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Islamic Vodka

by Matteo Tomasina

Translation by Rossella Sala – Italian version here

1I spend my first night in India at Hyderabad airport, waiting for the sun to rise, wondering if I should keep waiting for Barghav (my AIESEC contact in India) to come pick me up or just reach the city on my own. I’m already 
starting to realize that AIESEC activities in India don’t always work out the way they should.

However, my enthusiasm is stronger than any obstacle. My flight departed from Milan and had just one stopover in Doha. Eleven hours is all it took to get to Hyderabad.

At the check in at Malpensa airport I struck up a conversation with an Italian guy from Varese, leaving for Thailand. From Thailand he was planning to visit Malaysia, then go to Australia for which he had a work permit. He looked confident and conveyed a sense of optimism.

His starting a conversation out of nothing, just because we were queuing together, betrayed an attitude you wouldn’t quite expect from a Lombard. Maybe he influenced by the spontaneity of South Americans during his six month stay in Brazil, working in hostels every now and then. Or maybe that’s just how he is.

His job allows him to work six months a year (he’s the manager of a beach resort), earn a good living and travel the rest of the time. All in all, it would be more expensive for him to stay in Italy all the time. He was planning to go to Australia, though he said it’s not quite easy to find a stable job there. In any case he could still work for a year, save some money or at least make a living and pay for his flight back home. At worst he’ll have a good story to tell. He explained that you can easily obtain an Australian working visa, but -as they already told me- it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. This means everyone only has one chance to become Australian. After going back to Italy, he said he would think of some new plan or just carry on with his itinerant lifestyle.

He’s just another guy trying to live a life of travel, and not even the most radical one. We’re heading towards a post-modern version of nomadism.

On my flight I also met Philippe, a French gentleman, one of many Europeans in love with India. It was his second trip there, he had2 already visited the South and was planning to stay in the North for more than a month. He showed me the long itinerary on his Routard guide, full of places I had never heard of, while I let him look through some pictures of Hyderabad from my Lonely Planet. He had been there before and showed me some photos on his digital camera -images of the famous Charminar, of course, but also of Holi, the festival of colours that takes place in April when people traditionally throw red, blue and yellow paint at each other. He carried on with the slideshow and made me look through hundreds of pictures taken in Mumbai, Tamil Nadu, Goa and Kerala. The former colony’s Portuguese architecture and English style buildings, as well as the countless Hindu temples and goddesses, passed before my eyes. Those still in use are extremely colorful, those long abandoned are ruined yet immortal stone monuments. He displayed pictures of giant fortresses, one of which looked almost like the Great Wall of China outlined against the landscape as far as the eye could see. Despite Indians’ peaceful reputation, its subcontinent’s military architecture boasts a number of majestic buildings.

Philippe is a window cleaner. I decided to ask him why he was so attracted by India. “I like the people there”, he replied with a mix of Italian, English and French we were speaking, “We’re all on our own in Europe, in India there’s more humanity, warmth, contact, kindness. It’s a fact that people are different there. You never feel lonely in India”.
The Qatar Airlines plane flew with indifference over the Balkans, Turkey and Syria fighting each other, and Iraq to head towards Doha, our stopover destination. An Arab airline can be easily recognized as such by many features. Not mainly by the hostesses, who wear Western clothes, but rather by the note on the menu pointing out that all meat is halal, or by the monitors in front of every seat broadcasting commercials of some Muslim organization that promotes religious values and helps the faithful worldwide. You can choose your favourite meal, they even have a vegetarian or “hindi” option. What impressed me the most, they periodically show directions to Mecca (South-West, during entire flight) on a big screen in the middle of the corridor. No one seemed surprised by that.

The moment to deal with contradictions arrived together with the bar cart, and the two bottles of Smirnoff and whiskey towering over the other products on sale. Perhaps the airline aims at offering the widest possible range of services to both Western and Arab clients, rather than observing religious principles. I took advantage of the opportunity and indulged in a complimentary glass of one of my favourite classics. I also switched the channel, and instead of a program on Muslim festivals I selected Annie Hall by Woody Allen -a movie I had promised myself to watch sooner or later- from the TV film list.

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