Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Lure of Hindustan

What made Babur, the first great Mughal Emperor head for Hindustan? Apart from not having a kingdom over which to rule, what compelled him South away from the cool mountain air into the inhospital lands his amirs feared and despised - a place hot, dusty and devoid of the juicy melons they adored from where they came.

Indeed, what is it about India that attracts visitors in throngs despite its heat, stink and appallingly backward ways, to its temples, domes, tombs and other (now) tourist traps. I cannot say that I was blessed with a spiritual epiphany upon arriving in India and in my 2 weeks there, I spent as the quintessential tourist. I may as well have had "First Time in India" stamped over my forehead. I was trigger-happy and looked out of my camera lense in anticipation of sheer aesthetic, ignorant of the meaning or historical value of the subject of my photographs.

It was not until I was seated in the dump of our car (after spending 10 cramped days in it), heading for the Indira Ghandhi International Airport and the sucky MAS plane they pass off as international route-worthy, when I muttered, "Goodbye India, I can't wait to come back). I was quite surprised by how I felt and it was then that I realised the sudden flush of seduction.

And this is what India has done to me. It has slowly, hesitantly even, but most certainly wrapped its 6 god-like arms around me and slowly drawn me into what I can only describe as temporary obsession. I never thought I would like India, for its filth and madness, but it appears, I have.

The dread of leaving Jaisalmer: the wish to stay and discover more about our new friends. The gob-smacking awe beholding the Taj Mahal. The under-rated art of block printing. The incredible blue skies over the forts. The indescribable feeling of freedom in the open desert. The entirely unforgettable conversations.

And so much more.

I know, I'm raving like a person just back from holiday. But consider this. I have never before picked up a book about the history of a place I have just visited. Me? History? Study of the English Industrial Revolution lulled me into a slumber that I have only just awakened from. Last night, I inhaled the last few chapters of a 3" thick book on the Moghul Empire, having spent every free minute of the last week in it. Food for thought. I have never before found satisfaction in a dish of dhall. Now I have irrepressible cravings, yes, for simple naan and dhaal, which if I don't get, I dream about insatiably.

We all have different markers for obsession and I know mine. Who knows, when I finally get to Central Asia, the lure of Hindustan may eventually allude me but until then, this obsession remains for I have (fleetingly at least), fallen utterly and inextricably in love.