Pack your bags, the road will guide and teach you."
Rapid-fire round : -
- Favourite book :
=> My facebook time :D I just love reading the updates and get inspired, I am not an avid reader, Panchatantra remains my fav for it teaches the common sense.
- Your role
=> My Grandfather, Kadir Zaman.
- One hobby you
wish to inculcate :
=> Might be reading.
- One thing you
=> Nothing, everything is a process. On a lighter note losing mobile phones and losing all my contacts at different places I visited.
- One place you
would recommend us to travel to :
=> Andaman and Nicobar
=> Any meat, I am a non-veg lover. Though the best I have ever tasted is Meat Soup in the small village of Karen tribal community in Andaman.
Thank you Akram for sharing about your experiences and spreading inspiration. :)