Saturday, August 06, 2005

Cities in the mind

When ever I enter a city for the first time, I tend to take in up as much as possible during the first few days when everything seems new and unfamiliar. In case I get to stay in that particular city for longer some of these images will start becoming more familiar. Thereby giving me an opportunity, when I have no better things to do, to juxtapose the image of what has now become a familiar site to that of my early images. By doing so I tend to get the same kind of avuncular feeling that is not too different from the feelings I have when I see a young relative whom I last remember was a tiny little fellow.

Few of the early such stored-images I have are that of Pune. I did not travel much before that. I was there for a short stopover in 1987 and was kind of enamoured by the range of stuff that was available – food and otherwise – on the station road. Coming from Vizag, which has nothing in front of the station, this road was far more exciting and we did not do much in the few hours that we had in that city other than hang near the station. Year later when I got to spend three and half years there, even though the station road was the worst road that there is in that city, I did stop to eat or to purchase something on that station road but that was only to revoke those first few memories I had of that place; especially, eating at Sri Krishna restaurant, one of the many below average joints that are found close to many stations.

Similarly when I went back to Flensburg, a small city on the Baltic Sea in Germany last year after many years I was kind of sad looking at the bus stop, which has in the mean time has become swankier. In 1995, when I first went to that city, which incidentally was my first trip abroad, the toughest part of the whole journey from my home in Visakhapatnam was getting to the university from this bus stop.

What had happened was that in the excitement of finally going abroad, I forgot the instruction leaflet that explained how to get to the university from Hamburg airport. (Actually I even forgot my original fellowship letter but that I came to know much after this incident.) It was only after I reached Hamburg that I realized I did not have the instruction sheet but years of such faux pas made me prepare for such situations. I went to the airport help desk and asked them directions to go to Flensburg. I had to hop skip and jump few buses and a train to finally get to Flensburg station. Getting to the bus stand from here was also easy since only one bus comes here. Then the trouble started.

On the station platform I met two other men who were also headed for the same course that I was attending. They were from Liberia and they did not have the instruction sheet as well. Atleast they were justified in leaving it behind: someone was to be at the airport to pick them up but they missed this person. Since they had the phone numbers, I tried to call the univ but the operator did not speak any English. The dept phone was not being picked up. At the bus-stop no one seems to know where the university was; neither the passengers nor the drivers. We where stranded there for two hours until one of the two Liberians opened his suitcase and took out the invitation letter from somewhere inside. I took this to one of the drivers who looked at it said “ah Pe Ha” then guided us to the correct bus, told that driver where we are supposed to go. It took another few hours of phone calls before someone from the department come over with the keys to our room. Unfortunately for the Liberians they had to go back to the place we started as they had rooms in another hostel. Years ago, it seems that this univ was a Teacher training school and the people in the city still call by its old name ‘Pedagogishe Hochshule’

Last year, we were booked in a hotel that has come up over an old newspaper office but was bang in front of this bus stop. I woke up early to find the rest of the crowd still sleeping, so I opened my window and spent time looking at the buses come by and go as those old images came flashing by. Wondering if Micheal and Marakka remember our first day in Germany as well?

I am waiting to go back to Kenya to look at the area that I frequented: Westlands, Ngara, Kilimani, River road … would certainly try to visit Lamu, Mombasa and Kisumu (on the banks of lake Victoria). I am not sure if that is possible but I can certainly go to Pune to see what has become of Main street, East street, Rastapeth, Kalyani nagar, Deccan area, Bund garden …to drink sugarcane juice in front of Blue Nile, eat at Poona Coffee House, Marz-o-Rin and Madhuban (near Bund Garden)… (I know Dorabjees (the departmental) store has been knocked over. Maybe the restaurant is still around)… pick up Shrewsbury not from Kayanis but from Royal Bakery at the end of MG Road and have a chat with the eccentric Parsi owner… and mostly to eat lovely Maharastrian food.