When the bus came to its final halt in Koomankavu, the place did not seem unfamiliar to Ravi. He had never been there before, but he had seen himself coming to this forlorn outpost beneath the immense canopy of trees, with its dozen shops and shacks raised on piles; he had seen it all in recurrent premonitions - the benign age of the trees, their riven bark and roots arched above the earth.
(O.V.Vijayan, The Legends of Khasak)
Somewhere around Chidambaram, I was startled awake as the bus took a sharp turn. It was a hamlet trapped in time; mud huts, hay piles, dung cakes, old trees, everything the colour of summer dust. I remembered Koomankavu and went back to sleep, hoping that the bus would never arrive and the journey would never end. The ennui of a tired traveller's journey back home is as inspiring as the anxiety on the eve of the departure.
Agreed, all journeys must come to an end. But dragonflies wait on the shores for a hot current that would lift them up and drop on some distant continent. Storks flap their tireless wings across snow-capped mountains to follow an itinerary coded in their genes. Children go on dreaming of the sail past the map-blue seas even after they grow up and forget about it. There are so many people waiting with so many stories.
I'm on a treasure hunt. The destination is the journey itself and the reward MEMORIES OF WANDERLUST.
March 30th 2013
“Der Frühling Kommt,” declared the banner hung in front of Remstalkellarai. The prolonged winter shows no signs of thaw but it’s time to explore the huge underground cellars of the local winery and revel in its exotic collection. Ingrid and Hakan Olofsson have invited Delma and me to the tour. The couple has already given us a taste of the region’s famed wines in our last evening as guests in their loft at Beutelsbach. Remstalkellarai has the largest wooden-barrel cellar in southwest Germany, Olofsson had told us, pouring a glass of Fellbacher Weingartner, which comes from another winery in the Rems Valley. The evening was a lesson in history and culture. We learned that the statue near the village square commemorates the 16th century peasant rebellion. We discussed the idea of converting kindergartens to ... read more
March 22nd 2013
A labrador outruns its master on the other side of the river, getting in and out of the morning shadows sweeping the meadow. Treetops and the gabled roofs of ancient houses reflect in the blue-green waters. An idyllic European scene plays out on the shores of the Rhine. I follow its course. I boarded a train to this old Swiss town just across the German border because of its proximity to Rhine fall. The river leaps 23 metres near Schaffhausen to form Europe’s largest waterfall. At the fall, the river is about 150 metres wide. And there I was, on a silly search for the superlative in Switzerland. At the railway station, I looked up a map and found I could trace the river a few streets away and then follow it until the fall. No ... read more
March 17th 2013
The weary barefoot traveller sat on the bridge’s parapet, gazing at the river. Her robe thrown off in discomfort, the suitcase dusty from her travels across the country, the spear and shield devoid of any desire for action, the plump woman contemplates her destiny. I did not recognise her at first. Then I saw the laurel wreath in her hand, and the robe, and the spear. She has gained weight and lost some of the majesty since I last saw her on a postal stamp. It is Helvetia, the female personification of Switzerland. Bettina Eichin released Helvetia from the stamp, and the coin, so that she could tour the country she represents. The sculptor saw the emblematic woman hunched over the bridge on the Rhine in Basel. Since 1980 the bronze figure has been an icon ... read more
March 16th 2013
“Black Forest? Isn’t that a cake?” Tasting the cherry torte at its birthplace was of course on our agenda when we set out for Black Forest but one of its ingredients held out a special promise. At a little café adjoining the end-of-line railway station at Seebrugg we order kirschwasser, literally translated cherry water. The waiter seems surprised. The liquor distilled from cherries is usually drunk after a meal. Well, we could use some to help digest the duck we ate on the way at Freiburg. Freiburg im Breisgau, an important town in the Black Forest region, was surprisingly sunny. A wedding ceremony on the cobbled square before the town hall; shoppers exploring the small town with big brands; and the tower of the legendary church presiding over it all. After a brief stroll and quick ... read more
August 24th 2011
