Travel

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  1. Eastward Ahoy!
  2. Absolute Travel

Eastward Ahoy!

2002.

Indian Journey…

                written in 2002. Nilakshi Borgohain.

Eastward Ahoy !

The children’s examinations had ended. It was 17th March, 2002. The heat of the summers had not set in, although the days could turn hot and dusty in parts of India. We were embarking on a mighty adventurous journey for a family. We planned on driving from Delhi through Kanpur, Varanasi, Allahabad, Patna, Purnea, Siliguri and Birpara to our final destination-Guwahati, covering a total distance of over 2200 kilometres of our vast country that is India. The four of us, to be precise, our two children Aishwarya aged 6 and Gautam 11 years of age, my husband, and I would be travelling in our faithful Maruti 800cc.

We had covered most of the country in the past in our vehicle. But this was the first time we were attempting such a long journey. There were three main reasons for opting to travel by our own car. One was that it would save us the hassle of disembarking from a train or plane to visit every city we wanted to. Second, having our personal means of transport would prove to be convenient to explore the cities and their neighbouring tourist sites extensively. Third, it was the most economical option for a family to travel as a single group in one’s personal vehicle.

The excitement was palpable in the household. The children woke up at 4 a.m. and were all geared up to go. I gave them each a bowl of porridge even though they were too excited to eat. We set off at 5.30 a.m. from Delhi. We savoured the magnificence of the goddesses of dawn as Aurora opened the gates of the East with her rosy fingers. With her chariot flashing across the skies heralding a new morning like the sweetest melody of the finest artist she set out before the Sun. 

Instead of driving via Agra or Lucknow, we were going to Kanpur straight on with no diversions! A total distance of over 490 k.m. to be covered in one day. We were able to drive such a long stretch because my husband who was behind the steering wheels enjoyed driving. The children were good travellers and least troublesome. Little Aishwarya had crammed enough crayons and paper in her bag to keep herself busy sketching the passing landscape and Gautam had his diary to note down his experiences. I had packed enough food to feed a small army and filled a plastic basket full of fruits, biscuits and other refreshments and replenished the stock throughout the trip. It is vital to have a variety of healthy, hygienic and tasty food handy in the car when one is travelling long distance with children because one can never predict whether one would reach the next stop by the time they were hungry for the next meal. Moreover, apart from preventing a stomach upset having to eat in an unhygienic eatery, it saves a lot of time and gives the family an opportunity to indulge in an impromptu picnic whenever the scenery takes one’s fancy.

Travelling by road has its own unique charm. The road we were travelling through was new to us- the people unknown. I had only read about these cities in books and magazines. But nothing measures up to personal experience. The policemen on duty at the Kali River toll bridge whom we consulted for direction were helpful and polite, drawing the route to Kanpur in great detail for our benefit. We had tea at 9.15 a.m. at a tea stall at Moradabad, the place famous for its brassware. Moradabad to Barelly is approximately 100 km. Rampur is a small town with a big park, the Ambedkar Park.

In most of my travels in North India, I have come across a village or town named Rampur. We purchased very sweet and juicy oranges sold at rupees ten for six. We passed through Katra, Farukabad, Fatehgarh, Gosaiganj and Kannuj. I was then re-reading Janapith award winner, the beautiful Dr. Indira Riasom Goswami’s compelling autobiography entitled “An Unfinished Autobiography”, and noted that in the Preface she had mentioned her ‘forefathers originally came to Assam from Kannauj of Uttar Pradesh and our Sattra, peculiar to Assam, was founded 470 years ago by the Vaishnava Saint, Shree Santa Deva.’ The romantic tale I had read long ago in school about princess Sanjyukta  of Kannauj also teased my mind.

At Kannauj we stopped at the U.P. Tourism restaurant for tea and the children ordered noodles. With us, food is a major part of holiday enjoyment! The tea was good, the service commendable, but the noodles were a trite too greasy.

