Connecting to the GPS of the soul

Sep 21, 2018, 07:30 IST | Rosalyn D'mello

As a first-timer in Turin, with neither Internet nor map, it was intuition and a lifetime of internalised lessons that found the way

Connecting to the GPS of the soul
The columnist found her way to Piazza Castello, the historic centre of Turin, lined with historical buildings, museums, theatres and cafes. Pic/Rosalyn D’Mello

Rosalyn D'melloI arrived in the city of Turin a little after noon on Sunday. I'd been travelling for at least 12 hours, since 11.30 pm on Saturday, which is when I'd left for the airport. Mona and her sister Bhanu had come over some hours earlier to see me off. Before them, Simar, Pallavi and Neus had arrived and left.

They'd come like angels to the rescue, knowing how I find packing to be a slight ordeal, full of indecision about what to carry for European autumn weather. Simar sifted through my selection of clothes like a fairy godmother, sorting out different looks that she was certain I could pull off. She made little stacks, complete with jewellery and shoes and made me take pictures of them. This would save me the trouble of figuring out during my trip what worked well with what. Given her inimitable sense of style, I was glad to surrender to her obviously superior judgment. During the packing, we applied face masks, ate Anjeer ice cream and drank coffee. It was essentially a packing party. As I sat in the cab to the airport I felt so moved by all the love I'd just received, I wondered what I must have done to deserve these miracles of friendship.

On the flight to Frankfurt from Delhi, I watched Lady Bird. I haven't seen my parents since July and the Greta Gerwig film, focused on a difficult and unusual mother and daughter relationship in a small town, was enough to reduce me to tears. The red wine, also popularly known as crying juice, definitely helped lubricate my downpour. At 33, I realised that I carry my parents' personalities with me wherever I go, especially when I travel abroad. I rely on my internalisation of my mother's resourcefulness and my father's eye for beauty and articulacy. I try to improve on them with traces of my own charisma. Mostly I take with me as invisible luggage their penchant for hospitality.

As I practise my domestic itinerancy, I rely so much on all my memories of their generosity to strangers. I am trying more and more to be fiercely autonomous while also identifying as my parents' daughter. Now, I travel as someone conscious of the fact that I am loved unconditionally. It is a redemptive feeling. It has the power to filter out any negativity.

It translates to a greater, more improvised trusting of one's intuition. When I arrived in Turin, I decided to cleanse myself of my travel fatigue so I could muster the energy to go wandering. I was being put up at Hotel Victoria. I had forgotten to carry my SIM card and it being Sunday, I knew there was no point going on a wild goose chase for a phone network chip.

I left the hotel with no data, no WiFi, and no prior research. I put on my Bluetooth headphones, the birthday gift I'd got myself, and decided to listen to three albums by Charles Mingus back to back. I had no conception of the city's streets and chose to allow my feet and my curiosity to guide me. I managed to create a notional map of the city, my thoughts got attached to facades or specific arcades, and they served as breadcrumbs that could bring me back to my hotel in the absence of GPS.

My German-Italian, linguist-turned-farmer friend from Bolzano had recently pointed out that I seem to always have friends wherever I go. It had not occurred to me before that this could possibly be unusual, that my mode of travelling was not the norm. I suppose being a writer and art critic gives me access to so many communities that I really have to struggle to feel any sense of loneliness. Sometimes, I worry that my luck might run out, and that I'd suddenly find myself in a state of despair. Then I quickly tell myself that as long as I practise my secret trick, I'll be okay. It's nothing fantastic. It's completely mundane. It's something I found effective when I was in Myanmar with a friend. It's the art of smiling. It's such a purely non-linguistic gesture, it rarely fails.

As I tried to think of all the things that comprise my me-ness, I chanced upon these verses from AK Ramanujan's poem, Elements of Composition in a mural by Nalini Malani at her retrospective at Castello di Rivoli, The Rebellion of the Dead. It encapsulated everything that had been on my mind and more - Composed as I am, like others of elements on certain well-known lists, father's seed and mother's egg gathering earth, fire, mostly water, into a mulberry mass, moulding calcium, carbon, even gold, magnesium and such, into a chattering self tangled in love and work...

Deliberating on the life and times of Everywoman, Rosalyn D'Mello is a reputable art critic and the author of A Handbook For My Lover. She tweets @RosaParx Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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