A Tale from Two Cities – Buda & Pest

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Travel, I have come to realize, is nothing but seeing, gathering, and sometimes living stories of lands away from home. Some are sad stories, some are joyful stories, some are miraculous, some run-of-the-mill; but they are all tales of people at once similar to and different from those we have grown up around, living lives that are often so like ours, but not quite.

Once in a while, you run into a story so powerful, so astonishing, that it absolutely deserves to be told. You turn it over in your head, like a Rubik’s cube you’re at the edge of solving but can’t quite get right. It grips you with the tenacity of a bulldog and simply will not let go. These are stories where words are, perhaps, simply not enough to convey the essence of what must be shared. Having run into one such story during my brief stay in Budapest, this is my first attempt at blogging with both photographs and words. I hope I am able to do some justice to it.


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A little over two years ago, the government of Budapest erected this monument quite literally overnight, from 20th to 21st July 2014. The entire square was cordoned off and guarded by the police, while workers labored through the night to set it up. There had been significant protests against the plans for the monument when it was announced earlier. Why, one may ask? The monument depicts an imperial eagle, representing Nazi Germany, swooping down at a statue of Archangel Gabriel, meant to represent Hungary. The problem, as the Jews of Hungary saw it, as the descendants of the Roma saw it, as the homosexuals, or as any decent person saw it, is this – Hungary was a willing ally of the Nazis. From June 1941 till Germany’s defeat at Stalingrad, Hungary was a staunch supporter in all their demonic policies (including the Holocaust, to which Budapest’s Shoes memorial still pays a poignant and haunting tribute). The occupation of Hungary only happened in 1944, after Hungary tried to back out of the alliance in fear of an impending defeat of the Axis powers.

The monument was a blatantly offensive attempt at revising history to make the Hungarian government, and the Hungarian people, look like victims rather than perpetrators. The Jewish community, in particular, protested vehemently, as did the opposition, rights groups, civil society groups, and the like. Vigils, marches, and human chains were organized against Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government.

But the monument was not taken down. It stood, despite all protests. So the people of Budapest fought back in other ways.

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The barbed wire guarding the monument became the canvas of the protesters. It began to fill up with clippings, photographs, news articles, and memorabilia that showcased the truth of those times- the roundup of Jews, executions, a few extraordinary tales of bravery (like that of Raoul Wallenberg, who saved nearly a 100,000 Jews in Hungary) and more. The people had decided that if the government would not demolish this monument, then they would ensure that the truth would find a voice.

There were attempts to have the site cleared. Multiple times, clearing activities were initiated.

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The mementos would inevitably return, more poignant and in greater numbers. The entire area became a symbol of honesty and compassion for the fallen, and the locus of rage against political machinations. People raised their voices against a government who sought to take control of the national narrative, not too unlike what we see in so many parts of the world today.

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In an era where textbooks are being re-drafted, where all one sees or hears is “us vs them”, where jingoistic nationalism and clickbait patriotism abound, it is impossible to stand in front of this monument and not be humbled. Humbled by the refusal of an entire people to accept the comfort of pretense, and by their bravery in revealing the rawness of their wounds in an effort to keep truth alive.

Budapest is a young democracy, only about 26 years old. They rose from a “gentle” Communism, which was preceded by a Stalin-esque dictatorship following the “liberation” of Hungary. There is, in the words of one of the locals, still a lot wrong with the systems of the country. But these are clearly people who will band together for the good of their nation. Theirs is not the patriotism so vehemently preached by the politicians of today. There is no loud chest-thumping to profess love for the country, no co-opting of institutions in the name of the “greater good”. There is simply a willingness to look at the rawness of history as it was, and to draw the painful but necessary lessons and use them to better their nation. There is compassion and empathy, a sense that both the persecuted and the erstwhile persecutors must now work together to erase the bloody stains of the past and live in harmony. This little square in central Budapest highlights so many lessons that the people of the world need to know today, that have been drowned out by the diatribe of those who would sow fear and discord in an effort to climb the rungs of power.


Sarthak is a member of LSD and is currently on a “study tour” in Europe. He blogs at: https://thecrediblehulksite.wordpress.com

Croatia, stirring thy soul

Language is a powerful paradox. On the face of it, it just has functional utility of communication. But as you peel off the layers, you unravel an intricate art spun from words. Deep in this web are some words that are special, having the potential to stir souls as no one can. If there was one word to describe these words, it would be exquisite. Countries pose a similar paradox, with the layers indicating only the usage of countries for habitation but as these layers are peeled off, you see some countries that stand out from others. For their nature, for their gifts and for their beauty. Croatia is one such exquisite country.

The Adriatic Sea coast enroute Dubrovnik, from Split

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Love with Prague

I had high expectations of Prague even before I went there. That was mostly because all my female friends who have been there recommended it vehemently to me. “Prague ki feel hi kuch alag hai!” was what I had heard. I didn’t realise that soon enough, but when I did, I knew just the word to qualify Prague. If Budapest is wild, Prague is romantic.