The orange harvest that year was phenomenal because the whole day we saw fruit vendors selling oranges, oranges and more oranges. Moreover, it was a Sunday, so we were able to soak in the bright colours of the weekly village markets which sold many hued, fragrant spices,  colourful clothes and shining aluminium vessels.

By the time we reached the Kanpur POWERGRID Transit Camp it was 8:15 p.m. It was beautiful with a well kept garden. In fact, the entire colony was spick and span. The children relaxed by roller-skating in the early morning hours.

We were off to Allahabad by 9 a.m. and reached our destination at 3 p.m. After freshening up and eating a light and late lunch, we set out to explore the city and visit the Sangam. By the time we reached the Sangam it was dark but there were some pilgrims still. It was rather magnificent by the lights of the night. We decided to come back for another visit the next morning and returned to the TSL Guest House near the High Court. A lovingly prepared, delicately spiced dinner temptingly awaited us.

The Triveni Sagam in the morning was a typical place of pilgrimage with people thronging from all parts of the country to wash off their sins, stalls selling trinkets, and beggars with their begging bowls. This sacred junction of the Ganges, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati at Prayag or Allahabad is considered one of the most sacred places of pilgrimage along with Gaya, Pushkar, Bithur on the Ganges and Nasik where the Godavari passes out of the hills.

Allahabad is a busy city 135 km west of Varanasi in the southern end of U.P. Every twelve years Allahabad, like Varanasi, plays host to the kumbh mela India’s largest religious festival. The event is attended by pilgrims who gather at the sangam (holy confluence) to bathe in the combined waters of the holy rivers.

To the stranger in India, nothing is more impressive than the constant movement of vast crowds of pilgrims to visit the many sacred places scattered throughout the country. Probably the earliest object of pilgrimage was the sacred river. The worshippers of special gods have occupied many sites on their banks but the great rivers are as a rule, unsectarian and the right of bathing is shared by all classes of Hindus.

The fact is that the pilgrim visits the sacred site and not merely the temples of the gods who reside there. Each of these sites has a sacred area, a kshetra or ‘field’ as it is called, is sometimes marked as in Varanasi by a via sacra, the panchkosi, ten miles long round which the pilgrim must march. When a pilgrim goes to such a place the temples and images of the gods who are established there are of course worshipped but it is the sanctity of the place which makes it the fitting abode for the gods. As a pilgrim bathes in the holy water, he symbolises the purification of his soul from sin by cleansing of his body. (Ref: William Crooke ‘Things Indian’). I felt it is this inviolability in the atmosphere of a holy place that makes one shed one’s shell of petty materialism to communicate with the universal truth.

The Transit Camp in Varanasi was also well furnished with a comfortable ambience. We reached Varanasi by lunchtime and set out to explore the city at around 6 p.m.

It is strange to define Varanasi as a city of this century. It must be the oldest place on earth I have ever visited, ‘Older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together’- to quote Mark Twain. She was old even when Buddha came to preach here in 530 B.C. But she is eternal because the timeless allure in her is real. Scholars have estimated that she is some 3000 years old. Religious artefacts link her to the sixth century B.C. Said to be founded by Shiva; Varanasi’s Vedic affiliation goes back to the beginning of time.

The market place near the temple and the ghats was a vibrant cacophony of cycles in front of us, cycles behind us, cycles to our left and right seem to over pour the congested streets. Only a skilled driver could manoeuver his car without colliding against any cyclist or rickshaw -puller. This part of Varanasi, unlike the rest of the city, which is a modern Indian city, was teeming with the burden of humanity. A visitor is mesmerised by the wealth of tradition that has withstood the test of time. Shops selling the famous Varanasi Sari, the enticing display of the bangle sellers, the incredible variety of lip smacking food that tantalise the palate…… Varanasi has all this and so much more to offer. How rich India is to cradle such beauty.

