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From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 7, Issue 21, Dated May 29, 2010

AMRITSAR
Turban-Watching In Filmi Punjab

Annie Zaidi
Journalist and author of Known Turf: Bantering with Bandits and Other True Tales

image
Azure glow The Golden Temple at Amritsar is said to attract more visitors than the Taj Mahal
Photo: NAVEESH TEJPAL

imageIT HAPPENS to many of us, those who have routinely packed small duffel bags or backpacks and rushed off at short notice to train stations or bus stands or airports — we stop wanting it. Travel becomes synonymous with work. It certainly has happened to me.

Besides, after years of chasing stories I find it difficult to look forward to travel if it doesn’t involve some kind of seeking. Seeking relief from the debilitations of May-June in the plains is no longer enough. If I take the trouble to pack and go, I want to feel something more than just cold. And while I often crave silence, I find that easier to find in the bustle and anonymity of cities rather than in hill stations or beaches. There is too much birdsong in the morning, too many tourists with squalling kids, too much hustling in the streets. So, if you were me this summer, you’d head to a city like Amritsar.

Why Amritsar? Because even if it is hot, it isn’t as humid as Mumbai. And it isn’t a tourist spot except for religious pilgrims, so you escape annoyances like everybody selling Tibetan motifs on key chains and carved wooden elephants. There isn’t an insistent hustling that seems to accompany most pilgrim destinations.

Amritsar is Punjab in all the filmi ways. You have the pleasure of seeing turbans in dozens of colours, and tied in half a dozen different styles. In fact, turbanwatching was one of my favourite time-pass activities when I visited.

TRIFLES
Amritsar is named after the pool that surrounds the Golden Temple and means ‘the holy pool of nectar’
Nearest airport: Amritsar, Punjab

The journey to Amritsar is full of other Punjabi clichés. Take the morning Shatabdi from Delhi and you are sure to run into a couple of jolly, rotund businessmen who talk too loudly. Some large-eyed young women who have begun to put on a little bit of weight around the chin. A few girls with hair dyed blonde, dressed to kill even at 6 am. Lush green fields breezing past. Neat rows of poplar. There will be tractors, and women walking through the fields, rotis wrapped in cloth balanced on their heads.

The city is currently a great mash-up of old and new. Long plaits, bright dupattas, old men pulling cycle rickshaws, tight jeans, lungis, squat brick houses and spanking new glass buildings. Like most Indian capital cities, there’s an edge of politics in the city’s air, and bitter histories embedded in its heart. The Golden Temple is an absolute must-go even if you are an atheist. Go when dawn is breaking and the gurbani is filling the grey, within and without. In the early evening, head to Jallianwala Bagh. The place isn’t meant to be seen; it has to be experienced.

Wander about in hall bazaar. Shop for a turban or a parandi or dupatta or shawl, even if you don’t want one. Find a dhaba around the station, and near the harmandir Sahib — the Golden Temple — and eat rajma-parantha and daal makhni. Drink lassi. And if you feel lost, hang around at the railway station and watch people come and go, and reveal slivers of the stories they could tell if you began to ask.

From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 7, Issue 21, Dated May 29, 2010


The Morning After
NISHA SUSAN

1. PATNA
The Fleshy Tones Of Real India
Amitava Kumar The author, most recently, of Evidence of Suspicion. Lives in upstate New York

2. KODUNGALLOOR
Stone Chickens And Beach Resorts
Suresh Menon Bengaluru-based columnist, who often writes on cricket

3. DEHRADUN
Rafting Up The Valley Of God
Amrita Nandy-Joshi South Asian women’s rights activist. Moonlights as a freelance journalist and travel writer

4. ARAKU
How To Catch A Cloud
Deepanjana Pal Mumbai-based writer and author of The Painter: A Life of Ravi Varma

5. PUWA MECCA
The One-Fourth Holy Land
Aruni Kashyap Assamese writer currently based in Delhi

6. CHERRAPUNJI
The Torrential Luxury
Patrick Bryson Australian writer currently residing in Shillong, Meghalaya

7. THIRUVANANTHAPURAM
An Aimless Gawker’s Paradise
Arul Mani Columnist and teacher at a Bengaluru college

8. AMRITSAR
Turban-Watching In Filmi Punjab
Annie Zaidi Journalist and author of Known Turf: Bantering with Bandits and Other True Tales

9. JHUNJHUNU
The Motorcars Of the Gopis
Arundhati Ghosh Arts management professional based in Bengaluru

10. KUTCH
Land Of Thread And Mirrors
Benson Issac Teacher at St Joseph’s College, Bengaluru. Also Freelance researcher and trainer

11. SINDHUDURG
Goa, Be Kind. Rewind
Frederick Noronha Goa-based journalist and author

12.  DHOLAVIRA
The Sands Of Time
Ramu Ramanathan Mumbai-based playwrightdirector and editor of PT Notes, a monthly theatre newsletter produced by Prithvi Theatre

13.  BINSAR
The Refuge Of Small Mercies
Neel Chaudhuri Delhi-based playwright and theatre director and artistic director of The Tadpole Repertory

14.  GOKARNA
Harem Pants And Psychedelic Trance
Deepika Arwind Writer and journalist based in Bengaluru

15.  MEGHAMALAI
Holiday At The High Wavys
Bijoy Venugopal Bengaluru-based journalist and biographer for the rock band Thermal and a Quarter

16.  DHARWAD
Tuning In With The Folks
Mrinalini Harchandrai Writer based in Mumbai

17.  KALPETTA
The Treehouse Fellowship
Mridula Koshy Delhi-based writer and author of a collection of short stories called If It Is Sweet

18.  NATHUAKHAN
Romeo And Juliet In Freeze Mode
Amitabha Bagchi Professor at IIT Delhi and author of the novel Above Average

  Relax, It’s Just A Vacation
SANTOSH DESAI CEO, Future Brands, and author of Mother Pious Lady —Making Sense of Everyday India

  Candid Photographs


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