The Drifters: Brotherhood ballads.
Journeying through Tunisia, Africa's northern-most country, this musician discovers a harmonious island that puts warring super powers to shame. KRISHNARAJ IYENGAR
From the Gaeltachts of the Irish hinterland to riding with a Berber chieftain in the Tunisian Sahara, ship-gazing in Izmir to Gypsy jiving in a Slav country--international music performer, composer, linguist, writer and poet, Iyengar has done it all... "Aha! Aha!" he growled in self-accompaniment, holding a packet of henna decorated with a traditionally-draped Kareena Kapoor in his hand. The sand beneath rose as if in passionate ode to the thumping of his feet, the loose end of his turban whirled in perfect legato, his hands raised in near-to mystical ecstasy. In the middle of 360 degrees of, literally, nothingness, it was like rewinding to the beginning of time to witness the revelry of the first man before he ate the apple! In the heart of the Tunisian Sahara, where sky and earth kiss into a never-ending horizon, this was the rugged Berber's version of an Indian Bhangra he had witnessed in a Bollywood block-buster!
At his tiny desert hut-shop that resembled a mole on a muddy-hued maiden's cheek from a passing helicopter, 'Malek-e-Sahra' (King of the Desert) as he called himself, created dazzle from dust--every spec of sun-baked earth that spread like a pancake carved along the earth's circumference seemed to come alive with boisterous wedding tunes and folk ballads he later unfolded!
Driving from the forbidding Sahara to the pristine blue Mediterranean, I arrived at Jerba, Tunisia's south-eastern jewel, otherwise known as 'The Island of Tolerance'. Greeting me in rustic Arabic and suave French was Sidi El Adel, my local host and friend (Tunisia is an Arab country and former French colony), and in just a few moments I realised I was at the most unique place on the planet!
Then, after his evening prayers, the most shocking words from the mouth of this devout Arab Muslim fell on my ears... "Come on Krishna, now we shall dine in a Jewish restaurant"! Dinner in a Jewish restaurant plunk in the heart of the Arab World right during times of raging war between the very two communities!
Chef Yonah at his traditional Jewish restaurant, with a Star of David and blue Hebrew inscriptions, served the most irresistible Kosher-Arabic-Jewish delicacies. "It's all normal here brother" he said in-matter-of-fact Tunisian Arabic, when asked about the unpolitisised brotherhood between Jews and Arabs. "We have lived in legendary brotherhood for over a thousand years. No matter what happens outside, we are unaffected and will always live like Tunisians-Jews, Muslims and Christians," added Sidi.
The ancient El Ghriba Synagogue nearby, is a place of pilgrimage for Jews all over the world--a market place where both communities ran businesses together, and a sleepy neighbourhood where their children played with toys, the elders, card games! Tunisians are truly some of the world's friendliest folk! As I sip the mint tea Yonah taught me to make, I find the universe contained in a tiny tea glass--the Sahara, the Mediterranean, the flirty lady cops and a tiny island that is an answer to superpowers raging in mindless conflict!
Keep your passport, bottles of water and health insurance always handy. Take photos of locals only after asking.
Travelling through the desert can be gruelling, especially in summer. Use an AC vehicle.
Colourful markets, local wines and cuisine--Do bargain while shopping.
Reproduced From India Today Travel Plus. Copyright 2014. LMIL. All rights reserved.
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