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Hemingway Cafe Milan

I cannot talk about Milan and not mention this quiet, around the corner cafe that I bumped into, on a sunny July morning. I was hungry and needed to reload my energy for a day of exploration in that horribly hot weather. I walked in to see if it’s open and it was. I ordered breakfast and a cup of cappuccino. It was my third day in Italy and it didn’t disappoint me when it came to its coffee.

After placing my order, I came and sat outside. I was in Milan. A place I always wanted to visit. I was excited thinking that within an hour I will get to see its famous Duomo. I looked around myself. People were coming and going, minding their own business. There’s no one in the cafe beside me and this old man. Suddenly the name of the cafe caught my eyes. ‘Hemingway Cafe’. Why chose to name a cafe in Italy after a famous American author? It intrigued me.

When my order came in, I asked the waiter, who spoke little English. He had no idea. But, he pointed to the owner of the cafe, the old man who was sitting with his back towards me, and said I can ask him. Unfortunately, he spoke only Italian. When I asked, he looked at me intently and gave me a big smile. I finished my breakfast, which was by the way, the best panini I have had, and left to explore the fashion capital of Italy.

At around 8 pm, I came back to my hostel. I was exhausted. I just wanted to have dinner and sleep. However, there’s this Irani girl and we started talking. We talked about Iran, India, USA, Trump, war, just everything. I lost track of time. It was well past ten when I ventured out in search of dinner and this cafe was the only place open at that time near my hostel. I don’t generally eat at the same place twice when I am travelling, but I had no option. I loved their breakfast and coffee, so I thought why not give it another chance.

This time I met two wonderful people. The chef and a girl who was waiting tables. I went in and asked if they have anything left. Any vegetarian food. They clearly had nothing, but the chef said, “I will see what I can do”. That gesture really touched me. I haven’t met many chefs who said that to me. They generally say, sorry we are closing or no food left. But, never that. He reminded me of home where nobody wants you to go to sleep hungry.

Although late, the cafe was full with young people. The laughter, the conversation everything was just so lively. Even though I was alone, I was having a great time. After a while, the chef came in with my dinner. It’s a big vegetable spread with fresh cheese and bread. It was enough for two people and I gulped down everything with happiness and gratitude. It was delicious too. In fact, the best meal I had in Italy!

I am back home now, and still occasionally I think about this cafe. That wonderful meal I had there. I will definitely visit it the next time I get a chance to go to Milan. This time I will take my husband. We will order drinks, eat their free chips and soak in the magic ambience of Milanese evening.

I was still curious about the cafe’s name. So, I did a little research and found out that Hemingway was in Milan for few months during World War I. In fact, his most literary work ‘A farewell to Arms’ is based on his life in Milan.

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Venetian diary – IV

There are many areas in Venice where prostitution thrived in the 1500s, and the most famous among them is the Carampane district near the Rialto. The entire district looks like a tiny courtyard, whose number of buildings is countable on your fingers.

The profession was encouraged and supported by the Venetian government because it attracted international tourists and thus increased the revenues. When the profession was at its peak, many Venetian girls, as young as twelve and thirteen, were working as prostitutes. The young girls were more in demand and were putting the older ones out of business.

You see that bridge? Its name is Ponte delle Tette, which translates to ‘Bridge of Tits’, because that’s where the older prostitutes used to exhibit their sensuality in order to lure customers to the other side where they were in business.

In these windows beautiful older girls would stand as mannequin to show what’s on offer (window shopping much?) to lure customers. And, what was on show was rarely offered in real.

The area where once rich merchants thronged, rarely sees any tourists these day.

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Venetian diary – III

Customized walking tours are so common in this part of the world. And they are not like the traditional ones in which the guide would just ramble on and on about a place or monument in the most uninteresting way possible. They are fun, engaging, free (they don’t charge, you just tip them) and can be easily booked online.

On my husband’s recommendation I registered myself with walking tours, and I am so glad I did. I enjoyed them thoroughly. And if you are someone who likes to explore a place on foot, who wouldn’t mind walking for two hours or more, and enjoys interesting trivia about a place, then you would love these walking tours.

The most impressive thing is that these guides put a lot of effort in their content which speaks volumes about their passion for the city.

According to my tour guide in Venice, this church is the most preferred wedding church in the city. The most obvious reason is that it’s somewhat white in colour. The outer appearance of the church resembles an antique jewelry box. The name of the church is Santa Maria die Miracoli -‘the church of miracle’, and that’s makes it auspicious for weddings. And apparently, this is the only church in Venice which has direct Gondola access. So, a bride wearing heels and a fancy gown doesn’t have to walk a lot and cross a dozen bridges to reach her wedding venue. She can just get down from the Gondola right in the front of the church.

