Letters from Germany

Jottings from Germany

Harish Meenashru   - Foto: Goethe-Institut
Photo: Literaturhaus Villa Augustin

I arrived in Leipzig and found my colleague Sridala Swami already there waiting for me… as well as, it appeared, our local host who was nowhere to be seen. Waiting for Godot. Two poets in search of their host. To our good fortune we happened to meet a gentleman, waiting to receive another guest, and who graciously accepts our request to contact our host.

We soon find out that Jan, our host, has mixed up the dates of our arrival. He now wants us to find our way to the Leipzig Railway Station. Poor Poets! However, the Goddess of Luck is smiling down on us. The gentleman is willing and enthusiastic to give us all a ride to the Railway Station. Our first day in Germany and we find ourselves in a typical Bollywood 'lost and found' saga! Back home, when I narrate this fairytale to my grandkids, I will boast that I saw an angel without white feathered wings!

When we arrive at Dresden, later that day, it is warm and sunny, contrary to the weather I expected. (My bags are full of winter clothing.) Andrea O’Brien is waiting to greet us at the railway platform and take us to our hotel. She is a nice lady, elegant, punctual and very punctual.

The slogan of Motel One is: 'Great design for little money'. It is calm, cool and cozy. So cozy, that once I swiftly moved aside to avoid collision with somebody, and said sorry… to the mirror!

The warm summer day has turned into a chilly winter evening. The locals would perhaps find the adjective, chilly, incorrect. They prefer, pleasant. But for me, it was horrible. Cold and shivering, I rushed to the motel-desk like a midnight ghost and requested for an extra heater to warm up my room. But somehow that was not possible. I collected two more blankets, wrapped myself in a double layer of thermals, and buried myself under them. It was a nightmare. I guess I should be prepared for a few more nights like this.

Over the next two sunny days, we visited the Old Town (Alstadt) in Dresden with Andrea. Dresden is a fascinating town with beautiful buildings, art treasures and great museums. Despite the devastation caused during the Second World War, the city has regained its magnificent baroque architectural splendour and charm, akin to delicate porcelain. Centuries are absorbed in its porous stones turned black by evil eye of time. We walk across a bridge built over the shining waters of the River Elbe. To my surprise I find 'AUM' scripted on a big iron lid on the road! What is more pleasant is that there is no man-made riverfront where nature is not allowed to be natural. Parallel to the river is a walkway. As we walk on it, we can almost hear the river confess her love for us through the wind.

Cycling seems to be a natural hobby of this country. And, what is that funny vehicle? It's a complex bike: 7-8 people are riding on it in circle, giggling and paddling. I too feel like ‘giggling and paddling’.

In the evening, we have dinner with Bettina and Jansen at a vegetarian restaurant. They teach at an educational institute and seem contemplative when talking about the education system. I am excited to eat the German variation of delicious Pakodas with special chutney (dip). On the 15th we indulge in a long walk with Uta Hauthal, a soft spoken, local poet and singer. Yesterday we walked over a bridge across the river; today we are under the bridge, parallel to the river. We see a big, old tree, symbolizing perhaps the great, great grandfatherly figure of Dresden having witnessed all of the good and evil history of the city! You need at least 3-4 people to encircle it.

I’m told, Bettina and Uta are going to jointly compere the reading event at Literaturhaus, Villa Augustine.

15/9/2016 Literaturhaus, Villa Augustine
It’s a beautiful villa surrounded by greenery, seemingly far away from the busy city located just outside its boundary. A few benches are sprawled across the expanse, a calm and serene place suitable to contemplate the charm of Sprache and Poesie. I meet Thoms Kunst, an old friend of mine, who was also my German counterpart at the PTP Mumbai event in July last year. I also meet Sylvia Geist, she is new to me. What is common between us? Chemistry and Poetry! What's un-common?- ‘Smoky’ words! The event starts at 7 pm. It was a small group of poetry lovers eager to hear and feel the sounds of a new, strange and foreign language – in this case it was called Gujarati. Sridala writes in English and so she had the benefit of reciting in a language globally used to mediate between two strange languages. It was truly a moment of pleasant surprise for me to find at least one Gujarati girl of my area in the audience. She was the only 'blessed soul' that day to have access to poems in all three languages: German, Gujarati and English! She was very happy with the 'PTP' experience and poetic outcome!

16/9/2016 Leipzig - A cloudy day puts a full stop to the summer of 2016! By evening it had started raining. The city has become cooler and damp. We waited at Jan Kuhlboardt’s house. We met his daughter and saw a hibiscus in the pot in the backyard! I told him, we call it ‘Jasud’ in Gujarati. It was neither German nor Indian, simply Jasud!

The venue of the event was Deutsches Literaturinstitut in the University area on the outskirts of town. The new semester has yet to begin, so students are few. The weather is unfriendly, there is even some heavy traffic in the city. Perhaps, all of this has had an impact on our event and shrunk a group of our listeners.

It’s time to say goodbye. Rain awaits me in my hometown so I am informed by ‘Facetime’ with my family. Is it the same Leipziger cloud that is pouring down in Mumbai? Is it the same sky that composes poems in our hearts, here and there?

Harish Meenashru
Leipzig-Dresden, September 14, 2016