Category Archives: travel

It all seems sweet …

Tera Kiya Meetha Lage    

Whatever you do seems sweet to me, Oh God. The good, the bad and the ugly are all sweet to me as you are the source of everything.

I take it all as your blessing.  amrit

Advertisements

‘You have cried, so have we’

How does one divide a land? And how do you tell this story to generations who have no idea of the deep loss and grief  millions of people experienced  when the partition of India happened in 1947?

Who decides what story to tell? When to tell? How many stories to tell? Who decides how should we tell the history of a nation to its younger lot? How can we tell these stories so that subsequent generations know the real cost of  hate, prejudices? 

 

partition

During my recent visit to Amritsar, I spent an entire day at the Partition Museum, the only one of its kind in the world. To be there is to be on a pilgrimage. It was deeply moving and engaging to be there. The Partition of India saw  the largest migration in human history and around 20 million people were affected. Yet, for many decades these stories have not been shared. The Partition Museum is all about people and their stories. They have opened their hearts, shared their gut-wrenching experiences and while sharing their stories they have once again lived the horrors of those times. But they have chosen to share their stories. That’s the beauty of the Partition Museum in Amritsar.

Here I am sharing some notes I took while I was there. Photography is not allowed inside the museum (barring at one place) which I think is a fabulous idea.  The physical space of the museum strikes a chord with your inner self. The haunting sound of a train passing by and the installation of an anonymous railway platform stays with you for a long time. This nameless platform is in memory of all those innocent ordinary people who lost their lives in train attacks  and all those who survived this intensely traumatic train journey without food/water as they fled from the land that was their home.  You come closer to stories of loss, grief, betrayal and also the story of hope and the indomitable human spirit to build lives from the ashes.

THE PARTITION … THE LINE THAT DIVIDES 

Sir Cyril Radcliffe had six weeks to draw the border line. He was commissioned to equitably divide 4,50,000 km sq of territory with 88 million people. Radcliffe had never visited India before and he had no idea of its people, landscape and culture. He arrived on July 8 and completed his report by August 12. In an interview later, he said, “I had no alternative, the time at my disposal was so short that I couldn’t do a better job. Given the same period, I would do the same thing. However, if I had two-three years, I would do it differently.”

Following the mindless violence the partition saw, Radcliffe did not take any money for the work he had done. He said, “The people who died, their blood was on my head.”

 

partition1

YOU CAN’T READ LOSS 

Loss is personal yet in many ways it’s universal too. Sudershana Kumari and her parents had to flee their home one evening while they were preparing their dinner. They just jumped from one terrace to another in desperation and left everything that was once theirs. Sudershana was eight then. Decades later, she recounts that horrifying night as tears flow continuously from her eyes. In an extraordinary gesture, she has donated a ‘KARI GLASS’  (among other things) to the museum. She explains, “When you respect a guest, you offer them milk/lassi in a kari glass. As the polish never goes off, it was considered precious.” Her sense of belongingness lies in that glass.

Major Jagat Singh’s family and their village did not migrate initially because they assumed Lahore will be with India. When finally their kafila moved, they were attacked. Singh had just crossed the Ravi river, when he looked back to see his father and many others killed on the other side of the river.

(Radcliffe had said, “By population, property, standards Lahore was originally in India. But then there was no city left for Pakistan. So I took Lahore from India and gave it to Pakistan. From East Pakistan, Calcutta was coming to India.”) 

In Thoha Khalsa village in Rawalpindi, women jumped into the well to protect the honour. In the museum, when you see the well (an installation) under the subtle light you feel a knife cutting through your heart.

THE POOR ALWAYS SUFFERS THE MOST: There were many with no other means came by Kafila, walking miles and miles in the scorching heat and the torrential rains of heavy monsoon. They were particularly vulnerable to attack by mobs. They walked without shelter, sanitation, food and water. Thousands especially the elderly, the sick, the children perished from exhaustion, starvation. They started the journey but never made it to their destination.

WHO CARES ABOUT DALITS? Very less has been written about the Dalits and Partition. To be honest, I myself have not thought about this aspect of the Partition earlier. Dalits could not stay in the main refugee camps and they were also cut off from getting access to clothing and food rations. Rameshwari Nehru, the head of the committee to rehabilitate dalits notes that the land compensation policies excluded dalits as they were viewed as tillers not owners.

partition3

 

HOW DO YOU DIVIDE CULTURE? 

