December 10, 2015

[Travelogue] Coast to Coast: A journey in India

“We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.” – Anonymous

Chennai says bye to departing travellers, with three billboards, one of Apollo hospital, one of Maruti’s car, S-Cross and the last of MRF Treader, as if to say ‘Thanks for coming. Don’t forget our hospitals and automobiles!’ My eyes fall on a long panel of artwork on the wall facing the runway. If you delve into the source, it’s nothing but a few wire cables twisted into forms and lo behold! there is a story revealed. It’s a procession. After a Holmes-worthy investigation, Haiku and I decide it’s a religious procession because the figure in the palanquin has one of his palms in the ‘blessing mudra'. Then, ahead of this Very.Important.God, there’s his Godly bodyguard on another palanquin, the ferocious God known as ‘Ayannar Samy’ in villages, the one with blood-shot eyes and blood-stained weapons, mounted on a horse. Men carry these two palanquins, while other men play on the drums, harmonium and other assorted Indian musical instruments. Two men with painted masks dance ahead of the procession, which Haiku interpreted as ‘Puli aatam(The dance of the tiger)’.  At the beginning and end of the procession, stand two men holding a spherical firebrand, shedding light on the entire procession. This is great work, ingenious in its simplicity! Although one question is, where are the women? Chennai Airport, you must work on an artwork doing justice to the women of Chennai!

One such, a cleaning lady in the ladies restroom, when asked about the flood situation in her place, answered that she lived in Thirusulam, which was on high ground. Besides, there was a godown and so she was pretty much secure. She commented gravely about some of her other colleagues caught in the disaster. As I was leaving, she thanked me for enquiring about her experiences, with a warm smile that went straight to my heart. We often think conversations with strangers make us vulnerable. In truth, they make us safe and whole, another step closer to being connected to all of humanity. 

Riding the clouds, I catch the first glimpse of Mumbai’s vicinity. Some stunning studs of mountains, these Western Ghats sure are. Down below, nature’s creation, a winding and curving river, with a mind of its own, runs intertwining with man’s creation, a purposeful road, seeming to have many cities to go to, travels focused with no distractions. Sort of like the interplay of emotion and logic in one’s mind. 

Through the densely-packed huts near the airport onward to the sprawling Juhu, where I hear, Amitabh comes out on the streets to greet people there, at times. One has to love the geniality of the man. Heard too, that people wait for hours together, as for a ‘God Darshan’. Moving on, Haiku and I get a little taste of Bollywood in a recording studio listening to a Hindi movie turning trilingual. Reaching out to the regions is of crucial importance in this nation of more than two-dozen languages.

The day is winding to a close and it’s time to catch the famous superstar of a sunset on Juhu beach! Deliciousness rises to its peak in the fall of this crimson globe. The sun seems to leave the room glowing with a blush, shyly as if she’s out to romance the night. In the waning luminescence of this celestial lady, awaits an old man selling pink cotton candy tied to a post; An elderly couple walk together, shining in the intimacy of their years together, sharing their sunset years and the setting sun; Energetic youngsters do cartwheels in the sand, an infectious display of their strength and flexibility; A maid multi-tasks talking on the phone as she baby-sits a toddler; Joggers, walkers, runners on their own tracks, within and without; Haiku and I run towards the ocean. Pausing at the edge, he reflects that the sand is a mix of white and black and that the imprints of shoes seem like flower prints in the sand. 

Vada Pav, the essential Mumbai ka food, we savour on our way to Bandra. Hot n’ Hot! Heat of the vada, hot off the oven and the heat of the paprika compete to take siege of your taste buds. Here we find a snack, in Mumbai style, which fills your tummy without emptying your pocket. Hearty meal for twenty bucks! Driving through the streets of Mumbai, looking at branded shops and thrift shops, a stone’s throw away from each other. Like a quintessential metro, Mumbai seems to have something for everyone. Even chic and fashionable ladies are seen buying and bargaining with the sellers on the street.

We visit the Mount Mary church in Bandra. Looking at the paintings depicting the life of Christ, it can’t escape one’s notice how the faces look very human and like those of people in Mumbai. Ahead of us, there’s a man on his knees, intent in prayer, his posture making you want to believe that God is listening. There are also other Gods living in the same area with names like Shah Rukh Khan & Salman Khan, I’m told. 

A walk on Bandstand by the beach, holding hands with my beloved ones, ending a rich day, in which I travelled from a bustling city on one coast to a bustling city on another coast and saw with my own eyes, how these cities are both similar and different, in many ways. Lucky are Indians to savour the flavour of new cultures without even leaving their country!

1 comment:

  1. Talking about India offering diverse culture and experiences, I was once told, "First, be a nomad in your own place, you will get to see, hear and experience things you know not existed. Then, expand boundary to states, then to other countries". Couldn't agree more.