Meet the Traveller: Gina Joseph

*Meet the Traveller is a series on Potli Baba, of conversations with people who have been inspired by travel.*

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Potli Baba’s note: First off, this post has been a year in the making, because I was preoccupied with less important things like life and work. Since my first interview with her, I’ve reconnected with Gina to understand how her year has been so far; from exhibitions at Kala Ghoda and Singapore, to being one of the 25 chosen for the Milestone Makers Programme – a collaboration between Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center and Startup India – she’s had a busy, enriching year.

Dear Gina, thank you for your patience. A year is a long time to wait for a conversation with you to be published! 

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The word ‘Stories’, inked just below her wrist, plays hide and seek with the clinking silver bangles as she scribbles her answers in my notebook. Head bent in concentration, she pauses from time to time to tuck her hair behind her ear and think of the various stories she has gathered over the years travelling to different parts of India, working with remote tribal communities to create beautiful pieces of quintessential Indian jewellery. Meet Gina Joseph, Founder and Creator of Zola. Much like the pieces she creates, Gina’s evolution as an entrepreneur challenges convention. From the craft of advertising to the craft of creating stories through beads, metal and fabric, what a journey it’s been.

“It just happened by chance”, she says. Zola started off as a piece for her design project and quickly grew to become a name familiar to women who want to make a statement with simple, elegant accessories. Combining her new-found love for creating magic through fabric, metal, leather and colours with her wanderlust was an unplanned dream come true. There were hurdles along the way – the initial struggle, finding investors and yes, brands plagiarising her designs – but she’s only emerged all the stronger for it. Recently, she got herself inked a second time, inspired by The Great Wave off Kanagawa created by Japanese ukiyo-e artist Hokusai, with a mountain and a red full moon-like dot over it. “When an immovable object meets an insurmountable force… the wave and the mountain. So, however tough life gets and pushes you, you have to stand strong. That’s my learning in my years of existence.”

Travel is how Gina unwinds, recharges and discovers local art forms as well as artisans. She loves planning for trips that she will take one day and wills the universe to make them happen. Here she is, sharing her story.

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Gina 2
Picture Courtesy: Gina Joseph.

Describe yourself in one word. Story-Collector.

Where do you live? Chennai.

Where have you travelled to till date? USA, Kenya, Sweden, Oslo and Singapore. In India, Kashmir, the heartland of Orissa, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Tamil Nadu for Zola workshops. I’ve travelled most of North India too, but am yet to explore North East and hope to do this at the earliest.

Travel to you is: A form of meditation. I can’t sit still and meditate for long, so travel is my escape that enriches me at every step.

Five things your travel bag will always have: Phone, power bank, medicines, money and Vaseline. 

Wanderer or tourist? Wanderer.

Mountains, beaches, deserts, jungles, nature or adventure sports? Beaches, jungles and nature.

Plan your own travel or get someone to do it for you? I plan it all.

What’s your favourite journey to date? Your travel memory? Every journey lets me discover something new about myself, so can’t name just one.  

If you were a city/town/country/place, which would you be and why? India. For the vibrant colours, different cultures, history, food and stories. 

How has travel inspired you? Travel has been the best teacher and inspiration to me. It’s made me stronger emotionally, mentally and also a lot more open to things in life.

Complete this sentence: If the world could fit into your palm, you would Well, I wouldn’t want to fit the world in my palm. Just the fact that I am such a small part of this world is exciting and humbling at the same time… so let me explore it one day at a time.

Meet the traveller: Sumitra Senapaty

*Meet the Traveller is a series on Potli Baba, of conversations with people who have been inspired by travel.*

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Two years ago, I discovered a new way to travel – one that doesn’t involve depending on friends, family or acquaintances to find the time to holiday with you. This modern marvel of mankind was called Women on Wanderlust (WOW) – an organisation that put together trips exclusively for women. My first trip with WOW was to Leh/Ladakh – a week with 15 women who I had never before met in my life. It was as scary as it was exciting, but the apprehension was unnecessary – the trip was flawless in every way. I’ve travelled with them again since, and it’s been as good.

Women on Wanderlust is Sumitra Senapaty’s brainchild, started almost 10 years ago. She went on a drive across New Zealand on her own and met a bunch of women from the UK, which is when she was introduced to the concept of groups of women who’ve never met each other before travelling together. Today, WOW does at least 30 trips across India and the world every year.

I had the good fortune of connecting with Sumitra recently, and had an extremely enjoyable conversation with her. She radiates warmth and kindness, and is a joy to talk to because she has so many stories from all her travels across the globe. Here she is in conversation with Potli Baba.

Sumitra at Mt. Sinai, Egypt
Picture courtesy: Sumitra Senapaty. Her photograph definitely captured the spirit of travel way better than mine did!

Describe yourself in one word. Wanderer.

Where do you live? Sometimes in Delhi, more often in Bangalore; that is, when I am not wandering to destinations the world over.

