As travellers go, Svetlana is an outlier, wandering off solo on a whim, fully immersing herself in the place she goes to, it’s culture, embracing the people and their local cuisine. She calls herself the maverick bird and writes about her experiences in her blog spanning fifteen years and thirty five countries. Yet she insists that there is much more to explore and discover, filled with a sense of wonder, yearning to go off to the rustic and the urbane, to quench her thirst for the knowledge of the world and how it has evolved its traditions and spurned off the modern.Svetlana is a fiercely proud and respectful mother to seven year Noni who in her own right is a budding backpacker.
Her blog, “Maverick Bird”, pulls the reader into her world in the languid way she writes, bringing alive the place with its colours, flavours, people and topography. Svetlana writes of her experiences, her journey, and the sites she sees, the sounds she hears, the people she meets, the impressions she makes, her trepidation of encountering visa woes and anticipation of the places she awaits and the traumas of being stranded in conflict zones, travails she encounters with language barriers all with oodles of humour. She evokes emotion in the reader, delighting by describing the beauty of the place in vivid detail, in sharing her anguish for the vandalism and destruction of architecture and her disdain for the shallow display of wealth and sophistication revelling instead in genuine affection and cheerful dispositions from the generous, less fortunate locals. For a while I became the armchair traveller, mesmerised, seeing and feeling the world Svetlana created. “Maverick bird” is a highly recommended read bringing together vibrant photography with travel writing so evolved, swiftly portraying the history and the present, in a very readable first person narrative transporting the reader to Svetlana’s world.
Svetlana Srotoswini Baghawan, claims that travel has been passed on to her as a legacy. Her paternal grandfather, one of the first recruits in the British Airways management team and her paternal grandmother, a conservative tamil iyengar, were avid travellers surviving on bread and bananas in over a dozen countries. Her maternal grandparents have seemingly been part of many cross continental exoduses. Her parents have been in the travel industry for over three decades. Svetlana, herself was part of a flight crew, taking to the clouds at a young age, not having determined the life path to follow. Travel ingrained in her blood and profession then became her life’s calling, meandering off on roads less travelled, not deeming it necessary to plan her stay even for the first night in an unknown land. Interestingly, she was home-schooled in Jhargram, plucking fruits from orchards, climbing trees and joining the farmhands or shepherds in playtime during her early years, only moving to join her parents to live the city life at the age of eight. Intuitively she seems to take most seriously the advice of the locals, trusting and befriending with discretion. Svetlana goes with the flow, not planning, drifting away from any original itenery she may have sketched out, most of the time richly rewarded for it and occasionally stranded. She displays spunk and passion, not to be discouraged from a few glitches on the way, returning again until she has fully soaked in the country and its ways. Her writing therefore is adulatory of the locale, at the same time realistic and never overtly romanticizing. The culmination of her baptism in all the journeying she has embarked on thus far, is to be the launch of a travel portal “Your Exotic World”.
What struck me was Svetlana’s incredible warmth that she radiates over the Internet, sending across a warm hug, when we approached her as random strangers seeking to write about her, having stumbled upon and eventually captivated by her blog. Her warmth she extends to the local people she meets, ever conscious that she is but a guest in the place she visits, respectful of her hosts and telling us the most impactful way to bond is by showing appreciation for the local culinary arts and cuisine. Svetlana is every woman’s role model in staying safe, claiming she has only been welcomed and seen demonstrations of much care and concern when the locals and Government officials recognise her to be a solo traveller. She acknowledges that she deploys her intuition and common sense in large dollops before she decides whom she can fully trust. To her, the much maligned Iran, with not a single listing on ‘Airbnb’ owing to sanctions, is a safe haven for women travellers. And here she refers to remote interiors and not just the touristy bits of erstwhile Persia, ever-wary of the swindlers. She encourages people wanting to travel to follow their hearts and cautions to not push boundaries and comfort zones too far. Svetlana’s tip to limiting the spending spree is to explore the chosen scene during non-peak times. To Svetlana the challenges of travel are restricted to obtaining of the visas and managing the cash flow having to take off her job to travel. She does however write of her experiences of being taken in by charming traders ready to make a quick buck and being cash strapped in Iran not being able to use her cards and travellers cheques. Svetlana is a big believer of responsible travel, taking care to travel sustainably, sticking to grass root level operators, leaving minimal carbon footprint and no litter. In addition she does her bit in giving back to the community by planting trees, helping build homes, buying local produce and volunteering to teach wherever possible. Svetlana finds our country, culture and traditions as fascinating as any other writing as eloquently of home and our deliciously pagan ways as she would of anywhere else.
In striking contrast to her life lived large in the world and the Internet of her journeyman ways, Svetlana is at heart a homebody and a fiercely private person. She seemingly is uncomfortable with the expectation of her social circle, forever demanding to know of her upcoming escapade and wears the title of a nomad uneasily. Svetlana feels at home most with her partner who in her words is worth his weight in gold. Surprisingly to me there were pictures of her daughter’s b’day celebrations much like ours with children, party hats and balloons, as against what I had imagined it to be like, in a faraway place by the Mediterranean Sea. She is much in awe of her little girl to whom she seems to explain the world as it is without any window dressing and rediscovering the world with her daughter and seeing through her eyes and gaining perspective from her point of view. Svetlana carries her home on her person, taking along wherever she goes in tattoos, that depict her varied origins, inhabitants of her home and the people she holds close to her soul. May her tribe keep growing, showing us the guiding light and help in small measures keep world peace.