There's that thing above foreignness

PTI | ByBERLIN DIARY | Varupi Jain
Oct 14, 2005 01:29 PM IST

Once again Brand India was an unparalleled hit at the inter-cultural festival, writes Varupi Jain.

Once again Brand India was an unparalleled hit at the inter-cultural festival - the grand finale of the inter-cultural weeks celebrated in the city of Leipzig from September 19 to October 3 (German Reunification Day). Supported, among others, by the Indian embassy in Berlin and Mr Mukesh Lal of 'Indian Garden' restaurant in Leipzig, the fest on October 3 opened with a kathak performance by Ms Nandita Puri and Ms Tejashree Waghmare, with Pt KN Mishra on Tabla, Pt SN Mishra on Harmonium and Mr Bhupaal Phansikar on the Sitar. The performance lasted for over an hour at the main city square and mesmerised over a thousand people.

As Mr Sudhanshu Pandey (Counsellor, Indian Embassy in Berlin) points out, it was a novel experience for the people of Leipzig and the city government. Alone the movement of feet loaded with a kilogram each of 'ghungroo' accompanied by the beats of the tabla and sitar fascinated the audience immensely. 

The inter-cultural weeks were marked by over 125 different concerts, podium-discussions, films, roundtables, theatre-shows and exhibitions. As the Mayor of Leipzig, Wolfgang Tiefensee, says in his opening message, through these weeks, Leipzig once again reinforces its image as a "fremdenfreundliche" (foreigner-friendly) city, which is open to the world and sees immigration as enrichment - without blinding itself to the challenges of a multi-ethnic society. Churches and other religious organisations in Leipzig used the weeks for spiritual exchange.

As the Mayor points out, the inter-cultural weeks are meant to enrich the understanding and everyday community living of diverse cultures to be able to better tap the merits of diversity. The churches' statement in their common message on the week perhaps sums up the point smartly - 'the living/coming together of natives and migrants is better than its reputation'.

I could hardly agree more. When faced with discussions on such sensitive issues as pluralism in society and its challenges specially in view of Germany's oft-quoted chequered history, I could say with confidence that the coming together of Germans and foreigners is indeed better that it is thought to be. Though not an absolute indicator of the same, but certainly, the two years or so I spent as a tenant with an 83-year old German lady fills me with conviction - and this is an understatement.

As they say, it's the 'smallest' of things, which make the most lasting differences - and how right they are! My landlady would not hesitate in fixing me a meal when I'd return home past midnight to an empty refrigerator. She'd decorate a table lavishly for my birthday - with homemade apple cake, gifts and more gifts, scented candles and confetti. Finding me up and struggling to study at 5.30 in the morning with only the sound of snowflakes to keep me awake, she'd pull out her finest lamb wool blanket and cuddle it around me. 

We would spend summer afternoons on weekends plucking strawberries and later dish-up a pudding with sponge cake, cream and vanilla sauce. During a most abundant apple harvest, I remember consuming apples in all possible forms - jam, cake, juice, syrup, cider and you name it.  

The newspaper clipping which sits on my desk as I key in these words reminds me of the Sunday afternoon when she approached me with a neatly hand-torn newspaper clipping announcing the sighting of a meteor on what was expected to be starry summer night.

It was still dusk when she started the preparations - she pulled in two garden chairs towards the middle of the lush green meadow, on one side of which stood her castle-like house. Next, she placed a round-table in between the chairs and covered it with a table-cloth of the finest laces possible and loaded it with cheese, fresh strawberries and wine. Feeling like a part of a Merchant-Ivory adaptation of a Victorian novel, I leaned back on the garden chair awaiting the spectacle of the quite night. As the sky turned from crimson to blue to black, I felt like I was surrounded by beauty at its purest and I would not miss much if my world were to end that late summer evening. 

The stars became increasingly visible. My landlady laughingly said that these stars are our loved ones who've left us to join another world from where they can look down and wink at us as they twinkle. She added that one day she would join these stars and look down at me.

Just the other day I received a letter from my friend containing the newspaper clipping sitting on my desk - my landlady's obituary.  That night I deliberately ventured out but found myself quite unable to look up at the stars.

It is perhaps in such moments of awareness that you realise that terms like nationality and foreignness make no difference to that which binds one individual to another. To that which is essentially the same despite all the differences of history, geography and biology we like to underline and celebrate. To that which permeates boundaries without visas and custom stamps. To those relations which do not rest on motives of matrimony or parenthood but those which are undocumented and unrecognised but never forgotten.

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