3 October 2009

My First Attempt at a Travelogoue

Chronologically speaking, this particular post should have come after the post on my UK visit which I have been planning to write since last one year. The reason is of course my laziness. But then I am tired of procrastinations and stale ideas so writing this out now.

This is my second visit to Europe and first one to The Continent. The Netherlands is a lovely country. I guess so is most of the Europe. And the Dutch are very friendly people. The best part is most of them speak English and they speak with a neutral accent unlike the crazy accents of British or American English. So, their English is as incorrect and as neutral as ours. This is especially important for a Hindustani guy like me who even after working for 4 years in this industry has trouble in understanding the way the goras pronounce their ‘a’s and ‘o’s. Coming to accents, last Friday I was having a discussion on accents with a British lady from my client’s side and here’s what she had to say about British accent. Many Brits have difficulty in understanding the English spoken by Indians because you Indians speak very correct English while we have combined an awful number of slangs and connotations in our language such that the end result is what we speak is no longer English. Well, I was, to put it mildly, surprised.

Now coming to the topic of the post.

When we desi guys hear of The Netherlands, the first thing which comes to our mind is of course Sab Kuch Legal Hai as if we are the most law abiding Indians born after Gandhi. As expected, before leaving, my buddies gave a lot of back slapping to me with the usual cheers of ‘Kuch Kar Ke Aana’.

The problem this time is, unlike The UK visit last year, I am completely alone. There’s absolutely no one to give company for weekend outings or drink beer with on weekday evenings. So this time its going to be all strangers clicking yours truly’s solo photographs unlike the group photographs of ‘Desi IT Guys’ from The UK days.

Last Saturday was my date with Amsterdam. As expected, I enjoyed the whole day and Amsterdam all alone, armed with a camera and a map. What was most reassuring was that I could see more tourists than locals. Every third person had a camera and a map in hand. And most of them were solitary tourists. One thing to keep in mind in Amsterdam or rather whole of The Netherlands is that the cyclists rule. In fact, it is said that Amsterdam’s cycle population is equal to or more than its human population which is close to 700,000. And every year close to 100,000 cycles are stolen in Amsterdam alone. So, even the ricketiest cycle is secured with a good lock. Every road has a separate path for cyclists, which runs in between the motor way and pedestrian way and cyclists have to follow all the traffic rules. Cyclists generally don’t give a damn to pedestrians and cycle pretty fast as if everybody is practicing for Tour De France. I have actually seen a cyclist hitting a small boy just when the boy had ventured into cyclists path by mistake.

I took a canal bus (essentially a boat) ride much like the Hop-On Hop-Off bus ride of London. Before doing my usual research on the country (before coming here), I didn’t know that Amsterdam is virtually a city built on canals. I used to think that Venice is probably the only city with such a unique distinction. Well, Amsterdam is full of canals and consequently bridges some of which are of very low height (The city of 100 canals and 1000 beaches). The central waterway is of course River Amstel from which the city derives its name and most of the canals are not natural. These canals came up with the phenomenal expansion of the city in 17th Century. There are 3,500+ Houseboats and municipality has put a moratorium on building of fresh houseboats. Well, the factual gyan in this post is not a copy paste from Wikipedia. I heard this on board the boat.

Then of course, the visits to Anne Frank’s House and Van Gogh Museum were a part of my itinerary. ‘The Dairy of Anne Frank’ was one of the first works of non-fiction that I had read. As expected, the visit to Anne Frank’s house was very moving. The place houses the attic where Anne and her family hid from the Nazis for close to 2 years.

But then again my mind started drawing parallels with India.

World War II was, without doubt, one of the most traumatic events of Europe’s long history but still they have preserved their history so well and so thoughtfully. There were German visitors as well. But nobody says that showcasing how Jews were persecuted by Nazis hurts the feelings of a particular community. It’s like it was a traumatic chapter which we all want to leave behind but that doesn’t mean that we push the uncomfortable truths of our past under the carpet. Their perspective is something like this – Let this be a constant reminder of what the tyranny of one man coupled with apathy and indifference of many reasonable men can lead to.

Compare that with India. We had (and continue to have) our share of tyrant rulers, gross human rights violation, ethnic cleansing etc. but how much of it is well documented, how much of that history has been preserved for posterity. Take Partition for example, it has left an indelible scar on the lives of people impacted by it. But for people of my generation it was something which happened long back and has nothing to do with us anymore. Why should it be that way? Our present is inextricably linked with our past. Agreed that people want to move on but shouldn’t we preserve the past, however uncomfortable that may be, as a lesson for the future generations, if not anything else? I guess the debate is probably too controversial. Of course, there is a plethora of books on Partition and its consequences. Again most of them have been written by Westerners with a third person’s point of view.

I came across a very thoughtful statement by Otto Frank, Anne’s father and the only member of the family who survived the war – ‘You cannot build the future without understanding the past’.

Coming back to my visit, I visited Van Gogh Museum in my second visit to Amsterdam. Amsterdam, as the rest of Europe, has museums at almost every kilometer. But the not-so-good thing about Amsterdam is the entry to most of its museums is not free, unlike the museums of London. The entry to London’s British Museum and Imperial War Museum are free, an added bonus for a history buff like me. But let’s keep those visits for another post.

Although, I am not an art enthusiast and understand hardly anything about art and its nuances, I wanted to see the original of Van Gogh’s ‘self portrait with bandaged ear’. But apparently, it is with some private collector. The museum has around 200 of Van Gogh’s 900 paintings, most of them oil on canvasses. It houses some of the famous works of the artist like ‘The Potato Eaters’, ‘The Sunflowers’ and ‘Crows in the wheat field’ (considered by many as the artist’s last work). Vincent Van Gogh was one of the most prolific painters in terms of sheer output. He finished 900 paintings in a span of just 10 years before committing suicide at the age of 39.

So, I guess Amsterdam is much more than canals and the famed red light district. Undoubtedly, it is one of the loveliest cities of the world. And if one wants to see how a liberal society thrives and functions, The Netherlands is the place to visit. I hope that Muthalik and company read blogs.

No comments: