Thursday, August 25, 2005

The Long and Winding Road

Isn't it ironic that the only time we think of making an effort to look up an old friend, teacher, colleague is usually when it's too late? Ok, so am exaggerating. But unfortunately, in my case this is more true than not. What was that about the road to hell, intentions etc.

Yesterday, i broke my long silence on my business school e-groups after a long time, when someone emailed the news that the one time Principal of the school had passed away after a brief illness. A very decent gentleman, a teacher who taught us much, and one of the many who had mentored me along the way, i was sad. More so, because so many of my classmates sounded just like me - filled with regret, for not having taken the time to thank him.

I suddenly realised that this is beginning to sound all too much like the soppy chain mails i often receive, about seizing the day etc. But i guess if so many of us are sending and receiving them, and sometimes relegating them to the trash can, there must be something to it.

One the happier side of things, thanks to the flood of emails that followed, i heard from a one time classmate, and a dear friend, who like me, had been silent forever. She reminded me of happier times. As well as a candid conversation with our erstwhile professor, who claimed he had selected us to be part of the class because of our inherent "mad streaks".

Hopefully mad streaks that were not getting tarnished. With time.

"Every year is getting shorter, never seem to find the time
Plans that either come to naught or half a page of scribbled lines" - Roger Waters

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

The Sunflower is mine in a way

"You may know that the peony is Jeannin's, the hollyhock belongs to Quost, but the sunflower is mine in a way."
Vincent van Gogh (to Theo)Letter 573, 22 or 23 January 1889

It's easy to see what captured Vincent's imagination. It's definitely captured mine - these huge, bright yellow blobs of delight.

I guess my love affair with the sunflower began in childhood, somewhere in remote parts of Assam, where they grew wild, and untamed. My mother snobbishly dismissed them as large, unkempt and weed like. Soon more genteel flowers such as gladioli, orchids and cutesy little pansy beds replaced the sunflowers in our garden.

Then the years went by, and i definitely had no time to stop and smell the rosebuds, or see sunflowers. Till one christmas after i was married, and santa appeared with a little blue vw bug, with a bright yellow sunflower in the bud vase. This was the start of my love affair with the sunflowers again - sometimes it aggravated my sensitive nose and eyes, but there was no replacing the flower! When i said goodbye to Buggie, i left a large flower there for him in the bud vase. The dealer asked if I wanted to take the flower, but my expression stopped him hastily in his tracks, and he looked at my friends, as if to rescue him.

Turns out, Sunflowers get their name because they always face the sun - turning their flowers to track the sun's movement across the sky- a phenomenon known as heliotropis. Just like so many of us, constantly searching for light.

But i think my obsession truly started, three summers ago, when i first saw the Dutch sunflowers. Like everything in this mutant land, they were absolutely gigantic! Way taller than me, the flowers are larger than my well-rounded face! I stared in shock, felt like i was in 'Honey, i shrunk the kids'! I implored B to take lots of pictures, the result? Back in Delhi, i had curious people ask me , 'Didn't you go to Holland, where are the tulips?'.

This year, i patiently waited from spring through to summer. The hyacinths came and went, as did the easter lilies, azaleas, freesia, crocuses, and tulips. Plenty of tulips. Including an unattractive one called Aishwarya. Followed by roses. Here they were at last. My bit of sunshine.

Suddenly i didn't feel daylight deprived on rainy days. There were sunflowers everywhere. In the market. The shop windows. On my deck. In vases around the house. On my coffee mugs. Aprons. Everywhere. From Den Bosch to Brugge. We had friends and family visit, who insisted on touching and feeling them to make sure they were in fact, real!

I have been convincing myself they are real as well. Not a figment of magic mushroom induced fantasy. They are so shiny, so happy, so yellow, and people like. Ok, so i sound a trifle obsessed. But recently on yet another visit to the Van Gogh museum, it struck me; i wasn't the only one with a touch of the sun (flowers).

Meet me in Noord Brabant, and you'll see what inspired the master. Pieces of incandescent light, disguised as the rustic, simple sunflower.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Point of View - Topsy Turvy

6th & 9th August. As if to commemorate 6o years of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings were not enough, two of my friends decided to turn 30 on 6th & 9th respectively. Though - bombs they are not, bombshell may be a good description ( I am their friend, therefore possibly kinder to them than the years).

Sitting here in Den Bosch it was difficult to partake of the 30th birthday festivities in New York and Stoke respectively, hopefully I will get to meet them both in person in the next month or so to make good for the missed merriment.

