Tell me if you want me to pawn your title deed and bring you the money so you could travel too. Vijayan has found a simple solution for me to travel, just like him and his wife Mohana. “Or else you could sell off the gold you wear. Why do you need gold – it is only good for your children to sell it off later,” he suggests.
He is 69, she is 67. By now the world knows their story as the couple who loves to travel, with the savings from their humble tea shop in Kochi, and from loans taken. They have ticked off 23 countries in less than 12 years. And now, the two have just got back from visiting Argentina, Peru and Brazil – the west end of the world that had been a long-time dream.
“Soman’s Tours said it’d cost Rs 8 lakh. When I said I didn’t have that much, they reduced the amount to Rs 5 lakh. I am still paying off the loans for the trip,” Vijayan says. He is a favourite of travel agencies, they both are. The airlines like them too. Vijayan says they compete with each other to get the couple on board. This is no kind of boasting or exaggeration. Vijayan is a man who simply spells out things as they are, he doesn’t feel the need to be modest about it.
Twenty-seven-year-old Drew Binsky from the United States has just made a short video of their story, when he was visiting Kochi. Vijayan is simply impressed by this young man who has covered 153 countries already and is going to visit 40 more to make it to the Guinness Book of Records. There is pride in his voice that comes from the mutual respect for a fellow traveller. “He came to my tea shop, drank my tea and spoke of his travel. And he is only 27!” Vijayan and Mohana could not start so early. He tells me to calculate, 69 minus 12, so that’s already his 50s when he first began his travels.
“If you go for daily wage jobs and toil from 8 am to 5 pm you get Rs 700 or 800 don’t you? I start at 5.30 am and go on till 7.30 pm, that’s over 12 hours. Shouldn’t I get at least a thousand rupees a day? Shouldn’t my wife get it? Shouldn’t my daughter and son-in-law who help us at the store get it?” Vijayan asks his rightful question. Of course he should, and the Kochi folks in the neighbourhood would only be happy to give it to them. Even from far and across the world, people who hear their story want to make contributions to help them travel.
When Vijayan and Mohana wanted to visit America, celebrities including Bollywood actor Anupam Kher had pooled in to raise Rs 3 lakh and send them off to New York, that he still lists as one of his favourites. The two other places both of them list are Switzerland and Paris. “Because of the dancing and the snow and because that was our honeymoon after our Sashtipoorthi Kalyanam,” he says. That’s a ceremony couples have when they turn 60, a wedding ceremony to celebrate the occasion. “In our 20s when we got married, we couldn’t go anywhere. So we went in our 60s,” he says and asks Mohana to speak a few words.
Mohana loved the rain in Peru, the waterfall in Argentina and the snow in Brazil. “Oh it is cold but we have our winter clothes. Sometimes the food won’t suit me. But I take chutney powder and pickles with me, so that works just fine,” Mohana says.
“You know how people love her smile? It is like Monalisa’s. That alone brings tips of Rs 500 and Rs 1000 from customers, those who just want to see her smile,” Vijayan says with a lot of love.
Even recently, Chairman of Mahindra Group, Anand Mahindra had tweeted he wanted to fund their wedding anniversary and crowdfund with others to make them travel somewhere they wished to. “His man came around to the shop and asked for my appointment. They must’ve thought I was a big shot, asking for appointments! I said I am just a tea shop vendor. They asked if we’d like to go to Sweden. Why not, Sweden, Denmark and Norway – that’s the western end of the world, we could go there. Beyond that we perhaps couldn’t, we are in that age, you know?” he asks like you might have forgotten that little fact, and he is right. With all the stories of their relentless travelling and the way his voice and hers come so determined, you forget they are nearing their 70s.
They may not figure in the Forbes Rich list but in my view, they are amongst the richest people in our country.Their wealth is their attitude to life. The next time I’m in their town I am definitely dropping by for tea & a tour of their exhibits.. pic.twitter.com/PPePvwtRQs— anand mahindra (@anandmahindra) January 9, 2019
It is mostly the two of them that go, but to China recently, they went as the whole family – two daughters, their husbands, three grandchildren. “We went to the Forbidden City, to the Great Wall that we couldn’t climb, through the bullet train from Beijing to Shanghai, through a boating cruise and an aquarium under the sea,” he says almost poetically.
He doesn’t make long term plans, he says, or decide what’s the next place to go to. “Nothing will happen if you make long term plans. You just do it spontaneously. There would always be two tickets for me and her,” he says.