For someone adept at writing voluminous research documents, essays, and research papers, short writings or notes represent a huge task. However, I made every possible effort to surmount this fear during my visit to the United States. My travel, beginning on the 14th of September, 2017, lasted for about a month. A small notebook kept me company at airports, on the plane, roadside cafes and at homes of my loving family. Following are some scribbles from the trip.
14/09/2017: Conversations at Istanbul
It’s not every day that I find myself at Istanbul airport. It’s not every day that I hunt for a Pide, Lavas or a Simit, types of Turkish breads that trace their history to the times of the Ottomans, or even earlier perhaps. Layovers can be dull, however, there’s nothing that a cuppa chai can’t help you get through – heartbreaks, depressions, failures, rejections, unemployment. While my brief stint at Ataturk airport was not caused by a heartbreak or even unemployment for that matter, it was beginning to become one of the most uneventful layovers that there can be. Chai or çay, as they fondly call it there, was spotted and life took an unexpected turn, a faint smile made an appearance on my sleep-deprived face.
It’s also not every day that you meet a young Pakistani boy from Lahore who offers you his Burger king fries. And once you tell him that your family finds its roots in Pakistan, no icebreakers are needed. Conversations range from Kashmir, politics, Shahrukh Khan, Fawad Khan and Coke Studio! It gets interesting as another layover sufferer, an Indian from my very own state of Maharashtra, joins the conversation and together we discuss what can make our countries a better place to live in. Like all dialogues, rendezvous, discussions, deliberations, meetings ever to have taken place in history, our conversation too ended with another cup of chai or çay.
We achieved nothing profound at Istanbul airport that day. Our conversations, however, made our layover anything but tedious, monotonous, dull – keep digging the English lexicon for more synonyms on airport layovers.
16/09/2017: Spanish tile roofs
It’s interesting how roofs can remind you so much of history. It was either my training as a historian, or my severe jet lag that was making me observe Santa Barbara, a Californian city nestled between the Pacific Ocean and Santa Ynez mountains, rather differently. It was definitely my historian instincts for a brief stopover at a bookshop opened up many eras of the city’s history. The tile roofs that caught my attention represented a Spanish epoch. A couple of centuries ago, the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries to be more precise, Spanish explorers, missionaries & soldiers flocked the very streets that today have been named after them. The tile roofs that so fascinate me at Santa Barbara, are a common sight, of course in Spain, and the many countries they once ruled. Staring into oblivion, while sitting on the steps of the Santa Barbara Mission, I wonder how the invisible wings of political expansion, migration, imperialism and colonialism have not only brought within their fold countries and peoples but shaped cultures, traditions, societies, architecture, way of living…
“Do you want a cup of coffee?” asks my brother, intruding my trail of thoughts. “Of course”, I say, my thoughts still captivated by roofs as I sip my hot Starbucks.
21/09/2017: And they knelt!
Sometimes we don’t like the people we elect. Sometimes we disapprove of the political situations we find our country in. We hold rallies, we voice our opinion and in some cases, kneel. As backs, quarterbacks and all those who belonged to the prestigious NFL knelt, yet another form of protest emerged. Despite the opposing views on the event, the NFL protests appeared dramatic on screen. It made me wonder how a sport is an arena to display one’s valour, agility and physical and mental prowess. It also, however, provides a platform to express disagreement, to question norms and conventions and also to make clarion calls for peace and equality. Be it Muhammad Ali refusing army induction during the Vietnam War or John Carlo’s human rights salute during the Mexico City Olympics, sports can never been be separated from politics and history. It is instead a silent albeit powerful part of it, one with a far-reaching impact.
Parkings are not a big problem from where I come. We set out to our destinations, park wherever we feel like and life goes one smoothly; freedom has varied expressions in our country. When you hail from a place of such freedom, parking situations in Manhattan make one feel immured. As you make your way through streets and avenues, the parking instructions begin to look more and more intense. Timed parking, street cleanings and whopping parking rates predominate ones time, energy and space. After all the tribulations, a parking spot emerges, announcing a time to rejoice and make merry. Like all other joys this too is ephemeral, especially when you are reminded by the parking meter that you have only one hour to discover the city, the borough, the historical island, the seat of the United Nations, the administrative and commercial centre, the glitz, the glamour, the lights, the museums, the bull and everything that does not make Manhattan look like a parking nightmare! Next time take a bus.
29/09/2017: Yet another layover
Walking never ends at the Chicago O’ Hare International airport; ‘It’s not the journey, it’s the destination’ making complete sense. In such situations Starbucks offers the much needed respite. The respite is doubled when one also spots a bookshop nearby. Oh the lovely stationery, pens, postcards, journals, biographies, autobiographies! And the amiable owner with whom you discuss changing political situations, hilarious tweets by leaders, the quietude that sometimes haunts America and the benefits of dystopia in small doses!
Layovers are fun, especially when travelling solo and with a smile!
1/10/2017: Buy guns. Shoot. Kill. Repeat (LA Shooting)
A pattern the world is familiar with. A lot has been said, written, commented on this bizarre act of terror. There’s not much to write but to wonder – how an economic and political superpower has failed miserably to curtail it.
7/10/2017: Boston days
‘The Bostonians’, a James Ivory film, based on Henry James novel of the same name is a wonderful portrayal of radical women and the Suffrage movement in the 19th century. After watching the film, I was made aware of the Massachusetts Woman Suffrage Association and the many histories of Boston. Stories of history emerge at every nook and corner of the city as you walk down the Freedom Trail. Amidst all the history the Prudential stands tall and confident, symbolizing an effortless coexistence of the past and the present. At the very ‘top hub’ of the city, travellers like me think, contemplate, introspect and immerse in the city’s multicultural ethos, while enjoying some rather potent cocktails!