The tragic consequences of the Partition were felt in music, literature, cricket and heritage. In an absurd matter of fact effort at equity, ancient necklaces belonging to Mohenjodaro were broken and an equal number of beads were given to India and Pakistan. Even giving either country one extra bead had to be discussed and put formally on file.

TOWARDS HOPE, LOVE AND LIGHT

The Partition Museum shows us that — We can never win against hate. Hate will consume all of us, sooner or later. Empathy is the only answer.

The last segment of the museum has a tall, elegant Hope Tree. You can leave a message on a piece of paper which is in the shape of leaf. History can be our greatest teacher if  we are willing to learn from our history.

Facing the Hope Tree, there is a board which has following lines of Sufi poet Bulleh Shah. “Entire universe is contained in a single point. The God is found not by those who follow rites and rituals but by those whose hearts are pure.”

Let us move away from hate, prejudices and stay closer to love and empathy. If not now then when?

Amritsar… after 25 years

“We leave something of ourselves behind when we leave a place, we stay there, even though we go away. And there are things in us that we can find again only by going back there.” — Pascal Mercier

I went back to Amritsar after 25 long years. I went there to honor my mother’s memory, I went there to heal myself. To liberate my inner self from loss, pain and longing. To celebrate happy memories and seek strength to move forward with a sense of joy and lightness. I hope, there will be a new beginning.

final

 

Some experiences need to be only felt deep within your heart and expressing them in words will be diluting them. So, I will keep the ethereal experience of kneeling down and praying in front of the Holy Guru Granth Sahib to myself only.

“Is it your first visit to Amritsar?”

“No, I am coming back to Amritsar after 25 years.”

“Oh, my God… 25 years. That’s really long. Can’t believe it. Amritsar has changed so much.”

“Yes, India has changed, Amritsar has changed. I too have changed.” Civilizations, nations, cities, lives, narratives … all change. Change is the only constant element in this universe.

I also feel, in those moments of deep silence, tranquility and prayers, I found what I had left behind 25 years ago.

“Time is how you spend love,” I remember reading this somewhere. For me, Amritsar is all about love. Love for my mother, love for my father, sisters, little nephew, young nieces, love for my dearest soul sister carving her own life in Dubai,  love for my friend’s father who is confined to his bed for the last four years following a brain stroke, love for India, love for India’s diversity, love for humanity, love for service….

Love meeting love. Love embracing love. That’s Golden Temple for me.

gold1

2019 Wisdom

(A very happy and prosperous 2019 — From Gypsy on qwerty key board)

I have been thinking to write a post for quite some time. But somehow, I just couldn’t find the time to sit quietly and write it. How do I start the first post of 2019? Well, I owe this post to my friend A. 

A… is one of my close friends and I have known him for almost 25 years. He writes beautifully on cinema, sports and life and is a published author. A recently went to Bhutan on an official trip. When we talked after his trip, I asked him excitedly, “Did you go to the Tiger Nest monastery?’ (I know, it’s a real tough trek). What he told me in answer to my question has stayed with me and the wisdom in what he said is relevant to many of us. I am putting his words in the following lines.  Over to A.

“On the day of the Tiger Nest trek, I stood at the starting point and told to myself, ‘Listen A, all your life you have never gone on a trek. So, at this stage of your life why do you want to do something just to impress your boss and probably your colleagues. Why should not you be just yourself and give the trek a miss and enjoy the other beautiful experiences offered by Bhutan. After this conversation with myself, I felt good and then there was no need to impress anybody. They say, the Tiger Nest trek gives you a fascinating view of Bhutan and the view is really breath-taking. Many people consider this trek as a spiritual experience. But what surprised me was that when my team members came back after the trek, none of them talked about the view or the soul-elevating experience. All that they were talking was how some team members could not manage the trek, how miserable some people were and how some people really huffed and puffed with no end result. They were interested in talking about other people’s misery rather than the view, the beauty of the trek, the unique experience, the nuances and the like. So, my point in life is do what your heart says. You need not do anything to impress anybody.  If you do something in a superficial way, you will never enjoy the experience as it will be a manufactured one.”

