Pardon me for bragging.... but I am justifiably ecstatic! It was nothing short of a miracle when a long lost Italian friend who used to work in Mumbai as an investment banker ( 1994!) saw my interview in the local paper in Turin and tracked me to my hotel via another common friend sitting in India! How's that for enterprise and determination? This was on my last evening in Torino. I had seen very little of this jewel of a city.... except for the Castello del Valentino, the venue of the first presentation of my India book translated into Italian ( my fourth book published in Italy). I had just a few precious hours left before taking that long flight home.... and there was Pepe offering to show me around his magnificent hometown ( a verdant, leafy bowl surrounded by snow- capped mountains). One hour later, he was right there in the hotel's foyer, driving a spiffy BMW ( what???? In Fiat\ Lancia\Ferrari\Lambourghini territory ?). We zoomed towards the main square and headed straight to the famous Cathedral that houses 'The Shroud of Turin' ( guys, if you don't know what I am referring to, please google it!). I saw a heavy duty military\police presence guarding the Catholic Church's most significant relic.There was a long queue of pilgrims waiting to get in - after all, public viewings of The Shroud are getting rarer and rarer ( this viewing was for the Pope who had visited Turin a few weeks ago). Pepe told me the next viewing could be after 20 years. That's when I fully appreciated the miracle of my being there at this magical moment. I was obviously destined to be in Turin and see The Shroud. We walked in reverentially - Pepe kneeled, I prayed. You may laugh, but I definitely felt 'The Power'. I also felt strangely blessed. Earlier, my publishers had told me about the myths surrounding Turin - it is a destination known for malevolent Black Magic , apparently. There are resident witches, spirits and ghosts that dominate the lives of those who live in this divine city. I was spared the dark forces of evil. I felt elated just being there and drinking it all in greedily .
After a quick glass of local wine at an ancient bar ( which features the golden bull - symbol of Turin), Pepe walked me to the Circolo dei Littori di Torino ( housed inside a grand, chandeliered palazzo), for the Publishers' Gala. Authors from across the world were toasting one another's literary achievements in that opulent setting. India, being the focus country, was very well represented.
I said grazie mille to Pepe.
It was Pepe the Banker.... right? Or..... was it Pepe the Friendly Ghost who had turned up from nowhere to show me The Shroud???
This appeared in Bombay Times yesterday....
Who needs a holiday…?
I do… I do…. I do! OMG! I am sounding like that ABBA song from ‘Mamma Mia’, and as if I am about to accept Pierce Brosnon’s proposal ( Sigh…. I wish!). But what I am saying is simply this : to the question , “ Who needs a holiday?” my hand has shot up! I do. Am I going to get one? Nope. I just cancelled. Am I mad? Maybe not. Must be the heat or something. Or the fact that I went to Delhi and back the same day.... it turned out to be such a beastly experience, I swore I would stay miles away from airports for a while. I knew I couldn’t for too long, though. The very next day, I was scheduled to fly to Turin. But this does not qualify as a proper holiday, not even a working vacation. The Turin Book Fair is one of the largest in Europe and this year, the focus is on India. Anybody who has attended a book fair will readily tell you it’s no picnic. Cruel publishers work their authors to the bone and get full paisa vasool out of those three or four days. Promotions take care of most of the time – when you aren’t flogging the latest title at the publisher’s booth, you are giving interviews. The last time my Italian publishers invited me, I was coaxed into granting thirty- four interviews in three days ( print, radio, tv and internet). I was hoarse, mentally and physically exhausted, crazily dehydrated and desperate enough to contemplate fleeing from the backdoor. This time round, I’ve been slightly smarter and instructed Elena who represents my publishers, to give me enough time off to enjoy Turin \ Milan a little. In other words, the trip does not qualify even remotely as a holiday. And I am asking myself , ‘ when was the last time you took a break – a real break?” Frankly, I can’t remember.
These days travelling itself has become a nightmarish experience, especially in and out of Mumbai. Our swanky new terminals look great and offer everything from a foot massage to a gourmet meal, but what does one do if all the flights are delayed and the airport is packed to the gills with irate passengers? Flying out of Mumbai is not half as bad as arriving into the metropolis, especially on a late evening flight. Something invariably throws schedules out of gear as weary pilots inform hysterical guests on board that though we are just a few kilometers from Mumbai, air traffic control has placed us at the ninth position in the landing order. That straightaway adds an hour to flying time! To say nothing about the fuel being wasted as the aircraft goes into a holding pattern and circles endlessly over the city. It is so frustrating to know you are ‘almost’ home! You stare at the lights of glittering Mumbai beneath you and long for a parachute. Now, with most airlines cutting back on frills, chances are the meal served on board has been inedible as well as skimpy. If you happen to be on a cheaper , low cost carrier ( I took one from Jaipur a few days ago), you have had to pay for the apology of a snack that’s offered by surly stewardesses in shabby, stinky uniforms and ghastly make up. Retrieving bags is another story. Especially if you are flying into a European destination. The cases of missing bags has gone up radically, and the last time I traveled to Paris , my bag didn’t turn up causing much distress and anxiety. The long walk to immigration and customs in nearly all major airports can be a kilometer or longer. Which is why it makes sense to travel with just one hand bag, and pack light in any case , since there are no porters to help you. This year, the volcanic ash problem has dampened the enthusiasm of even the most ardent travellers. And to make matters even worse, fluctuating global currencies have further increased tourist rage . One spots far too many angry faces at favourite destinations …. and that’s really not what you want on a holiday.
Still want to jump up and go?? Be my guest! If you ask me the best holiday these days is the one you take at home in a cool room with your cell phone switched off and your mind wandering to calm, exotic destinations. Try it. I just did. And am feeling entirely rejuvenated and refreshed already.