Last summer, I visited Whitehorse, the capital of Yukon in northwestern Canada, a land of huge expanses of snow-covered mountains and pine-lined wilderness. A mild sun shone benignly over adventure enthusiasts – bikers, kayakers, hunters, hikers. The slight chill in the powerful mountain breeze did nothing to dampen the spirits of party revellers attending an event by the side of the River Yukon, and those exploring the tourist attractions – the SS Klondike, a restored old sternwheeler, or the Beringia Interpretive Center, or the Yukon Transportation museum. What struck me – an Indian from a heavily populated metro, where I am accustomed to jostling hordes of people on my weekend run to the neighbourhood market or even crossing the street outside my office – was the complete lack of anything resembling a ‘crowd’. You could walk across the entire city, admittedly a tiny one, and come across just a couple of other shoppers. A leisurely stroll to the outskirts would well mean one into solitude and silence, with nothing but the sounds of the occasional bird or the splashing of gentle river waves in the distance to keep you company. No people, no fear.
Later, I found that the population of the entire state of Yukon, which is about 484,000 sq km in size, was a mere 32,000 – most of whom lived in Whitehorse. In contrast, the number of people in the southwest district of Delhi, where I live, is 1.8 million, squeezed into 420 sq km.
It’s no wonder there’s a completely different worldview at work. In Whitehorse, a tourism volunteer at our hotel drove us 15 km to a museum in her own car when we approached her to ask for directions, even stopping to show us some panoramic views on the way, waiting for us to click pictures and take a walk down an old bridge. Living in a land of abundant resources but few people, for them, the idea of luxury is a housekeeper, a chauffeur, a cook at home – something that privileged city-dwellers in India would take for granted. A couple of Canadian women marvelled when I told them a pedicure in a nice salon in Delhi would cost just 15 dollars; it would be more than 10 times the price there, if at all. Lost cats or unexpected squalls make it to the front page in the local newspaper. Rush-hour traffic? What rush hour? What traffic?
On a visit to Oberoi Udaivilas in Udaipur a couple of months ago, I realised I had not spotted a staff member for the entire walk from my room to the lobby. I hadn’t spotted anyone for that matter. And it felt like supreme luxury – the silence, seclusion and privacy of it. Somewhere in the world, those would be for free.
Luxury isn’t homogenous. It differs according to context. For now, may the New Year bring you much peace and joy – whether in solitude or in company.