I stayed in Istanbul, Turkey for four days last week. And came back with memories that will last a life-time.
It was an official trip. But thankfully, the first two days were free for us to explore the city before we plunged into the nitty-gritty’s of what we were there for.
I knew nothing of Istanbul. Except for the fact that it is situated on two continents. It’s better, sometimes to do no research at all… you learn to enjoy a new city at your pace and move on from one experience to another without any pre-conceived notions.
Within a few hours of landing, I literally got a taste of things to come. At the hotel restaurant for lunch, a Turkish chef came up to me and politely enquired if I was Indian. He informed me that he had worked for a few months in Bombay and loved the place. For my ‘Indianness’ I got some vegetarian extras.
Like every other place in the world, I thought Turkey too would have Indians. A few Mallus maybe (no offence meant. Mallus are everywhere :-)). But all I found were genuine Indophiles. And lots of love and affection from the Turks for being Indian.
On our rounds of the city, at almost every bazaar or bylane, I encountered a ‘Are you Indian?’ followed by ‘beautiful country’. Sometimes, like at the Spice Bazaar, an enterprising vendor would grin broadly at me and make a statement, “Namaste. Indian. Shah Rukh Khan, Aishwarya Rai!” At a café at the old Sultanahmet area, an old man broke into Raj Kapoor’s immortal ‘Awaara Hoon!’ One night, a policeman stopped me in the middle of the road. I frantically began searching for the passport in my bag when I heard the reassuring ‘Are you Indian’ once again. He said, “Wonderful place. I stayed in Benaras for a month!” Then there was Tezel Akbay, the lovely lady who helped us get onto a tram and guided us to our destination! The lack of a common language did not stop us at all… We had found a friend!
The warmth was genuine. Nothing put-on about it! I was always welcomed with Turkish chai. And lots of love. Even if the ‘sister’ calling did get a little jarring at times! Especially when it came from good-looking Turks 🙂 But what was endearing was people really wanted us to enjoy their city. And it didn’t come along with plugging insanely priced carpets or jewellery. “Have a look, and if you like, you can take back the memories with you,” was the constant refrain!
I am definitely going back to Istanbul. For one, it has now become my brother-land 🙂 And because, I believe a city is as good as its people.
And, also… as Napoleon Bonaparte rightly said, “If the earth was a single state, Istanbul would be its capital.”
Duniya Gol Hai!