“Tonight everyone will go to Chadmalthanda to sing and dance,” the young man said, cuddling closer to a short tree that shielded us from the unexpected showers. The drums have already woken up in the Lambadi hamlet. Villagers from Mirmalthanda brave the rain to be at Chadmal on time. Tonight the two villages will sing it out. During an interlude in rain, Rajeev and I ride after them on the muddy road flanked by endless corn fields. All the rain and slush could not dampen the previous day’s festivities at Niralthanda, where all the families wanted to host Rajeev, who runs one of the schools in the nearby town. He was still trying to convince his students and parents about the limits of our stomachs – we had already feasted from three huts – when the ... read more
January 29th 2011
Tottempudi Gopichand dances to fast beats and piercing whistles. Brahmanandam commands claps and catcalls for the umpteenth time. We too applauded the latest action hero and the constant comedian of Telugu cinema, but reserved the loudest for Prakash Raj, the antihero who has been creating superheroes across south India. “Pedda Prakash Raj fansukalu…” The reveling boys behind us were curious about the villain worship. By the time we left the old-world theatre, after Gopichand did the customary bashing-up of the army of herculeses, we were bound by our love of the fantastical. Prem Udayabhanu and I had got into a slow passenger train to Guntur from Bangalore in the morning. Chilli bajjis and dal vadas accompanied apple-flavoured vodka. After noon, we got down at Dharmavaram, about 40 kilometres short of Anantapur, our original destination. Chiranjeevi, matinee ... read more
January 25th 2010
While I was roaming amid the sandstone temples of Ranipur-Jharial on a blissful Sunday, Left-wing guerrillas were blocking all roads leading to the western border districts of Koraput and Malkangiri. They had called for an economic blockade in their strongholds on Sunday and Monday and a state-wide bandh on Tuesday, India’s 59th Republic Day, protesting the arrest of Subhasree Das, a propaganda leader of the banned Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist). “On Saturday night, the Berhampur-Rayagada route was blocked by felled trees. Bus communication to many places was affected in Ganjam, Gajapati and Rayagada,” Monday's New Indian Express said. The Orissa State Road Transport Corporation halted services beyond Rayagada, cutting off Koraput and Malkangiri. The few private buses in the area too stayed off the road. Even the East Coast Railway cut short Hirakhand Express and ... read more
January 24th 2010
Yuvaraj Rana cut a corner of the polythene packet and drained the transparent liquid into a steel glass. As the dhaba owner returned to the kitchen to make me an egg burji, I took my first drag at mahua. The brew, distilled from mahul flowers abundant in the tribal belt spanning Orissa and adjoining Chattisgarh, felt harmless despite its strong odour. The last bus was still an hour away. I beckoned for one more packet of mahua. Moonlight mood, my godfather would have said. Inside the highway eatery, a group of travellers drink whisky. Packaged mahua had as many patrons as rum and whisky, Rana said. I had sniffed in the odour as soon as I walked in. I was curious to feel the flower drink. Last evening I walked into a similar dhaba in Bogomunda, ... read more
May 11th 2009
Sun is punishing the parched countryside along Madurai-Theni highway. Large tracts of land are left fallow. “Vanam Patha Bhumi,” says Raja, the taxi driver. This land gazes at the sky, like a hornbill yearning for rain. Farmers rely on rain to irrigate their fields despite the Vaigai dam near Andipatti. We turn left from the highway at Usilampetti. Raja’s grandfather Mukaiah Thevar left Usilampetti and settled on the suburbs of Madurai many years ago. The family comes back once a year, for the temple festival. He is not quite sure of the place though. “This area was known for caste clashes,” Raja says as we pass Pasumpon U Muthuramalinga Thevar bus stand. “You can see Thevar statues all along this area. Most of the caste clashes happen when someone desecrates a statue,” Raja adds. Thevar was ... read more
May 10th 2009
The din of the Sunday market is drowned by loud recorded songs. The Tamil songs resemble old numbers from MGR, the movie messiah-turned-chief minister who continues to be a defining force posthumously. The tune and tone are the same, but these songs are in praise of current chief minister M Karunanidhi, who wrote the famous lines for MGR and many other matinee idols and scripted his own success saga along the political fault lines of Tamil Nadu. He is called Kalainjar, the artist. Firecrackers burst at the other end of the street. Small boys scurry along with the red-black flags of Karunanidhi’s Dravida Munnetra Kazhakam (DMK). A band of teen drummers - clad in oversize yellow T-shirts bearing the picture of the black-goggled chief minister - ushers in the procession. Behind rows of flag-bearers nudges the ... read more