We entered Istanbul at twilight. The dusk gave the city sober, mellowed undertones. I rolled down the window, and let the winds of this ancient city brush my face – almost as if, welcoming me with a gentle pat on my head. There was a short drizzle, after which the air around us smelt and felt even better, for some strange inexplicable reason.
My first impressions of the city were the browns of construction over the blues of the deep, dark waters underneath it; old men leaning over the railings expertly tossing lines to catch some fish; colorful posters advertising local football matches, and bright alleys full of people. Strangely enough, the smell of a city can sub-consciously go a long way in perhaps determining how you would eventually feel about it. And Istanbul, threw a new smell at me each day of the six days that I was there. Some days it was the smell of the sea, sometimes the fish, sometimes the aromatic smells of food wafting from the infinite restaurants dotting its alleys, sometimes the smell of coffee, fresh fruit, cigarette smoke, and newspapers being folded. Sometimes, the smell of a peach-complexioned woman passing by wearing a delectable fragrance, or the delicious smell of baklavas and kunafas from bakeries aplenty.
For someone, who has grown up devouring Orhan Pamuk, Istanbul was a riot of colors, experiences, and moments – that urgently required a lot more time to explore than an average tourist could perhaps afford to give. And not least, because of its unique richness of cultural and historical heritage. After one finishes doing the touristy rounds of the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, and the Basilica Cistern (four tourist essentials that you just cannot miss) – there is a slow and almost sudden realization that the city was still tugging at your arm to show you more. Much, much more.
It’s almost as if each street, alley, square or park beckons you to sit awhile, while it quietly whispers a long-forgotten story into your ears, and leaves you smiling by yourself.
Yes, there is some ancient magic being silently woven into the heartbeat of the steps that you take around Istanbul (because walking is really the best way to not only explore but understand a city). It’s a magic which, at first, relentlessly chases you – and then in a dramatic turn of events, makes you chase it, as if somewhere the answer to all that you want to know in life, lies somewhere…very close…within your reach…yet afar.
All this may make me sound a little loony – but this is exactly how I felt. I had to literally tear myself away from one fascinating sight to another – a panic lodged at the bottom of my heart fearing that I didn’t have time enough to see it all.
Some may say, that literature ends up romanticizing the culture of cities to the extent of complete exclusion of its flaws. I would have two answers to that. One, the literature on Istanbul, never romanticized it in any way. The city came out to be exactly as I had read about it. Perhaps, even more beautiful. Not disappointing at all. Secondly, I believe, great flaws almost always lead to great romanticizations (coining a new word here). Hence, the power of literature to merge truth, fiction, facts, and reality – all into one. No other field can command such a wide array of powers over the sense and sensibilities of readers.
With literature, and more specifically Pamuk, my love affair with Istanbul began many years back. With this visit, the love affair left me breathless and wanting more. I am very confident that I will definitely be going back there a number of times…not to seek a consummation of the affair….but perhaps etch several possible endings, which could all gather to make a beginning.