The ghats beckoned. It was early evening and we were very lucky indeed to be a spectator to such an ethereal sight. The aarti ceremony performed here was definitely the piece de resistance of our visit. It was an elaborate affair. The illumination of the numerous diyas, the heady scent of incense and dhuna, the rhythmic beat of the drums, the chanting of ancient slokas and finally the reverberated clapping to the refrain of ‘Hare Rama, Hari Krishna’. One could spy the tiny glow of hope in the solitary diyas floating in the sacred waters in the darkness towards eternity.

An old person who had ceased to count his chronological age sat near me. One is said to attain moksha or liberation from various cycles of birth if one dies in Varanasi or Kasi (city  of enlightenment). Was this old man elated and in a spiritual heaven? Or was he hungry for his loved ones? Who knew? Who could tell? Did he know all this was maya.

Varanasi was the centre of great learning for over five thousand years. In Benaras Hindu University, my father had met my beautiful mother. Founded in 1917 by the great nationalist, Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya, the centre soon became the epitome of Indian learning. B.H.U. boasts a grand campus with lush green trees and wide roads. A student passing through the portals of this seat of learning cannot but be influenced by the sheer scholarly ambience of the academy.

Next morning, we set off for Sarnath. Sarnath was rather silent and forlorn without the vibrant presence of many devotees. Sarnath is around six/seven kilometres away from Varanasi. It is dotted with beautiful Buddhist temples built by different Buddhist nations like Thailand and Burma. The museum there housed the country’s legacy from the past, including the Ashok Chakra. The Sarnath Stupa had stone seats arranged in a carpet of green grass under the great blue sky where the disciples of Lord Buddha are said to have sat when they assembled to absorb the teachings the Buddha imparted.Our young Gautam took some of the most beautiful photos in Sarnath.Was it because we were at the pilgrimage site of Gautam Buddha, after whom he was named?

Out next stop was Patna. All well-wishers cautioned us that the route to Patna spelt danger. Heeding to experienced counsel we started off early on 21st March for Patna. The U.P./Bihar border pretty much resembled Shreerampur. In the midst of the four rows of huge dusty trucks hunched with their load of goods, I fancied our Maruti was sandwiched like caviar in between stale chapati. At around 10:30 a.m. we crossed a quaint old bridge leaving our headlights on as directed by the policeman on duty. It was a dark and rickety ride and we felt like we were inside a coal mine.

At 10.15 a.m. our worst nightmare turned into a reality. Our silencer broke down right in the middle of the highway. For this mishap the deceptive speed breakers and rumble strips must be blamed. Won’t it have been considerate to put a sign forewarning the poor unsuspecting drivers of their existence ahead? Anyway, if what we had heard was to be believed, we would soon be robbed and stranded for eternity because helping one is a gesture most rare here. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Minutes after we stopped our car three Mahindra jeeps, which appeared to be a primary mode of transportation in the rural areas stopped with offers of help. However, none of the drivers were familiar with the Maruti engine to be of help.

Finally, a white Maruti car came by and the driver was able to pinpoint the cause for the  break- down. There were two elderly gentlemen in the car and they most thoughtfully drove their car slowly for us to follow till we reached a garage. We were 40 kilometre from Patna. The mechanic was a skilled and silent worker. For an hour’s work, which he took for wielding and fitting the silencer pipe, he charged only seventy rupees. How could one not be happy and reward such honesty with a little extra?

We arrived Patna at 1:15 p.m. and spent the rest of the day roaming around the city. We had planned to explore the historical places around Patna but was unable to visit the famous archeological remains of Nalanda, Gaya and Bihar Sharif. Present day Patna with its modern buildings was very different from the Ashokan style of living and Buddhist way of thinking Pataligrama or  Pataliputra. Famous ambassadors in the past like Megasthenes and Fa-Hien had written in praise of Pataliputra. Fa-Hien had gone so far as to say that, “genie (Demons) were commissioned to establish the city, spotted with massive stone structures, which are no human work”.

