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On Destinations and The Roads which Bind Us: Culture of the Crossroads

By Deepanshu Suyal

When I first read about the longest highway, NH44, the voice of my father came back to me. “Journey is more important and beautiful than the destination”. We all are on a journey of our own. Take some time out of this journey and sit back, cherish it. It will be more beautiful then. Don’t look at the destination and live the journey for once. We are different in language, different in culture, different in clothing, different in love. When we see someone, we just see differences first. But, it is easy to find differences. What if we choose to concentrate on the similarities this once? The ties which bind us, the roads which bridge the gaps between us: the culture of the crossroads.

Illustrated by @sbstratos79

“Hukus bukus (tse Kus Be kus) teli wan cze kus,

Onum batuk lodum deegi,

Shwas khich khich waamano,

Braman zaaran pooien chokum,

Tykes tekkah bani kyoho.”

A popular Kashmiri nursery rhyme was being hummed by a girl of age five, while walking with her father towards her school, in her red school uniform and a large woolen cap. She gripped her father’s hand tightly when they passed the army cantonment area. She stopped humming as they crossed a few army men. One of the army men looked at the girl and smiled. He was humming a Tamil rhyme to his phone, on the other side of which was his five-year-old daughter.

“Nila Nila odi vaa,

Nillamal odi vaa,

Malai mele eri vaa,

Malligai poo kondu vaa,

Pattam pola parandhu vaa,

Pambaram pol sutri vaa.”

The girl looked at him, smiled, and continued humming to herself. They crossed a milestone on the side of the road, the yellow part of which said: “NH-44”.

The first thing that comes to mind when we hear ‘National Highway’ is, “just a highway”, or “a simple road, nothing special”. We never think about roads, we never pay attention to them. We are so focused on the destination that we don’t really sit and enjoy the journey. My father used to tell me that the journey is more important and way more beautiful than the destination. Look at the signboards, the eateries, the roads, because there may be only one destination but multiple destinations exist within the journey.

This is the story of NH-44, the longest highway in India. The NH-44 is not simply a road with stones, pebbles, or milestones. It is more than that; it is a story of India. The longest vein of this country. A 3,745-km-long thread needling through the north and the south. Starting from Srinagar in the north, ending in Kanyakumari in the south, it passes through the 14 Indian states and Union territories. It does way more than connect mere geographical borders. It connects all the different cultures, languages, religions, food and people that call India home, and their complex histories too. The romantic dance of the traffic lights to the horns of the trucks with “AIP” written on them.

This is the “Bolero of the crossroads”.

Roads are not credited enough for what they deserve. We know about the Silk Road, the Grand Trunk Road, the hippie trail. These roads were made to fulfil a function of trading goods and valuables but ended up trading culture, languages and different ways of life too. Buddhism was spread along these roads from India to Tibet, China, and Japan. Islam was carried by Sufi teachers, and by armies, moving across from Western Asia into Central Asia, and India. Arts like calligraphy, tile making, and painting, also travelled via these roads. From American Cowboys with their bandanas to Tupac Shakur, with a bandana on his head in his music video “Ghetto Gospel”, Americans should thank the Silk Road for enhancing both their tastes and wardrobe. The word bandana comes from the Hindi word bāṅdhnū, which means ‘to tie.’ The bandana itself is said to have roots in South Asia and the Middle East. It moved from one place to another via the Silk Road. That’s how culture and words travel from one place to another.

When multiple roads meet, it is called a crossroads. A crossroads of language, culture, and food. Now let’s take a journey from the start to the end of NH-44 and experience different cultures on a single highway.

The first thing we ever hear is our language. We dream in our language; we love in our language. We express our strongest emotions in our language. But, do we speak only one language? Unknowingly, we use words from different languages. I have learned a lot of different words from the roads, and the people on them. When I was in Bengaluru, I got to know that Anna is used instead of Bhaiya. I started using it interchangeably since then. Anna can be used in Tamil, Telugu & Kannada, but pronunciation varies a bit. Interestingly, this word can be used in Maharashtra too, but Bhau is more common there. Bhau and Bhaiya are similar. My uncle used to address my father as Dada. I, too, started using it as my own. Later I got to know that Dada meant brother in Bengali. However, in my native language, Gadwali, it is Bheji, which is quite similar to Bhai. So, the word Bhai has journeyed the northern part of India and the word Anna in the southern part. The language changes every few hundred kilometres. However, languages don’t really change, they diffuse. When people travel, words travel with them.

A Palate of Plenty

The same goes with food, one of the most essential parts of a culture. Food has started revolutions, wars, marriages, and many more. Food can topple regimes and bring democracy. The bread did it in France. Chapati gave sleepless nights to the British in 1857, yes, a simple-looking chapati. Food has power which we don’t quite understand. If you are familiar with South Indian food, then you must know kanji or Ganji or Kaanji. A plain rice porridge. Kanji is derived from a Tamil word for boiling. It is a very popular South Asian dish called Conjee and has a long history that can be traced back to 3,000 years. It then became Čanje when the Portuguese colonizers in Goa took it back with them. The Portuguese took Kanji from us and gave us batata. The Portuguese brought batata (potato) to India, that batata was then called olu in Kashmiri, aloo in the Hindi belt, batata in Marathi, alu gadda in Telugu, aalugadde in Kannada, and urulaikilangu in Tamil.

A simple potato is named differently, cooked differently, and even tasted different, but can be found in the food throughout the longest road of India. Every part of the NH-44 can give you a different potato treat. You can leave Kashmir with a stomach full of Dum Aloo, just to halt at a Dhaba in Punjab to savour some Aloo paratha. Uttar Pradesh will then offer you some aloo chaat to get along with the journey. Delhi will never let you leave without making you snack on some samosa filled with aloo, for which we should thank the roads again, and the Persians. Maharashtra will give you its famous aloo Vada pav. Once you go down south, aloo will be seen hugged by a Dosa or Dosai. One vegetable, which is not even indigenous to this land, connects almost every part of the longest highway in this country. Fascinating, right?

If we focus on the journey, instead of the destination, it’s remarkable to see all of the small nuances which bring us together. Cultures can feel divisive, communities can rally against their own neighbours when we choose to focus on the divisions, the differences. But if we pause, take a step forward and focus on the nuances, on the journey, on the small steps which bring us together, we start to see the similarities. These are the roads that bind us. The culture of the crossroads.


About the author:

Deepanshu Suyal is A Business Development Manager with and also a part of the editorial team of Indian Review, a literature and art Magazine. Suyal aspires to be a poet, a writer, a storyteller, and is currently working on his first novel: “Inquilab: Tales of bulletproof Ideas”. He is also assisting Mr A.S. Dulat, former secretary of R.A.W, in editing and transcription of notes for his new book. He can be found on Instagram: @deepanshu.suyal

This article is part of a collaboration between TheLipstickPolitico x Pen In the Door by Gurmeher Kaur.

Poem translations:

“Who are you and who am I? Then tell us who is he, the creator that permeates through both you and I,

Each day, I feed my senses/body with the food of worldly attachment and material love,

For when the breath that I take in reaches the point of complete purification, It feels like my mind is bathing in the water of divine love

Then I know I am like that sandalwood, which is pasted for divine fragrance symbolic of universal divinity. I realize I am, indeed, divine.”

“Moon, Moon, come running to me. Don't stop while you run.

Climb over the mountain and, Bring a Jasmine Flower when you come to me.”


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