A TURKISH RENDEZEVOUS
Our next stop in Dec 1990 was Istanbul (Turkey) which is located half way though the Straight of Bosporus which is the only passage out of Black Sea to the Mediterranean Sea. It is a historical city once a citadel of European culture and literature with one of the most magnificent libraries in the world that time. It was know as Constantinople until it was overrun by the Arabs in the year 1498 (if my memory serves me right). The city was plundered and the huge library was burnt to the ground losing some of the precious antique books/works stored there. Since then it has been under the control of Turkish Sultans .
Thought the main religion is Islam, it is one of the most secular and liberal countries in the world. Thanks to some forward thinking policies of the founding father of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ata Turk, we can find still find remnants of European liberal culture here. He is like the Mahatma Gandhi of Turkey and revered universally. The script used by Turkish language is Roman and not Arabic. Hardly any ladies wear veils whereas most of them were comfortable dressed in casual European costumes. There is a strong pre eminence of European looks among the populace with a no. of blondes and persons with blue and green eyes. Turkey is the only country in the world and Istanbul only city in the world to be divided between two continents. A major portion of Turkey on the other side of Bosporus is in Europe and a small portion in Asian side. Both sides are connected by two huge suspension bridges. But the difference between European side and the Asian side is stark. The European side was all clean and neatly laid out and Asian side untidy and pathetic.
A couple of incidents in Istanbul are still fresh in my mind. We had gone to the bank for exchanging dollars into local currency , the Turkish Lira. Due to the rampant inflation, the exchange rate per dollar was in thousands of Liras. When the receipt for the exchange was printed out by the computer it showed some One million three thousand five hundred Liras for the 100 dollars we had paid. The girl at the cash counter counted notes of One million three thousand Liras and handed over to me. I was waiting expectantly for the balance 500 Liras. She did not understand why I was waiting. On being gently reminded her about the balance 500 Liras, she gave me a look of astonishment, took out a coin the size of 50 paise and tossed over to me which indeed was 500 Liras. I still did not understand the squirms she gave when handing over this coin. I realized later when we went around the city. The charge for making use of the Loo service was 500 Liras for one use. Then it stuck me why she was so smug about this 500 Liras. Practically it was like our 50 paise with little value due to the hyper inflation!
It was end December and many shops were displaying the shopping wares in their windows. Even the dressed Turkey (the bird, the roasted version of which is a New Year delicacy) was also displayed. But I was amazed to see the board next to it . It read in English ?Hindi?. I asked the Turkish L.O. whether there is any mistake. He said smilingly that the Turkey (the bird) is indeed called as ?Hindi? in the Turkish Language. To this date I am unable to unable this mystery of Turkey being called as Hindi. The local population, particularly older generation, always referred India as ?Hindoosthan? probably due to the historic links established centuries ago since the city lies on the trade route from Asia to Europe.
Author: giridhara mallya- India