We departed Patna at 8 a.m. and reached Rajgir around 9.30 a.m. Finally my eyes fell upon a milepost I was waiting for—Guwahati- 973 k.m.! We had definitely arrived East because there were fish markets aplenty in most villages as well as in the small towns we passed by. Brar was a place we reached around 10.45 a.m., where many shops sold ramdana laddus prepared with jaggery-a healthy snack.

11:45 – Barauni Bridge, noon-Begusarai, we crossed the numerous villages and small towns and soaked in the local scenery. India is indeed a great, big, wonderful country. We crossed fields of maize and banana cultivation. At 4:15 we reached  Purnea guest house where we halted for the night.

On our way, the next morning, our car was blocked by a mob of village youth at 9.00 a.m. asking for a contribution for celebrating the holi festival. At 10.00 a.m. we reached Kishanganj, which was quite a big town. We crossed Islampur at 10.45 a.m.  and entered West Bengal.

Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal- we had travelled in our car all these states -met different people, and indulged in varied cuisines, learnt the intricacies of various customs and traditions.

By noon we were in Siliguri. We were able to catch the first glimpse of the hills. If we had not visited Siliguri on previous occasions, we would have spent a day there. This place is a shopper’s paradise. We crossed the hanging bridge over the emerald waters of river Teesta at 12:45 p.m.  and were once again awe-struck  by  the spectacular beauty..

One could start drinking tea with abandon in any of the tea stalls because the tea they served was from the gardens around. At 1:35 p.m. we were in Jalpaiguri – drinking tea, munching hot crispy, samosas and syrupy rasgollas.

By 3:24 p.m. we settled down in our abode for the night in Birpara, which is only 360 kilometre from Guwahati. The scenery had changed to a luxuriant green and the heat and dust had settled down to a languorous fall in the temperature. Amazing that we were still in the same country. We were informed that there was a cyclone the night before destroying the prized dahlias in the garden. In tune with true Eastern hospitality, we were served Bengali sweets with our evening cup of tea. A sweet feeling of homecoming indeed!

The next morning, we continued the last phase of our journey at a leisurely pace. As I read ‘Alipurduara’ at a milepost, great stories by famous Bengali writers who have immortalised these small places, teased my mind.

11:15 a.m. at a check post where all vehicles were being searched for security reasons, the policemen were rather bemused to hear that we were travelling from Delhi to Guwahati. By 1:15 we were at Shreerampur and then it was welcome Assam. Immediately upon crossing Bongaigaon we drove through the most picturesque picnic locations. We parked by an enticing, sparkling river meandering in the midst of untouched beauty and set out to collect shining pebbles from the riverbed before tucking in a hearty meal with foodstuff we had purchased at Bongaigaon.

Patsala, Rangia, Baihata Cariali and finally the magnificent Saraighat Bridge at 5:40 in the evening. I could almost hear the notes of John Denver’s ‘Country Roads’ as I sanguinely hummed, ‘almost heaven…….’

We’ve traveled by train, we’ve flown every corner of the country, but never were we able to soak in so much of the local grandeur prevalent in every village, every town, and every small city as we did in this trip. This journey helped us understand the people of our land better. And was a fun way of family bonding that would remain in our memory forever.

******************

Absolute travel.

                               –   Nilakshi Borgohain.

Like them,I want more.You see them stroll leisurely in their most comfortable footwear and neutral toned loose clothing in an endearingly hopeless attempt to blend in with the local scenery;  soak in the visuals of cramped old buildings with chipped and decoloured walls; marvel at the staggering humanity ambling around them and savour the overpowering smells of spices and oils that at once sharply affront and tease one’s senses on the streets of Chadni Chowk in old Delhi. You observe that universal expression of sublime contentment in their visages and wonder how they so defenselessly expose all their senses to be thus assaulted, yet continue to remain excited with expectation.