Yes, Prague is as romantic as romance can get. If Budapest is a prostitute, Prague is the lover. If Chain Bridge is about sex, Charles Bridge is about love. The narrow alleys of Prague, with the cobbled stones and bright-coloured houses, hesitatingly invite you to explore the city, just like a lover seduces you to explore her deepest secrets, while holding back simultaneously. But you truly have to be patient to realise this true beauty of Prague, for there are many tourists trying to woo her simultaneously. “A city is not a concrete jungle, but a human zoo”, said by our walking tour guide, kept resonating as I went through this town.

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The wild wild Budapest

Money is a strange thing. It changes not only its color but also its worth as it changes hands and places. And money is truly powerful when things come cheap. For then, it injects shots of greed into your blood and makes you crave for new experiences. And Hungary is an embodiment of that greed. But Hungary is one temptation you should not resist. After all, as Gekko said, “Greed is good.”

Hungary wants you to taste it, lick it, devour it and throw it as if it were a chocolate bar, leaving a sweet after-taste. Hungary has been bedded by a lot of colonial powers, from Romans to the Soviets. Her compromised virginity has now made her like a prostitute, who seduces you into her brothel, wants you to make rough sex to her and forget her, but not the amazing time you had. And that makes Hungary wild.

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HEX: The Hero who cannot be demonetized

 

Dhyayato visayan pumsah

sangas tesupajayate

sangat sanjayate kamah

kamat krodho ‘bhijayate

Lord Shiva woke up from his deep meditations and looked down upon the Earth for the centenary survey of the planet. With all three eyes open, he glanced at the green planet and what he saw there shocked him.

There was strife and poverty everywhere. Millions of people were getting killed by poverty and the many millions who had the resources to survive, had absolutely no idea on what to do with it and wanted more. Hardly anybody on Earth seemed to be concerned.

Lord Shiva was livid. Did he and his fellow Gods go down to save the planet so many times for this outcome? He was about to curse and destroy the planet when Sage Narada entered and explained that the people were not in control of their actions. The parasitic and venomous cohort of demons called Bankers dictated the terms in their world and people were helpless but to follow. The Bankers had taken a boon from Kubera to control the financial instruments of Earth and had enticed the naïve populace by offering enormous materialistic gains on use and reuse of their instruments and slowly but surely started taking control of their lives. Lord Shiva cursed Kubera to find a solution or risk expulsion from Devloka. The Treasurer of the Gods knew that he couldn’t stop the Bankers directly but he knew what could. Kubera took his Yagnavittapustaka, a sacred book with all secrets of financial instruments and derivatives and decided to pass it on to a person who would be able to not just understand and decipher it but also have the moral character to rise up against the demons and defeat them. The book, which he dropped at Earth passed through several hands unsuccessfully and several decades later, finally ended up on a dusty old shelf in a far corner of a library in a Well-known Institute of Management in Western India. An athletic young student, lanky and sporting a mean moustache, finally opened the book for a boring project. With an intelligence to match his physical allure, he was sagacious enough to be spell-bound by the erudition it contained. He pored over the book day and night, absorbed by the knowledge within. Suddenly all the Finance classes he attained seemed to attain a sinister dimension.

Our hero, let’s call him ‘HOMO ECONOMICUS ECCENTRIC(HEX)’ , was no ordinary student. He possessed skills that most others could just dream of. He had an eidetic memory with an eye for detail that could put any detective to shame. He was a brilliant orator capable of swaying people with his silver-tongued oration. After reading the Yagnavittapustaka, his skills were further enhanced and he gained a few extra powers. He became a Grandmaster –‘Ability to mentally visualize all possible scenarios with infinite variables; capacity to foresee macroeconomic events based on their probability of occurrence’. He became Ultra Rational– ‘All decisions were now based on complete information and conclusions are always data driven’. To add to his eidetic powers, he now became a Jargon Breaker – ‘Ability to read through infinite complicated academic and legal papers and summarize in seconds’.

After graduating from B-School with the Director’s Gold Medal, he decided to go to the Capital of Capitalism to tackle the menace of the Bankers who were deceiving the world with their malicious financial instruments. Living a successful life as an academic, he started writing articles and research papers stressing on the need for sustainable financial models and criticizing the current banking system. Using his immense talent, he was able to rise up quickly to the Head the Economics department of the International Organization encompassing 189 countries working to foster global monetary cooperation, secure financial stability, promote sustainable economic growth and reduce poverty around the world.