As i grow older, and i do unfortunately, something that always strikes me as odd is my world view. As an adult, i think one of the most terrible human tragedies ever- has to be the US bombing of H&N. Watching some of the survivors and their maimed progeny on television, is enough to offer a brief glimpse into the catastrophic event.

It's funny though, how most of the text books in school and college completely obliterate this fact. They merely announce it as the end of the war in the Pacific and the death of Japanese imperialism. Americans = Good, and Japanese = Bad. In later years, as a student of political science, one of the different insights i had to this was not through the eyes of my jaded professors, but in fact Gar Alperovitz's then new book - 'The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb'. Over time many conspiracy theories have emerged as to the "real reasons" for the bombing such as an attempt by the US to limit Soviet expansion in Asia. But Harry Truman & his cronies were not war criminals, oh no. Well you may argue, hindsight is 20 20 , and Truman was justified.

Onto some more flip flop history. Recently I was watching King Fahd's funeral on CNN. (Don't ask me why, probably just curious about the middle east equations, and the Saudis). Expecting to find a resplendent funeral for the King, given a flamboyant royal family, I was sorely disappointed. It was an ugly, hideously overcrowded, ill managed and most importantly, ordinary funeral i had ever seen. I guess simplicity has its virtues, but this ceremony called to mind the origin of the term Barbaric, ascribed to the Arabs(Berber) by the Greeks.

Of course, the most amusing thing about the telecast had to be Octavia Nasr, CNN' s senior editor for Arab affairs. It was quite fascinating to watch her defending the non inclusion of foreigners (read - non islamic foreigners), and more importantly women, in the entire proceedings. Unless you count the footage of Dubya hugging the now king , Abdullah, a few months ago in the US, which was quite entertaining as well. Bet some of the warmth in that hug was lit by Saudi oil. Anybody interested in women's rights and public beheadings?

I would be the last person to defend some of the perpetrators of violence. I too was terrorised by 9/11, the Mumbai bombings of '93 and the recent 7/7 attacks, just like you. Yes, Hitler was an inhumane demon, the Japanese army savage and Saddam, not the most likeable of dictators. Ask the Kurds. But every now and then , there is the story of the odd German who shielded their Jewish friends. The Japanese boy who was born without ear lobes, and a nose but bears no ill will towards those that did this. I can personally vouch for a secular and westernised Iraq, one where we celebrated Durga Puja, diwali and christmas.Where attractive women roamed the streets, sans head scarves, in short skirts just like their counterparts in civilised parts of the westernised world, unlike their ilk in neighbouring Iran, or Saudi.What I am trying to say is - evil leaders don't necessarily equate evil citizens.

But what does that render Truman, Dubya and his dad? Defenders of the ark against terrible terrorists or greedy, self important mercenaries? If you really must fight terrorists, Messrs Bush, try Niger.
For a change - you may actually save some lives.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Day 10 | Copenhagen - Den Bosch | Girl with Kaleidoscope Eyes

Woke up this morning feeling fuzzy and confused. Then little M's dolls appeared to be staring at me - and Copenhagen it was. We had finally reached late last night after driving about 1600 kms in a single day. Might explain why the ancient B was snoring gently this morning instead of hounding me.

I played hound instead, and we hurriedly put all our stuff together, and rushed out. Suddenly I wanted to slow down - but B insisted we had a long way to go. But it's only 7 hours i protested, not if you want to see Mons Klint, B reminded me.

Aha. Mons Klint. In all the excitement of the last few days i had clearly ignored my initial enthusiasm when i had discovered Mons Klint. In the pictures it looked like a piece of the world that existed only in Pajero ads or exotic holiday brochures.

So we set out - the Danish roads as boring as can be. I suddenly was missing the 'husk bilbelte'(buckle up) signs from the Norwegian highways. Some fresh Bagels from a nearby bageri and a special Dansk garlic flavoured cream Havarti was a perfect beginning to the day. Better still, we had managed to dispense with some of the endless change that seemed to be piling up. The euro had spoilt us - currency exchanges were clearly a thing of the past in our heads. These Kroners had frusted us no end, as had the toll gates across Scandinavia.
Fortunately the Danish countryside soon looked up as we crossed over from Zealand to Mon and Falster, south-east of Copenhagen.

The island of Mon turned out to be a surprise, with little villages and quaint towns such as Stege, with perfect little churches, houses and plenty of strawberry shacks. The weather, and the landscape had an almost Provencal air. Van Gogh would be inspired.

