Couple of weeks before the trip to Italy got planned; I read this co-incidentally in the novel Shantaram,
“The Indians are the Italians of Asia. It can be said with equal justice that the Italians are the Indians of Europe. There is so much Italian in the Indians, and so much Indian in the Italians. They are both people of the Madonna – they demand a goddess, even if the religion does not provide one. Every man in both countries is a singer when he is happy, and every woman is a dancer when she walks to the shop at the corner. For them, food is music inside the body and music is food inside the heart. The language of India and the language of Italy, they make every man a poet, and make something beautiful from every banalite. They are nations where love- amore, pyaar- makes a cavalier of a Borsalino on the street corner and makes a princess of a peasant girl, if only for the second that her eyes meet yours.”
Sitting in the middle of two men to my flight to Rome, I was juggling with these thoughts in head and was trying to jot down my prayers of hope to what I shall be witnessing in the coming week. And this is also the time when I write notes to my loved ones. The person on my left, intrigued, and asked what am I writing, started the conversation on how people hardly use pen and paper to write. Before I go further into my journey of this beautiful country, it is worth pointing the power and passion of pen. Attempt it (:
As I was explaining this gentleman about one of the trainings on Green Economy that I am going to attend at Turin as a Trainer; I did not realize that the person on the other side, sitting with me, was actually Director of the Ministry of Finance, India, coming in as a Trainee to the Academy! With the open heart talk that I usually do, hardly mindful of what to say and not to say, I think I barely skipped making any specifically odd commentary to such trainings and general attitude towards it. We of course, pallied around the same things over the period of the training!
I was ready to plug in a comparison of Italians and Indians from the beginning of the trip, thanks to Shantaram. And it wasn’t a difficult exercise at all!!! Casualness, calmness, laid back but welcoming are the general nature that you can circle for both categories.
I heard the Indian delegation cribbing about the AirItalia Hostesses on not being on time, efficient and mostly forgetful. I happened to strike a family conversation with one of them, and she spent 5 minutes on this conversation, which I fully enjoyed. I am guessing someone on the flight must be annoyed for not getting something done during the same time!
We missed our connecting flight to Turin and so got these food coupons to be used at the Rome Airport. The staff at the restaurant, tried their best to give you minimalist stuff on the coupon, trying to save their quota of free meals, it was evident. We, Indians, enjoy small thefts, as much I guess.
At the Academy, while each and every staff was warm, will greet you every time you pass, but once you pass them, there isn’t really any support in finding your way to your room, to the conference room, to coffee, to other basic needs. If you ask them, they would perhaps happily guide you from where they are sitting but you got to find your own way.
An interesting part of the story is also when it was raining on one of the days. And unlike my previous visits to this part of the world, there aren’t no umbrellas in the academy! Unless you buy them. And the organizers weren’t really worried when people aren’t showing up because of no way to commute from their room to the conference. Chaos but no chaos, lovely indifference.
Before I go further into Italy and Italians, let me share from the time I spent at the Academy with different nationalities. The Indian Delegation could generally be found in most of the gatherings, easily identifiable, mostly because of the attire and also because of course, I belonged there, I could easily spot! The Academy experience to them was informative but some of the common conversations were floating on how India, as a country can now share her experience with other countries to learn but there isn’t much to learn from the examples shared at the Academy. A sense of disrespect was felt by some of the Country delegates given the “Jai Bheem” Statue with Dalit protest slogans, kept at one corner of the main conference room. The statue was perhaps left from some previous meeting and since most of the stuff was in Hindi, nobody from the current organizers paid much heed to it.
I always think there is a thin line between offence and tolerance. We take things as offence, quite rightly if an outsider points out at something that is my internal agenda and thus hurts my self-respect. We become tolerant when we realize that we belong to a diverse universe and acceptance of all views, perspectives and opinions is the key for evolution. Acceptance and Endurance. But perhaps some lessons become clearer as your hair turns grey, so I shall be waiting.
Latin American delegates were perhaps the ones I spent most time with, apart from my own team (I will talk about my team, in a bit.) The reason was perhaps, they being the most resilient ones, spending longest nights outside their hotel rooms, and thus getting to meet them. The ladies just went mad with excitement as they figured I am an Indian. They just had two requests: A picture with the lady in Sari from the Indian delegation! And they wanted to know more about the box that the bride gets when she get married. Considering most of their knowledge about Indian culture comes from movies I am guessing, I guessed it was a Suhag/Sindoor Box. While most of them were married, they were happy to go through the ceremony again, if they get that box! Unbelievable penetration of Indian culture, I must say. I got to know more about the wake up drink Matte and the supreme alcohol across the world – Pisco, all much worth. A realization I had in a conversation with Pablo, student of Arts in Italy was the deep and wide knowledge of Roman History and Art he and many others had. While I know bits, I realized, it is touched very little in our Indian curriculum, perhaps rightly so. But when can you draw boundaries on history and art, the more one explores, the more fascinating it becomes. I shall be talking more about Patricia, an amazing soul I met from Uruguay, perhaps later because we happened to meet by chance at the station at Venice, both having just a day to explore in the city. Serendipity moments! (:
Stuart (from UK), Polo (from Peru), Arthur (from Uganda) and I were a team to conduct a 3 days session on “Inclusion” in green economy. There is no way I can express how amazing it is to work with this group. But for a quick sketch – Stuart is our boss guy (he hates to be called that!), always excited, brimming with energy, never tired for another drink, never tired for another conversation. And he would mostly be the last guy reaching the hotel rooms but the first guy to be on time for the morning session. Not just that, magically he would have also done the tasks that we would have discussed last evening before he makes to the morning. Matching up to his energies will need you to have an angel or a ginnie in your pocket. Polo is the one who gets the creativity in the team. He is so stuck at making things fun and creative that on one of the days when our exhibit space was about to open in 15 min and we were yet to assemble some stuff, instead of concentrating on the basics, he was assembling shoes that he could tie from the ceiling that shows the steps towards our exhibit space. That’s just one crazy part. Arthur brings calmness and composure to the team, thus bringing warmth and tying it together.
