Out of the Ordinary

One of the things that I’ve always found jarring while travelling is aligning myself to the fact that the place I’m in is exotic to me; not to the people I meet there.

It was always odd to me that people can actually have regular jobs in Goa. Somehow, it seemed inconceivable to me that one could work at all, knowing the sun, the sand and a cocktail are walking distance away. It just didn’t make sense to look up at the grandeur of the Andes mountains and realise that I was watching it in the middle of traffic in Bogotà city, as buses took children to school, cabs ran about their daily business and women in suits made their way to work.

Rome was especially bizarre in this context. There were so many sights in this city that I felt I’d seen already: the dome of the St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, the grand pillars of the Pantheon, the hopeful crowds around the Fontana di Trevi; they all looked exactly like in the pictures.

I walked the streets of Rome in a strange kind of daze… there was always music playing in the background – a couple of acoustic guitars or a violin. I was dreamily looking out a cab window when the Colosseum came into view and took my breath away. The (literally) colossal structure appeared, and I was stunned as this familiar picture from my readings about ancient Rome was suddenly right there, in front of me.

And then my little daydream was unceremoniously broken when our host told the driver in a rushed, matter-of-fact voice: “Go around the Colosseum and take the first left.”

Right. Exotic only for those of us who didn’t pass it on our way to work every day!

We passed the Colosseum several times during my week in Italy and each time, I found it incredible that it was just standing there while people carried on their usual daily routine. It made me wonder what I was overlooking in my own neighbourhood. Or city. Or state. Or my own country.

Remember the old man in Mary Poppins who couldn’t see past the end of his nose? Don’t become him. Look up, around, anywhere, because who knows what you might pick out of the ordinary?

Rome, Italy, November 2016

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Lost in Lucknow

Years and years after my visit to the Bhul-bhulaiya in the Bada Imambara in Lucknow I still have nightmares of getting lost alone – literally and otherwise.

Our tour of the Bhul-bhulaiya began by our guide leading my family and me into the labyrinth and its passageways connected to each other through 489 identical doorways. I have never had a great sense of direction anyway, so I gave up trying to keep track 5 or 6 turns into our tour. I focused instead on the tidbits of information our guide was giving us. I found my mind wandering. I imagined people walking the very corridors I was walking through. I asked myself who they might have been, what they thought and dreamt about. I wondered how it was possible to hear whispers across the walls and imagined the messages people passed to each other through them…

My thoughts were interrupted by our guide telling us that it was our turn to navigate. There was no way I was going to manage; that was no surprise. But soon enough, both my dad and brother were giving up too, as our guide watched, mildly amused. It was impossible. We were lost, and we were left stunned by the genius of the architects who created this structure 250 odd years before.

I often think that life can be disturbingly like the Bhul-bhulaiya; a series of choices leading further and further into a maze. Too many wrong turns, and sometimes it feels like there’s no way out.

But soon enough, our calm, experienced and all-knowing guide swiftly led us out of the constructed trap. And wasn’t that poetic?

There’s always a way out. Maybe the next time you feel alone, trapped and unable to find your way… give in, reach out, and ask for a little help. 🙂

Picture Credit: Tushar Das
Lucknow, India, May 2011