A “Til” is a black spot on the skin. In India, it has a significance- people believe that it foretells what may be in store for you. Such a “Til” on your tongue, for example, was supposed to mean that whatever you say perhaps comes true. And a “Til” on your foot means you will travel to foreign shores.
I was in the little Indian town of Silchar back in Assam when I came to know about the significance of such a “Til”- and I scanned my whole body looking for the “Til”, hoping that it would be positioned in the right parts of my body. There I had one of my earliest “Eurekha” moments: I found my black spot- on each of my feet! I proudly showed it off to my parents- and to our hosts- my uncles and auntie and the whole family rejoiced!
The world was different then. Kolkatta and Bombay sounded like the end of the world- London was the edge of the universe- and all other names (of countries or cities) seemed like stories out of fairy tales. A handful of our relatives or acquaintances who travelled to these fascinating places would come back with stories- of incredible streets, mind boggling architecture, and how amazing were the people, cultures and cuisine in those places. The “Til” did not lie- my feet did tread on foreign shores. Today as I write this note, resting against the porch of my little log cabin up in the mountains near Sehfirhisar, Turkey, I think back to Silchar, my school vacations with cousins and uncles and how we all dreamt that one day we may see a little more of this big broad creation.
Sehfirhisar- is a Turkish town not really in the tourist map of turkey. Tourists prefer Izmir- it has more monuments, cafes and hotels, more ‘life’ as many travellers like to call it. But these were not the turn-ons for Anu and me. We sought out nature, peace and quiet- places where we could have meaningful connections albeit with a handful of people- places that would let us understand the pulse of life in Turkey rather than frivolous chit-chat with multitudes. I guess this is the only explanation of how we landed up here- up in the mountains above Sehfirhisar, staying with our Turkish host Barco and his family on their farm.
We are only a few days in Turkey- but feel more comfortable here than in many other countries we have previously travelled. Turkey is a country of polite, friendly and open minded people. They have over 98 percent muslims- yet declared themselves as a secular democratic nation- this very act places them on a pedestal, in my eyes. As we walk the streets, meet the people, and see how they live their lives- it becomes clear to us: the Turkish are not the bigots that much of the west portrays them to be. Live with the Turks in their homes (as we do) and you realize that they are embracing, kind, curious and broad-minded folks.
Our journey into Turkey is only at its start- but oh what a beautiful land it is! Yesterday was the night of the new moon- and from our porch up in the mountains we watched the thin sliver of the moon sink into the western horizon. Shortly thereafter I saw the biggest shooting star of my life. I never believed that such a thing was possible- it was like a cannon ball hurtling down from the sky! It was large- as large as the moon itself- it was a red-white ball of fire- with a blazing blue tail. And in a couple of seconds, the fire extinguished; the show was over. It was almost a divine spectacle- a vision I hope I remember for the rest of my life!
When we started out from Istanbul, it was early, around 9.30. We slogged out the office traffic and finally got on tpo osom eopen patches of highway. Then came a toll gate- and we were lighter by 45 Liras. But it opened up the gates to a world of sheer bliss. The best patch of highway I have driven till now. Beautiful, smooth tarmac- the types that will grip your tires and give you the adrenalin to lean in a little extra at those corners. It was that kind of 4 lanes transporting us both through some unprecedented landscape- mountains of olive trees fluttering green and shimmering white. Each wave caught a rolling wind and followed it over the mountain and the wave glowed green and shimmering white. And then came the crops in the fields- the beans, the corn, the wheat and after that the wilderness took over- pine on a carpet of green. Somewhere along we stopped for our first fuel break.
During this journey we have become a fan of Shell- because their gas stations were better done up, had a fair café and most importantly, clean washrooms. So this too was a shell fuel station- and the attendant, an old man, became so friendly that he invited us inside for tea and smokes. He could not speak a word of English- and nor we, his language- but we understood each other perfectly. Most of the times we knew it from looking into each others eyes. Eyes- the window to the soul. He had good eyes, this man: peaceful, warm, gentle and humorous. We moved ahead and the next stop was just a hydration break- this time not a Shell (we did not need fuelling just yet).
As we were sharing the water between us, a voice called out to us in Turkish: there was a young boy trying to make conversation. The offers for tea, snacks etc was turned down- and when communication resumed, I figured that our friend too was a biker- who had an accident and does not ride any longer. Naturally he got very excited; very soon he was joined by his younger brother- who could speak a smattering of English. Thereafter it became much of a rapidfire round: whoever asks the question fastest wins the battle: and I dare say we gave them good competition but they took the crown.
We pushed ahead deeper- and Izmir fell by the wayside. We passed its sea- and gawked at the stacks of concrete all along the hill- the so called premium sea facing homes. Such a good decision to not stay in this city I muttered under my breath. We may as well have been in the Mumbai sea face area, I thought. Soon again we reached the hills. And for the first time in all these months of our trip we were stopped at a police check post. We showed our documentation, and said smiling goodbyes: very courteous and professional. It was towards sundown that we pulled over at our destination for the night. The homestay managed by Barco and his family. That was two days back… two days of living within pristine nature and delightful Turkish hospitality. Now as I watch, the sun dips below the horizon, the pale violet ink spreads… and the yellow of the sky is now picked up by the glow of streetlights and the town of seferhisar down in the mountain slope.
I examine the “Til” of my feet once again and smile… the Til did not lie.