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!
“East, west, south, or north makes little difference. No matter what your destination, just be sure to make every journey a journey within. If you travel within, you’ll travel the whole wide world and beyond.”
Shams of Tabriz
Having said (rather quoted the above) i think a journey without does help you to journey within …especially if it is set 11000 feet (around 3500 M) above the sea, amidst snow topped mountains, brown sandy mountains, sometimes purple (yes , purple), sometimes red mountains. With streams with water so sweet, so clear, you can just cup your hands and drink it (and yet not spend the rest of your days confined in your WC/Ladakhi toilet)…smelling the sweet apricot and apple blossoms, watching weather-beaten, shy faces greeting, “Julley” along the way.
Of course there are other reasons too. The fact that its freezing cold, without any heating in room/cars etc, no hot water showers (in fact , no showers at all: bucket style baths with just about lukewarm water, that chill your bones further are all you get on a shoe string budget), coupled with wearisome weather , such that on some days one can experience all four seasons in the span of a few hours. Even the air is so thin that a short hike can make you totally breathless (unfit that i am), in a way that your loud panting can be, am certain, heard many kilometers away.
And that’s how it was for me. For over three weeks. In Leh, Ladakh, India.
When i reached Ladakh end of April , i really did not know what awaited me. All i knew was, i was going to be teaching at the IBEX COLONY GOVT PRIMARY SCHOOL for around a month, try to share some tips with the teachers there and basically have a gala time with the Kindergardners! (To be honest: this way i could officially get away with playing around with puzzles, crayons, nursery rhymes, read a lot of children’s stories etc… It’s after all, important for the kids!). I had armed myself with a lot of books (no, really they were for the kids, not just me 😉 ) for the kids, craft material to play around with, a few toys, some videos and lots of new ideas. I wanted to make a real difference, introduce some modern methods of teaching, make a difference. Everything would be hunky dory. After all, Ladakh was a dream destination, right?
Of course, as you know, i was not quite right. A bit off the mark. Ok, really off the mark.
I struggled. I was sometimes frustrated. I asked myself, why was i here. I left a job i loved for this? “Ooh, so breathking”, is what all would probably say on seeing the pictures of Ladakh. But the mountains are tough taskmasters. They demand you prove your worthiness. As beautiful as they are, they demand you rise to their heights and show your mettle. I shivered (literally and figuratively. After all, it was often around zero degree Celsius in the night, at that height!). I felt cut off from everything i had known (well trust me for a month, i didn’t send a SINGLE SMS, i could not…Network was that inconsistent), i was alone (was travelling alone). But somehow i stayed on. Despite all these doubts i managed to hang on. So much that i want to go back to the mountains as soon as i have some moolah (Or if i find a/some sponsor, i can go there NOW) This is the beginning of a love affair for a life time.
In the next 3 blog entries i would like to write about my experiences in the school, a little about the very little travelling i managed to squeeze in and about the lovely people i met along the way.
I am a bit slow in writing. So it might take a few days, but it will be online…that’s a promise!
Till then, Julley
My Dream waited for me
While I sat, crouching,
Too afraid to take the leap.
Each fiber trembled
of flight, of freedom.
Of adventures that could be.
And then a small voice nudged,
Go, plunge, dive, jump,
And let set your sails free…
Your hair will look great shorter.
Blue really looks better on you than black.
That guy is not worth your time.
She is just using you to get to him. Just forget it.
You need to be more assertive.
Don’t get emotionally involved with people so easily.
i think maybe you should just give her a piece of your mind.
Think a little before you say something.
Look before you leap.
Etc. etc. etc….
How often have we been the speaker and the listener of these and many such words? Friends, elders, foes, teachers, parents, well meaning and not-so- well meaning people around us. People who want to give us a helping hand, people who, well, just like to say stuff.
My personal favorite comes from the story of the wise sadhu (sage, who has earned great wisdom after years of penance. Theoretically. Nowadays television helps. Apparently) and the king.
