Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Golden Road to Samarkand

Two years ago, I wrote a post on one of my blogs which never really took off. It was about a poem. I was reading the poem again yesterday, and thought I'd repost what I had written here...

I was watching "Rumpole". And Rumpole, being Rumpole, was quoting poetry as usual. He quoted something that brought back a deluge of memories. He spoke about the golden road to Samarkand. I felt that somehow the floodgates of forgotten memories had been opened. I felt shaken, and almost cried, for right in the middle of the strange crises of adulthood, he had called to my mind one of the most vivid dreams of my childhood. He had reminded me of a longing I had felt since my childhood, of taking the golden road, and of entering the gates of Samarkand.

It was somewhere between the ages of 7 and 9 when I first heard my father mention "The golden road to Samarkand". It was a phrase, quite out of its original context. I never thought it belonged in a poem. I thought it was one of those odd sentences, heard in one's childhood that happily haunts one's memories even years later. Those words caught my childish fancy. I did not know where Samarkand was. But by the name I imagined it to belong in the Arabian nights. The second I heard of it was when I was about 11 years old. I was reading the history of the Mughals, a daunting, but exciting volume in my father's small library. I read the story of Emperor Babar as a child longing to enter the golden gates of Samarkand. I imagined it to be a bustling city full of busy bazaars, with peculiar looking street vendors selling their exotic wares - spices, incense and delightfully odd unnamed concoctions. There was the old-world charm of the Arabian nights, the wise old men puffing off at their hookahs, the birds, the animals, the smoke, and the earthy, musky fragrances of the people and the land. This Samarkand existed nowhere but in my imagination. Yet, I could see, smell and taste all its wonders. As a child and perhaps even now, my Samarkand seems so exquisitely tangible; I could almost reach out and touch its arcane secrets and unknown treasures.

But equally fascinating to me was the road - the golden road to Samarkand. I always was a loner at heart, never needing anyone else, never wanting anyone else to enter that world of my own, the sacrosanct land of childish fantasies, from where the world of grown ups seems so dull. It was the same with this journey. I wanted to travel to Samarkand alone, discover its riches and wonders alone, so that in some strange way it would belong only to me. I think I had subconsciously even resolved to travel there when I was old enough. I think I imagined myself to be a sort of Dick Whittington. I think I still do. The road and the journey seemed to promise exhilarating thrills and exciting experiences. I still want to take the road and relive the happiest years of my life - my childhood, when under the protective eyes of my parents I built that fantasy land where I go even today when the burdensome worries of my adulthood grow too heavy for me to bear.

I think as an adult, the road seems more a metaphor. I have attempted a few short forays onto the road, but always returned to the calling of responsibility and maturity. But one of these days, I'll bundle up my belongings, and set off down the golden road for good; the child in me singing and hopeful. I will reach my Samarkand one day. And it will be as beautiful, as exciting and as wonderful as I have always known it will be.

We travel not for trafficking alone;
By hotter winds our fiery hearts are fanned:
For lust of knowing what should not be known
We take the Golden Road to Samarkand.

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