being human on the Bosphorus

At the pier everyone held back, knowing to be polite, but in the tension and the poise you could see that each wished everyone out of the way, and all suppressed (or didn’t have the strength for) the urge to push the rest to the edge and out. The woman behind me sneezed, and my back bristled, and I turned and looked into eyes that denied contact—she and her man were big and loud and spoke impatience in a Latin language. We were quite a crowd when it was time to lift the chain; almost all were white; only I was brown; none were black.

Istanbul

Istanbul


They lifted the chain finally (on time, but we’d each been so worried that we’d be outrun) and the woman who’d sneezed shoved the middle of my back, but I was moving already. Two young ladies broke to the fore, and seemed to know where to go, and I abandoned my dash to the front and followed them to the rear—good decision: the rear had the open-to-air benches; the aft had the little covered cafeteria. I landed a terrific seat, and seconds later all the seats were gone, and the narrow gap between me and the next man went too, when the rest of his party squeezed in and I moved a little to make room for him. Thanks, he said, and we were all settled.

Front of me, a man about sixty, pocked leather-skin, wide mouth with lines revealing a life spent smirking, his shirt blue with St George by Duffer sewn on the breast, brown chinos, pale brown cap, Lumix camera secured to his belt by a coiled telephone cable; next to him his wife of comparable age, petite and wrinkled and benign and smiling; and next to her, a well-formed woman in her thirties in classic blue jeans and a tucked-in white shirt, book in hand, already reading—three seats, three people. The boat shook and a couple came lurching in to us: the woman’s face was youthful and the creases of middle-age and the grey hair served to adorn it; the man’s head was a pink and dark cuboid, square below the chin, square on the crown, rectangular all round.

His woman gestured to be the fourth in that row for three. She in jeans lifted and averted her eyes and told the air “but there’s no room here,” and dropped her face to her book. On the face of her in the middle the smile lived on, and her body didn’t budge. A muted defiance came upon her who stood, and she turned and sat on one hip in the tiny triangle between the two women. They let her be.

Her man came to the window and stood before me at the open frame. He was about fifty, and wore a Camel vest, the kind touted as adventure gear. It was a light brown, and so crisp it was evident it hadn’t taken him into any adventure. He wore it for its pockets, perhaps, but they were all flat with no bulge in any of them.

We were soon detached from Eminonu and floated away from the Galata Bridge, the water blue and dazzling in the sun, the hills and the domes and the minars on Sultanahmet and the piles of buildings and the Dolmabahce Palace on the Pera side all blazing, and soon we saw the white rises of the Bosphorus Bridge also taking plenty of sun, and on the Asian side, the mix of green woods and buildings with their color drained in the dazzle, and telecom towers, and the blood-red flag of the republic with a clear white moon seeking to hold with its crescent’s ends a clean white star. We rocked as we went, soothed by breeze, seeing flocks of small birds that beat black wings with unrelenting vigor as they went skimming the water. A lady in my row wanted to take a picture so she asked the man standing at my window to move, and he turned and and considered the apt response to her demand. Then he relaxed and squeezed to the side and she said “merci.” But he couldn’t hold his hurt and went to her and said something in German. The man next to me asked him to speak in English.

“Speak international language,” he said and slapped himself with his lean palm, landing it full and flat on his clean gaunt cheek. It looked like he might offer himself his other cheek, but no, he glanced at the the folks in front, offering solidarity, but they merely held their poses: smirk, smile, concentration. The man returned to the window, emotion not leaving his eyes.

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The air became steadily thick. The man stayed at the window, his wife rested on half her seat, the young lady was absorbed in her reading, the other lady sat with crossed legs and smiled on, her husband’s legs were crossed too, and on my bench they were lost in a Spanish guidebook, among the Bosphorus pages.

A gull came up and held steady, white all over with black-tipped wings, quivering a little in the changing wind. A woman came running to the window breaking a piece of simit, and offered it up. After a long consideration of her the gull took it, swooping in an angle from above, encountering difficulty while snatching the bread. Why couldn’t he drop lower and come in horizontal? Several people rushed to join the lady, stretching out to the bird, who took his time to accept each offer, his beak failing him sometimes, on which occasions he fell and went in a smart reverse and picked the crumb off the water.

We stopped at small villages: Like Kanlica, with a cafe beyond the pier flanked by orange and red canopies. Tourists and Turks sat sunken in the seats, arms rested on backs of benches, soaked in relaxation. It could have been a spot by the waters in West Europe, but a pencil-like minaret of Sinan-vintage, less tall than those in Istanbul and rather squat, asserted itself from behind the cafe—all the character of the place came from the minaret. Behind all these enterprises of man stood a low hill with small houses perched on it.

Before me she the reader left her seat now and then to take pictures, but it was understood and honored that the intruding party should hold only that one butt on the bench, and only in the triangle she had usurped.

Drowned in such mutual defiance we arrived at Anadolu Kavagi, the last stop, in ninety minutes. The man and his wife introduced themselves to me, as from Dusseldorf. All had to get off, we had an hour and some minutes for lunch and, if we wished, for a climb to the ruins of the Byzantine fortress above.

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  • Privileged to read Shashikiran.

    The details dealt with the right mix of alert observations , leaving a reader puzzled on how many of you were there to look all of it, the smile, the book with blue and white around, the half base, german, merci, and what not.

    Wallah, if thats the right way to express.

  • Manish Khamesra

    Shashikiran, its wonderfully well crafted. I must say that I too feel privileged to read it. The whole writing felt as if I am watching a movie :-) or reading a novel.

    A few things: I was not aware what is Bosphorus. There was a travelogue or a book review in IE a few days back, that too had Bosphorus in headlines and only then I took the pain and searched to know the meaning of it.

    Speak international language, he said and slapped himself with his lean palm -> could not understand the meaning of it !

    Please keep on writing and of course the photographs you post are also something to look at and cherish :-)