On the cold steps of the Venezia Santa Lucia Station, like a vagabond in Tee and faded blue jeans, buffeted by a light wind;

A tincture of salted water, kissing a worn-out face, travel-weary, sits the Indian tourist, goggles tilted on grizzled head, legs stretched, absorbing the summer sun; backpack and a water-bottle beside; eyes taking in the passionate Venice, in their sweep.

The lazy scene unfolds; indolence in the air; two lovers lip-locked and twined few inches away, indifferent to the crowds surging around, excited by the bits of the city around; love — in the air.

Venice is all about finding true love and expressing its joys publicly. Then, there are other cities where such liberty is banned. Why is love scorned in South-Asian towns?

The gondolas bobbing up and down; ornate red balls on the cobalt water of the old canal, coursing its way in ancient alleys, in a complex of waterways well-trod;

Ethnicities fuse into a single identity; a traveller bitten by the eternal wanderlust, in this land of Marco Polo and others, searching for a bit of grandeur within and without, for history in neglected nooks and dim corners;

Venice — seductive and voluptuous! Rising up stolid from the Grand Canal, exhibiting Byzantine-Gothic-Renaissance and Baroque styles all lined up as a colourful cultural mosaic;

A man feeds fat pigeons on crumbs held on a thick paw of a veined hand; a pigeon — grey and brash — picks up the crumbs and pirouettes near him, a bold ballerina on her toes on a wide dance-floor, flood-lit;

Opposite is the Baroque church, solid and soaring into an emerald sky; feathered friends from the blue vault not afraid of human hands, perching down on the spires and the asphalt; spiritual and homely intermix in the iconic landscape; the everyday appears sublime;

 In Delhi, the birds fly off into the smog, unsettled by the blaring horns, and, distrustful of human hands trying to reach out to them in their tiny perches on the window-sills. Pigeons and sparrows are very scared there. Venice is different! The trusting birds describe a cityscape better than the glossy brochures with loud sales pitch! Here they easily land up on the arms and shoulders of tourists eager to feed them and for a picture with the eating birds — the bird-folks!

Emerald water, birds, churches, old buildings, multi-national, multi-hued space.

Venice is altogether an inimitable geography! Among crumbling walls and side streets, you can discern messages scrawled neatly, years pencilled with diligence; lovelorn hearts in modes of remembrance, or confirming bonds deep and eternal; red roses knotted as symbols on the peeling and yellow walls, witnesses to passing centuries, or empires new and extinct. The secular and religious collide in squares; so does past with the monochromatic present on the circular corridors echoing with the footfalls, or steps going up into the innards of the royal seat or cold museums opening up vistas on the world-views, now lost.

Cuisines; fine dining; music and theatre and street-performers; old masters locked — all combine in a short journey transacted fast.

And, see, Tiresias, that old Serbian woman begging for alms near the Church-entry, her body bent, a mug held in an arm stretched; largely ignored; the wide-eyed Japanese and the Chinese tourists, lectured by the guides about an exotic place-history; herded again in long lines and some younger ones, taking selfies against the imposing relics as later reminders; a common sight in tourist-spots everywhere;

Go back the migrants! Posters proclaim angrily.
Well, well … it is not new! Thinks the traveller from the East.
Simultaneously we open and shut the city gates.

Tourists, everywhere! An old lady mutters; she is elegant and carries a dog on a crowded water-bus full of the excited Americans. She feels swamped in the rush of bodies obese, this tiny, bejewelled, silver-haired lady, with a yelping dog.

The streets are getting noisy and you have to be careful, while walking. The blacks and the Bangladeshis are selling trinkets; bazaars and plazas milling with the tourists.

Venice — a busy town with shops lined everywhere! Beckoning the consumers … like every global city of interest. A gleaming superstore!

They are selling Leonardo da Vinci in cheap prints from the bustling kiosks in the side-streets, but hardly anybody stops!

… In the room women come and go/ Talking of Michelangelo.

And, I suddenly spot Petrarch standing forlorn on the Rialto Bridge in the evening rain that has driven everybody indoors, eyes pensive, unmindful of the cold summer rain or his solitude in a bustling place; an old man watching the lights and the ferries; a mere shadow of his early robust figure … alone on that bridge, unrecognised.

His melancholy, infectious!

Let us move on, dear. It is dinner time! We have to catch a plane.

Venice, where dreams float on the waterfront, like lilies in a Japanese pond.
Achingly pretty, tender and short-lived!

Venice floating — a live Dali canvas!
So many worlds — within a single ecology.
A state between waking up and dreaming!
A region located between the accumulated centuries and this vivid instant.
Venice, an ode to human ingenuity!

Sunil Sharma

Sunil Sharma

Sunil Sharma is Principal at Bharat College (University of Mumbai) at Badlapur, Mumbai Metropolitan Region, India. He is a bilingual critic, poet, literary interviewer, editor, translator, essayist and fiction writer. His short stories and poems have appeared in journals such as Hudson View (South Africa), The Plebian Rag and Bicycle Review (USA), Creative Saplings, Brown Critique and Kritya (India), the Seva Bharati Journal of English Studies (West Bengal), Labyrinth (Gwalior) and Poets International (Bangalore). Some of his poems and short stories have been anthologized in national and international collections. He is also a freelance journalist and serves on the advisory boards of international literary and online journals.

An author with 18 published books: Six collections of poetry; two of short fiction; one novel; a critical study of the novel, and, eight joint anthologies on prose, poetry and criticism, he is a recipient of the UK-based Destiny Poets’ inaugural Poet of the Year award—2012. His poems were published in the prestigious UN project: Happiness: The Delight-Tree: An Anthology of Contemporary International Poetry, in the year 2015.

Sunil edits the English section of the monthly bilingual journal Setu published from Pittsburgh, USA