Sandwiched between Rajasthan and Maharashtra, the two widely popular tourist circuits in Western India, the state of Gujarat can be easily dismissed as just another state of the country. Travellers usually scurry between the colourful cities of Jaipur, Jodhpur, Udaipur and the ‘city of dreams’ of Mumbai, rendering Gujarat, easily as a side-step, off-the well beaten tourism trail. I must accept, I am guilty of having done this too!
However, Gujarat remains an important part of India. After all, it claims a special relationship with the Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of the Nation. He was born here, he kindled the ‘Satyagraha Movement’ from here, this place is home to his historic Salt March here (an event- which gave impetus to the Indian Freedom Struggle through the ‘Civil Disobedience Movement’) and remains an intrinsic part of ‘Garvi Gujarat’s’ public and private discourse.
So when, I received an invitation from Tourism Corporation of Gujarat Limited (TCGL), there was hardly a second thought I could give. I accepted the invitation to be a part of the media tour to witness Gujarat’s claim to fame in some manner at a global stage- the ‘International Kite Festival 2017’ and its historic roots to a great country of ours.
Our first stop is Ahmedabad or Amdavad as the locals call it with pride, a major urban centre of Gujarat. However, our well planned itinerary promised a good glimpse of the state’s countryside, its many historic, tribal and artistic treasures. What seemed as a sudden surprising beginning of 2017, was only later going to be realized as one of the most cherished experiences and discoveries of my lineage and heritage, which remained closed in the pages of perhaps, my 5th or 6th standard history textbook.
As we land at the Ahmedabad International Airport and hurriedly find ourselves into a car provided to take us to our hotel, I see Ahmedabad as a 21st century metropolis standing tall with structures from a remarkable history, fascinating maze of old and new, ashrams, museums, hotels, restaurants buzzing with excited young people. I cannot help, but find myself looking in awe as the city tries to hold onto its heritage while struggling to stop itself from being swamped into the crowds, pollution, traffic jams and brash drivers. As we settled into the comfort of our luxurious rooms, I find myself looking at the Sabarmati River, right across the hotel and can’t stop drawing parallels between the city and ourselves. The city’s struggle, as I see, equates to our own daily struggles. We try to stick to our roots, while continuously getting warped into ecstasies of life. I can’t stop seeing how we struggle to be ourselves, while running like a herd of cattle in our daily routines to achieve our budgets, targets, sales and objectives. At this point, memories of the Father of the Nation, from the school history textbooks come gushing to my heart, reminding me:
“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”
At the lunch table, I see a spread of some of the typical Gujarati Cusisine, my favourite or rather, most popularly heard of Undhiyo! I take chomps of Undhioyo and relish it with vegetable raita as an accompaniment. Delicious! The scrumptious lunch makes me lazy and I persuade my co-traveller and travel writer Alka to join me for a walk across the road to the riverside. I am aware that, just like me, Alka is a heritage lover and I somewhat sheepishly wait for her to start talking. After all, I love listening to stories, which take me back in time and I know Alka’s itch to know more about the river will spill over some secrets from the heritage past. As we reach the river, we look at a simple but heavy looking wooden bridge. Alka turns to a man, looking like a watchman and quizzes him about what bridge it is. Lo, behold! Turns out, it is the ‘Dandi Bridge!’ The man explains, “Gandhiji started the famous Dandi March against British tax on salt from this very bridge in 1930!”
Suddenly, I feel like I am being drawn into a time machine to 1930. I can feel the joy and pride of a people for their land. I can feel the gushing angry blood of my people in my body, as they chant slogans and songs for their motherland and against the intruders, the British. I slowly find myself studying the width and breadth of the bridge and wonder in amazement, how one inanimate structure becomes a symbol of something so powerful, a memory of how our freedom is precious and how no matter what we are, who we are, no matter how many riches we have or sorrows we face, there will come a time- when all that would matter is where we come from. And it is this- “Where we come from?” that will determine “Where shall we go!”
Back at the hotel, I study a brochure, which I had bought for myself earlier in the day. I read of the Sabarmati Ashram, a place that became an identity of the Bapu in this state. I remove a book titled “My Experiments with Truth”, an autobiography of the Mahatma, from my bag. As I turn pages after pages, I realize no matter, how great we become or how powerful we are, the human in us always, hurries, struggles and questions our being, our thoughts and our identities. We weep, we get angry finding answers to questions that arise and we forget that the answers eventually do come. They come in the form of our stories and actions.
I close the book, because it’s about time for us now. It’s time for us to leave for the ‘International Kite Festival 2017 inauguration.’ As I ready for the same and imagine myself flying a kite at the festival, I am reminded of the wise words by Pharrell Williams
‘It can’t be all you. Just like you need air to fly a kite. It’s not the kite. It’s the air.”