Unfortunately, I didn’t witness any wedding in Venice. But, I did one in Florence!

Thanks to my tour guide, I also got the opportunity to see the red light area of Venice.

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Venetian diary – II

I hate those travel blogs where they write about all the things you need to see, all the things you need to experience, when visiting a place, making you feel like your trip would be incomplete if you miss any one of them. One thing they don’t realise it that we all are different and we all travel differently. Travelling is personal. We all have different priorities and expectations when we travel. So, no matter what anyone say, don’t fall into these tourists traps, and pick your own things to do while travelling. Trust me, you would love that more.

I was confused about what I wanted to experience on my first trip to Italy. I had just one day in each place, and it’s not enough to cover everything that I wanted to do or see. So, I made my own itinerary according to the time and things I wanted to do or see. And, Gondola ride in Venice was not on my list. I had my reasons. They are insanely expensive. Gondola ride in a jam packed canal is not charming at all. They look more prettier from afar. And, I swear there are tons of other better things you can do by saving your money on a Gondola ride.

I roamed around the different districts in Venice. I took a walking tour which was interesting and fun. I ate and drank in those hole in the wall cafes, which were much better than the ones in the main squares. I hopped on a boat and went to Burano for a quiet afternoon. I had a tons of gelatos. I got drenched in the rain later in the evening while exploring the San Marco square. I just got lost in the city. So, I did whatever I wanted to do and I don’t regret at all.

You need months, or maybe years to explore Italy. A day in any Italian city is like a fleeting moment. Just like a beautiful landscape you see for few minutes when you drive by. My first visit was like that. Like I was just stopping by to say hello and make an acquaintance.

I believe I will get plenty of time in the future to brew a love affair with Italy- until then I am happy with my hello!

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Venetian diary – I

One can either get down directly at the St. Lucia station, in Venice. Or you can get down in Mestre, the suburb of Venice and then take a bus, train, water boat, or the tram . In my case, instead of directly going to Venice, I decided to reach its suburb ‘Mestre’ first and then take a tram ride to Venice. Just the way most of the locals do. I love tram rides. They are pure old school charm. They are unbelievably cheap. And, they slowly chug their way across the city, giving you the perfect opportunity to see all the prettiest things a place has to offer.

When the tram moves ahead leaving the suburb, one can see the vast Adriatic sea on your right. This last stretch of the ride is long with hardly any stations in between. You won’t see any other person or vehicle outside the tram. Just the sea and fleets of ships and cruises coming in or going out. Just when I thought this ride could take a while and I should settle down, I saw the stretched out land floating in the sea from where the Venetian lagoon starts. When I reached the final tram stop- Venezia- Piazzale Roma, it was 8.15am.

Only when I stepped out of the tram, I hit me that I was in Venice. The city on water. The city of art and beauty. The city labelled as one of the most romantic cities on earth. As I walked towards the heart of my city, I saw people cleaning the streets. Vegetable vendors setting up their stalls in the market. Owners decorating their fancy Gondolas. I saw locals starting their day with a glass of wine. Previous day tourists slowly making their way to the station. What I loved the most was the smell of freshly brewed coffee that was coming from every possible direction.

I think, there’s no better time to arrive in a new city than early in the morning or late at night. You get to see the non-touristy side of a place. Without the fancy layers. Without the makeup. Without all the daily pretentiousness.

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A new low in Indian Democracy!

The territorial dispute between India and Pakistan over the region of Kashmir started with the partition of 1947. Kashmir, at that time, was predominantly a Muslim state and was ruled by a Hindu Maharaja Hari Singh. After partition, the princely state was left to decide on its own whether to join India or Pakistan. The Maharaja hated the Congress, so he couldn’t think of joining India. But, joining Pakistan meant that the fate of his Hindu dynasty will die eventually. With vast majority of the Kashmiris having no strong affiliation to either India or Pakistan, Maharaja clung to the idea of Kashmir’s total independence. His dream was to make it the ‘Switzerland of the East’- a completely neutral state.

However, the situation turned hostile soon after when the Pathans raided the valley. Many accounts say that the attack was initiated by Pakistan, but it is still disputed. Maharaja Hari Singh then turned to India for help to push back the tribal invaders. Lord Mountbatten, however, suggested that it would be ideal to secure the Maharaja’s accession to India before sending off their troops to defend the valley. Under such circumstances, on the 26th of October 1947, the Maharaja executed the Instrument of Accession. The objective was to join India but with their own terms and conditions as laid out in the Accession.