He went about exposing faults in the current capitalist system and argued for developing robust institutional structures to ensure sustainable business development. He was able to save several people from financial ruin through his advice. Those who did not heed his call, suffered severely in the 2008 sub-prime crisis. He was not a superhero who saved everyone, just the believers who placed their trust in him and his prudent policies. He had his faults, like every superhero. He was unable to work efficiently with human behavioral flaws like bias, prejudice, emotional decisions, irrational behavior etc. He knew that he needed to work on it and the only way he could was by understanding human beings better.

He later moved back to his origins to help the citizens of his beloved country. Now he decided to try and change the system from within. He was appointed the head of the Federal and Treasury Bank in India and he waged a war against big businesses contributing NPAs, corrupt politicians and another very important enemy. He had realized that the biggest problem facing India was inflation. This economic issue made food and security unaffordable to those with lower fixed-income (the bulk of Indian population).

HEX went against the economic policies of the powerful rulers of the country. He knew he was in a minority but he knew what would happen to the country if he let prices rise. He was the only one who could stop it and for 3 years, he did. He created a lot of enemies in the process but he sailed through every obstacle enhancing his own reputation by obtaining the love and affection of the public. Having done enough to avoid a catastrophe by keeping in check bad loans, price rise and meddlesome politicians, he was settling down when he got the nagging feeling that an impending big world problem was at hand. His superpowers told him that the root cause was political but the outcome was economic destruction. He had a job at hand, he packed his bags to go back to the origin of the issue, the Capital of Capitalism. He faced a tough task but he knew that with his financial and economic prowess, he will come out trumps.


This article was jointly written by Parnika Singhania and K.Ramdas, the only two members of LSD Lit cell 2015-17 who skipped the exchange bus

Settlement

Click. Click. Pause. Click.

With a barely audible whomp, the flame came on. Anish brought the lighter closer to the cigarette dangling precariously from his lips. He took a puff, followed immediately by another, and released the button on the nearly-depleted lighter as his cigarette lit up fully. As he set the lighter down on his table, he reached for the glass of single malt scotch next to his open laptop. A blank screen stared back at him as he took a deep drag and felt the nicotine rush. He leaned back in his plush chair, slowly blew out the smoke from his mouth and raised the glass to his lips. Slowly burning cigarette in one hand and glass of liquor in another, he closed his eyes and tried to get his mind off things.

“Is everything okay, love?” a voice called from the doorway across the room. His wife. Tina.

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Austria

Austria is in many ways a close kin of Germany, emulating its language as well as rudeness. But it still has its own distinct character. And continuing with my previous articles, if Netherlands is trippy, Austria is musical. And a lot of the accolade goes to arguably the greatest composer of all time, Mozart. There is also this Sound of Music connection with Salzburg, as the entire classic was shot there. Again, musical!

Salzburg breathes Mozart, visibly and otherwise. There is the Mozart birth-house, Mozart living-house, umpteen Mozart cafes and hotels. Even while the extent of commercialization is pitiful, it pains me when an entity tries to owe its entire identity to a single person. As Saral da says, “A system is greater than the sum of its parts” and so is a city. And the soul of an entire city/town is ruined in one shot if a single person is the only towering influence. This over-exploitation of Mozart ultimately led to Salzburg being just another nudnik town, quite different from what I had expected.

There are two good destinations quite near Salzburg — Werfen Ice caves and Hallstat Salt mines. Mountains give me immense joy (and that in a way signifies the quantum of pain as I am not doing Iceland this year). And the Austrian Alps were no exception to that, as we had a brush with them during the Werfen trip. It was quite early and foggy (and even snowed a bit) when we had started and the fog hid the alluring snow-clad Alps, just as a veil hides a beautiful bride. It’s not really cold until a strong gush of wind greets you at the entrance of the caves. After that, you enter a 42 km (read that again) ice cave, the largest in the world. There are steep glaciers, long icicles, natural sculptures created by the wind and limestone ceilings. It doesn’t actually feel like 0 degrees in there, may be because the limestone absorbs all the cold in the winter season. Nevertheless, only the 1st km of this cave is open to the tourists. And truth be told, it was not that great. The icicles should have been longer and denser, the wind stronger and the cave colder.

The guide inside Werfen Ice Caves (Clicked by a friend)

Nonetheless, when we exited the cave, we were greeted with a view spectacular as any, as the bride had lifted its veil by then. The curvy waist of that bride, the Salzach river, in its pale blue water flowed in between the cave mountain and the majestic Hohenwerfen castle, overlooking the snowy mountains, created the picture that any second-grader draws when asked to describe scenery.

The next day we hopped on a train to Vienna and went to Vienna’s most famous destination — The Schonbrunn Palace. I particularly liked this one because of its bright colors and mammoth size. Palaces are usually dull from the outside, with greyish tones and reddish bricks. But this one isn’t. The Palace and its gardens, spread over 435 acres, make you forget the city buildings, as you walk calmly alternating between arrays of lush green trees, orange autumn leaves and creepers.

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