Archive for April 2012
Boast not thyself of tomorrow for thou
Knowest not what a day may bring forth
Yesterday I visited the English cemetery in the Asian neighbourhood of Haydaypaşa. It required a bit of hunting and perseverance (which seems to be a prerequisite to enter any non-Turkish cemetery in the city). I was eventually helped out by one of the men at a restaurant at the Haydarpaşa station, who led us across the train tracks (which had signs along the lines of ‘Demiryolunun hatlarını geçmek tehlikeli ve yasaktır’ — crossing the railway tracks is dangerous and forbidden. It is always dangerous AND forbidden to do certain things here), up a small hill and helped get the cemetery open.
The Haydarpaşa English cemetery was initially used as a cemetery for the soldiers who died in the Crimean War. The Selimiye Barracks, which are nearby, were where Florence Nightingale famously treated and cared for the Crimean war wounded. It is also where a large number of the British community of Istanbul and Smyrna (now Izmir) are buried. After the First World War, a large number of British Prisoners of War who had been captured on the Turkish front were also buried here.
It was mostly for the last reason that I visited. I have been interested in trying to find out more about Indian soldiers who found themselves fighting on the Mesopotamian front. Mesopotamia saw the largest influx of Indian soldiers. Over the course of the many campaigns, close to 675,000 Indian fighting troops as well as hundreds of thousands of auxiliary troops were involved in Mesopotamia. When General Townshend’s troops surrendered in April 1916, the POWs were marched all the way from Mesopotamia to POW camps in Turkey. Most of those who survived probably ended up at the POW camps in Afyonkarahissar (the name ‘black poppy castle’ always makes me chuckle). Apparently, there are still some memorial stones in that region of Anatolia, but most of the Indian POWs are remembered here in Istanbul.
A piece I wrote about the Ottoman Bank Museum was published recently. Go here to read it
I probably have the best commute to work in the world. It involves taking a ferry, and crossing continents.
One of the first times I visited Istanbul, I stayed on the Asian side in Kadıköy and crossing the Bosphorous was probably the best part of my day. I knew that if I moved to the Asian side, the ferry rides to and from work would be lovely, but was still worried about the length of the commute. I really should thank E. for convincing me otherwise (“I told you so!”, she said the other day, when I said how much I love my daily ferry rides). From Üsküdar, the European shore is very close. Somewhere between eight to twelve minutes. That is actually a boon in a city where the traffic seems to get exponentially worse by the day. As they say, in Istanbul ALWAYS take the ferry.
Of course, it’s not the ease of the commute (or not just) but the beauty of it that is so wonderful. When I was not staying near the Bosphorous, the very sight of it would make me squeal with glee. I now see it every single day and my joy at the sight of the water does not seem to have diminished. One of the wonders of taking the ferry every single day (or even just seeing the Bosphorous from my house) is the realisation of just how beautiful it always is. It is not the same everyday, of course, but it is like staring at a beautiful picture postcard every single time. Mükemmel.
Last week, I decided I should take my camera with me on my daily commute. I carried my tiny point-and-shoot and rather than take photos of the shoreline, I ended up with a memory card full of photos of my fellow commuters. I think they all enjoy their commute as much as I do. There is a certain sakin-ness that permeates each Bosphorous boat ride, everyone disconnecting from the world slightly. Taking those ten minutes to stare out at the strait and the sea and enjoy the view, even if it is in-between phone calls, text messages and conversations.