Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Ottoman Chronicles –I

I’m an avid traveler. E-Traveler. Every single minute I have free on my hand I browse through the sites like Lonely Planet, Discovery, etc. Gazing at those beautiful pictures from far away lands and choking over the astronomical flight ticket rates which burned holes in my pockets and heart just by glancing them; I had been content to be what I was, the e-traveler.

So when we made a plan to visit Turkey. Booked hotels and packed our bags. People kept asking me “Why Turkey? Why not Greece or Europe?” To be honest, I had no definitive answer.

Turkey is under explored if you ask me. The place has so much to offer and I only had a paltry ten days to spend there. So the trip planning itself became difficult. There were too many beautiful places to see. We had to pick and choose. It’s like being in Baskin Robbins if you know what I mean. You run from one end of the counter to the other to make sure that every gram of your cup is worth it. Same way we ran our fingers back and forth the map of turkey to see what we could accommodate in the ten precious days we had. So finally we decided to do the west coast of Turkey. We would fly to Doha and after then to Istanbul. That would be the first leg of our trip.

Turkey has its presence both in Europe and Asia. Istanbul happens to be in Europe while its capital Ankara is in Asia. There are two bridges that connect the two continents as well – Bosphorus Bridges.

Turkey was ruled by Byzantines till around 1200’s AD and from then on till 1923 (when Turkey was declared a republic) they were under the powerful Ottoman Empire. In fact Ottoman Empire happens to be one of the longest lasting empires in the history of the world. Turkey was never a colony to any country of the west. Thanks to this fact there is an absolute absence of the colonial form of racism-Whites and Asians are treated with equal respect; a welcome change after being in the Asian environment for a long time and assuming “white man gets priority” was the way the world worked.

After eight hours flight from Singapore to Doha, a nine hour stop over at Doha inclusive of a half hour spent at Doha air port hospital* , four hours flight to Istanbul and numerous meals in between we landed at Istanbul Airport. All my life I have been a tropical creature and was suddenly placed in a near chilling temperature with cold winds so that by the time I walked into the hotel I was shivering so much that I thought all my teeth would fall off. We had a nice dinner at the nearest restaurant. Lovely tomato chorba as they call it and a variety of vegetarian options.

Next three days in Istanbul was not tightly packed, but we saw a lot of things, bought a lot of stuff and generally had very relaxing days. One of the days I walked from my hotel down the town to stand by the sea. It was chilly but I felt at peace. There I was standing by the sea, in a strange country with a language I could not speak, alone watching the sea gulls.

So here’s what we saw:
Blue Mosque:
The Sultan Ahmed Mosque is a historical mosque in Istanbul.The mosque is popularly known as the Blue Mosque for the blue tiles adorning the walls of its interior.It was built from 1609 to 1616, during the rule of Ahmed I. Like many other mosques, it also comprises a tomb of the founder, a madrasah and a hospice. While still used as a mosque, it has also become a popular tourist attraction.

Hagia Sophia: Built as a church converted to a mosque,the silent witness to conversion from Byzantine to Ottoman,the church stands a testimony to the history of Turkey.The dome and the walls of the church are covered by images from Bible in  mosaic and tiles.They were later covered by Koran scriptures by the Ottoman Rulers.The archaeologists have painstakingly uncovered one of the faces as seen in the picture(top left).

Basilica Cistern:The Basilica Cistern is the largest of several hundred ancient cisterns that lie beneath the city of Istanbul. The cistern was built in the 6th century during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I. The enlarged cistern provided a water filtration system for the Great Palace of Constantinople and other buildings on the First Hill, and continued to provide water to the Topkapi Palace after the Ottoman conquest in 1453 and into modern times.

Grounds of Topkapi Palace
Oh yeah, we were busy photographing every cat and dog on the way that by the time we got to the palace, it was closed.So we got around photographing the entrance of Topkapi palace.

Whirling DervishesI am not an expert on Sufism and Dervishes. We managed to catch a show featuring them. The mystical music and the dervishes whirling in a trance, I felt I was part of an Arabian Night story.

I simply love museums.I was in for surprise this time.I got to see the sarcophagus of Alexander the Great.Woohoo 

Bazaars of Turkey:
This is one you don't want to miss.Exquisite crystal works,spices,textiles,hand made soaps, sheesha's or nargil's and lot more.  

Bosphorus Cruise: 
There we sat on a boat,chilled to our marrows,assimilating the knowledge of being at the borders of two continents,where east meets west. 

After the three days in Istanbul, we took a flight to Denizili to visit our next destination. (To be continued...)

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Mistake

I sit in the backseat of the taxi; cradling her. Her body is cold and almost of devoid of life. I ask her to be silent, but she keeps groaning. Sometimes there are quick gasp that feels like beeps off an ECG machine.

