Finally I got my hands on Da Vinci Code. Popularity of this book has become some kind of myth in recent times. Undoubtedly it has become a worldwide best seller. After it was recommended to me by a friend, most days I see some mention in newspaper or people reading it in trains. In my circle of acquaintances, only new films, TV shows and music gets discussed and never a book – this may be the rare one. How many times have you discussed a new book release, checked reviews and tried to read it hot-from-the-oven not like after 50 years from the time of publishing? I watched a TV documentary called “Real Da Vinci Code” which visited all the sites mentioned in the book and ended up refuting many of the claims made in the book. I walk by a 175 year old Mary Magdalene church every morning and have visited Rome, Vatican, Paris, Lovre and London in recent times – that must be all the reasons to read this book.

I did contemplate buying it, but somehow decided against it, tried borrowing from friends and borrowing from library. Library had very few copies and they said another ten or so copies have been ordered, so finally placed a reservation and got it.

Against my best judgment, I described the quest for the book in so much detail to start with saying this – it didn’t live up to my expectations. In the same breath, I have to say that it was an interesting read, a very light one at that. I imagined it would be one of the best narratives to catch attention of so many people, but it was rather like a delicious sounding dish gone sour at places.

This one would definitely make you wonder why it has attracted so many people. Story plays the main role, it is something like you got a meaty idea for a story and then you invent some characters – professor to explain the concept, students to get suitably impressed hearing the hackneyed stories about PHI and produce adequate oohs and aahs etc. Narrative will have to compete hard against children’s books and still might find it hard to win. It is just a regular “thriller”.

Some of the ideas seemed preposterous to me. About the V formed by two people indicating sacred feminine, reverse V indicating male and the whole structure saying M and hence indicating Mary Magdalene etc. I think this is the problem of anything which is not scientific – anything can be proposed and there is no way somebody can prove or disprove. It is like somebody trying to find sexual connotations of 90’s America by analysing Friends TV series.

As to the question of faith and whether it catches somebody totally off-guard and makes them think whether all through their life they might have been founding their faith on a lie etc, somehow I am not able find the shock element in that. Probably because marriage, bloodline, goddesses are not new concepts when it comes to my religion. We have all imaginable combinations of mortal lives reflecting on to fables of gods and goddesses. I have read somewhere that Sita/Ram story is based on a real king who was loved by his subjects (not sure whether it is with supporting evidence). It is a very tricky thing to start discussing faith, but I think belief in god need not be tied down to certain symbols abolishing of which crumples everything you ever believed in.
Somehow I could pluck myself away from the imaginary clutches busy work and went on a trip to Italy and Switzerland. We rummaged through Rome, Pisa, Florence, Venice, Interlaken and Geneva in 6 days. Except for rather tired legs, it was smoothest trip irrespective of so much travel through trains, buses, flights and even boats. It couldn't have been smoother if not for Google and internet - booking hotels, finding places to see, buying even intercity train tickets and planning the whole trip without leaving home even once. We have truly come of age in our use of Internet.

Rome was another version of London and Paris with its share of monuments, art, museums, palaces and cathedrals. We went to Vatican first, stood in 2 km queue for security check, had our fill of Michelangelo and all others - they have painted, sculpted, sewn so much that after Sistine chapel everything starts to look the same. I don't have a very keen eye for art, but basically it looked grand. One thing I realized is I have my own fictional images of places stored away which I haven’t seen but just heard or read about. For example, in my mind's catalogue, I have pictures of Goa stored, whenever I command "Goa", it brings a view of beach with a bamboo hut by the side (probably from dil chahta hai), long clean beach, some coconut trees, laid back, happy people etc. The actual picture might be nothing like it. The trips like this just helps in replacing those fictional catalogues with something real. Now I have the picture of Rome as a place with some history, art, crowded metro/buses, and not so much complicated people.

We went to Colossuem, Pantheon, admired some of the grand piazzas and walked through the streets just enough to get the fill of it city. Somehow it has gotten into my head that just the monuments is not enough to credibly say that I have been to some place – need to get out into the place and see for real what it is at the present age than to get some wrong idea by looking at monuments built in 1500. I have spent 21 years of my life in Trivandrum, I have never been to Kovalam Beach which is a huge tourist attraction or Padmanabhaswamy temple which is grander than many foreign attractions I have seen – universal fact maybe. But I can vividly remember almost every small and large street in Trivandrum inch by inch and that is real.

