I sit in my room on a lazy Sunday evening, thankfully the neighbourhood is quiet. I still wonder what I want to write about today. Rahul Sharma’s Ladakh- In Search of Buddha plays on my laptop and I close my eyes for a moment to imagine Ladakh and the stark beauty of its landscape, a picture drawn to me by my friend Naresh, a native of Leh. My eyes wander to the shelf next to where I sit. Ah! There is my topic for today!
The house I live in is a home to me because of this shelf, the one that has several books that I bought over the last 20 months that I have been living here. There are some soft toys, my silver jewelry, more books, a compartment that serves as my makeshift prayer alcove, a painting of Michelangelo’s Birth of Adam I picked up somewhere, a picture of Ruskin Bond that an old man who runs Select Book Store in Bangalore gave me, several of my journalism notes and souvenirs from I travels, little things with beautiful memories attached to them, the ones I want to tell you about today.
One of the things I rue every time I travel is that there is hardly anything that you can carry back with you as a souvenir, everything is available everywhere these days! You might as well have bought it from that fancy gift place in a fancy mall for a ridiculously high price. Still I try to pick up something from every place I go to, not because I can’t buy it in Bangalore or elsewhere but because I associate my entire trip and all my little anecdotes and memories with that souvenir and carry it my head, a visible part of my past adventures.
On my shelf there are two very beautiful miniature paintings, done on a gold leaf and framed in wood. One is of a scenery with two trees overlooking a hillock and the other is a view of a row of houses next to a lake with boats, a tower on the shore, some people, down to the last tiny detail. Somebody gave this to me when I went to do a story on this nice store (I forget its name) in Indiranagar, Bangalore. The store sells reproductions of old furniture, paintings, statuettes, guns and the like. That was a good story….
And then there is a little green hour glass that I got from a store in the rather desolate Konaje (that the village where the uni I studied in is). There is a Cross pen that someone who loved a story I wrote long ago gave me. A little red, rather gaudily painted piece with figures of tribal Gods from Orissa. A beautiful little silver box that Raksha gave me for my birthday. Another lovely silver soap dish that granny got on her wedding, some 65 years ago! A colorful toy from Channapatna.
Sometime back, my family and I had traveled to the Ajanta and Ellora caves near Aurangabad. We took a tour bus and I had had the misfortune to be seated next to the very talkative guide who told me his entire life story and insisted that I visit the caves again with my husband for my honeymoon! He was from some distant village and spoke with longing about his family and fields. From that journey, I have with me a little Buddha. Next to the statuette lies a little key chain in the shape of a hockey stick, from a small village in Kodagu where the Kodava family hockey festival was held last year.
My favourite among the things I keep are things I got from Dasara at Madikeri every year. From last year, there are two glass tubes filled with water and sequins, one gold and another in silver. From this year, there is a colorful and very noisy pipe. There is also a glass paper weight with a tuk-tuk inside that I got from Bangkok, silk cocoons from Ramnagaram near Bangalore. Best of all is a little model of a house that have had for ages, don’t even remember where I got it. It is this beautiful little thing, the perfect little house that I would ever want to build with the front door at the end of a long flight of stairs, another entrance in front, a stone wall on the side with a door leading to, probably, a library, ivy running up the walls, a skylight on top….I have always loved this model. Below all this stands an antique wooden box I bought recently, one with six little drawers and the cutest designs in bronze on top.
I hate admitting this, but there are also two McDonald’s Happy Meal toys that I keep, souvenirs from trips to that horrible place with friends (I hate the food there, the people I went with are the only reason I keep these). A metal deer, some Rajasthani puppets, key chains from Kochi, Singapore, Delhi, apsaras from Bangkok, a little Taj Mahal, a metal lamp, a coconut shell tray that holds my jewelry from Bangkok again, some wooden hand painted whistles, a framed tribal painting….. Gosh, I just realized, my house is rather full!
There is something about souvenirs that bind you to a memory, to a day long ago when you were at a different place with different people. Pictures capture the moment there, anecdotes enliven a conversation, people amuse you awhile but souvenirs are what help you retain that memory. To me, my travels are condensed into these little things, they hold my memories, reminisces of another me, of another part of the world, of beautiful lands and the stories that I tell.