Seeds of Couch Surfing

Whilst blooms are the zenith of a plant, seeds for me are a symbol of death and harbingers of life.

Couch Surfing has had its blossoms and now has gone to seed. Its concept was introduced to me by a stranger in the seat beside me, on a flight back to London from Delhi in 2008. Simple principle, if you have a couch to spare, and you feel a connection with the shared interests of a traveller, you become their host or guest. I registered myself and accepted the first request from a photojournalist from New York to stay a few days. Since then, whenever I had an opportunity, I have hosted people from across the world. It aligns with my idea of life; our differences and similarities are to be celebrated.

Each interaction brings with it, it’s own wisdom, joy, uncertainty, sharing of food and stories, inspirations, trust, new concepts, talents, opinions, tastes, rituals – the list is infinite. What shines the brightest is the lessons of understanding boundaries, non-judgemental love, mutual consent and being in the moment – and of course, the beauty of long unhurried, heart to heart hugs. In the early years of hosting, my colleagues at motiroti often queried my intention of hosting complete strangers at home, and as did my family and lots of friends. I would respond, ‘The More You Share, The More You Grow’. Upon meeting my guests, often their myths and fears got dispelled. Some volunteered and some even did pay work for my company. One guest and now very dear friend, Dennis, came to stay for four days, ended up living at Casa Ali for nearly four years. I introduced him to another ex-CS friend – they’ve been together for over three years now. There are many beautiful stories. I feel I have received much more than what I have given. Food events developed as an adjunct to Journeys of Love and More Love. Potluck Chicago, a stand-alone project, a residency commissioned by Columbia College, was primarily inspired by my experiences of being a host and a guest.

I fondly remember my new flatmate; having broken bread together with some CS guests, felt rather disorientated and a little sad after their departure. “Ali ji, underneath all this warmth, you have a heart of stone. You are continuing with your life as if they were never here!!” Of course, I miss them, but it’s a lesson of letting go. Those durational visits were the blossoms and here in this post, I am sharing their seeds. Heartfelt connections never die. A few of my guests participated and revealed aspects of their lives explicitly for the making of my art project. There are of course many more participants than I share in this post, and perhaps will be more in the future, for 1001 UnMasked ~ Portraits of Gender is an ongoing project.

Details create the big picture. When you’re mindful of the detail, the big picture takes care of itself

This pandemic (with an amazingly high recovery rate)  has brought the world to its knees and continues to affect all aspects of life. CS platform is no exception. It’s time to reevaluate and re-learn what we have taken for granted. While the virus politics will reveal itself in due course, no doubt the platform will transform and evolve in its own way. Nothing remains the same and change is the only constant. While travel is hugely affected, there have been no new couch surfers since March. This post is a way to cherish those times spent together, homage and gratitude to remember how far we have come.

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