From Rome, we traveled by train to Pisa. Got a glimpse of vast country sides. Pisa was nice, small, less crowded, regular Italian town. We got a hotel room almost the size of our apartment, bit old, but nice and cozy. Only thing to do was to go to the leaning tower, inspect from all possible angles, tried to push it straight and clicked photos from all sides. It was 20 minutes walk from the hotel through the labyrinth of narrow streets. It was a rainy Sunday and rain clouds were a constant threat, giving us a wet, dim lighted, almost deserted town. I think places looks distinctly different on a crowded Saturday afternoon and a deserted, drowsy Sunday night.

It is surprising how nice people are whom we see for a fleeting moment on the road. In fact some of them went out of their ways to help us with directions, walk us to hotels, making sure that we catch right trains and patiently sparing a moment from their busy lives to click a photo and say sweetly to “Come closer and Smile”. Everyone can be good nice people they are for a moment or two - it is only when confronted with situations with little choice to act in certain ways, they become nasty.

Florence was another variation, buildings with various shades of brown and old, magnificent cathedrals. It snowed a little when we got out of station after breakfast in McDonald’s (omnipresent fallback option). Churches in Florence had some different quality, something which I couldn’t place exactly – something more natural. Quite a lot of Chinese guys were there - in fact they are everywhere. Indian’s penetration in European countries might be just limited to London. In US, every "standard" long weekend spots will be filled with desis. I think I saw less than 10 guys in 6 days which is quite unusual. At the same time, Chinese are everywhere. In the lighter side, I was thinking that it is the most populated country in the world, so it is only natural that they are seen everywhere. I am quite impressed with their photography skills (proof of common sense?) and their interest and proficiency in using gadgets. Something made me realize that I have good amount of prejudice when it comes to Chinese guys - I can't tell between Chinese, Japanese, Korean people so all are Chinese to me. We know all about American dream, rap/pop/jazz/hip-hop, NBA/NFL, Prince Charles/Camilla, inside stories of British monarchy and Premiership Football. It is amazing how much general knowledge we gather about American/British, but very less about oriental other than those martial art films and that everything you buy from Wal-Mart is made in China.

Off to Venice on the fourth day. It had started snowing heavily on the way, but next day was more or less clear. Initially I thought in one day I may not be able to get a feel of Venice and we made a mistake of staying only a day in Venice. But in one day, you can really see enough of a place and may be that way we can leave with that good feeling before starting to find faults. Venice was vastly different from anything I have seen so far - kind of a "waterworld" feeling. Apart from Alappuzha in kerala, I have never heard about boats as the means of public transport. It must be horrible to live in a place without real trees and raw land to freely walk around. Nevertheless, for a day we had most boat rides as we had in our entire lives in a place resembling Hollywood movie sets. it was a wonderful romantic day, we walked through almost all of Venice, got really lost in the maze of streets even with a street map, had margherita for lunch in a sweet little pizzeria, enjoyed the hospitality of one of the friendliest of hotels we have stayed in and walked till we couldn't walk anymore.

Next destination was Switzerland and Interlaken. It was overnight journey by eurostar train. It was comfortable and we had a pleasant italian-swiss lady for company who was trying to speak English. By morning we reached Brig and started the most beautiful real life tour I have ever taken in my life so far. Using only two ingredients - whitest snow and endless mountains, nature seems to have created an amazing display. It is any day better than anything man made. Even the journey from brig to Interlaken was so beautiful that by the time we reached Interlaken our eyes got accustomed to the black and white display. Locked our bag in the luggage locker at the station and started on yet another dream like journey to top of Europe – Junfraujoch. It was a clear day and two hour journey to the top and back was unforgettable. White, untouched, pure snow almost flowing like a vast river between endless mountains – idea about what paradise might look like might have come from there. Last piece of surprise was extremely courteous hosts in Interlaken. Hotel owner had been to Trivandrum!
Back to Geneva which was boring after all this, but still paid a visit to UN and followed one trail into the city. A smooth flight back and when we reached Croydon it was snowing as if to complete the pieces of a riddle.

നോൺ ഫിക്ഷൻ

"Chinua Achebe - Man of the People. ഫിക്ഷനോ നോൺ ഫിക്ഷനോ?" "ഫിക്ഷൻ" "നോൺ ഫിക്ഷൻ നിർത്തിയോ?" "ഇല്ല...