Afaristo Hellas

Once a while it’s absolutely great to re-visit the past & watch progress through the lens of our ancestors. Greece is one such place. While much of Europe would subsume you with its pall of concern (economic crisis etc), the people of Hellas (Greece) have a ready smile for you. A short & sweet visit to take a leaf out of my history book, showed me a lot more than I’d expected.

I see strains of this land, culturally & historically in India too. But drawing a parallel would be unfair. The sheer size of land & population would make it impossible to compare progress or look for reasons. But there are several sources of inspiration.

Where do I begin? For starters there is some truth in the oft used term ‘Greek God’, also called Adonis. Is he Greek, Greek-Turk or some other blend I can’t tell!

But a heady mix is what you find here. And well aware of that, he uses it lavishly especially on solo female travelers. Not that Italia is any different or possibly any other part of the world any immune to this. But when you experience it here, you sort of like it.

It merely multiplies in your mind once you have visited the many sites where Apollo, Poseidon, Aphrodite…reside. The sculptures say it all. There is a worship of the athlete’s body. It forms the central construct for most sculptures showing the male form or the male God. Romantic notions are well preserved. The Gods & Goddesses have many stories that fill you with awe.

You see really nothing of the stories in present day Greece though. So while Athens derives its name from Goddess Athena (wisdom/victory) who protected the land more than 2000 years ago, the mood there today is as cosmopolitan as it would be in many other busy metros. Just that for a traveler the romance can play on.

Hellas has the ability to absorb you with its past glory as much as it evokes admiration, with the way it’s packaged for the world traveler. I mean, in which language or script do you find sigma, theta omega, epsilon….used as alphabets?! But coming back to the packaging of the country, I find the drama around its many islands most interesting. Greece has more than 2000 islands & of these approximately 200 islands are inhabited. Now of the inhabited lot, there are a few that are amazing & a few others which are well just islands. But the movement between islands is quite an eye opener. It is really about the way a destination is presented here. A very important source of revenue, the world tourist explores many other islands, though he may come for just 2-3 of them.

The spirit of anticipation is what the island packages for a dreamy traveler.  The quaintness of the little village & street side taverna, the floral picturesque landscape, the happy slightly high on ouzo (I think it has 40% alcohol & is flavored with anise seed) musician, the extra friendly hands at a table in a café…and so much more. It keeps you coming back for more. You make a mental list of what else you can do in your next visit to Greece. And by that very act, you have committed to come back to Greece and made it a ‘destination encore’.

It isn’t just the way the country is packaged. The people who love their islands and live there, do tons of their bit too. I made a visit very recently to that beautiful land and was slotted as a low season visitor. But as I exited the islands, I saw most of the residents especially in Santorini with paint & brush in their hands. These were home owners, not hotel owners. They were getting ready to paint their walls in the many colors that postcards entice you with. It’s the make-up for their homes, which are perched on cliffs and add that dash of beauty to the budding/amateur photographer-cum-traveler in most of us.

Much to learn for India I’d say. Frankly, there is so much that India has to offer. Be it architecture, ancient civilization (also seen in modern times), the desert & royalty, nature & its spring blossoms, snow clad mountains, trekking expeditions, the back waters…what not. Incredible India does a fine job as a campaign. But often it hides the rusticity that a traveler experiences when he does visit India. Greece doesn’t disappoint you. In India do you really know where to go? Or what to really do? Or then in which nooks & crannies is the real wonder hidden? It’s mighty confusing. Also the residents don’t help in making India incredible for the traveler. Civic sense etc…Indians know their flaws, don’t they. Possibly the reason why most visitors are comfortable just visiting Rajasthan, Kerala or then Goa. Whatever happened to the other states of India?

I am often asked in my travels, how India behaves with foreigners? I was asked that in this trip too. I did in all earnestness quote ‘Athithi devo bhava’, but I don’t know if everyone believes that. We have some amazing philosophies, beliefs, quotes & values to live by. We are yet to really put it to practice. I would urge us to take a leaf out of Greece. A country proud of its ancient civilization, earthy & extremely hospitable, presents its best side more often and celebrates it folk art & ethnic cuisine unabashedly. Modern & welcoming to all world travelers making them comfortable within the Greek culture rather than imposing their culture onto them. A magnet alright!!

Graceful. Romantic. Serene. Alive. I know I will come back for more. And for being such an inspiration, all I have to say is AFARISTO HELLAS (Thank You Greece).

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  1. If we were to compare mythological descriptions, then any day India would match up to any other. There is a magic to India that cannot be denied.

    But for any ancient canvas to be projected as a showcase to the outside, we need `space’. By that I mean physical tangible space (where people are not stepping on each other’s toes), which will give birth to mental space (where creative thought processes begin), and emotional space where you feel content enough to make another feel loved & welcomed.

    Any country which scores in showcasing itself has managed a fair share of tangible, open, physical space. That explains the countryside, the beaches, the villas, the streets, the plazas, the large expanses etc.

    India has none of it. We never worked towards it, or maybe we never had a chance. But, being in cramped up places (houses, buildings, offices, roads, streets, malls…) all the time, and having less than your fair share of `space’ has worked itself into our psyche. Our mind & emotions are as shrunken as the bodily space available to us. That would reflect in behaviour, attitude, thinking…

    So, maybe we need to work on the outside to change the inside. Then India can surely live up to its mythical magical image.

    • Sandhya Srinivasan |

      Irony isn’t it!! While we are so rich in our philosophies neither are we enriched from the inside to change the outside nor are we impacted by the dirt & deprivation we see on the outside. Not to say that isn’t changing. There are scores of people who are taking many small steps. So while am keeping the optimism intact, India surely still needs a lot to change.

      It’s a coincidence I guess when you talk about expanses, because I have been chatting with a few victims (if I could call them that) of the real estate boom. Especially the ones who bought homes which turned cluttered colonies. They were also meant to have gardens/childrens parks etc. They laugh at the incredulous promises made by developers & lament too at their decision. So people want it, but who is giving?

  2. Wonderful Sandhya. Back after a tsunami & revolutions changing world order. I couldnt agree more on Greece. But their tardiness shows.
    Economics is linked to aggression. And maybe aggression is not linked to hospitality. Which is what they show. So it is a Catch-22 situation.

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