Where have you travelled to till date? USA, UK, Turkey, Morocco, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Greece, Switzerland, Spain, Croatia, Poland, Austria, Oman, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Hong Kong, Borneo, Singapore, Seychelles, Australia, New Zealand, France, South Africa, Bhutan, Namibia, Tanzania, Kenya, China, Japan, Peru, Ecuador, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Sri Lanka, Ladakh, Gujarat, Kerala, Rajasthan and many other parts of India.

Travel to you is: My passion, my life. I am obsessed with travel.

Five things your travel bag will always have: Shades, camera, headlamp, set of clothes and cell phone. 

Wanderer or tourist? Clearly a wanderer and a traveller, not a tourist.

Mountains, beaches, deserts, jungles, nature or adventure sports? A bit of all I think; I am greedy! 

Plan your own travel or get someone to do it for you? I like to plan it myself.

What’s your favourite journey to date? Your travel memory? Wandering through the Galapagos is my all-time favourite. The close encounters with the birds and animals are unbelievably touching.  

If you were a city/town/country/place, which would you be and why? The continent of Africa, because of its diversity of life and awesome flora and fauna. 

How has travel inspired you? Travel has inspired me to take life as it comes, with the highs and the lows, to adjust to circumstances, to make the best of the times, to appreciate and care for Earth. 

Complete this sentence: If the world could fit into your palm, you would be a gypsy.

Meet the traveller: Gaurav Vaz

*Meet the Traveller is a series on Potli Baba, of conversations with people who have been inspired by travel.*

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If any of you have heard The Raghu Dixit Project play, you’ll pick up the unmistakable rhythm of the bass guitar guiding the song along. A curly-haired, smiling man and his beloved stringed instrument are at the other end of these notes. That’s Gaurav Vaz for you, swinging along to the music, always smiling.

My longest interaction with him was in my teenage years at a social gathering. My second longest was when I met him at a quaint little patisserie to talk about the things he and Potli Baba had in common: a love for travel. (Case in point – he’s on his third passport booklet!)

He may look laid-back and easy-going, but Gaurav is a fount of energy – he plays with the band, consults for a record label and puts his core skills as a computer software engineer to use as a Web developer, among a million other things. He’s also a walking, talking repository of stories – all accumulated on his many travels, and bound to make you smile, even laugh. If you ever get a chance to meet him backstage, strike up a conversation. Oh, and don’t forget to ask him what he thinks of America’s highways.

G.Vaz

Describe yourself in one word. Curious!

Where do you live? In Bangalore, India.

Where have you travelled to till date? A lot of places, especially with my band, The Raghu Dixit Project.

Travel to you is: Fun and something everyone should do often!

Five things your travel bag will always have: Laptop/iPad and all related gadgets, multiple chargers for all these gadgets, my phone, which has replaced all cameras and video equipment I used to previously carry.

Everything else I can manage to find wherever I go. Also, my passport is always on me!

Wanderer or tourist? I’d prefer to say Wanderer, but in quite a few places, I am happy being a tourist :)

Mountains, beaches, deserts, jungles, nature or adventure sports? Nature, mountains / beaches, jungles, deserts and then adventure sports – in that order :P

Plan your own travel or get someone to do it for you? Plan my own travel always and with the band, also plan other people’s travel ;)

What’s your favourite journey to date? Your travel memory? 

I think Norway is the most beautiful place I have yet seen and some of my fondest travel memories are of boating through the fjords in Norway to have lunch on the mountain side where they cooked a leg of lamb in the earth for six hours!

If you were a city/town/country/place, which would you be and why? London! My favourite city outside Bangalore. I think it has the perfect mix of the old and contemporary, it is modern and timeless at the same time. I love that there is so much to do and see and you can walk everywhere!

How has travel inspired you? More than just travel, it is the interesting people I’ve met and become friends with from around the world. That inspires me to continue traveling. I think we grow up very closeted in India and don’t really know much of the world that exists, and when you travel and meet people and see places that are so vastly different from your own, it opens your mind to new cultures, new possibilities and new ideas!

It makes you appreciate this earth a lot more and be a better person!

Complete this sentence: If the world could fit into your palm, you would… never need another visa!

Meet the traveller: Prarthana Krishnamurthy

*Meet the Traveller is a new series on Potli Baba, of conversations with people who have been inspired by travel.*

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Prarthana Krishnamurthy discovered photography in the days following her move away from practicing law. I’m not even half the traveller she is. Her face lit up with every little anecdote and journey she recounted for me, turning me into a six-year old who hung on to her words with every ounce of interest I possessed. Her passion shines through, and talking to her has given me new perspectives on travel and photography. She’s holding her first photography exhibition at Atta Galatta in Koramangala, Bangalore from December 9-16. If you’re in the city, you must visit her exhibition to know what I’m talking about.

Prarthana

Describe yourself in one word. Simple.

Where do you live? Currently, Singapore.

Where have you travelled to till date? I’ve covered most of Europe, Asia and India, and a bit of the U.S.

Travel to you is: Everything. I think places talk to you.

Five things your travel bag will always have: My camera, iPad, hard disk, phone… I always travel with my gizmos.