You wonder.Why have  they  deviated  from their path of  the  safer  tourist  itinerary  of visiting all those grand and majestic monuments of the past that  stand regally in the manicured  lawns beneath the shade of the ornamental Gulmohar, Amaltas, Shirish, Peepal and the Jacaranda trees –as reminders of past glory – and  are present in every expected as well as unexpected nook in Delhi? Don’t the travellers  from  distant  shores tire after  trying  to fit all those  monuments in their hectic schedule, without  venturing out  to  so purposefully plough through the sweat drenched crowded lanes of Chadni Chowk, risking getting pick pocketed or the even worse horrifying probability of stamping into scurrying rats(disturbed by human cacophony)? Alternatively, why can’t they comfortably chill in the cool confines of the new malls in the city which are a consumer’s delight? 

What exactly is it that egg these curious travellers on to leave all those colossal shrines and electric modernity behind and venture out in search of an indefinable attraction in congested old Delhi? 

Is it an inborn desire in humans to maintain contact with the sequence of civilization which is timeless? Is one actually hoping to peep into a past that continues to breathe through the lives of the present generation? Is it  that tangibility of  experiencing remnants of the  times gone by that  entice the   traveler to trudge into places that have  changed  little since, civilization as we  know it  today, began? Perhaps it is  this  sense  of  directly  connecting with an  era that  can be traced to the growth of the  city as it is  at present, is  what  draws these unworldly travellers(the likes of me), to tread on a little distance off the  well-heeled tourist track.

One day, while in Portugal, I got my answer as to what else we prod around around for, as travellers.

Portugal is indeed as Martin Page has claimed ‘The first global village’. The spice route that Vasco Da Ga Ma discovered paved a new alliance between Asia and Europe. Afonso de Albuquerque created Goa, the first European city in Asia. River Tagus or Rio Tejo opened Lisboa, to the world. From the Tagus which happily greets the Atlantic Ocean, the adventurous sailors set sail to discover unknown lands and return with riches of spices, silk, gold… they are stacked in the numerous elegant stores of Chiado, Baixa, for all shopaholics.  Lisbon has  stores which even  a snooty traveler like me who  thinks  who can  no longer  be tempted to splurge in, can  find items that  entice the hedonist in  me to resurrect and  loosen my tightly knotted purse strings.

At the Barrio Alto  neighbourhood , my husband and I  relished  food  fresh from the  sea, cooked  to delicate perfection and served stylishly in  finest  chinaware at the  alfresco cafes and  restaurants. It was simple and wholesome Portuguese food where olive oil and wine is used plentifully for cooking. We indulged in Portuguese sweets, pastries, puddings that are delicately textured, delightfully flavoured and deliciously tempting. 

The towering statues, Romanesque, Gothic, Manuline, Baroque, Traditional Portuguese, Modern and Post Modern architecture spoke of the legendary might of the country that   boasted a history dating back 2500 years. With a liberal legacy left behind, Lisbon certainly does not lack awesome sights.

As I paused to look at the majestic Commorcio Square and then strolled down the bustling Rua Augusta;  and contemplated on the virtues of justice, wisdom, strength and moderation which were represented below the  statue of Dom Pedro IV at the  center of the Rossio square flanked by two  Baroque fountains on either side; and later remained momentarily dazed by the   frenzied activity at Vasco Da Gagma Mall located at the Parque das Nacoes area, alongside the ultra modern Gare do Oriente station, the main entry point by train in the  city… I was still a wee bit restless. 