This king, a kind one, was suddenly attacked by his arch enemy. The king in question suffered a devastating defeat. (Much like the Indian cricket team does so often). He lost his kingdom, his wealth, his soldiers. Practically everything. But he does manage to flee the battle scene and hides in a cave. He is in total despair. He doesn’t know what to do. Should he kill himself? Should he go back and surrender? Each option seemed dreary. While mulling on this he remembered the small piece of paper his Guru, the wise sage, had given him when he became king. The sage had asked him to keep it in his ring and open it only in the most desperate of situations. This advice would give him the solution. So the king opens this piece of paper. On it are four simple words:
THIS TOO SHALL PASS.
The king feels as if a bolt of lightning passed through him. As if the sky cleared up after a storm. As if the sun suddenly burst on in the sky. With new found hope and courage, he managed to gather the remaining soldiers, appealed to another king, who was friendly and won back his kingdom and wealth.
Of course there is a great celebration. The entire kingdom comes with gifts and showers blessings and praise their brave king.
During the day of the celebration of this great victory , the same sadhu comes up to him and gives him another piece of paper as a congratulatory present for the King and asks him to read it. Full of curiosity the king opens it and reads something familiar:
THIS TOO SHALL PASS.
The King experiences the same sudden insight, the same clarity. He rules his kingdom wisely and justly. Late he too gives up his kingdom, goes into the forest and spends the rest of his days in serving the poor, meditating and sharing his knowledge.
I love this story. And each time am euphoric, am down in the dumps, am angry, am elated, am impatient, am nervous, am afraid…i tell myself and others: this too shall pass.
I calm down a bit. And then after a few moments, the feeling passes. The feeling of calmness. The golden words pass out of my memory and i am back to where i was. And then i remember this story again.
Since i’ve just very very very started blogging, like a couple of weeks ago, if this had to be my last post, i’d probably feel DAMN! And i’ve just started. Just two people following my blog. Hardly any views at all, just 6 posts, just about 20 comments, not even a single “Inspiring Blogger Award”. And i have not even scratched the surface of my writing skills yet.
But i do guess it saves cyber space and makes way for another unsuspecting blogger 🙂
Unlike the topic of this week’s it took me quite some time to pin down the moment which really changed my life. There are so many of them: A line you read somewhere , something a friend just happens to mention, an illness, a relationship, breaking off of a relationship, a look from a parent or a sibling. A phrase you read somewhere. A line from a song. Just about anything.
Especially when you don’t know what you want to do with your life (i really still don’t), you maybe very naturally gravitate towards looking for signs which might help you to navigate through this labyrinth called Life.
So i thought about it for a while: Maybe i should write about “The Little Prince”; specifically about the fox and the Little Prince. Or about my favorite quote from Rumi. Or my first ever holiday all alone. Or maybe the impact of “Sunscreen” by Buz Luhrmann.
These didn’t seem somehow life changing enough though. They have in their own way made a difference to my life and answered many of my questions. Still they didn’t seem BIG enough.
And all of a sudden, just like that, i knew the answer.
I have for the last decade and a half underestimated the importance of this moment. It has been the first Domino tile to set my wheels in motion.
It was the monsoon of 1997. Fresh out of school i wanted to something exciting, something which i had not done as yet and not many people (not the one’s i knew at least) had done this. Something exotic, something different.
So that Summer …er…monsoon (too much of an influence of romcoms and chic literature i guess’) i enrolled myself for the “G1” level (first beginners’ level) of German as a foreign Language at the Goethe Institut Mumbai.
But this isn’t the moment yet. As at that time, i was not really sure what i am getting into, where is it going to take me and how am i going to make use of this.
It was when i spoke my first sentence in German ever: “Mein Name ist…., wie ist Ihr Name” that changed my life. So many foreign sounds in my ear, on my tongue, in my mouth…So this is how one introduces oneself in Germany. Oh my God, am learning a language spoken in a country 9,000 km away, where they prefer drinking beer to water (i was appalled at that time to learn this, naïve that i was), I shall, someday, talk to a German in German, express myself in a language, whose sound i had till then never heard, and make it my own. WOW. I am learning German.
