Journeys and Jottings
People Make Places - Issue 7
“The world breaks everyone, and afterward, many are strong at the broken places.”
The last few months have been challenging and have bruised and broken almost all of us in different ways but I do hope that we will all find a way to emerge stronger from this phase. However, we don’t have to hide our scars as vulnerability is a strength in itself. I have learnt to accept my vulnerable side and as Stephen Russell says “Vulnerability is the only authentic state. Being vulnerable means being open, for wounding, but also for pleasure. Being open to the wounds of life means also being open to the bounty and beauty. Don’t mask or deny your vulnerability: it is your greatest asset. Be vulnerable: quake and shake in your boots with it, the new goodness that is coming to you, in the form of people, situations, and things can only come to you when you are vulnerable, i.e. open.”
Hello and welcome to this issue of Journeys and Jottings. As we embrace our vulnerable selves, we learn how to give meaning to our scars with the Japanese art of Kintsugi and the concept of “Wabi-Sabi.” We go on a wildlife safari in the game reserves of South Africa while I have two heartwarming book recommendations for you - The Elephant Whisperer and The Last Rhinos, written by late conservationist Lawrence Anthony and Graham Spence. In People Make Places, we meet travel blogger and author Ami Bhat who talks about her new book.
Kintsugi - Mending fragments of life
When I visited Japan a couple of years ago, my guide and I started talking about some of the Japanese ways of life - from “Wabi-Sabi” to “Ichi go Ichi ae” to “Ikigai” to “Kintsugi.”
Kintsugi or kintsukuroi” literally means joining with gold or golden repair. It is an ancient art of repairing broken pieces of ceramic in Japan. But it is more than just an aesthetic technique. The tradition is over 500 years ago and the story goes that in the 15th century, the Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa, broke his favourite cup of tea and sent it to China to get it fixed. The Chinese stapled the broken pieces together with some metal ligatures. The Shogun was not happy and he then asked the Japanese craftsmen to work on it and Kintsugi was born. The craftsmen decided not to hide the scars but retained it as a part of its “history “. However they enhanced its value by giving it a new lease of life by joining it with gold, essentially lacquer mixed with powdered gold.
Kintsugi helps us understand that we need to embrace life with all its imperfections. We don’t have to hide our scars and flaws. They just become part of our lives, our personal history. And it teaches us that being broken does not mean that we cant put ourselves back together again and that too in a way, that makes us even more beautiful and meaningful as we mend the fragments with a golden glue.
Pic courtesy - Wikimedia,Creative Commons.
Kintsugi as a concept is also related to the Zen principle of Wabi-Sabi, which celebrates the impermanence of life with all its imperfections and flaws and teaches you to cherish all that is real and rustic, weathered and wrinkled. I read this story in the School of Life that talks about Sen no Rikyu, who brought in the concept of “Wabi-Cha” - the Japanese tea ceremony. He was invited to dinner and the host presented him with an antique tea jar. However, Rikyu didn’t pay attention to it, inviting the host’s wrath who broke it to pieces. Later the others gathered the fragments together and mended it with “kintsugi” and gifted it to Rikyu, who smiled and added, “ Now that’s a magnificent jar.”
kintsugi gold lacquer, 16th century
Pic Courtesy - Daderot, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
Kintsugi and Wabi Sabi are not just stuff of legends, philosophies, and feel-good stories. And in today’s era, we need to embrace them in our everyday lives. I read a lovely anthology of Kintsugi in our day-to-day lives in this flash fiction compiled by author Abha Iyengar and it has some beautiful stories written by my friends. Do give it a read. I also recommend this lovely video in Japanese with subtitles on BBC. You can also read more about Kintsugi in this article on Lifegate.
Personally, this newsletter was born as a result of bringing Kintsugi into my life as I dealing with grief over my mother’s demise. Journeys and Jottings helped me hold myself together again and you, my dear readers are the golden layers keeping me from falling apart again.
The Elephant Whisperer by Lawrence Anthony and Graham Spence
Set in Zululand in the wild environs of South Africa, the book is both heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same. As the pages turn, you are in a game reserve called Thula Thula run by late conservationist Lawrence Anthony, often called “The Indiana Jones of Conservation.” As he takes us on a wild jaunt into the forests, introducing us to the denizens, you also learn more about the people - their cultures, traditions, fears, and their superstitions. And then there are ruthless poachers. But the heart of the story belongs to the elephants.
Lawrence Anthony is asked to take a herd of rogue elephants in his game reserve, Thula Thula. “They would be shot otherwise,” he is told. The story begins on a hostile note as they create havoc, try to escape, and wreak destruction along the way. But as the tale unfolds, it becomes one of a beautiful and touching relationship between him and the matriarch and her herd and the fascinating glimpses he gives us about the way they live and love.
But the story does not end here. Years later, Lawrence Anthony had a massive cardiac arrest and he passed away. And among those who came to pay a tribute to him at his home was the herd of elephants who had walked miles and miles to get a last glimpse of the man who had nurtured them.
