The Tea Seller Couple From Kerala Who Are Following Their Dream To Travel The World
Vijayan and Mohana are the tea seller couple from Kerala who are following their dream to travel the world in their late 60s. Here’s their inspiring story.
Meet Vijayan and Mohana. The tea seller couple from Kerala globetrotting the world and fulfilling a dream that would seem impossible to many. Sometime in early 2000, Vijayan, a tea seller from Kerala, was on a pilgrimage to Tirupati with his friends. A plane flew above the temple and Vijayan told his friends – someday I want to go on that plane. His friends laughed. It’s only for rich men, they said. Not for poor people like us.
Famous last words.
In 2007, Vijayan and his wife Mohana, who run a tea shop in Kochi, Kerala called Shree Balaji Coffee House, went on their first trip. “Jordan, Palestine, Sharjah, Dubai…” he rattles off. It’s 2019 and the couple have completed visiting their 23rd country. They have been to US, China, Thailand and Europe. Apart from the Middle East. Scandinavian countries are next on the list. Vijayan is 69, Mohana is 67. After spending a not-so-easy life earning a living and raising a family, the couple didn’t let limited resources come in their way and are travelling the world in their older years.
“He has that drive, both him and Mohana do. If they set their mind to something, they make sure they do it,” says filmmaker Hari M Mohanan, who made a short film called Invisible Wings on the globetrotting tea selling couple. The film was the winner in the ‘Best Film-Non-Fiction Category’ in the Filmfare Awards, 2018. Mohanan first met the couple in 2013, having heard about them through local Malayalam newspapers. He spent a year following and meeting them for the movie.
What does he think motivates Vijayan and Mohana? “They just want to see the world. He knows a lot about the world and is interested in reading books. He wants to see all the places.”
Silver Talkies spoke to Vijayan while he was in his teashop in Kochi. The small space is decorated with maps and photographs from their journeys around the world. “I have always enjoyed travelling, it opens your mind,” Vijayan says, recollecting how he visited several temples with his father throughout his childhood.
He and Mohana have been married for 45 years now. She shares Vijayan’s enthusiasm and interest and has been his source of support. Mohanan says she’s his backbone. “She knows how to allocate money and manages everything if they want to travel. She’ll sell off the gold and motivate him.”
So how do Vijayan and Mohana fund their travel? Incredible as it may sound, their only source of income is the tea shop. Vijayan doesn’t believe in savings and investments and keeps all the money earned through the shop for their travels. The couple put aside some money on a daily basis to fund their travel.
“I open the shop at 6.30 am and go on till 8.30 pm. We do not have any employees in the shop other than me and my wife so we do not have to spend money on salaries,” he tells Silver Talkies. His daughter and her husband help out sometime.
He also takes banks loans to travel though the repayment takes almost 3 years. Vijayan and Mohana have also occasionally been helped by travel agencies and celebrities (According to his granddaughter, he has received help from Amitabh Bachchan, Anupam Kher and Shashi Tharoor among others) who have paid the couple’s travel fare and tour cost after they became better known because of their travel obsession.
Recently, a Facebook Video about the couple shot by travel blogger Drew Binsky went viral.
“They saved 300 Rupees every day for decades, and they used this income (together with bank loans) to fund travels to 23 countries! From Switzerland to Brazil to the USA, they don’t plan on stopping anytime soon,” Binsky gushes in the video, standing at Vijayan’s tea shop.
It has got the couple several more admirers, including Industrialist Anand Mahindra who had this to say:
They may not figure in the Forbes Rich list but in my view, they are amongst the richest people in our country.Their wealth is their attitude to life. The next time I’m in their town I am definitely dropping by for tea & a tour of their exhibits.. pic.twitter.com/PPePvwtRQs
— anand mahindra (@anandmahindra) January 9, 2019
Mahindra also asked people if they would like to crowdfund a campaign to gift a holiday to the couple on their anniversary.
Vijayan himself is rather philosophical about all the admiration and help that has come his way. He is a simple man who has a simple way of looking at his life goals. “I have no money and so no worries. By God’s grace I get it when I need it,” he says.
He is also a man who is happy with what he is earning and not really looking at cashing in on his newfound fame. Tea at his shop still costs Rs 5 and at Rs 40, you can have a hearty breakfast. The shop serves tea, Idiappam and curry, boiled bananas, idli and upma.
Vijayan’s shop gets at least 250 to 300 people every day. Sometimes even more. Located near Ernakulam bus stand, the couple are quite well known in the area thanks to their against-the-odds story.
When Vijayan and Mohana travel, the shop is shut and it does result in a loss of at least Rs 2000 per day but the couple aren’t bothered. “If I worry about all this, I will never be able to take a day off from work till the day I die,” he says in Mohanan’s film, summing up his philosophy in life.
The couple keep their daily expenses to the minimum, saving the most for their travels. They usually take package tours when they go on trips, as it is cost-effective and helps them navigate new places and foreign languages easily. They rarely buy souvenirs or spend money on food during their trips, carrying basic chutney and podi (roasted spice powders) with them instead. “You can find rice everywhere.”
Mohanan who cycled 5000 km across Southern India to show his film Invisible Wings to people in the remotest of villages, says their story never fails to inspire. “People watch it and say, if he can do, we can too!”
Having known the couple quite well now, he admires how they are celebrating life in their 60s. “Earlier life has been very tough for them. But now they have found their balance and the bond they share is beautiful.”
There have of course been detractors. People have laughed at the couple for not saving up; for taking loans to travel and for not thinking about the future. But to Vijayan, the criticism is water off a duck’s back. Thankfully, Vijayan and Mohana have an extremely supportive family. They have two daughters, one a teacher and another working in a hospital. “We encourage them as they are an inspiration to so many others,” says his grand-daughter Amrita who helps connect me to her grandfather. “Even if they have any health problems sometimes, it doesn’t matter to them if they have to travel.”
When Vijayan was small and travelled with his father, he dreamt of visiting Ernakulam. Mohana, who is from the city, had never stepped out of it. Their globe-trotting story is proof that age cannot stop you from doing what you want. What is needed is a dream and the drive to see it through.
You can watch Hari M Mohanan’s award winning film about Vijayan and Mohana here:
Featured image: A screengrab from Mohanan’s film Invisible Wings
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