I ask the driver to speed up. I need to get there before it is too late. I am worried; it is entirely my fault. If only I was not in a hurry to get back home for the long weekend and celebrate…I look at her. A bead of sweat breaks from my forehead. She is sleeping now. Not a sound; I resolve not to disturb her.

I sit back and try to drink in the beauty of the evening sun about to sink into the depths of the blue ocean. I am unable to enjoy the golden hue over the sky and the cool wind that is blowing through my hair. My mind is too flustered. I sit there like a mannequin; not moving not speaking. At some point, I could not even hear my breathing. The only thought that kept roaming was “it’s entirely your fault. All of this...”.I shake my head in resignation. I know it is.

She is not the prettiest thing you will see. She is not lean or suave. She is, well, the unassuming friend everyone has. Petite, average looks but highly efficient for her size. It brings a smile on my face to remember the numerous times she saved me from forgetting things. She reminds me of all my friends’ birthdays. I forget, but she remembers and cheerfully tells me to call them. Off the records let me confess she is the one who is manages all my appointments. I mean it, all of them. From buying grocery to paying phone bill, she handles it all. She was a gift from heavens to a miserable small memory enabled clumsy oaf of a mortal (read me).

Still I let her down. Inspite of all my misgivings she had stuck to me. Sometimes I completely forget her and go out on my own. She rarely complains. Nevertheless, what I did on Friday surpasses all the evil I had ever done to her. (Is it something I did or something I did not?).Now she lays still, cold and there is a pall of gloom behind which death lingers.

The cab stops with a jerk. We have arrived. There is still time I console myself. I rush to the lift lobby, pressing the floor buttons. (People keep doing that, on normal days much to my chagrin, pressing the lift buttons continuosly.Dumbheads; it is not going to make the life arrive faster! Duh!)The lobby is almost empty and the people stare at us in curiosity. I jump into the lift before the people come enquiring.

I fly out of the lift running toward the cupboards. My hands tremble as I pull out the key. I chance a glance at her, prostrated on the table. Silence engulfs us.

I rummage through the papers, mentally cursing for not keeping the cupboard tidy, and finally find the lifesaver. I plug in the charger for her and she coughs up to life. The battery shows a charging sign. She will live. I let out a sigh of relief. In gratitude she beeps meekly,”5 new messages”. 

P:S This is in loving memory of my Nokia Express Music,which was nabbed couple of weeks back.I still miss her.    

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Hungry Tide -Amitav Ghosh (Review)

The Hungry TideThe Hungry Tide by Amitav Ghosh
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Set amidst the lush foliage of mangrove forests,"The Hungry Tide" tells us about the history and lives of people who inhabit the numerous islands of Sunderbans in the Bay of Bengal, the river dolphins, the man-eaters of the tide country, the sea and the legends that float in these waters and forests. It reminds us of the fragility of human life and the helplessness that comes with it.

The story revolves around American born Bengali descent, Piyali Roy a.ka. Piya, a cetologist who comes to India to study the river dolphins; Fokir a reticentilliterate boatman with an impeccable knowledge of the tide country; Kanai the middle aged translator who thinks of himself as an urban Casanova;Nilima or Maashima,Kanai’s aunt, a matriarch with a keen eye for business who single-handedly run a hospital in the fictitious island of Lusibari; and Nirmal ,Kanai’s late uncle with flawless Communist idealogies.

Ghosh spins a tale whose fabric is dyed with realities of the lives of the islanders, yellowed by the passage of time and embroidered by the tales of Bon Bibi and Shah Jongli.He relates to us the massacre of Morichjhanpi, which otherwise is a much suppressed black episode of Indian history, through the diary of Nirmal.The lives of the then dwellers of Morichjhanpi,the event that lead to the massacre and the struggle of the dwellers as they fight for their right-the right to stay alive.

Ghosh boldly questions the atrocities dealt out on the poor in the name of protecting nature. One of the character voices out,

“Saar,” she said, wiping her face, “the worst part was not the hunger or the thirst. It was to sit here, helpless, and listen to the policemen making their announcements, hearing them say that our lives, our existence, were worth less than dirt or dust. ‘This island has to be saved for its trees, it has to be saved for its animals, it is a part of a reserve forest, it belongs to a project to save tigers, which is paid for by people from all around the world.’ Every day, sitting here with hunger gnawing at our bellies, we would listen to these words over and over again. Who are these people, I wondered, who love animals so much that they are willing to kill us for them? Do they know what is being done in their name? Where do they live, these people? Do they have children, do they have mothers, fathers? As I thought of these things, it seemed to me that this whole world had become a place of animals, and our fault, our crime, was that we were just human beings, trying to live as human beings always have, from the water and the soil. No one could think this a crime unless they have forgotten that this is how humans have always lived — by fishing, by clearing land and by planting the soil.”

When the books end, in most cases, the characters end with it. But with “The Hungry Tide”, the characters linger around the corners of your heart posing profound questions on human rights, our role as protectors of nature and the inherent frailty of human nature.

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