I had tears in my eyes as I read the book. Every page tugged at my heartstrings. His wife Francoise Malby Anthony along with Katja Willemsen has written her perspective in “An Elephant in my Kitchen” where she talks about what the herd taught her about love, courage, and survival. I have just started reading the book.
Another book that I would recommend written by Lawrence Anthony is The Last Rhinos, a powerful story where he along with his friends struggle to save the last few surviving species of Northern White Rhinos from the conflicted and war-torn Congo in the Garamba National Park amidst his adventures with the Lord Resistance Army. Here is a heartwrenching article in the NYT about how we humans have virtuals wiped the species off the earth.
One more book on my agenda is Babylon’s Ark, where he goes to Baghdad during the Iraq War to save the animals in the zoo that are caught in the crossfire of the conflict.
A nostalgic journey to South Africa
These books have been very therapeutic and have helped me escape into a world of nostalgic memories. Many years ago, I had visited South Africa but it was a very short trip. As a tourist however you only see one side of the story as I had done then, but these books made me learn so much more about the cultural landscape as well as the wildlife and conservation stories.
However as I retraced my steps, I realized that we had visited some of the places mentioned in the book, starting with the famous Kruger National Park to the Hluhluwe Umfolozi Game Reserve in the vicinity.
A short excerpt from my blog
The moment we start our safari at Hluhluwe game reserve, a bird screeches “Go away.” I peer at it through my binoculars only to see it flying away into the foliage. “We call it the Go Away bird,” explains the naturalist, referring to the grey lourie or the kwevoel. I wonder if we had annoyed it with our presence that it is asking us to immediately go away.
The rains come and go. In the vast wilderness of the Hluhluwe Umfolozi Game Reserve. I see the giraffes thrusting their necks and gnawing at every leaf of a stunted tree. There is a herd that is enjoying its breakfast. We wait patiently as a dazzle of zebras accompanying them cross the road.
The grasslands now give away to the green hills which rise and fall gently There are clumps of bushes in the distance and we mistake them for rhinos. But in a few moments, we see them moving and realize that the hills are dotted with rhinos. As we try inching a bit closer to get a better view, a buffalo glares at us through the thorny branches.
All of a sudden we are distracted by a movement in the bushes. A pair of rhinos are right next to my window but their faces are buried deep into the grass. One of them looks up and we stare at each other for a moment. He then poses for me rather disinterestedly and moves away.
People Make Places
It’s always a pleasure to meet a fellow traveller and blogger. And travelling with Ami Bhat has always been an amazing experience as she is one of the most energetic and passionate travellers that I have known. Ami Bhat is a marketing professional who started travel blogging on Thrilling Travel seven years ago and has published her travel stories in media. As the pandemic closed the doors on travelling, Ami wasted no time in putting pen to paper and let her imagination take her places
Ami has just self-published her book, “When Places Come Alive. “ I decided to publish travel fiction as against a travel guide because these stories were already in my head and I would replay them in my after every trip, “ she says. In this short interview, she tells us a bit about the inspiration behind the book and about self-publishing as well.
1.What is the inspiration behind the book?
The inspiration for me are the stories themselves. I would constantly wonder about the people, their cultures, the emotions they went through, and the situations they were in. Most of these places live on these legends. I called the book “When Places Come Alive because for me places came alive through these stories.”
2.What are your favourite stories ?
Each story is special in a way however am very fascinated by the Kumari, Nepal’s Living Goddess, especially the traditions and cultures that intrigued me. Kuldhara was another destination that had beckoned me even before I had visited it- how the entire village vanished overnight because of one incident. The story of Casanova was very fascinating to me at all and many did not even know he was a real person and a colourful person. And Bhutan’s mysticism even today fascinates me. It is a living legend, an incident that happens every year and I don’t want to give out any spoilers but there is no scientific explanation behind it and it is very sacred as well.
3.People Make Places. Is there anyone who has inspired you to write the book?
In my mind, it would be the locals in all these places - these are the people who told me the stories and made me go into the fantasy world and narrate the stories in my own way.
4.How is travel fiction different from writing travel stories and guides?
Fiction is completely different. You may have the story in your head but you have to think so much, research, recreate the atmosphere and characters. There are dialogues, scenes, action sequences, descriptions of the place - it is not so straightforward and simple. It’s not just another “ Once Upon a Time …”
5.Give us a few tips on self-publishing
I did my research and realized that there are many options - from publishers to packages. You can even look at only publishing an ebook where you have to do everything from design to layout. But some of the well-known houses offer other services as well including copyright, distribution, and data on your sales. So I worked with Notion Press and picked a deal. The range varies from Rs 16000 to Rs100,000. You focus on benefits like getting 100 % royalty, a paperback and design, and even marketing support. I would also recommend that you have an external editor and a designer as well.
You can buy Ami’s book here
I do hope that you enjoyed reading this issue. Stay safe, stay at home, and get vaccinated at the earliest. Looking forward to your feedback as always. We are going to keep the flow of conversations going and I would really appreciate it if you will share my newsletter with your friends and family.
See you soon ! You can also read my travel stories on my blog and follow me on my social media
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