Three months of persuasion, three months of planning and touchdown into Turkey a week after Prez Erdogan declared support for Pakistan was putting me through the jitters because to assume Indian passports would be unaffected would be naivety! A six-hour Indigo flight while revising our itinerary, recalling all the phrases in Turkish that I’d managed to cram in my head in the last one week, checking up on what else my parents wanted to see, re-checking our documents for the third time and pushing away that lump in my throat, we finally landed in Istanbul.
And I was prepared for everything but the wave of white skin that hit me! My sister and I stole glances at each other first and then openly started giggling because the grass doesn’t always look greener on the other side – sometimes it actually is greener! Before I sound more racist than I just did, we don’t have preferences in skin colour – we felt like we’d walked into a Hollywood film and that takes some time getting used to. When the time came to show off my Turkish skills to my family, I fumbled and forgot all of it, ending up using sign language to ask our chauffeur how long it’ll take to the hotel. The drive to the hotel was mesmerising, to say the least, new Istanbul’s tunnels, apartment blocks and wide roads giving way, across the Bosphorus, to the bustle of the Asian side with its’ street graffiti and event and movie posters! For an Indian, spending an average 90 minutes of the day travelling, the streets of Istanbul were bliss to the ears, the entire city seemingly a no-honking zone.
Like most wives in India, my mother was keeping the famed karwa chauth fast too and it was a delight watching her break her fast in the hotel room with a Turkish vegetable casserole, mushrooms carefully removed and eaten by me, and bread! While she rested, my father, sister and I decided to roam the alleys near Sultanahmet, cobbled hilly roads, deserted and dark, no directions to follow, no people to ask until we traced our steps back and settled for the cozy little pizza place we’d walked past earlier. Fatigue was dawning upon us all, our first night in a strange place where we didn’t know the religion, the language, the culture but the excitement of the exploration kept all fears at bay!