Where was the settlement  that  survived  to  hold  the  key  to the  way the  ordinary  folks lived in  times  gone  by? A  vibrant  story  of  a civilization that  has  continued  perceptibly  unchanged  through  the  ravages of natural and man-made calamities. I needed to experience that supernatural sense of immortality one feels ambling around in such an antique area. That unimaginable  sublime  sense  of  the continuance of the  human  race , which one  is  swathed  in when one is  walking in the  alleys and lanes of  surviving ancient habitats; that reinforce our  belief in the  triumph of  the  human spirit . For  when the  great  kings and queens depart leaving  behind  colossal  wrecks of their  plenteous plunder and the sweat and toil of  a  thousand  labourers, the unassuming  comfort of the homes that  ordinary human beings lived in  which continue  to survive  still  inhabited by simple folks,  is almost  a clarion  call of  victory of the  human race.

This intense interest  in   a more  intimate  interaction  with  the locals  was  perhaps  heightened  by the fleeting glimpses I had of  their  lives through the kaleidoscope of  brief interactions. It was the first of May and I had in my hand   a frothy pink Gerbera gently blushing like a virgin bride. Youngsters with  baskets  of Gerberas  were  gifting  every lady  a flower  and  spreading  springtime joy. May Day has  occupied  a  special  place in my  heart  ever since  I  was  a little  girl, studying in a convent  school in  a pine scented hill station. No one sang the hymn nearby, yet the blossom in my hand reminded me of my favourite hymn:

Queen of May.

Bring flowers of the fairest

Bring flowers of rarest

From garden and woodland

And hillside and vale.

Our full hearts are swelling

Our  glad voice is  telling

The praise of the loveliest 

Rose of the vale.

Chorus:

O Mary! We  crown  thee with blossoms today,

Queen of the Angels, Queen of the May.

That beautiful May day in Lisbon, my wish to experience more , came true. I discovered Alfama.  

Like Rome, Lisbon, according to a legend, was built over seven hills .And is thus known as ‘cdad das sete colinas’ or city of seven hills. On the Sao Vicente, lies one of the oldest districts-Alfama. 

The thin cobblestone alleys were deserted until we reached a café .There were three wooden tables and eight chairs placed invitingly out in the warm sun. One of the tables was occupied by four septuagenarian men wearing loose faded trousers with suspenders, weather-beaten jackets and cotton twill fishermen caps. They were talking and sipping coffee. A gleaming wooden rack outside a provisions store adjacent to the café was stacked with local produce. Oven fresh warm loaves of bread, plump Mediterranean oranges with their  smooth glossy skin, and cans of sardine. A selection of wines elated my husband’s spirits. We purchased enough food for a hearty meal. 

By noon, having trampled around the medieval castle Sao Jorge, beyond the slopes of Alfama, we spread our lunch under a jade and emerald olive tree perched on a vantage point overlooking the sky blue Teja River. Below us, the sun sparkled on the whitewashed walls and the red tiled roofs of the houses. The gentle olive leaves fanned us with the moist air from the Tagus River.

It was difficult to imagine a tsunami in the present peaceful surroundings. Alfama is old, having survived the horrific earthquake of 1755. I learnt that the earthquake that devastated the nation occurred in the morning of 1st November. It is recorded that a black tsunami followed and the Teja River ravaged the city. A raging fire that lasted five days continued destruction with pitiless aggression. 

Alfama is said to date back to the 12th century. I was informed that the tiny, maze like streets, a legacy of the Moors, were purposely constructed to confuse as a defense from enemies and provide protection against the blazing sun.

Much  later,  I ventured  out in  search  of  a  café  that  served  tea, allowing  my tired husband  to  complete  his  siesta.

The walls were brightened with the decorative tiles of Lisbon-Azulezos de Lisbon. The tavern could well belong to the medieval times. But spirals of  lavender coloured  petunias dangled from   the  tiny black wrought iron grill balcony atop-breathing life  to  a  scene  that  appeared   to  belong  to  another  period in history.

The front door was wide open although it looked dark inside. I  stepped indoor and  it took  my  eyes  a  moment  to  adjust  to  the  dimness  within. The  burnt orange  walls added colour  to  the interior which was gloomy  with  wooden  furniture all  in  the  dark  hues  of  dusk. Through the black coloured uneven wooden planks of the two minuscule windows that were closed, streams of light slithered in stringy slits. There was no one inside-either customer or proprietor.

