India is an amazing place, I felt completely at home

“My Reflections on India”

by Marie Munkara

Well it seemed to take forever for it to happen but when it did it was over before I knew it. India is an amazing place and I felt completely at home, I felt like I’d been there before. Bangalore Literature Festival was a small and quite intimate affair, and I might add a far more pleasurable experience than the feeling that you are being herded around like cattle in a feed lot that usually comes with the larger and more established literary festivals.

Another advantage was being able to share my breakfast table with literary giants like Leila Seth, retired magistrate and more importantly Vikram Seth’s very own mother! And of course the passionate discourses with our own amazing entourage consisting of Jeanine Leane, Dylan Coleman, Brenton McKenna and the effervescent and amazingly organised Mridula Chakraborthy. The only low point was the twitterings of a Bollywood actress (with her ten body guards) on how to be successful in life. But then I guess we need those inane things to show how special the good bits are.

The drive to Mysore will be forever etched into my memory. Two traffic lanes with four lanes of cars, trucks, buses and motorbikes all honking their horns and vying for supremacy. Intersections where scores of vehicles negotiated the chaos within a hairs breadth of each other and not one accident. Women passengers riding side saddle on motorbikes nonchalantly watching the traffic swirl past, a camel pulling a cart, pi dogs confidently weaving through the traffic with total disregard for approaching wheels, they knew they were safe. It was reckless spontaneity and it was beautiful.

The “After Dreaming Australian Indigenous Literature Symposium” was even more amazing than the Festival. Two days jam packed with presentations and deeply reflective debates. The interest in the Stolen Generation surprised me with a number of speakers including this in their papers. It was followed by much lively discussion. People were surprised to learn that I was removed from my mother and of course I was only too happy to talk about my experiences.

I met the man who will be translating my works into Kannada, Associate Professor Shiri Kirin, and many other amazing people as well including a young woman who would like to write about my books in her thesis. We stayed at the guest house on the campus and the food was delicious. Vegetarian curry for breakfast lunch and tea. Yuummy.

One evening we went to what would have been a civil servants club from the period of the Raj with wing backed chairs and stuffed animal heads on the walls, including a tiger (poor things). We were hosted by a Bollywood film director whose films have an audience in Karnataka state alone of 25 million people a day. The movies are shown in five different languages including Hindi and English. Dylan and I spent some time chatting with him about the Indian movie industry and learned a few pointers.

The bus that we travelled in to the club was insane with coloured disco lights flashing and lots of loud music. Up the front Mridula and I did some Bollywood dancing which would have put some of those Bollywood actresses to shame. Afterwards we drove up the sacred hill where we stopped part way up and took in the fabulous sights of Mysore at night time. The Indian women on the bus said that there are still tigers roaming around those parts so we didn’t get out of the bus again.

On our last day we drove out into the countryside and visited an 11th century temple that had been partially destroyed by the Moghuls when they rampaged through in the 15th century. It was made of soapstone and to my surprise had a native bee hive in one section of it. These bees looked similar to the ones we have in Darwin and Arnhemland. This country was all paddy fields and looked very much like the countryside in south east Asia.

After a beautiful lunch at another club where we spied two otters swimming in the river we headed off to the summer palace of Tipu the first Moghul king. Because they weren’t allowed to depict the likeness of a person the walls were covered in an astonishing array of flowers in frames. The roses were so life like that you could see the thorns. The ceilings looked like Persian carpets. In the front entrance I spotted a little young squirrel sitting on a piece of architrave about an arm’s length away looking at me, then he ducked into a little hole and was gone.

After that it was back to the guest house and a mad rush to get the suitcases and ourselves into the mini bus and then off to the airport. We made it to the check in counter at the airport by the skin of our teeth and then we all said our goodbyes in Singapore.

It was a trip that I will never forget and one that I’d love to do again. Thankyou Jeanine, Dylan, Brenton and Mridula for sharing this fantastic journey with me.

Marie Munkara, author of Rembarranga, Tiwi and Chinese descent on the Bangalore Literature Festival and Mysore University Indigenous Symposium as part of LITERARY COMMONS! 

image by Marie Munkara