November 25, 2009

Random Things

Well, I have always had close friends but even with close friends I have kept boundaries. Apart from the Bro Code which has never been broken, we have ensured that we never share toothbrush and undergarments. But things changed one Friday night. A sleepy me picked up a new toothbrush and from next day onwards planned to use it. On Sunday night as three men in the house were watching Kingfisher Hunt for the Calendar Girl I started brushing and G fainted. To cut a long story short, all brushes were discarded and I was lectured on the difference between colours. The story ends here. And we shall never again discuss it. Let me however tell you how I met a school friend after 9 years in a lift in Express Towers. See, I have good stories to tell as well. He flew down from Australia for some work and had to be in the same elevator as me.

Kurbaan – The Story Behind The Story - Well, the French Bearded Man asked me to come along to watch Kurbaan with me and I guess it was time well spent. Kurbaan is a beautiful movie. One of the very few times I have loved a movie for its plot rather than individual performances. And Kurbaan stood tall in that count. It’s not just about terrorism but how people deal with it and how often reasons are confused. This movie will not answer your questions but will show you how the human mind is confused when faced with questions that its does not understand. And that is where Kurbaan wins.

Oh and by the way, Paths of Glory was my first disappointment with Jeffrey Archer. I always fascinated about Mallory and his quest for Everest and when I heard he was writing about Mallory, I was expecting a lot more. But this became a boring 400 odd pages.

So I went out to have some fresh air in Bandstand and asked this auto guy. He started laughing. “Arre Boss! Aap akele Bandstand ja rahe ho!” Having G with me didn’t help. Unfair world I say. But then Consumer Behaviour is returning as a course in IIM Bangalore. And that beats every other news.

November 24, 2009

Istanbul – Where you should be Part II

Once you are done with the Byzantines, you must meet the Ottomans. Ideally you should start with the Blue Mosque. One of the few (perhaps only) mosques with 6 minarets, the Blue Mosque is the religious heartland of Istanbul. Standing in it’s courtyard in the evening with gulls crying out from its minarets, their calls asking for a safe home return, you feel an unearthly peace around you. Humbled before the Almighty, you walk out into the Sultanahmet Square.

From there one must walk towards the Topkapi Palace and spend the entire day there. Topkapi was the administrative headquarters of Ottoman Empire and the residence of the Caliphs and the Sultans. And within its walls lies riches forgotten to the world.

Topkapi by itself is not the grandest of palaces and yet it contains treasures beyond imagination. In the treasury room you find spoils from the various wars of the Ottoman Empire. You see the Throne Nadir Shah stole from India after he plundered Delhi. You see the Topkapi Dagger with its 3 emerald hilt and numerous gems and jewels. But most important section of Topkapi is the section of Sacred Relics. As I write I still can’t make myself to believe what I saw. Abraham’s saucer, Jacob’s turban, David’s Sword, St John the Baptist’s arm and skull and the strangest of them all, Moses’ Staff. The Old testament came alive in the rooms of The Sacred Relics and I wondered if all that I saw were real. The prophet’s artefacts were preserved as well and I saw devout Muslims bowing before the same.

The four sections of Topkapi and the Royal Harem provide enough fodder for you to spend one entire day in its magnificent premises. But you might wonder was this all the Great Ottoman Empire was capable of in terms of architecture? Even the Europeans thought the same and somewhere in the 18th century Ottoman Empire was called the Sick Man of Europe.

Around 1853, the then Sultan decided to put an end to it. And he ordered the construction of the Dolmabache Palace to showcase the might of the Ottoman Turks. A grand palace was built along the banks of the river. Its staircases were made of crystal. Gold glittered from its ceilings. Riches and treasures greeted the visitor even before he could meet the Caliph. And he went back to his country full of awe. The Ottomans were also looking West at this point of time and Dolmabache has within itself glimpses of both The West and the East. But when you would visit Topkapi, you would feel you have come to the palace of a Sultan while Dolmabache would tell you that you have come to the home of the world’s richest man who also likes to show off.

The best part about Dolmabache is that you can actually see how Turkey changed after the First World War. Here is also where Mustafa Kemal Ataturk breathed his last. The Father of the Turkish Nation died as he saw a New Turkey growing in strength around him.

But it’s slowly getting dark and probably you would like to know about Turkey in the night.

Turkey has one of the busiest night-life I have ever come across. We were out all night till late trying to make sense of the city and its people. The heart of Turkey’s night life is definitely Taksim which houses most of her restaurants and Sheesha Bars. New lounges are constantly gaining prominence. You can go and watch Belly Dancers gyrate to the tunes that have been mercilessly copied by Bollywood. Or you can go and sit in huge lounges listening to new Turkish Music.

But one thing you must definitely do is to go to a performance of the Whirling Dervishes. It’s a transcending experience, taking you to greater heights. As the whirl around their feet taking from God in one hand and giving it to the human kind, you feel happy that the world still believes in peace.

If you are looking for food, however, you might be left wondering what to eat. For vegetarians it is best advised to carry some packed food or else settle for salad and cheese. For the non vegetarians there is always shawarma available. And if you are a Bong, your sweet tooth might just find some solace in the Baklava and the Turkish Delights. One day I will figure out the mystery behind Turkish Delights. What a taste!!!

Every bit of my Turkish Liras spent, I checked in and settled down at the airport lounge, I realized I had to visit Istanbul again.

November 17, 2009

Istanbul – Where you should be Part I

The Walks – The walks along the Bospherous are amongst the best I have done ever. There is a slight nip in the air during this time of the year. The chill reminds you of the lazy winters in India and you walk, more than you have done in months. Perhaps a great way to start would be at Mosque at Ortakoy, pass the Kempinski and the Four Seasons Hotel, wonder at their history and go on to the Waterfront. The Kempinski was a palace that was destroyed in the fire while the Four Seasons Hotel was once a prison. Who would not want to stay in a place like that?