So, here’s to 2019, life and my friend A’s mantra of listening to one’s inner voice and living  life by one’s core values. Not by other people’s approval. If you listen to yourself intently, you will always know the answer. So, be mindful in 2019 and listen to your heart. Have a wonderful year.

 

 

 

 

People called Kerala…

This narrative has lived within me for almost four months. I feel, there is always a right time for the story to travel. From my heart to the world outside, In between experiencing the story and telling the story, Kerala has seen worst of times in terms of devastating flood and loss of human lives and property. Now, Kerala is back on its feet.
In India, it’s now time for celebrating Diwali. Diwali, the festival of lights is all about joy, happiness, love and light. This narrative is all about celebrating that light. How dark would be darkness without this light… 
diwali
Hussain:  The navigator, the philosopher
Hussain drove us from Fort Kochi to Palakkad. He also took us to Arakal and in the beginning of the journey, he told us, “I will take you to such a place that you will forget Ooty.” Hussain is the symbol of my India — liberal, secular, quirky, gentle and caring.

He has six friends and he tells us they will stand by each other no matter what happens. Before marriage, he told his wife, “You don’t need to adjust with my parents but you need to do so as far my friends are concerned.” He talked about his wife in a gentle and caring way. He makes sure that his wife has her share of fun and enjoyment. “Just because we are men that does not mean that only we will enjoy. A woman is a human being first and she must enjoy.”

He loves making money and also living life king size. He says, “What’s the point of making money if you can’t enjoy money.” Once in a while, the seven friends meet, enjoy a drink and eat a nice meal of rice and mutton curry. And the icing on the cake is after a drink or two, they all philosophize about life. So what will he do if his wife falls in love with another man? “The only answer to the question is to love her more,” said Hussain.
His friends are from different socio- economic backgrounds. Some of them are government officials, some of them are businessmen. Some of them are earning lots of money and some of them are not. But their bonding is all about love and memories. If they are all together and one friend says, “I am just going somewhere and I will be back in five minutes.” Even if he comes back after two hours, nobody asks him, ‘why did he come so late? Where did he go?’ There are no questions asked and they just take up from where they leave.
Once they all had gone to watch a movie after buying tickets at a high price (and with lots of struggle).  And when they were just about to enter the movie hall, they got a phone call  informing them about someone’s death. They all had a quick discussion and decided that ‘the person is already dead. So, even if we won’t watch the film, he won’t come back. So, it’s better to watch the movie.”
They all seem to see death from a different perspective. Once all of them had gone for a funeral and one of them cracked a philosophical joke about life and death and they all broke into a smile. And then somebody came and told them, “Do you know where are you?” And then one of the friends said, “Listen brother, tomorrow if someone dies in my family, you can come and crack a little joke about life and death. We won’t mind.”
Hussain loves the beautiful landscape of Kerala. He has a warm, loving relationship with Kerala’s swaying coconut trees, its backwater, waterfalls and the mesmerizing monsoon  “Only if you have something tender in your heart and mind then only you will love nature. Otherwise, you will end up buying things at the malls only.”
I asked him about his friends’ religious background. “We all are from different religions — Muslims, Hindus and Christians.” When I told him, “God bless you.” He told me, “No, no, say something more.” I told him, “May nature bless you.” Hussain broke into a gentle smile approving of my statement this time.
Hussain being Hussain has his own theory of people of Kerala going crazy about football teams and forming groups like, “Argentina — fans of Kallepally. Hussain says, “Byakitya nehin hai.. (They don’t have a personality of their own and that is why they are becoming part of the collective.)
Najeeb — The quiet soccer-loving man
Our meeting was accidental. My friend Lekha and I were taking a morning walk in Fort Kochi on a lazy Sunday morning and on an impulse we just went to check out a kiosk which had a board about daily trips to Alleppey or Alappuzha.  And we somehow liked the deal and decided to go there. Najeeb took us to Alleppey. When I expressed my desire to have coffee at the quintessential India Coffee House, he enthusiastically took us to one. We were in Kerala when the FIFA World Cup 2018 was at its peak. You got to be in Kerala to believe the state’s soccer mania. As we were all taking pictures of those huge cut-outs of Messi, Ronaldo standing tall in small, clean villages of Kerala, we wondered about Najeeb’s soccer love. And then when we were inside the car, we asked, ‘Najeeb, which team are you supporting?” He kept quiet and pretended not to hear. But when we persisted, he said with a tinge of sadness, “Germany and imagine they are out.” But the moment he uttered the name of Germany, we all broke into laughter. He also joined us. In his quiet dignified ways.
In no time, he understood our taste and stopped at beautiful churches so that we could admire its wonderful architecture. He took us to beautiful beaches so that we could revel in sunsets.
Gulab — For whom time waits
Gulab is beyond time. He doesn’t wait for time, I have a feeling time waits for him. He took us in his auto from Kalepally to Kalpathy, a heritage village in Kerala. As we were roaming around in the village, Gulab told us to give us a call once we were free. He insisted that he would take us back home ( Earlier in the morning, Gulab was really kind enough to wait at a pre-primary school when we just wanted to spend some time with the kids.)
We had only heard of Gulab’s ‘time sense’ before. That day, we experienced it. Every phone -call to Gulab was met with the standard answer, “I am on my way.” The shopkeepers, the autorickshawallahs, the vegetable vendors were all amused to see three of us sitting comfortably on the verandah of a dilapidated house without a nameplate.
While waiting for Gulab, I suddenly had this intense urge to have a samosa. And my friend Ayaz immediately bought one for me which came on a plantain leaf (you see, South India is a little nicely different from North India). The samosa was really tasty. And thanks to our smartphones, three of us happily indulged in some photo session too. Even after all this self-indulgent acts, still there was no sign of Gulab.
samosa
(While waiting for Gulab…)
In that state of mind, every auto-driver looked like Gulab. But you know, life is not actually that miserable. So, suddenly we saw our Gulab coming and then as they say, time stopped for us.
Living in cities, chasing deadlines at work has made most of us very impatient. We are always in a hurry, always trying to manage time. But for Gulab, time is something else. It moves or stops as per his wish. Gulab is the ultimate boss.
Ordinary city mortals like us can only wait for Gulab.
As the state was trying to cope with the tragedy,  we made phone calls to find out about the well-being of Hussain, Najeeb, Kumaran, Gulab and their families. They were all safe)

