An India Epiphany – on the Road into Agra, January 2013
It happened on the road into Agra. We were on our way into the onetime capital of the Mughal Empire and location of the Taj Mahal. As our bus crawled through chaotic traffic our heads echoed with stories of Akbar the Great and the wonders of his red sandstone palace at Fatiphur Sikri.
For a week now we had been immersed in the history, art, music and literary culture of the sub-continent. At the Jaipur Literature Festival we heard Indian, English, Pakistani, Canadian and American writers, diplomats and film producers debate significant issues around India’s past and present and her future role in the new world order. We had listened attentively as our guide escorted us around the historical sites of Jaipur’s Amber Fort, City Palace and Observatory. When he mentioned the names of Jai Singh and Bhawani Singh are heads nodded in recognition. Some of us had even danced at an Indian wedding – ours was a comprehensive Indo-cultural experience.
When the crane smashed through the window of our bus, another India announced her presence. As people leapt across seats and shattered glass sprayed through air and fell into hair, we encountered a different culture. “It never occurred to me it wasn’t going to stop,” more than one of us said. In a country where compliance with traffic regulations appears to be entirely optional, how could we have been so naive? “Expect the unexpected”, I was warned more than once, and here it was.
Through the now gaping hole in our luxury bus window, we watched the street life of India unfold. The crane driver and his ‘traffic controller’ fled the scene, hotly pursued by Akash, our bus driver’s young assistant. Within minutes a group of noisy ‘witnesses’ materialised and we were surrounded on one side by a highly excitable ever-growing crowd of locals, all men, and on the other by an even noisier mass of frustrated and honking vehicles.
The police arrived, our bus was inspected and discussions began. Eventually the crane driver was intercepted and arrested. Akash was also led away, ‘to make a report’ we were told. I was greatly relieved to see a thick wad of notes pass between our driver and Akash as the young man joined the procession heading to the police station. A short time later, the wedged crane was removed from our window and we resumed our journey into Agra.
A few days later in Varanasi, I leant over the side of our boat, dropped a lighted, floral offering into the sacred waters of Mother Ganges and gave thanks for the return of Akash and for our group’s safe passage through an Indian cultural immersion.
Judith Salmon Travel
A First-Hand Account, by Anne Barrie
“The thing that stands out in my mind is the memory of what a lovely day we’d had on our drive from Jaipur to Agra, observing women in brightly coloured saris working on the roads sweeping up the loose metal by hand with men observing/supervising them. This is my photo of that scene:
Our lunch stop, seeing Indian mynah birds in India! Looking at all the transport on the road loaded with various forms of livestock, bricks or just human passengers, and of course the amazing array of cow pats drying in the sun and the many and varied ways they were stacked. Each settlement seemed to have an individual style, unique to itself. All this was so interesting and the cause of much comment and speculation, and of course many a photo taken out the coach window.
And then of course the visit to Fatehpur Sikri was such a special occasion, which is why I think the encounter with the crane was such a surprise.
I can remember watching it approach as if I was watching a TV show. Waiting for the first crane to clear the road and then our bus creeping forward in the mass of traffic and then seeing the second crane as it inched out of the side road with his ‘helper’ trying to stop traffic, to no avail, as the small cars, motorbikes and bicycles scooted along the left-hand side of us and ignored his attempts to stop them. I remember thinking why is no-one stopping and think that the crane driver probably asked the same question and decided that if he kept moving forward someone would eventually stop!
Unfortunately he didn’t take into account the fact that our coach was now side on to him and that our driver a) couldn’t see him and b) even if the coach had stopped at the time the assistant started trying to wave traffic down, it was far too late as the coach was a whole lot bigger than the scooters etc. The end result being that it ever so slowly, just kept coming.
I decided to leap for safety a split second before the arm of the crane smashed through the window and came to rest immediately above the seat that I’d been sitting in.
I have no idea what finally alerted me to the need to leap for safety, but I now recall that as an 11 year old in my first year of high school, building works were going on outside our classroom window and something similar happened. So, maybe I am programmed to the possibility of unexpected items smashing through windows!”
INDIA – 2102
Jaipur Literary Festival 2012 I have recently returned from this, the largest and most prestigious literary event in the Asia-Pacific region. It was held in the stunning, heritage building, the Diggi Palace in Jaipur. A vast range of celebrated Indian and International writers gathered to participate in readings, debates, talks, book launches, workshops and entertainment over 4 days of exciting and stimulating events. I heard Kanul Basu read from his latest book, William Dalrymple interview Ayesha Jalal, Richard Hawkins on the death of religion, a panel of Indian film producers discuss Rajasthani cinema, 2 popular Indian fiction writers whose books have each sold over 3 million copies discuss their reasons for appeal, and Oprah Winfrey wax lyrical about her passion for reading, especially her most favoured book about India, Shantaram, by Australian author, Gregory David Roberts.