I cleared my throat. ‘Ola?’ My Portuguese pronunciation was atrocious.

Moments later, a  faded  orange  curtain moved  and  an  old  lady emerged   out of the  door  concealed  by  the  curtain. She wore a loose brown blouse with rust coloured , calf length skirt and cracked and patched black shoes. She appeared to be as old as her surrounding. Her  face was lined with  a  thousand  wrinkles, her body  ceased  producing  melanin  years  ago  to  colour her sparse whips of  gray, her limbs  were  bowed and  crooked, having earnestly  traversed  the  journey of life. Although to  me she appeared to  be   an old  relic  from  the  past, it  was I  who  stood   awkwardly , unsure of my  presence in  so  ancient  a place that  had  so long been her domain.

And then she smiled. I noticed she had blue eyes- as clear as the sky I had earlier observed from the castle. They danced with radiance and exuberance of life. Her thousand wrinkles multiplied manifold as they squeezed to make room for the laughter lines around her eyes and lips. I had not seen   such an alluringly beautiful visage in   a long time.

‘Ola! Hmm… English?’ I inquired.

‘No English.’ She shook her head. ‘Only Portuguese.’

‘I am sorry.’ I apologized, ashamed at not making an effort to learn the rudiments of the language before landing in Portugal.

‘No sorry. Is all right. I teach you Portuguese.’ She grinned to expose pink gums with fragmented residues of black teeth.  

She did not serve tea in her restaurant. It was open only for meals and drinks. But she confessed that she   enjoyed her cuppa and urged that I join her. I always carry tea bags with me and suggested she try them. We prepared the tea which she served with thick slices of  vanilla cake.

Our conversation was less verbal and more of a sign language, infused with a profusion of smiles and laughter. The  downside of making instant  friendships with owners  of  eating  places  one  ventures  into  is  that  they  often  refuse   to  accept money for  serving  one  food. I awkwardly  insisted on paying  something knowing  full well how  difficult it  is  to  fix a monetary value to  the  affections  and happiness  shared in the  company of  a remarkable  person.

Before taking my leave, I undid my Indian silk scarf and gently presented it to her. She protested. ‘ Por favor.’ I insisted, articulating the words and phrases she had taught me and which I had painstakingly written down on my notepad. But when we got more insistent, both of us abandoned the fineness of oral communication and used a  frantic sign language we had never learnt. I guided her fingers to feel the fabric. She touched the luxurious soft texture ever so nimbly woven by the weavers whose skill had been perfected by generations over the centuries- the weavers of the ancient city of Varanasi, India. Her fragile fingers lingered lovingly, tracing the miniature intricate designs in the bit of fabric.

‘Indian silk.’ I spoke persuasively. Her smile encompassed every feature in her face.

‘My first piece of silk.’ She murmured haltingly in English. ‘Thank you.’

Obrigada.’ I said clasping her creased hand, mouthing the Portuguese word for thank you. I  hoped  the  expression  was  elaborate  enough  to  encompass my  appreciation for her charming  company . She warmly embraced me.

Obrigada.’ She motioned with her hand that I wait and went inside. Emerging  out  within   a  few minutes  with  a  bottle  of  local  wine, she insisted I accept her gift. Aha, I knew one person who would appreciate her gift and forgive me for wandering off for so long.

Adeus!’She said with that beguiling smile.

Adeus!’I said and waved my hand in farewell to that delightful lady whose oversized attire engulfed her undersized frame. Who showed me that we  humans  pine  to  transcend our  little ghettos of  ethnicity, community, nationality and breathe life into  the  ideology of  universal brotherhood  of mankind.  

As I retraced my steps to rejoin my husband, Portugal felt much less foreign, much more familiar. 

                                                   The End

Published in Indian Literature, Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi.Volume299,May-June2017.

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