Article 370 is the basis of Jammu and Kashmir’s accession to the India, which came into effect in 1949. It allows the India-administered Kashmir to make its own laws in all matters except defence, external affairs, and communication. It denies non-residents the property rights in the region. It exempts Jammu and Kashmir state from the Indian constitution and establishes a separate constitution and a separate flag. In simple terms, the residents of the state live under different laws from the rest of the country.

In 1954, through a presidential order, Article 35A- the Permanent Residents Law was introduced as an extension to the old provisions under Article 370. By this, the local legislatures in the India-administered Kashmir can define permanent residents of the region. It forbids outsiders from permanently settling, investing in properties, holding government jobs or getting scholarships in the region. The provision also bars women residents of Jammu and Kashmir from property rights in case they marry a non-resident of the state.

Indian government claims that the Instrument of Accession indicated Jammu and Kashmir’s desire to be part of India. While Pakistan claims the instrument as fraudulent and do not accept the accession of Kashmir to India. This resulted in the first Kashmir war in 1947-48, between India and Pakistan over Jammu and Kashmir, after which the United Nations imposed a ceasefire on the 1st of January, 1949 with both nations agreeing that a referendum would be held in the matter of its accession. But, that referendum was never held, and the territory of the state was divided along the cease-fire line, with India getting the southeast part and Pakistan getting the northwest part of the state. One could only hope that it was the end of Kashmir controversy. However, as it turned out, it was the first of many to follow.

In 1965, Following Pakistan’s ‘Operation Gibraltar’ which was designed to infiltrate forces into Jammu and Kashmir to spark off an insurgency against the Indian rule, both the nations broke into war again, which is better known as the Indo-Pak war of 1965.

Then came the war of 1971 also known as the ‘Bangladesh Liberation War’, which started with India as an ally of Bangladesh but ended as an war between India and Pakistan. The result of which was the Shimla Agreement. To restore and normalize relations between the two countries, it was agreed that “in Jammu and Kashmir, the line of control resulting from the ceasefire, shall be respected and recognised by both the nations. Neither side shall seek to alter it unilaterally, irrespective of mutual differences and legal interpretations. Both sides further undertake to refrain from the threat or the use of force in violation of this line”.

Again in 1999 Kargil war was fought to flush out the infiltration of Pakistani soldiers disguised as Kashmiri militants into position on the Indian side of Kashmir. Thus, it is quite evident that Kashmir has always been a matter of controversy between India and Pakistan with both claiming the region fully as theirs, but owning only partially.

The revocation of Article 370 and Article 35A, which gave Kashmir the special status as an autonomous state for 70 years, is a long made promise fulfilled by BJP by shunning the ideas of democracy, cooperative federalism, and individual liberty, that our constitution upholds. The government used its rigid legislative authority to demote the status of Jammu and Kashmir from a state to Union territories, without so much as a room for consultation with the people of the state or their representatives. Thousands of Indian troops were deployed to Kashmir, schools and colleges of the area were shut down, local and democratic leaders were detained or put under house arrest, tourists were ordered to leave, a major Hindu pilgrimage was cancelled, free movement of the people in the region was stopped, and communication was suspended.

In the name of correcting a ‘historic blunder’, the government tossed aside the terms and conditions laid down in the Instrument of Accession. The move will change Jammu and Kashmir’s administrative status from a state to a union territory. The remote area of Ladakh will be separated from Kashmir and turned into a stand alone Union territory. Jammu & Kashmir, will no longer have a separate flag and a separate constitution. All Indian laws will be automatically applicable to Jammu & Kashmir. Non residents now can buy property there, join government jobs and avail educational scholarships.

The culture, demographic and history of Kashmir has always been different from that of other parts of India. Since, the start of the insurgency in India-administered Kashmir, government has had a patchy relationship with Kashmir and they have struggled to fully understand the needs and sentiments of the Kashmiris. The youths of Kashmir have always harboured a sense of alienation from the rest of the India, which will only deepen further now. By allowing non residents to settle down in Kashmir will incorrigibly tarnish the demographic status of the region, saving which was the basic agenda of Article 370 in the first place.

This is not the first time the Modi government had made a stealthy decision and forced the nation to deal with the devastating consequences. The wounds from demonitisation is still fresh. The special status of Jammu and Kashmir was never meant to be permanent, but to scrap it hastily without the concurrence of it’s people raise nothing but suspicion and distrust. In the name of national integration, it looks like a planned, well thought out step to attain complete safforanisation.

Written on 7th of August, 2019.