I began this blog almost ten years ago (What? Really?). But it wasn’t my first. I’d started blogging two years before that, on a different platform, to record my memories of a very special holiday in India. It wasn’t the best of platforms and in fact it no longer exists. Eventually I took a deep breath and moved to WordPress, so you can’t flick back and read about my Indian adventures here.
These days, I’m in a writing group. Last week, we fell to talking about travelling, and about how we often overlook the pleasure of the journey in favour of impatiently anticipating our arrival at our destination. It sent my memory scurrying back to India, and I can feel a series of posts coming on about Journeys in India.
Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin. Now that dates me……
I’d wanted to go to India for more years than I could remember. As a London child and then as a student in Manchester, Indian culture had always been at the periphery of my life: its foods, its smells, its clothing.
When we lived in Sheffield during my thirties there had been ‘The Arts of India’ at the Mappin Art Gallery, when craftsman from all over India came, and every day for about three weeks, made pots, wove, carved, and worked with inks and cloth in the art gallery. By night, since my then husband was the gallery curator, we’d eat together, joined by Indian heritage Sheffield residents who became our friends too. They would cook for us and we for them, and we’d talk into the night.
Some years later my son, by then eighteen and just finished with school, worked as a teacher in a village school in Uttar Pradesh, then travelled for some months following his nose all round India. His letters – no emails then – tantalised me.
Family and work all pushed the dream of distant travel away. Until my 60th birthday and my retirement, when my daughter and her husband gave me a very special gift to be spent on travel. India. That was it. I’d go there – with no Malcolm, no friend, no companion found on Thelma and Louise – though I considered all of these options. This trip was for me.
And I went, choosing south India instead of the more visited north. I have memories of markets, of quiet temples, in one of which I was blessed by an elephant, of cows and goats in busy city streets, of eagles soaring over rooftops, of eating at workmen’s cafes from banana leaf ‘plates’, of the Imam’s call to prayer every morning at 5.30 and every evening at 5.30. I had a week in a small group too, in rural locations, discovering the parts of India that work the land.
Above all though I remember journeys. It was on these journeys that I often felt closest to being an ordinary citizen doing ordinary things in an extraordinary country.
- My first rickshaw ride, on my very first day in India, which turned into an extempore, personal tour of Bangalore from my driver, who loved his city.
- The overnight train ride, travelling across India in the company of tea boys, soldier-smart railway officials, giggling girls, serious lecturers, a family groups sharing their carefully prepared three course meal before washing up, then arriving very early in the morning to a busy station community.
- Or the intercity bus journey along a motorway, where goats carelessly wandered onto the carriageway from the central reservation where they grazed..
- Or my final journey on a local train which I truly didn’t expect to survive so tightly were we all packed. But that, like all the others, is a story in itself.
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