At the Waterfront you might want to stop, drink some tea and walk on to The Dolmabache Palace. But wait! Perhaps you might want to start somewhere earlier in Time. Perhaps, you might want to walk with the Romans?

The Relics - Take a tram from Dolmabache and go to Sultanahmet Square. Given that you need to be either in Calcutta or Melbourne to ride a tram these days, Istanbul might seem a better option. At Sultanahmet look for the Underground Cistern. Built during the Byzantine times, this underground cistern was the source of water for the entire city of Constantinople. Legend has it that when the Ottoman Turks overran Constantinople, they had to search for a whole century before they could find the same. Once inside the cistern, you’ll see a massive storage house supported by pillars brought from various parts of the empire. This gave rise to stories about the pillars. On the Pillar of tears you will find tear drops engraved along the pillar. It is said this is to remind one of the numerous slaves who died during the construction of this cistern. This is also the wishing well. Maybe the sighs of the dead slaves gives it the power to grant your wishes. As you walk ahead you will find two Medusa heads. Clearly taken from some earlier temple of the Roman or Greek Gods, the medusa heads form the base of two pillars in the north western end. While one’s head is turned upside down, the other looks sideways and therefore, just therefore perhaps I am standing in front of you and have not been converted into a stone.

Once you are done with the cistern walk out into daylight and walk towards Hagia Sophia or AayaSofya as it is called today. Once the centre of Byzantine Empire and the symbol of Christianity, Hagia Sophia has seen changes like few other structures in this world. The First Church is still under the ground, buried within the debris of the past, the second church was also destroyed with time and what remains are parts of its dome jutting out of the ground. The Third and the most magnificent church was built while Constantinople was at the height of its Christian glory. However, as the times changed and the Ottomans overran the city, they for some reason did not burn the church down. Instead, all the beautiful mosaic art was covered with plaster and paint and the Crosses were removed from the walls and any depiction of living form was meticulously removed. Hagia Sophia became a mosque. Times changed again. The Caliphate ended and the republic of Turkey was born. And slowly Aayasofya became a museum. Everyone knew of its History. The Ottomans did not rewrite the past. And so slowly restoration started and the mosaic painting beyond the coat of paint was removed.

Today as you stand on the balcony, you can see the image of The Mother and Child guarded by Archangel Gabriel surrounded by lines from the Holy Quran proclaiming once again why Turkey continues to be one of the few nations tolerant of diversity.

According to custom, all mosques face Mecca and according to the stories that inspire legends, a holy man did not want the Ottomans to burn down Hagia Sophia, Thus he caught hold of one of the pillars and with his thumb turned around the Church itself. And thus it became a strange confluence of two religions. Even today on its walls you can see symbols of the cross that have been pulled out, angels looking at you, half their imposing structure covered with paint.

I had an eerie feeling while I walked around. It seemed I had been there earlier. Hymns were playing in my mind in a language I did not recognize. Church bells were ringing somewhere and I sensed myself walking down the aisles. The spoils of war after the destruction of Pagan Temples had built its foundations. Here religion made you bow in awe; fear and respect not out of love. Here was a proud church, magnificent in its glory and revered by Emperors. But could she offer solace to the commoners? The answer perhaps is lost in time.

November 16, 2009


Years back a kid used to take his sister’s history book and read all he could about ancient empires; and all that while he would imagine that he would be there one day. Of all the great cities of the past, one enchanted him far more than many others – Constantinople. He read about it while reading about the Byzantine Empire, he came across it while following the Ottoman Turks. He read about it while studying the Khilafat agitation. And all through, his wandering mind led him to Istanbul - The city that bridges Europe with Asia serving as a meeting point of the Orient and the West through the centuries

Today, the boy is physically a man; his mental maturity though remains a cause of concern. But then life’s little ironies got him across to a hotel overseeing the Bospherous and there he sat on The Star Board Restaurant, the winds kissing his face, a sumptuous breakfast tray now completely empty and he started writing. This is his story; his observations and his falling in love with Modern Day Istanbul and also of course to show that his knowledge of Turkish Spelling is extremely poor.

November 02, 2009

In The End

I lay beneath her feet,

Hands tied,


Ready to be slaughtered.

In her eyes I saw my death.

And yet, in those final ethereal moments,

It seemed as if I looked upon her,

For the first time

Majestic, Resplendent,

Without a shade of pity,

She looked down from her pedestal.

And then I saw what I suspected.

Her crown lay in shreds,

Her throne a shadow of her past

Her campaigns unfruitful,

Her ego shattered.

Long years of pain had smeared her face

With lines of agony and strife

I searched for the peace I had seen once

And suddenly my mind travelled back.

I remembered the day

I stormed out of the great halls

Leaving behind what was mine for the taking

To lose myself into nothingness

And yet thoughts of her came gushing

Crossing the insurmountable peaks

Mistress of deceit, she sent them again and again

To bring me back in chains.

Her forfeited conquests

Her lonely nights in the arms of other men

Her battles that raged more within her

Than without.

She needed one victory,

The one that would sooth her soul

And make her lose herself

In the fumes of vanity.

In nothingness I had found nothing

And so I went back,

Like the prince,

Ready for battle.

It raged through night and day

And she fought well

And then when she believed it wasn’t fake

I laid down my guard.

I laid down my guard

For the last time

Hoping against hope

And yet I knew.

She drove the spear in with all her might

Laughing hysterically

And then suddenly she stopped

And dropped dead beside me.

Her heart that once beat inside me,

Throbbed once more.

She never would know

That she had already given it to me

And yet in her bosom, lay mine,

Still beating, still crying,

Till I silenced it for the last time

With the same spear.