To Kerala, with love

It’s Onam today — Kerala’s much celebrated harvest festival. But how does one celebrate in the midst of loss, pain, grief and devastation? Kerala is going through a harrowing time because of the massive floods. The magnitude of this natural calamity is beyond anyone’s imagination. But then Kerala has a million stories of hope, love and generosity. Here’s to Kerala’s magical landscape and its beautiful, resilient people. Kerala, you will  always be close to my heart.

(I visited Kerala just a month ago i.e July, 2018. The pics are from my Kerala trip. )

 

PICTURE PERFECT

 

IMG_9060

 

UNDER A CLOUD… STANDING TALL

kerala two

 

BACKWATERS CALLING

kerala three

 

NET GAIN IN FORT KOCHI

kerala five

 

YOURS TRULY WITH KERALA’S TWINKLING STARS  

kerala six.JPG

 

LET’S GO QUIRKY

animal

David & The Land of Mahatma

It was a beautiful mellowed June evening. The sky was grey, there was something romantic about the waves hitting against the rocks. We had just reached Fort Kochi in God’s own country after a long gruelling journey. But the tiredness of the journey just melted when we saw the vast encompassing ocean.

Fort Kochi

As we were walking under the clouds, suddenly we heard a young voice greeting us with a  ‘Hi.’ We stopped and he introduced himself, “I am David. I run a restaurant here. We serve seafood delicacies for lunch and dinner.” David added, “My father is a fisherman. So he brings the fresh catch and we cook it in the restaurant.”

And then he asked all three of us for introduction. My friends live in Dubai and Mumbai. When I told him, “I am from Ahmedabad.” Immediately, with a twinkle in his eyes, David said, “Oh! you are from the Land of Mahatma. How wonderful.”

Hearing that, my heart swelled with pride. Ahmedabad is the city in which Gandhiji established his Sabarmati Ashram and changed the course of India’s destiny. I am happy that David recognised that essence of India. These are difficult times. The world needs Gandhi more than ever.