Mons Klint, the 5,000-year-old chalk cliffs whose dramatic and striking drop 128 metres into the sea has proved to be a popular tourist attraction for Danes for many years, was in fact real! It was just like the pictures promised, if anything was much more spectacular. In addition, the nearby Klinteskoven woodland is perfect for hiking, picnics and horse riding excursions. Plenty of trailers were parked nearby for long-term campers perhaps.

Of course the climb up the cliff to get a bird's eye view, and some photos was very tiring, but worth it. Though this meant that the climb down 400 stairs to the beach was double the effort! But we were suitably rewarded; the sunny, cloudless day reflected varied colours of the sea - emerald, turquoise and azure. A nearby sign suggested that the East Sea, the Kategatt and the Baltic sea were all visible on a clear day. Sometimes the Russian coast line as well.

The time had come to head home. A drive across Mon and Falster, across quiet unhurried villages and bright red poppies, we arrived in Lolland, yet another island. The town of Rødby, a ferry port appeared, as did a large Scandlines Ferry to take us to Puttgarden, in Germany. 45 minutes, some very blue skies and entertaining seagulls, we were now in Germany. In a few hours flat lands and chubby cows would greet us, back home in 's-hertogenbosch.

But for now, needless to say - B turned into HarryP., the car into a broomstick, and me, the petrified house elf.

All good things must come to an end, as had this fortuitous adventure of fairy tales, a first home, fjords, family and friends.

As Longfellow said, "Skoal! To the Northland ! Skoal! Thus the tale ended.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Day 9 | Bergen - Copenhagen | Somewhere over the Rainbow

Day 8 | Bergen - Copenhagen | Silent Lucidity

For everyone that knows me - it isn't often that i am at a loss for words. But here I was, at the edge of the world. Stupefied. Dumbfounded.Awestruck. And speechless.

The drive from Bergen to Copenhagen, via Oslo, across the fjords of western norway proved yet again no camera could possibly collar this. Besides why waste beautiful scenery through a lens, akin to the japanese tourists. Having said that - we couldn't resist the temptation to capture a bit of this magic, and keep it forever.

So many images. So much to see. Fjords.The ferry crossiong at Gloppen. Onward towards the Jotunheim , and a glimpse of several glacial arms of the Jostedalbreen, the largest glacier in Europe. Think i did see Slartibartfast's signature in one of the branches of the glacier ! Across the barren and bizarrely beautiful Hardanger plateau. Deeply contrasting with the rich greenery fo the Flam valley, leading to yet another fjord. Trollveggen. The Voringfossen - with a double rainbow!

I will let the photos do some of the talking - it was difficult selecting a few pictures. I was humbled yet again - here's a tiny glimpse. Of Paradise regained.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Day 7 |Bergen|Little boxes all made of ticky tack

Woke up this morning in the gateway to the fjords. Or the town between the seven mountains. A possible case of snow white and the seven dwarves mildly altered.

Snow white it was not this morning, but sort of like a page from a faded fairy tale book. Bergen was much kinder to those who wished to sleep - the fog considerably ameliorated the effects of never- ending light.

There wasn't much i knew about Bergen before it was on the itinerary for this trip, except 3 little facts. One was it remained an ice free port in spite of its high latitude (60 degrees N) thanks to the Gulf Stream (i clearly had an excellent geography teacher!). Also that it was an important Hanseatic port, similar to Brugge. The third B. told me - that if it ain't raining, it ain't Bergen.

Looks as though he was wrong, and Bergen was behaving - because it wasn't raining, and the fog lifted, to reveal a glorious shiny Bergen. A short walk down the innumerable stairs along the hilly path, and here we were, right at the fish market. A visit to the tourist information office, situated in a lovely building, the Fresco Hall coupled with considerable excitement at meeting Tyler's Norwegian cousins at the aquarium, pretty much sums up the morning. Unless you count the smiling fishermen who offered me endless shrimp and oysters to sample in the fish market. It must have been my reciprocating smile - though B attributed other things to their generosity.

The Bergen aquarium turned out to be a bit of a disappointment - other than the seals and penguins. S Where had all the sea lions gone? It wasn't lunch - for that there was salmon. Took me back to a work- related gala dinner at the New England aquarium - where I ate about 3 pounds of clams thanks to the kind hearted, squeamish guests who felt guilty eating the mites in their own homes!

We hurried along - and made it to the White Lady before she set sail for the fjord cruise. The rest was magic. Other than a rather boisterous Italian gent who clearly had one too many beers for lunch. Past the Hanseatic wharf area - Bryggen, rebuilt after a great fire in 1702. Bergen it turned out - had fallen prey to conflagrations throughout its entire history. The house we were staying in currently dated back to the 18th century, and was only partly destroyed by the fire. Suddenly i appreciated it much more, though its modern interiors belied its age.

