Sunday, October 2, 2011
Streets, Signs, Directions…
I am known as one who reads the signs. That is the only way I know where to go. I am the quintessential ‘wanderer’ in the sense that I will wander very often because I do not know the direction that I need to take. It embarrases me to admit this, but I may have traversed a road often enough and still not know whether I need to turn right or wrong, sorry, left , from there. And this is not a case of senility taking over, I have been like this from the day I began to venture out on my own.
I mean, there are all kinds of travellers in the world, aren’t there? Do note here that despite this apparent lack of direction, I am one gung-ho traveller. There is a place to see in the world…just lead me to it. I am a taster of strange waters and listener of stranger talks and I just love it like nothing else. There is a sense of wonder in travelling and seeing a new place. The fact that I may not find my way home is very far from my mind when I venture out. Foolish? I would say not. I have an enquiring nature and am willing to stop every furlong and ask for directions. Thank god I can read the signs. Sometimes I just have to read them, remember them, and then move on.
But I know the reasons for this lack of street sense. I can enumerate them and perhaps will find a few who will sympathise and empathise. As a child I travelled in a chauffeur-driven car, and in the point to point travelling, I never looked out of the window. Even when I did look out, I never noticed anything, least of all directions. I was either day dreaming, or had my nose in a book. I never felt the need or desire to watch the world go by. Strange,for now I see and look and watch. Then, after marrriage, I travelled with my husband, and once again, I moved blindly, in complete faith and trust, not bothering about directions. It is only when I began travelling on my own for work that the issues got raised. Left or right or straight ahead began to be big questions that loomed on the horizon for me. If I wanted to reach that horizon, I had to know how to get there.
I agree that I cannot hold the exterior environment as totally responsible, I did say that I am a day dreamer and a reader. I had to change all that when I began to travel alone. It has made me become aware like never before of streets and signs and landmarks for destinations. I also know that many people who daydream or read while travelling will still know how to reach a place. Alas, I am not so gifted. I have to din the directions into my head. And of course, I can read signs, and thank god for them popping up everywhere.
I once gave directions to a friend who was pick me up from my mother’s house. We were a group of writers from all over India who were meeting after a long time and all of us were looking forward to this meeting. My friend arriving safely at my mom’s place to pick me up in time. I patted myself on giving him good directions, you could just see me beaming as I hugged my fellow writers. Imagine my chagrin when he said, “Abha, I just went in the opposite direction of your instructions. That is why I have reached here.” The fact was that he lived in New Delhi and had soon figured out that whatever directions I had given him would not land him at my mom’s doorstep, but in the market behind it. Now how could I react to this? I could be upset in his proclamation of this in front of my other writer friends, or just be happy that he had arrived. I swallowed my pride and took his remark with grace, got into the car and pretended I was not smarting at all. I was, though. It is difficult to admit to one self that one is not purr-fect. Especially when people usually tell you that you are quite a cat. Such statements help you see you for what you are. Okay, so cats have their quirks.
And at least I can read signs and behave smart in front of certain auto drivers who insist on stopping at every traffic light and asking questions like, “Madam, do you want to go right from here or left?” with complete innocence. As if Madam knows. Yet, at any such driver query, I nod sagely and tell him to take the fastest route, since I want to get to the place in time, and surely he knows the way, being an auto driver and all that? And I hate him forever for trying to see whether I do. Delhi auto drivers can give you a good merry-go-round of the city if they get a whiff of uncertainty from you.
What happens in places where the signs are in a different language? Or the people speak a different tongue? I look helpless and throw words around, go through the guide book, accost a stranger and see if s/he knows the languages I do. Someone always come as an answer to the silent prayers I send out. Like in Ponidcherry, where they only speak Tamil or French and I I didn’t know either language, I was often in a fix. However, I would always find some auto driver who spoke English, what with so many foreigners visiting Pondicherry. And, I even found one who spoke Hindi whose mobile number I took immedaitely, so that I could call him for my expeditions into the city. In Bangalore, I found it very tough, though, for Kannada (the local language) stumped me and my languages stumped the drivers there. So then it was just clear enunciation of the destination street name, and then trusting the signs and the gods.
I wartch carefully now, spot and remember landmarks. I also guage distances and directions of movement. I note which side of the road I got off on, so that I cross to the other side for the return ride. I have found that I am not so helpless when I am on my own, I do find my way back everytime, whether on the tram in Paris or the autobahn in Berlin. Or on the Metro in New Delhi, my hometown. So I do know that the Metro blue line goes from East to West Delhi, the yellow line from Central Delhi to Gurgaon, and so on. There is also a purple line, and that is so exciting, since the colour purple makes me go green with delight.
I may be dumb with directions, but then, ask me where Rykjavik is, and I can tell you on the map. How many can? And if I know where it is , rest assured I can get there, for I know all about streets, directions and tell tale signs. I also have a woman’s instinct and am loaded with intuition. More than enough to get by on any street I choose to make mine at any time in my life.
As for finding my way back from my adventurous outings…I did mention I am a kind of a cat, and cats always find their way home. Purr-fect.