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A Journey to India – July 1st, 2006

Chitra Ramesh

As my English teacher takes a long pointer and moves over the large varnished linen map which hangs before a half bored class, she points an irregular shaped island near Europe. She would read out English poetries by famous poets. William Wordsworth, William Blake, John Keats, Thomas Grey, Robert Frost, Victor Hugo, Emily Dickenson, Long Fellow, Eliot, and so on. Those poems would be describing the unseen flowers, unfelt seasons, strange castles, meadows and unheard knights and maidens. I would imagine myself travelling to England  land of my dreams  searching for daffodils, forget-me-not flowers, oak trees, meadows with flowery bushes, old chapel, maidens in castles, and knights with armour and little children playing in farms with sheep, cows, ducks, chickens and pigs.

But I never had any exotic thoughts about my own place. My every day route to school, market or library could have been much greener and beautiful. I never got distracted by the sight of a temple, scattering cattle, irregular river ways, green stretches of growing rice, and plantations of coconut trees. I never imagined that these scenes might fade away as an unprotected old painting form my life. Now staying far away form the place which has been a part of me brings a lot of nostalgia down a memory lane. India older than history itself is more colourful than shades of nature. Painted in a collage of shimmering radiance, like the view through a kaleidoscope, each glimpse is different from the one before and it is forever changing. India with a long story of ancient civilization has an impressive lineage over centuries with a tremendous wealth of grandeur and majesty. India is land of varieties, the cradle of culture that is steeped in tradition. Colourful customs revered for centuries that reflects social and geographical diversity and mingled in ageless evergreen music and dance.

Whenever I visit India it is a dream coming true all over again. Several years ago on a hot summer we went on a vacation to a remote village. We were travelling in a town bus which made strange noises. At times, it gave us a feeling as if we are flying in a Boeing plane, sometimes in a steamer ship, sometimes in a rowing boat, sometimes in coal fuelled engine train and never made us feel that we are only travelling in a bus. Driving through a narrow curvy road decorated by weeds and colourful wild flowers, the swift of dusk begins to blot out the landscape. Night was advancing rapidly on the greying sky.

Listening to the rustling fronds of palms swaying gently, we can see the bright stars in the tropical summer sky adding to the mystery of the night. Tangible things and ordinary objects recede quickly into unreality. The shadows of the trees sway slowly resembling gliding boats. Few bright lamps turn both night and environment into some enchanted land of dream world. Early in the morning watching the jungle turn from grey to green then to golden colour could be different experience. I don’t know how one can explain the mystery of the divine when twilight falls on the vivid scene.

Youthful years pass but this interest to view India remains undimmed. Visiting ancient enormous temples has always been a passion. These architectural massive buildings have been giving me both spiritual as well mystic experiences. The temple with spacious gateways opening to the four directions of the town has been the centre place for all activities of the village or town. A vast quadrangle surrounds the intricate statues and interior looking like a labyrinth adds to the mystery of the atmosphere. The pagoda is divided into many storey profusely decorated with a variety of figures and carvings. The whole building stands in a dusty street bustling with lot of activities. The shops near the temple selling flowers for offering and other offering items like coconut, beetle leaves, jazz sticks, camphor and bananas arranged in a small basket.

Everything including pickles and yoghurt, shampoo and hair oil is made available in small polythene non biodegradable pockets. What attracts us more is that tiny cafeteria at the end of the street. An ancient house which has been white washed recently bears the owner’s woman relative name attached with a caf. The heavy old door when opened sends a rattling echo through rooms and passages. An old woman whose smile stretches broadly across the face led us through a long darkened passage through kitchen into backyard. The back garden has a spreading peplum tree and an old fashioned well.

We go out and dine in a Bohemian restaurant where there would be pleasantly shaded lights and nicely cooked food accompanied. But this simple place was no way less satisfying than those expensive ones. The simple idlies served with chutney and the dim light coming from the 40watts bulb could not replace any candle light dinner. An avenue of neem trees lines one side of the road. Full moon shining into the well adds to the magnificence of the place. Huddled brown roofs rise and shine against the backdrop of the temple.

Far across the quite fields a line of hills rises in the distance. The pitiless sun scorches man, beast and earth alike. The temple pond with stone steps leading to the green water. Each step reflecting the radiance of the sun, our barefoot could feel the fire inside the stones.

One more journey begins in the bullock cart. The driver whose face resembled beaten bronze is sun tanned and shows the hardships of the life. He has taken much pride in his animals. Talking to them in a language which is not strange to us turns back and talks to us in a similar tone.

He has taken much pride in his animals. Their long beautifully curved horns are adorned with shapely gilt ornaments. Their thin legs have tinkling brass bells tied to them. Guides them by means of a rein threaded through their nostrils.

The road traverses a district of red earth dotted with terrains of scrubby thorn bushes and bright emerald paddy fields. The houses are sometimes showing their prosperity and most of them depicting their poverty. The projecting upper storey windows with wooden frame could be a reminiscence of our colonial influence which resembles medieval European houses.

The fenced front verandah rail separated the entrance gate from the street. Entering in to such houses where there is a big drawing room followed by another drawing room and finally the kitchen. This layer after layer arrangement of the construction is typical of all the houses where we can find bedrooms only in the first storey. There might be one room with doors to keep their valuables and it cannot be really considered as a bedroom. The entire huge hall will be converted into bedrooms only during the night time.

The world of reality amid the hard life of materialistic cities, these things would soon dissipate like mist before the dawning sun. Cities with their colourful appearances and architectural manifestations appeal to us initially. But as days pass, time turns page after page of the calendar of years our mind would search for wonderful insights of the world. Living in a concrete jungle can never occur to us naturally. The materialistic benefits and day to day living luxuries keep us negotiating with our introspections.

But settling in a charming suburb about ten kilometers away from the city could become a virtual dream. The roads choked with thick layer of sand leading to a seaside, the path passing through lovely palm groves, pretty clumps of casuarinas. The beauty of the scene is enhanced by the brightly plumed birds fluttering down to the river. The air is slightly scented by a gentle breeze blowing from the direction of the sea.

India is same with the dirt, illiteracy, same outlook and day to day living problems. But there still remains a small but priceless residue of culture and valuable mankind. As a child of this modern generation which relies on hand facts and cold reasons might lack the appreciation towards this simple old worlds richness in their inexorable aspects. I am privileged to see this aspect of India less understood by an ordinary traveller. Settling midst of nature could only a hollow or virtual dream?

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