The White lady took us deep into the Sognefjord, and adjacent fjords. We saw some fascinating sights (the scenery by now was given!), such as a partially floating bridge, one of the oldest stave churches in Norway and a refueling station for boats! Unfortunately there were no seals that i spotted with my naked eye, though i was able to spot several families, sitting out in their little private jetties, outside their summerhouses. Some of the children jumping in and out of the water could have been mistaken as little monk seals, a mistake B made when he pointed to one excitedly, "look a blue mottled seal". Turned out to be a little girl in a polka dotted bathing outfit!

The fresh air had whet our appetite, and we ended up as giants refreshed in a waterfront restaurant, with a charming Thai waiter. Our sense of well being continued as we headed to the 7 minute ride to the top of Bergen,the much famed Fløibanen.

The Floibanen is a funicular railway that takes visitors to the top of MountFløyen - all in 7 minutes for a view that is truly breath taking. Atop the mountain, i found myself in the arms of a giant troll! Once B managed to extricate from the Troll's charms, we wandered around some. We had a spectacular bird's eye view of Bergen, the surrounding fjords and the mountains, of course. There are also hiking trails around the mountain, but it was getting darker, and some curious black bugs in the woodsier parts soon dissuaded me, much to B's relief.

Around us were the usual motley tourists doing the usual tourist things. There was a charming outdoor cafe where friends were meeting for a friday night drink. So far removed from life in parts I had grown up in. I could hear some English tourists on their mobile phones, considerably less obtrusive than their American counterparts, discussing yesterday's incidents.

It was something of an awakening, because reality seemed so far away atop this hill. With tangerine trees and marmalade skies. Somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly, because i felt like a girl with kaleidoscope eyes.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Day 6 |Trondheim-Bergen|Asgard or Jotunheim

Here we were. Back on the road again. To Bergen. Almost a little wistful to say goodbye to Trondheim. But we had a funny feeling we'd be back.

And just when we thought a considerable part of the excitement was over and done with - No (r) Way!

Being back on the road had its own charms. Stop for some famed Trondelag jordbærs (Norske for strawberries) on the way. Drink some more of the famed Hell Melk - no spirits on the highway, what with 9 am breathalysers on tuesday mornings!

When i look back at the day, it's a heavenly blur. Of scenery I didn't think possible. Of tunnels that were straight out of the Lord of the rings. Of reflecting pools that mirrored icy caps. Of green fjords melting into the green firs. Distant elks scattered in the horizon. This had to be the inspiration for Asgard.

The sun shone on, no respite from that, while I stared at the road, bleary eyed in parts having spent yet another night, awake!

One of the funny things we noticed was - all the farmers seemed to be doing, was rolling bales of grass, drying it out and putting it away in uniform plastic rolls. Looked as though they literally made hay while the sun shone! Also brought me back to a term i learnt as a child - transhumance - which might have explained the innumerable cows grazing at this altitude!

The most spectacular part of the drive to Bergen was the Jotunheim Jotunheim in N. myth is one of the nine worlds, the homeland of the frost giants and rock giants. This had to be it! Driving from the counties Oppland , through towards Sogn og Fjordane, we passed through some statuesque parts of the National Park. Most of this stunning scenery is best respresented in pictures, though yet again i wondered, what kind of camera could capture this? It had to be the eye, nothing else could do it justice.

Somewhere in the midst of this marvellous scenery, we heard some strange sounds coming through on norwegian radio. There were sirens in the background, and people screaming. A few snatches of conversation in english made it clear - something had happened in London. Some more deciphering of norske news and a couple of phone calls later, we were partly assailed by an unease similar to the post 9/11 phenomena. However, the scenery soon held sway, and the only hint that something was not ok, was a single police check point outside one of the main tunnels through one of the 7 mountains that led to Bergen. That too was more in the nature of a perfunctory check of the car registration.

Many ferry crossings across the fjords, sublime scenery, more of the annoying hag and B's complete devotion to her, we were in Bergen. A few phone calls to the owner of the apartment we were renting, and an exhange of pleasantries and keys. Not withstanding the polite yet curious expression of the owner at these folks with a Dutch address, german mobile number and indian faces! Our apartment in Bispengaten, on a hilltop, yet so close to the centre, was the stuff dreams are made of.

But for now morpheus calls, and before the sun steals my sleep again, I must go.

"Yes, ’n’ how many seas must a white dove sail, Before she sleeps in the sand? "