From Jaipur I travelled by road to Delhi, stopping a night in Agra to visit the Taj Mahal, a monument to love that exceeded all my expectations in beauty and aura. In Delhi I attended the India Contemporary Art Fair which hosted works by Indian and International artists represented by some of the best known art galleries from India, New York, London, Amsterdam, Hong Kong and one from Australia.
From Delhi I flew to Varanasi to experience the marvel of Hinduism’s most sacred site, Mother Ganges, and the place of Buddha’s enlightenment at Sanarth. I now understand why India is described as ‘incredible’, it is not hyperbole, there is no other word for it!
On the road between Jaipur and Agra I see a group of women, heads shielded from the sun in yellow, orange and red saris. They crouch on a carpet of short swaying green grass.
“What are they doing Ashok?” I ask my driver.
“They are weeding the wheat M’am”.
“With their hands, on their knees, no implements”?
“All day M’am”.
I ask Ashok to stop. I want to take the exotic Lonely Planet photograph.
When they see me, the women hide beneath their saris and begin waving their arms above their heads.
Ashok smiles and glances at the deep ditch and barbed wire fence separating us from the wheat field, “they want you to come over”, he says.
I do, and he follows.
“They want you to sit with them and I will take your photograph.”
I pass him my iphone and begin to understand: this is a business transaction. They give me a photo opportunity, I give them an occasion for hilarity with my awkwardness and creaking knees, and then I hand over a small amount of money determined by Ashok.
There is more gesticulating and loud calling as we leave. “They want you to bring the photos next time”, Ashok explains.
“Next year”? I ask, incredulous.
“Yes, M’am, they will be here, they are always here, this is where they work”.
We drive on.
And stop at a small roadside service station. “You can’t go in there M’am, it is an Indian toilet, full of surprises”, warns Ashok.
“I must”, I say and go inside. When I open the door to leave, I am surprised by Ashok and a very small black woman in a hot pink sari – they are blocking the sunlight.
Another business transaction. This woman is an indigenous Indian, an Untouchable. She lives and works on the pavement outside the service station.
We drive on.
“Now we will listen to him”, says Ashok.
“Hari Krishna, hari krishna, hari krishna…”, he sings with haunting monotony.
Another business transaction… but this man has something else to offer.
“He would like to see your coat please”, explains Ashok.
I remove my Rajasthani jacket and pass it to Ashok. The tall Indian musician turns it inside out, examines the stitching on both sides and returns it to Ashok.
“He says it is good, very good”, confirms Ashok.
And we drive on.
Judith Salmon Travel 2012
Granny, do you know what?
No, what Frankie?
F When I grow up, I’m going to build a big, big house for you.
For me? Thank you Frankie. Who else is going to live in this house?
F Well, me and Mummy and Daddy and you.
And what about Papa?
F And Papa – it will be like a family.
Granny, do you know what?
F There’ll be a restaurant too, in the kitchen. For coffee. And we’ll have chocolate money and chocolate ice cream and it will be yum.
Granny, do you know what?
F When I grow up, I’m going to be a builder.
F There will be a really big bath and under the bath there will be roads with lots of traffic – buses and cars and bikes.
And, do you know what Granny?
F There will be shops, lots of shops. And a special shop where you can buy presents for me.
Frankie Hughes and Granny, Parramatta Road Chippendale, 13/09/1012
HOI AN MARKETS 2012
Our January 2012 Heavenly Hoi An experience was filled with laughter, hands on creative activities, courtesy of Debbie Mackinnon, and made forever memorable by the colourful lanterns decorating the streets of Hoi An’s Old Town. By day we immersed ourselves in the local culture as our Vietnamese hosts prepared for their biggest religious & secular celebration, Tet or Lunar New Year. We embellished our wardrobes with the help of some of Hoi An’s best tailors; dined on exceptional local cuisine, learnt how to cook it, and visited a Children’s Home for disadvantaged young people. On the initiative of Mandy Kennedy, one of our generous companions, our group is now sponsoring 3 children at the Home. We stayed at Life Heritage Resort & Spa where we retreated to our beautiful rooms for time out and moments of quiet and creative reflection. Thank you ladies for your very generous and delightful company!
The 2011 Ubud Writers & Readers Festival more than lived up to its reputation as on of the 6 best festivals of its kind in the world. More than 80 writers from around the globe attended the 4 days of inspiring panel discussions, book launches, debates, literary breakfasts & lunches, poetry readings, art & cooking workshops and musical entertainment.
In addition to attending art/literary& cultural events in the Main Program, our group from Salmon Galleries met the Balinese poet, actor, musician and Ganesha Bookshop owner, Ketut Yuliarsa and visited the Neka Art Museum for a fascinating insight into traditional and contemporary Balinese art, culture and lifestyle.
We each had our own special highlights of the week, mine were the Paul Kelly concert, the fabulous company and the beautiful gardens at the Pertiwi Resort & Spa. Thank you everyone for a most stimulating week!