Sunday, 31 August 2014

Vizag: Lost pages of history

"Long weekend in Vizag?" you hear incredulous whispers. "What will you see there?" "Why not Goa or Kerala?" India's only natural harbour, Vizag or Visakahapatnam, is hardly seen a place of choice to spend a long weekend. It is as if its rich tradition steeped in the culture of centuries from King Ashoka to the Cholas, Chalukyas, Mughals and British are now forgotten pages of old text books resting on dusty book-shelves. As if its wartime history with the Japanese bombing in 1942 and its contribution in the 1971 Banglalesh war could be shrugged as lost secrets from its high cliffs.

Vizag today is seen more as a canny real estate buy for the rich and moneyed looking for another sea-facing getaway. Signs of commercial development are obvious all across the coastline even as the local people go about their business at their old pace; the smells of a small city merging with a rising commercial hub.

Vizag is not well-marketed today. Even on a national holiday, there are very few people from outside town flocking its so-called tourist attractions.  But for the few relentless travellers that make the journey, Vizag holds a  lot more surprises and beauty.

1. The Sound of the Sea against the Soundless Hills:
The waves of the restless sea crash relentlessly  against the narrow sand beach. The hills in the distance stand tall, as if protecting the secrets of the past and guarding their beauty against the rush of uncaring commercial travellers.

A Hollywood style VUDA (Vizag Urban Development authority) sign, a narrow ropeway and a super-slow toy train aptly called "flying" train; can all be forgiven for the majestic view of the Sea and the hills.

2. The Submarine Museum

In the fading evening light, INS Kursura Submarine, stands at the banks of  the RK beach like a rock still capable of protecting the nation, the way it did 30 years back. The real-life statues of the crew once you step inside, tell a vivid tale of lives lived during battle, not an inch of space to spare but hearts filled with courage and dreams.

A fascinating treat for children, this.

3. Thotlakonda
A reminder from the Kalinga days, the vast expanse of 120 acres overlooking the majestic sea today shows the excavated ruins of virahas, stupas, pathways and signs of learning and religion.

The waves make no noise at this distance; there is absolute peace, calm and quiet, the way it would have been, centuries ago.

4. Borra caves

The majestic Borra caves situated about a couple of hours away from Vizag in the breathtaking Araku valley is a journey worth making not just for the destination but also for the journey. As we set out early in the morning on the road to the caves, the rain Gods smile on us, the clouds playing hide and seek with a truant Sun as our tempo traveller meanders its way up picturesque hills dotted with tribal villages.

The caves themselves are among the largest in India. As you descend downwards, your eyes blinking at the darkness, the stalactites and stalagmites forming imaginary shapes in your mind, your eyes turn towards the ceiling - just a sliver of light painting a golden ray amid the layers of darkness. You hear the bats screech, maybe, as you touch the damp walls of the cave. Despite well-positioned lights and staircases, the caves are sure to bring a thrill for the travellers whose imaginations always travel with them.

4. Back to the waters

How can I not speak about the food? From signs of bamboo chicken at every street corner, to ample servings of biriyani at all times of the day, Vizag is also a paradise for food lovers.

Of course, there are a few Continental and Chinese restaurants which serve global cuisine to those inclined. And for those looking for authentic local cuisine, Vizag promises a treat for the tastebuds if one is willing to overook the service time which are obviously not meant for those always "on-the-go".

At the end of the long weekend, as we let the restless waves wash over our tired feet, the wind blowing across our faces; the footsteps on the sand receding into the darkening swirl of the waters, Vizag seems to be finally telling us its secret; a secret that we all knew, but rarely stopped to hear. A secret whispered by the waves, carried by the wind, echoed by the mountains, buried deep in the caves and in the layers of the stupas. To just let life be, in all its pain and beauty. To let history remain untouched even as future claimed the present. To stop the hurry and the worry, till we could feel the salt in our eyes and the wind swaying our hearts.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

When the iceberg cracks

The show over,
He bowed,
The audience clapped, still in splits
Over his jokes and wisecracks,
Holding their aching sides,
His warmth,
Melting their iceberg of sorrow.

The show over,
He stood, 
Laughter billed by the hour,
Darkness accumulated over years,
Hiding his aching pain,
His smile,
Cracking his iceberg of lost hopes.

They say that "the loneliest people are the kindest. The saddest people smile the brightest. All because they do not wish to see anyone else suffer the way they do."

On a day when Robin Williams, a man who made millions smile, lost the battle to his own demon of depression, the question that we all might ask is do we know the ones who make us smile and laugh the most are the ones who might be suffering the most?

While we crib our hearts to them and they listen and they give as they always have, do they ever share what is gradually tearing them apart? Can we see the darkness in that kind smile? Can we hold their hand and hope they will find the strength to cry? And in crying and in sharing, they will find the strength again to live and smile not just for others but also for themselves?

Can we save the Robin Williams we all see around us- the ones that seek to inspire always spreading kindness and happiness but never sharing their own darkness? Can we stop the iceberg from cracking?