That’s how i felt at that moment. The whole idea that this language, which was then so foreign to me, was a mother tongue for a few million people (really, only a few million people. India has always been way ahead on this one count) hit me quite hard. That they fought , loved, prayed, expressed affection, anger, disgust, made promises, broke promises, wrote books, letters, did everything in this language, that didn’t really exist for me then, somehow really enthralled me. I wanted very badly then to learn it, speak it, feel it, taste it and make it my second native language. That has made all the difference in my life, for better or for worse, actually for better!
One word that can easily cause a mass anxiety attack in any organization across the world: Downsizing. The dreaded pink slip, the long walk to the office door, the pain of sharing the news with the family, the fear of life long unemployment…
Personally i have a love and hate relation with this word. On the one hand “downsizing” brings to mind the movie, “Up in the air”. Actually, in all honesty, who comes to mind is the gorgeous, suave, talented Mr. Ryan Bingham a.k.a George Clooney. (Obviously this is not the “hate” part of my conflicted relation with this word)
The other association with “downsizing” is another matter altogether. As a matter of fact, I think this particular one has, since eternity, affected more individuals than any economic meltdown. We are talking of a different of a meltdown altogether. Unlike the economic one, billions of people crave for this meltdown, spend small fortunes to experience this, torture their bodies and go to unimaginable lengths to achieve this goal. Am sure most of you must have figured out by now what i am talking about: downsizing in the literal sense: From being a 14 to a 12 to 8 and eventually the wonderful 6 (Am sure it’s clear for which one am pining for currently). Or if you are in UK the numbers look slightly different…American 8 is the British 10-12 and so on and so forth . In India alphabets serve the same purpose: The much desired (revered) “S”, or the “still okay” M, the scary L and the dreaded XL. (Really guys, only if you’d sorted out your stuff, we would’ve had so much less confusion in the world of units of measurement)
“Downsizing” i.e. reaching that dream size/look, losing weight, fitting into the smallest dress in your wardrobe, squeezing your tummy in to fit into the jeans from college, fighting off the last five (or 25 kilos) has been and in all probability shall remain a battle for almost all women (and a few “good” men too) almost everywhere in every nook of the world, except maybe in Japan, China, Thailand, Philippines. (It’s really unfair. They seemed to have earned all the “hourglass” figure karma)
A German friend once remarked that in India when you meet someone after a few weeks/months or years, they never ask how you’ve been doing. The first comment is inevitably, “Oh my God, look at you, you’ve lost so much weight” or the polite way of saying that you’ve gained a few (quite a few maybe) inches,” Hi!! Look at you! Life seems to have been good to you! You seem to be doing really “well””. I hadn’t realized this till my friend pointed this out to me.
I think this simple observation puts in perspective our obsession with our extra pounds…er…kilos… There are websites dedicated to “ Inspirational Weight loss Quotes”, body types, diet food, success stories, statistics on obesity, books on weight loss, even star sign based dieting advice, not to mention gyms, prescribed/not prescribed weight loss pills all luring us to be fab and not fat.
Having said all this i must confess that i am no exception to battle against the bulge or rather bulges at unwanted places. Family dinners, lunch breaks, brunches (ironic so much talk of weight loss is done around food), train rides, bus rides, birthday parties, kitty and many other “holy” places all them, revolve around the process of loosing, gaining, maintaining the scale to a number acceptable to self.
Like most people I’ve too spent (and spending even this moment as am writing this) many waking hours doing the calorie count math, talk loudly to myself, i have hung my favorite skirt which am not currently fitting into) to motivate myself, run, jog, Aerobics, dance, et al. I have lost and gained around 15 kilos three times at least in the last five odd years. And am still fighting …
And honestly I think we should try, we should try to be at a place where our bodies too are comfortable in us. I am not talking in kilos or inches or sizes. No. This time am looking for a place where my physical, emotional and spiritual self are all in sync with each other, where they feel at peace with each other. Am trying to be where i don’t turn to a bar of Lindt or a pint of choco chip cookie ice cream for comfort. Of course it may not be the weight ideal for my height, i may never have to fight with a Japanese tourist in Fab India over the last silk blouse in size XS. Really doesn’t matter.