Places mentioned in fairy tales do exist. I know that for a fact now. I am living in one such place. For the past two weeks almost. And am apprehensive, am getting used to living in a fairy tale. Whereas i have just about 1.5 weeks more all till this becomes only a fairy tale once more.
But lets rewind a bit and go back to the 4th of July 2013, 6.00 am, Munich Airport. I reached a day later than i was supposed to (why so, and that it turned out to be perfect serenpidity is another story altogether !)
So with my 19 Kilo suitcase and rucksack i took three trains and a bus to finally reach Schwaebisch Hall , where i was to embark on a new adventure with people i didnt know at all , doing work i have not done ever and in a place which had seemed elusive until now.
Schwaebisch Hall has timbered houses . Or as the word in German goes, “Fachwerkhaus”. These houses , some of them, are at least 600 years old and have the same families living in them since they were made. Everything in this “city” is about 20 minutes away from the centre or the “Marktplatz”. Population lies around the 37K mark. And yet the “city” has over 100 nationalities. And yes i even found my indian “connection”. i discovered a gorgeous shop selling the most breathtaking Kashmiri shwals, with work such intricate, that an entire family took 2 years to make one shwal. And i even got invited for my cup of hot piping Kashmiri Kahwa. Here in Schwaebishc Hall, in Baden Wuerttermberg, in Germany, some 9000 km away from Kashmir. (Ladakh, i think, we need to meet again soon. Its a sign). But again am getting ahead of myself.
I reached the Goethe Institute in SHA (Thats the license plate abbreviation for Schwaebisch Hall) around lunch time and was greeted by my new boss in a very unboss like way: with a hug, food and free luggage pick up . And of course, as i knew i would, we dove straight away into work. The city, meanwhile, paitiently waited for me.
We are staying in a youth hostel. This Hostel is not a half timbered structure but the next best thing: An old stone structure on the top of hillock (my colleague Ly will probably not agree, that it is a good thing that our hostel is on the top of a hillock. The climb up shall not make it on her list of favorite things :). Opposite the main door (a huge heavy old wodden door that makes sure you tone some muscle each time you open it) is a lovely terrace with wodden chairs, vines growing along the stone-pillars, rickety round tables , some of which hide behind these lovely vines and create another alternate universe along this already incredibly beautful one. Sometimes the graceful neighbourhood cat Olli (thats the name a colleague christened him. She felt he was a olli) deems us worthy of his presence and grants us a glimpse or two. Sometimes a bettle, a lady bird or a garden lizard that lives in one of the teeny cracks in the stone pillars stop by and grace us with their presence.
Most days we have dinner out on this terrace admist chatter in portugese, croatian, usbek , chinese,german, english and me throwing in a dash of Hindi (just to confuse my mates 😛 ), generally talking nineteen to the dozen, goofing around, getting to know each other. The whole world seems to melt away and for me, it is, as if every other aspect of my life has frozen in time for the moment and this is the only life i know.
Together we are 52 teenagers and 13 “grown ups” trying to learn German, discover Germany and grow together as a part of this international summer course organized by the Goethe Instiute Germany.
For the last 10 days we have laughed together, walked up and down this wobbly “city” together, danced together, dressed up badly together, some brave souls jog up the thousand steps that SHA has, other play mini golf, make friendship bands, try slack line or just laze around the river, on the green grass …
Meanwhile the city and i now finally friends. Before i came here, i was in Ladakh for a month. And the hardships i saw people suffering there, or when i think of how 8 million of us take the train to work each day , for about 20 years of our lives back in Mumbai, or how on a rainy day we have to fight with the taxiwallahs (Taxidrivers), pay exhorbitant fares to just reach home and catch just about 20 winks before the fight starts again, i was almost angry at this city. it seemed and still seems unfair that people have the luxury of living in this exquisite town. i resisted this place. You are not true, i kept saying. You cannot exist, i kept telling Schwaebisch Hall. With your cobbled streets, timbered houses overlooking the river, many cafes with happy chatter of the locals, broad avenues, theatre in the main square, small bylanes that are teasing you to guess which other bylane they shall lead you to, a delightful beer garden by the river, the beautiful park leading you to Comburg, the Art Museum Würth you are just a dream which a loud honk from a 30 year old kaali -peeli (black yellow taxi back home) shall rudely wake me up to. What made it even worse was my discovery of “The Revolutionary optimists”, a group of slum kids from Kolkata (remember “City of Joy”?) , who are working towards eradicating polio in their slum, mapping their slum, reclaiming their playground and basically trying to make their world more humane. You see how the world out there really is, i wanted to shout out. I resisted the beauty of this place. But Schwaebisch Hall was kind. We’ve been blessed with good weather till now and am sure now that we are finally getting to know each other, the good mood (read weather) shall continue.
i was secretly glad and felt slightly consoled by the fact that all the team members (mostly of german origin) are not from here and even for them this place is like a dream . i had, then a mental divide of “us” (guests to this peaceful town) and “them” (the inhabitants of this town). They were still invisible for me and hence , not that real. I had painted them in my head as rich, slightly unaware people with no idea what the “real” world was like. But of course, Schwaebisch Hall decided to prove me otherwise. i very recently discovered that the “Launda” of our team (my mates shall figure out who this is) is a localite. Hmm. I take back my unspoken words. My prejuidice towards the townsfolks. Sorry.
So what is this? an Illusion? i guess, this place is a break for all of us from our “realities”. These four weeks are simply a gift for me. And my mates here are the cherry , the icing on the cake. From my Boss, to my Bankier , my Launda, the Nor, the Bio Woman, the Ly, B , Vi the three Maedels, and the Thai…et all… We r the nuts in this too good to be true place…
PS: Nor, you asked me to take it easy. Relax a bit. Now i can …
PPS: Launda, you owe me a dance lesson. Or maybe two…
PPPS: Boss: er….dont be mad at me for calling you boss…
PPPPS: Bankier: MUAH!