A solo, self-financed trip Prague. Every term has a heavy ring to it. I am possibly one of the privileged ones to acknowledge this was to be my second visit to the city, albeit alone. However, it was a trip of many firsts—the first time I undertook this long a journey without any travel companion, the first time I was travelling with the map of the city’s metro route in my pocket, the first time I was figuring out public transport in an alien city, the first time I was living alone in the mixed dorm of a backpackers’ hostel, the first time I explored a city on foot walking over 8 km in a single day and the first time I was presenting a self-authored academic paper in front of highly global and well-read audience. Each of these firsts produced an obvious feeling of fear and intimidation that turned into thrill and satisfaction once they were accomplished.
It all began with an official e-mail in July informing me of the selection of my paper into a global conference on the theme “Erotic”. I had sent in my abstract with faint hopes of a callback. It was easy to pitch as my paper was ready—an excerpt from a larger dissertation I wrote during my Masters. While I was happy with the final shape of my first-ever academic thesis, I was restless to present it to a wider audience for further critique and feedback. Given the fact that it is on contemporary erotic literature, I was more than eager for it to be published or read out in bigger and greater forums. My topic of research was time and context specific—21st century South Asian erotic literature. I figured the sooner I present it, the better for my research and retaining its freshness and relevance.
While I was elated at being selected for an academic writing (the kind of writing I am not a great fan of and still struggling with) that not just presented me with the opportunity to present but also be published in an eBook, I got the much-needed bolt from the blue on knowing that none of this was to be funded by the organizers; I was to bear the cost of all expenses. A ten-hour flight to a destination 5,700 kilometers away, paying the registration fees, hunting for the cheapest accommodation available, bearing food and travel costs—all this translated into an estimated expenditure value of 1 lakh rupees (100,000 INR). Not that it needs to be stated out loud but, no, I do not have that kind of money. I’ve never handled so many zeroes at the same time, frankly!
I did the math to figure out just how much of cut backs I would be required to do to reach anywhere close to the target amount. And it was a hard pill to swallow that no matter how many deductions I do (I even considered turning vegan for four months to cut dairy expenses), I could not save that many 0s after 1 without some external donation to Mission Prague. I did some more math to count how many people I could ask for their generous contribution and how much I could ask/expect from them. I had to generate 100,000 INR in 120 days. I had no savings. But I had friends and well-wishers who were happily and/or unhappily employed. Mission Prague seemed a lot closer than it did before.
I began crowdfunding and in three weeks, my bank balance crossed the 100,000 mark. This was the first time that I had consistently received “your account has been credited” messages from the bank. With the money all set, I began taking care of every expenditure step by step. Buying flight tickets. Paying Visa fees. Registering for the event. Booking the hostel. Getting the currencies converted (1 INR = 0.36 CZK). And of course, polishing my paper every day so it sounded less juvenile and more classy in keeping with the audience. I had print outs of my flight ticket, a city map of Prague, city metro map, my travel insurance, booking confirmation from the hostel and the invite letter from the organizers. In fact, I had a print out of all the items I had a print out of! I was all set to fly [pun intended].
To be continued…