In 1965, two things happened, writes KR Vijayan in a book he authored with his wife Mohana. The movie Chemmeen released and he began the habit of watching every new movie on the day of its release. He was a boy then, sneaking out on a bus from Cherthala to Ernakulam city, the first trips away from home. The love for travel was planted by his father, a tea shop owner, when he took little Vijayan to Ernakulam. Growing up, he disappeared every now and then, boarding the first bus he saw, without even checking the destination.
Mohana joined him in his pursuits when they both reached their 50s. Saving every extra rupee from the tea shop they jointly ran in Kochi, the couple went on trips across the world, grew famous, and got written about. Nine days ago, Vijayan died of a cardiac arrest. By then he had visited 25 countries with Mohana, and had only just returned from a trip to Russia.
â€śVijayan and Mohana are a perfect couple who are living the happiest life that anyone can live,â€ť travel vlogger Drew Binsky wrote in the preface of their book, Chaya Vittu Vijayanteyum Mohanayudeyum Loka Sancharangal â€“ World tours of Vijayan and Mohana, by selling tea.
In the book, which was published in 2020, the couple writes about their curious life travelling across the world with admirable honesty. Vijayan has written most of it, chronicling his love for travel from the time of his early childhood. To anyone who asked him why he wanted to travel, he immediately said â€“ because he wanted to see places. Itâ€™s the same love that took him to Ernakulam in his schooldays, forgoing the money meant to pay his fees, and what later made him and Mohana travel continents.
Through the pages, Vijayan admits to having been reckless in his youth, never being able to hold on to money, spending it all on his travel whims. Even as he got married as a young man and even after the couple bore children, he did not break his habits. He sold things, took off without a word and reappeared a week or two later. Mohana worried a lot on his behalf. At one point, Vijayan sold Mohanaâ€™s gold chain that she had given him to pawn to buy essentials. He went to Tirupati and roamed around for two weeks till he had no money left and came back home penniless.
Vijayan writes of all this without holding back, baring his wayward ways. Mohana, on her part, writes of those early days when she understood the ways of her husband whoâ€™d sell anything to go on a trip away from home. People had advised her to split and save herself. But she stayed with the faith that it will all work out in the end. And it did, she writes, for she too joined him in his efforts after taking over the finances. Vijayan writes with pride how Mohana has taken over the money matters and there has been peace in the family since then. He canâ€™t handle money, she is great at it, Vijayan writes. He calls me his manager, she says.
They always relied on travel packages from tour companies. The first country they visited was Egypt in 2008. It was a pilgrimage organised by Sandeepananda Giriâ€™s School of Bhagavad Gita. Mohana and Vijayan didnâ€™t even have passports then. Everything happened quickly â€“ they sold jewellery, got a loan and took off. After every trip theyâ€™d work hard to pay off the loans they took.
Mohana shares her pearls of wisdom â€“ put away Rs 200 or 300, or whatever you can, every day. She is easily the more open-minded among the two, despite Vijayanâ€™s early exposure to travel and reading (he reads about every place he wants to travel to). Vijayan, for instance, wanted a son so that he could do his funeral rites when he passed. The couple bore two daughters. Mohana writes that they tried to talk some sense into Vijayan by telling him that it doesnâ€™t matter if there are no sons; what matters is that they raise the children well, whether they are sons or daughters. At another point, she writes that they always tell their co-travellers about being tea-sellers and then they are treated with respect everywhere. She writes about economising by buying cheap clothes, eating fruits during the trip and avoiding all shopping. â€śIt is when you try to be someone else that there is a problem. If we live as ourselves there will be no trouble,â€ť she notes.
â€śWe have had a lot of struggles in life. But after this, we want to do what we like as far as we can,â€ť she writes.
So they went off every few years to countries in Europe, South America, to the United States â€“ for which monetary contributions came after a TNM story went viral â€“ to Australia and Russia and more. Mohanaâ€™s favourite is New Zealand, she says, because of the natural beauty and good air. Vijayan found the New Zealand countryside so charming that he thought they could live there. â€śWhatever developed cities we live in, we have a tendency to retire to villages,â€ť he writes almost philosophically.
But Vijayanâ€™s observations are always so sharp, he appears to take in much more than what the pretty sights offer. He sees how many countries value privacy highly. No one cared when he wore a mundu in a foreign country, as others in his travel group feared. He also took note of the cleanliness and rightly says that hygiene can come only from the efforts of individuals, there was no use blaming the government for it.
While he stresses he is a believer, Vijayan also adds that he is a leftist. He was influenced by the concepts of human love and a casteless society, and in his SSLC book he wrote his name as KR Vijayan in place of Vijayanadha Prabhu (which would reveal his caste identity).
Several times in the book, Vijayan speaks of death. He doesnâ€™t know how long he can travel but he would as long as possible, he writes. And if at one point he became too weak to travel, he would still have memories of the places he visited. But Vijayan didnâ€™t have to lie down weakly in a bed. His death was sudden, only days after â€śseeingâ€ť Russia like he had long desired to. TNM's Haritha John who wrote an addendum to the book says that the couple is the best example of how one can conquer dreams and how one can live life.