"Travel is glamorous only in retrospect." ~ Paul Theroux


I see Orange for the First Time

Adele Bridgens of New Zealand comes to India, a country that has long beckoned her, and asks," Can I tell you of the dark eyes and the beauty of children who touched me, of moustached men, of women who wear their strength inwardly?"

Predestined images of places. Its what takes you there in the first place. Sepia postcards Uncles carry back from the Second World War, hidden away, to bear home all those years later, dog eared and creased - better than the war medals on the breast to show off to those left waiting behind.

We stared with our child eyes at the images before us, not imagining the horror of the men who hid them in their breasts, bringing them back to the far end of the planet all those years later, almost in some raised fist victory of survival. The easy swagger of the sometime tourist. Look where we have been! The medals, glistening in the antipodean sun, did not tell of the place - the stained photograph told all.

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Cochin Like some first time explorers of the planet, they lay them out on the card table. Columbus could not have been more convincing. The frivolity of those of us left behind, " oohing" and "aahing" at the "exotic", at the "orient", at the "romantic". Bravado, exaggeration, one-upmanship, intrinsic to the seasoned traveller. Been there, done that. Here we were, after all, only pioneers of a rugged bush clad country, staring at vast expanses of desert - no bush, no green, but yearning to learn something of that difference. The bait had been taken.

And so to this very day, that memory still sits with me. I look with the same impression today at my photographs, as I did at those photographs then. Each one linked with a tale of defeat or victory, of happiness or bleakness, of lost comrades and new friends, but always, always with wonderment at another city. And somehow amidst all that horror they experienced, they still managed to see the stark beauty of these cities they returned from exhausted, still wanting to be part of them.

The crows welcomed me first. Loud and screeching sounds, that fascinated me, as these huge black birds swooped onto my breakfast table, to source the last remains of my leftovers. The train trip across a vast expanse of night had brought me here. Charging headlong through an unknown terrain, this country had always beckoned me.


The smell of ash fires and rubber trees in the smouldering heat, windows open, hearts and minds even more so, and the sheer exuberance of being somewhere that is older than 150 years. What about the Jewish Temple? 1568 AD and no two tiles alike. But the small girl, in finery of pink and gold, sitting quietly on the stairs leading in, is beautiful. The snake charmer, sitting cross legged at the end of the street, the smell of reptile flesh was something so new to me, I still cannot explain to friends back home what it was like. The women on the bus, glorious as birds from some colourful forest I had stumbled upon, giggling and assuring, as they gave the instructions. A huge tree overhanging a tall fence, with fruit not yet ripe but called "jacks". I was expecting another name as I asked about them. The Chinese fishing nets at the entrance of the harbour, suddenly make our rod and line seem uncivilised.

sunsetAnd at night from my hotel window, watching the masses disappear. My eye scans the depth and breath of the night city. An elephant passing, tail light intact. I have read about this matriarchal city I am now in. Where property is passed from woman to woman, and Arundhati offers me images of her backwater life. These political offsides, are not what brings me here. I am guided by a new friend, met in a new medium. We have met on the Internet, and as we start to share our lives in the intimacy of our friendship, we offer each other the intimacy of the cities we know.

She weaves the texture of this town to me, as surely as the sari weaver I watch, as he weaves his exquisite sari. The magical way his lean fingers produce something of such beauty it takes my breath away. And the same beauty is what I see and feel, in every corner I turn, in the new experience of this marvellous city. I see orange for the first time, with the swish of a sari that leaves me gaping, in its sheer interpretation of the colour. The definitive shade before my very eyes.


Kathak dancerCan I tell you of the dark eyes and the beauty of children who touched me, of moustached men, of women who wear their strength inwardly? Can I tell you about watching the Kathakali dancers, who make up on stage, and totally entrance me, as I watch spellbound at the stories they portray? Can I tell you of hearing Chris De Burgh blasting from a corner record store in the same moment? A dichotomy in a frozen moment. Can I tell you of a beach that lay close by, which takes Godzone to a new dimension? Can I tell you of the fisherman, in balsa boats, who row us in the twilight hours, voices singing strange words, that I can interpret only through their sheer honesty. Can I tell you of the fruits from the sea they catch, and serve proudly to me in delicate sauces with spices, that tantalize each taste bud? Can I tell you about the kites I buy, that now flutter tonight in my moonlight, but still catch in their tiny mirrors, the spirit and essence of what Cochin is to me?

Cochin is like some intimate friend I have shared a special time with. I know she will be there for me again. The thought leaves me with a joyous heart. Maybe some of her will look different, but the essence of who she is will never change. Forever embellished in my minds eye and heart of hearts.

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Editor: Romola Butalia       (c) India Travelogue. All rights reserved.