The Roaming Way

Photo by Rob van Uchelen

Lets go roaming.

I don’t mean roaming – like in mobile phone bills when one calls from Delhi or Amsterdam or Moscow or Kanpur when actually one got the mobile connection in Hyderabad. I mean, roaming as in, I set off. I go. Somewhere. Or someone who is roaming transmits the feeling.

‘Where to’? he asks. ‘ Roaming’, comes the reply. ‘Oh’, acknowledges the other, with a nod of understanding. In village Sadolpara, where I lived for a while, people roam. It’s a conscious act, unlike sleepwalking. A state of being. Of setting off and not knowing where you could end up. Roaming. Or at least that is the closest I could come to trying to capture the feeling around a lovely word – roona. ‘Roona reanga’ – I’m going to roam. Or you could ask someone ‘roogenma?’ – would you like to roam? It’s not that the people of that village don’t know that one can end up without food because weeds took over the fields and that sort of thing. They know that time is a thief. But once in a while, winking at time, they roam.

‘Roona’ – like I did in Hyderabad and Bangalore and Mysore and even in Mumbai, where it’s sometimes difficult to take a step. I remember once losing myself in the crowds near one of the local train stations in Mumbai and catching a glimpse of the last rays of the sun falling on a basket of boiled eggs that a young girl was selling. Warming up the whites into a lovely orange. Why is it that I can’t anymore, roam? Indian cow-like – slowly, on the streets of Amsterdam, gently chewing my spiritual cud if not green grass? When people here ask me about heimwee – homesickness, it’s hard to explain how exactly certain states of mind go with certain places and people. R –O-A-M. The way the Dutch say room – cream, malai – with a delicious, sinful feel to it. Is there sin involved in room /roam?

In Holland, I never roam and I almost always ‘pak mijn agenda’. One day, feeling very homesick, I turn to a person close to my heart; born on Dutch soil and with whom I share my daily bed. The children are at his sister’s so I take the chance and with a flick of my head say ‘coming’ – ga je mee’.

‘Where’? he asks.

‘Roaming’, I say.

‘Roaming where’?

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

How does he ask, ‘where’? It’s irrelevant where. Even worse would be to ask waarom – why. And worst would be to ask, hoe laat – what time. When he, my beloved had held out a hand and asked ‘chale’ – should we go’, should I have asked ‘kaha’ –where, ‘kyo’ – why or ‘kab’ ‘hoe laat’ – what time?

No.

I answered ‘chalo’ – let’s go. Or I could have answered, ‘nahi’, nee – no – not going. Same with ‘coming roaming’? There are only two possible answers – yes or no. Een ja/ nee vraag.

This roaming spirit didn’t completely disappear in me in Holland, though sometimes it feels like that. A friend gifted me a CD. After hearing it several times, I consider it a favorite. A singer from South India chants in her language and a singer from Italy chants in his. In and out of each other’s melodies, they swirl in rich, deep flexible tones. She uses her musical background, he his. Do they know where they are going? Yes, they seem to, I tell myself. But they seem to be finding out how as they go. It’s a truly a mystery.

So,

I take back what I said before. Its okay to know where you’re roaming, but try at least not to know how.

On a December night, when the snow is falling outside my window, I drag out my bicycle to go over to a friend who has invited me for dinner, and after that, ‘an anti-depression Christmas ride’. This time, I know ‘hoe laat’. With little lights blinking on my bicycle wheels and from a wire strapped around my head, I stand there amongst a group of people outside a shoe shop in the center of Amsterdam. Dainty Cinderella-like shoes and elegant handbags in the shop window light up in the colors that flash from us. A twirling ball outside a cafe near by throws patterns of light through blue-red-green glass onto the white carpet all around us. Music plays, as our host makes announcements that get transmitted through the radio transistors on each bicycle. His girlfriend and he have paid to have access to a FM wavelength with a range of 500 km for the evening. He clarifies that this is just in case someone from our group roams off to Paris. They should be able to hear via his announcements by tuning their radios where exactly we are.

That night, greeted at various cafes and corners, slipping and sliding in the snow, I’m home away from home. There I felt the rain through my clothes. Tasted it as I turned upwards to welcome its coming. Warm rain, gushing down the hill to make little waterfalls as it hit my feet. The earth gave off a perfume from the depths of its soul. Here, water reflects and dances through the blackness in the canals. I feel the soft, white snowflakes on my skin. They fall gently, and so do I. Some ladies in elegant hats and gloves ask what the party is about. Oh, its just the ‘anti depression Christmas ride’, I tell them, regaining my balance. They smile and wish us a fine evening.

Another night, after an evening of dancing, I step onto my bicycle and a voice calls out. ‘Is it a party here’?, I see him as he breaks hard and stops his bicycle.’ Yes’, I reply. With music inspired by Bollywood’. ‘Is het gezellig’ – cozy, mast, in there’? ‘ Yes’, I reply my eyes widening and my head nodding hard. ‘Iets voor mij? – Something for me, he wants to know. ‘Sure, go on in’, I say, warming up to his spirit. He smiles, and turns in the direction of the entrance.

A roamer who was on his way home at two Am in the morning? Or Saturday night fever?

Nandini Bedi

March 2011

English Translation of Dutch words:

Room – Cream

Pak mijn agenda – Pick up my planning diary

Heimwee – Homesick

Ga je mee – Are you coming?

Waarom – Why?

Hoe laat – When?

Nee – No

Een Ja/Nee vraag – A Yes/No question

Is het gezellig? – Is it cozy?

Iets voor mij? – Somethng for me?