Wanderer or tourist? Wanderer.

Mountains, beaches, deserts, jungles, nature or adventure sports? All of them!

Plan your own travel or get someone to do it for you? I plan my own travel.

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I took this picture mid-conversation with Prarthana, as she was talking about her trek to Everest Base Camp early this year and how it had changed her.

What’s your favourite journey to date? Your travel memory? After my tenth standard, I travelled across Karnataka with my dad. We were complete wanderers over those 15 days.

My travel memory is arriving back at Lukla, Nepal to Nak cheese pizza at a fairly questionable Starbucks – it meant that I had made it back alive from Everest Base Camp!

If you were a city/town/country/place, which would you be and why? Mumbai. Everything changes and yet, when you stay there, you know that nothing does.

How has travel inspired you? It overwhelms me. I can’t stop travelling. I remember the first view I had of the Himalayas. Nothing can come close to that experience. You realise how small and insignificant, how much of a zero you really are. It was a life-altering experience for me – I came back humbled, calmer, more accepting of things…

Complete this sentence: If the world could fit into your palm, you would… Stay that way forever, holding it.

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This is one of the many photographs from Prarthana’s exhibition. It was love at first sight for me.

Meet the traveller: Shilo Shiv Suleman

* Meet the Traveller is a new series on Potli Baba, of conversations with people who have been inspired by travel.*

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Shilo’s work as an illustrator/artist/designer/storyteller has been a mood-lifter from the moment I stumbled upon her blog six years ago. I’ve had the good fortune of interacting with her since and have discovered that her work and her art is a result of her many journeys. I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect person to start off this series with. Here she is, in conversation with Potli Baba.

Describe yourself in one word. Same as everyone else: LOVE.

Where do you live? In my heart. (And Bangalore)

Where have you travelled to till date? Goa, Hampi, Gokarna, Bengal, Meghalaya, Sikkim, Orissa, Kashmir, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Kutch, Maharashtra, Malwa (and many many more states/spaces in India), London, Scotland, Bali, Europe and soon, Brazil!

Travel to you is: Extending myself into the universe. Trust. Fearlessness. When I say trust I mean two things: trusting oneself, and trusting that your path is guided and protected. I think, for an Indian woman to travel alone despite all our years of social fear conditioning is an act of surrender, an act of trust. Trusting that nothing will harm you, trusting that you will actualize all that you dream of, trusting that your decisions are the right ones and that every journey is part of a much bigger journey into the self.

Five things your travel bag will always have: Watercolour set, notebook, brushes and pens, incense, jewellery.

Wanderer or tourist? Wanderer all the way! No plans, no directions. Wide-eyed wanderer.

Mountains, beaches, deserts, jungles, nature or adventure sports? Jungles, beaches, RIVERS and anywhere with lots of colour and culture. You’ll always find me in bazaars around the world, looking at vintage old books and teapots in London, amidst piles of colour and fish and fabrics in India, and old lace and perfume in France. I love bazaars.

Plan your own travel or get someone to do it for you? Don’t plan as much as possible! But if I do, It’s always always on my own.

 

Shilo Shiv Suleman’s journal entries, dating back to 2005.

What’s your favourite journey to date? Your travel memory? All trips to Hampi. Riding bikes, wading in the river, moondrunk while stretched out like crocodiles on rocks, being blessed by elephants in temples and more.

My most recent favourite journey was to Pallakad, Kerala, where I was working with shadow puppeteers in a small town there. It was amazing. Taking baths in the small ponds with green sky of leaves. Watching local performances in temples with walls of diyas, the smell of jasmine flowers and coconut oil and so much learning. I hope to be back there soon to learn how to make my own natural paints with roots and minerals and barks from the local temple muralists there.

Also Kutch; I work with the Kabir project and am working on a book about the Sufis of those Salt deserts. It’s turning out to be rather beautiful. We’re working with seven love legends from the region where in each of them, a female protagonist sets off wandering against all odds in search of her beloved (only to find it within herself). Which brings me back to trust and fate and all those other things :)

If you were a city/town/country/place, which would you be and why? Hampi. Free, mystical, flowing rivers, historic, cultural, ancient.

How has travel inspired you? Travel has inspired everything. It has transformed everything. When I travel, I watch. My eyes are open and my heart is open. All the colours and forms I see become part of the pattern that makes my illustration. I listen. I hear stories and myths from around the world and those stories get woven into my own stories, from Sufis in Kutch and Rajasthan to temple performers and artists in Kerala. Meeting these people, understanding the Indian aesthetic and storytelling traditions has given me a sense of ‘Me’, my roots, the traditions I want to draw from and take into the digital universe.

My latest favourite quote is “we are made of stories not atoms”.

Complete this sentence: If the world could fit into your palm, you would… Paint it.

Shilo invited me to her home to see her journals. As i went clickety click with my camera, she patiently filled my little book of questions with drawings. The leather case in the foreground is home to her journals over the years.

You can go see more of Shilo’s work on her blog.