Stuart and I happened to spend a lot of time together, sometimes with Polo, other times with Klaus, a Swedish extended friend. An interesting bit in the conversations that left a imprint was the surety with which Stuart and Klaus were talking about India becoming a power hub soon, and perhaps already there in some ways. As an Indian, I haven’t really felt all that powerful, I mostly feel we are failing as a nation in many ways. But I guess, with power comes compromises that one makes with their political, social, environmental and moral obligations. So perhaps, these two aren’t not connected. Stuart was also saying how Indians will not head bang into being powerful, they usually have a way to flow between spaces, corners, make their way with extremely strong soft diplomacies and by the time you realize, they are already in and got what they want. I can’t agree to him more. India will not actively support and stand against any international issue, but somehow with its production, GDP, population, culture, businessesmen, IT heads just get noticed and stay in the surface of power and action.
On another note, Klaus on a glass of whiskey shared how one should never take a Swedish person’s frankness in offence. Because they are frank by nature. And his next sentence was exactly like, “Anshul, what you guys call Whiskey back in India, is really not Whiskey!” I leave this thought to just that.
After my four day stay at the Academy, I moved to the centre of the town. Some of the important things about the city, I got to know, from the person who dropped me to the Hostel – yes this was my first time to pick a hostel for stay! The cabbie shared that the Original Royal Family of Italy comes from Turin and Turin was thus the old capital of the country. Further, common brands like Ferrero Rocher and Lvazza have their origins from Turin. With his pride in the history and culture of the city, I can see the charm in love and style that this city offered to any.
The owner of the Hostel was a guy, almost my age, had visited Bombay once and was quite fond of the city. He pointed out that Indians nod sidewards on anything and everything just like Italians open their mouth to eat anything and everything, at one of the many instance when I was doing it.
After dropping my stuff at the Hostel, I moved towards the City Centre. Hopping streets and some showrooms, I decided to find a bench somewhere not too crowded but with the view of the crowd, and I found one. An old man was sitting on the adjacent chair.
As I sat, he greeted me and said something in Italian, I couldn’t figure. After a couple of minutes, I saw him drawing me on his small note book. Because someone drew me in Paris last year and it costed me some good Euros, I was cautious. I wasn’t prepared to go through it again. Also, I really didn’t want to sit for too long being a statue for someone to carve on paper. But he insisted. As I tried getting up, he almost scolded me and also tried to explain that he is not going to charge. I decided to be patient. In the next 10-15 minutes, I realized he is a regular person here, with almost every 5th person stopping to say hello to him. After a good 20-25 minutes, he showed me the drawing – perhaps 50% me. And I said thank you! Now I didn’t know what to do so I kept sitting. I think that made him awkward or may be had to leave for someplace and felt odd in leaving me behind like that. He held my hand, took me to the nearby gelato place, gave me an icecream, paid and left. I kept trying to explain, how I didn’t want it, how I want him to have one, how I didn’t want him to pay. Everything failed. I felt like a 5 year only child.
I had a day to spend at Venice, had a three hour journey to and back from Turin to Venice. Italian trains can be compared to Indian trains. Not in speed, the train that I boarded ran at the speed of 270 Kms/hour! That is almost like covering Delhi to Agra in 45 minutes! The common aspect of the trains is the loud and talkative people. Trains are buzzing with people chatting, listening to music, fighting and doing everything that can create noise in public. They are just brimming with energy. Everyone’s happy and engaged. On my return from Venice ofcourse, there was an old lady next to me. I would say quite French in her ways. She had this Poker face for most of the time and sometimes she would turn in anger and crib something. I wondered if I was causing her some trouble, and then she pointed out on how loud people are around in Italy and made another angry face before she sank herself in one of the books. Can you feel more Indian? (:
Venice was a beautiful experience for its clean water, amazing historical architecture and beautiful streets. Patricia and I, unplanned but had a very amazing time in not just exploring the city but also exploring ourselves. She shared how beautiful it is to be independent, and how despite coming from a country, quite open in their cultural mindset, the society still poses her questions on why she doesn’t want to marry, even at 40! I think she had a beautiful answer for that to herself. She said, that she enjoys her freedom and independence so much that nothing comes to close to this feeling. I guess, it is beautiful to experience that, especially from the context of India where many women do not really know or have tasted freedom of expression, living and independence in terms of choices one makes for her own. I knew what she was talking. I just touched myself on the borderline to be at the category of the privileged, with his Grace (:
Ending this note with some pretty amazing experiences to add the flavor of Italy:
- Italian Gelato is the smoothest thing your mouth will every feel. The tastes just melt not just on your tongue, but travels all the way to heart.
- This is the land of Pastas and Parmeson cheese – every meal will confirm that to you!
- Happened to visit a restaurant by refugees and people with certain mental condition. The vibes were amazing and so was some of their experiments with Beer, mixed with Whiskey, Coffee. What I ate as food here tasted something like a lot of cheese added to plain rice. Okay, I have understood ways of survival outside, being a vegetarian. Sometimes you just have to let the taste evolve on your tongue, how much ever odd it may seem.
- Right next to the Academy was a river park. Apart from beautiful passage, every time I visited this place in the week, I could find someone talking and feeding to squirrels. One could watch people kayaking during afternoon and evenings. As Stuart tells, it’s a common sport in this part of the world.