Wednesday, February 20, 2008


Many years ago when I was a teenager, someone looked into my palm and said,
“Hey, you’ve got some fantastic travel lines. You’re going to be a globe-trotter some day.”
At that point in time, Travel was so impossible that I laughed it off and said,
“Perhaps I shall be another Jules Verne, an arm chair traveler who voyaged sixty thousand miles under the sea, or journeyed to the centre of the earth, or like his hero Phileas Fogg, circumnavigated the earth in eighty days, in a race against Time.”
“I’m dead serious,” he said, “You mark my words. One day you’ll know I predicted correctly.”
If the lines in my hand could predict my future, then I should have reached the stars by now. It’s just that travelling has become so easy these days, that even Verne could not have envisaged a day when it would be possible to have breakfast in India, lunch at Amsterdam, and dinner in New York.
And yet, it is not that kind of travel that excites me – not the overexposed tourist destinations touted by travel agents. Cities all over the globe have begun to have an uncanny resemblance to each other. It is the towns or villages less frequented, different cultures and life styles, stories of unusual people especially women, who have left their “footprints on the sands of Time, that truly fascinate.” These are the things that enrich minds and broaden horizons.
Travel can be both educative and enlivening. It makes us more tolerant of the values, laws and practices of other societies, and more adaptable to unfamiliar situations. Curiosity, a keen sense of observation, an enquiring mind, and like-minded companions
make travelling enjoyable.
Summer is always the best time to travel through Europe. The race to exploit every sunlit moment creates an incredible frenzy of activity. Colourful costumes against sun-burnt skins provide a gorgeous visual spectacle. As we motored through Picardy in France, we kept away from the bustling cities and drove through shady winding roads and cobbled streets, with quaint half-timbered houses dotting the landscape. We soon arrived at an old Gallo-Roman town called Beauvais. The park in the centre of town was crowded with children playing on swings, or hurtling down chutes or whirling around carousels.
But what caught our attention was the bronze statue of a beautiful young girl towering over the park. Her features were exquisite, her hair cascaded down to her shoulders, and the pleats of her flowing gown swirled daintily around her feet. And yet, she wielded an axe, as though ready to strike.
“Who is she?” we asked a gangling youth slouched against a tree.
“Who knows and who cares?” he said, puffing on his cigarette. “The statue is probably purely decorative.”
An old man resting on a bench hailed us.
“The youth of today have no pride in their history. She is the heroine of Beauvais, and if you had come a week earlier, you could have witnessed the annual ceremony held here, on the “Rue du 27 Juin” to commemorate her bravery. It is held in June.”
“Tell us more,” I said.
The man was eager to fill us in with details. Beauvais was under the Romans from 4th to 10th century. It was a fortified town with ramparts 10 metres high. But in the 11th century, the Roman Catholic Church assumed both military and civilian office, and the people were very happy and contented. The town was famous for its textiles and tapestry industries, which provided employment for many poor women. Among them was a young wool spinner called Jeanne Laisne.
In 1472, Charles le Temeraire the Duke of Burgundy besieged the town with an army of 80,000 soldiers. Jeanne, supported by a few women, threatened the Standard bearer with her axe, and wrested the flag from his hands. This act of courage inspired citizens to take up cudgels against the Duke’s army, forcing him to withdraw his troops. For her bravery, the girl was re-christened Jeanne Hachette (Jeanne of the Axe.)
Such extraordinary women live in many parts of the world. Many are unsung and unhonoured. But they are worth their weight in gold.
“Happy is he who dares courageously to defend what he loves,” says Ovid.
We may not be called to defend ourselves on a battle field. But life itself is an arena of challenges, be it in the home or in society. Do we love ourselves enough to stand up to forces that attempt to rob us of our dignity? Or do we react passively, and turn the other cheek?
Courage has no sex. “You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face,” says Eleanor Roosevelt.
Empowerment must come from within; from confidence in our self worth and self esteem. We need to shed our sense of inertia, overhaul our attitudes, and take up our hatchets against forces that seek to demean and devalue womanhood.
Let it be now!

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