Sunday, October 06, 2013

My Travel Down Under

These are a few observations and thoughts about the continent and country Australia, my own observations with love for all and malice towards none.

While Australia and India qualify to be literal continents, they are really a melting pot of different people and cultures. While one is a nation of immigrants, the other has a bewildering mix of indigenous cultures and people as different as chalk and cheese.

The contrast that hits one in the face is the inverse relation between population and space. Australia with large barren spaces, with majority of its people living in Sydney Melbourne Brisbane, Perth  and Canberra but still the populated zones not nearly as densely populated as small towns of India. On the other hand dense cheek by jowl urban slums and large rural populations, with  less space and small land holdings characterize India.

The sheer noise, odours and vibrant colours contrast with the very standardized look of every center street or town with nearly the same mix of shops establishments and facilities. The cool climes along with chilly winds and green clean surroundings contrast with the heat and dust and dirt and grime of Indian streets and towns.

While both are multi-cultural societies, there is an Indianness among the Indian citizens which gives a unity in diversity, this contrasts with only a small occasional encounter with what is known as the typical Aussie bloke. The white Aussie blokes have become a rarity in their own land. This being my fourth visit, the number of Indians seem to certainly on the rise.

The Aussie lead stories on TV seem to be often about club football or accidents or local crime rather than politics or national or international headlines. India has its argumentative adversarial politics, rising to lofty debates and plunging to disruptive mudslinging but with never a dull moment. The elections, budgets debates on migrants are insipid non events, but the final of AFL (Australian Football) a game restricted to Victoria and a few clubs in other states is billed as a grand Final and virtually brings the state to a standstill. I do not think a world cup cricket final at the MCG will create a similar frenzy. Over a lakh of people gather from 9am in stadium for a game starting in the afternoon, with free flowing alcohol and pre game entertainment seems as important as the game. While Aussie football is a game of brain but of much more brawn. The audience certainly is mostly similar and high on spirit. The females come to gorge on the guys. I think the Indian cricket lovers are certainly more intelligent including the female following.

As parents of a differently abled child Australia stands out for the access and facilities for independent travel. The civic sense, courtesy and patience shown by co-travellers to senior citizens and the differently abled is truly exemplary and worthy of emulation. The focus on community living and independence is very great and achievable due to the availability of more space and smaller population. However the crumbling family structures and broken families being the norm rather than the exception, the disabled are left in the care of volunteers or employees doing a job. The possibility of over use of sedatives remains a fear, even though we saw no direct evidence to support the  same.

Retail therapy and acquisition of material objects is something where Australia is miles ahead of India. The Woolworth's, Coles, Target's, Myers, Miller's, K Mart, Office works, Aldi's, Harvey Norman's, Bunning's and Masters jostle with the 2$, reject  shops and local Chinese and Japanese ones. But the downside is that the sheer absence of a local area touch to retail trade makes it a boring repetitive experience. India on the other hand has lots to offer in the informal off the street shopping experience, which varies with the local community and it's needs.  While down under despite integration the different communities have shops giving them the stuff to make them not feel homesick.

In terms of food cuisine Melbourne caters to all kinds, however Indians miss the spice and a vegan like me was sometimes struggling to get healthy options. Once on an occasion I was eating in the ubiquitous MacDonald's the only available vegetarian food was a garden salad and an apple pie which was available on what was called the loose change menu. However Mediterranean salads and outlets serving asian food, sushi rolls with brown rice avacados and veggies were the among the better choices, vietnamese rice paper rolls were good too, but we had to clarify that the rice paper was edible and not a packing material.. The variety of fruits and exotic chinese veggies were things that we enjoyed and gorged on. I wonder weather everything was local or global as the ecological footprint of imported stuff had a real price far more than the marked one. Frozen processed stuff off the shelf was cheap and the average aussie used all that very often.  I am really unsure how toxic or detrimental were these choices in the long run. Cheese, chocolates, cakes pastries, breads were a staple elements in the Aussie diets and rampant obesity was seen too. However, being a sports loving nation they burnt their calories and there were many fit persons too. For a nation so particular in preserving its bio-diversity, the huge consumption of meat and meat based products along with dairy products and the rampant use of non biodegradable packing material was really irrational. The fact is that as nation the Aussies are among the worst offenders in terms carbon foot print. To top all this the rampant use of SUV's creates further damage.

Water waste in showers are routine, however awareness and water saving taps showers and sparing use of water is increasingly being done. Water wastage is certainly decreasing in Australia and lot of rain water harvesting is being done. We in India need to learn from our friends down under and implement these measures too.

Driving in Aussie cities and towns and country side is an absolute pleasure. Top class roads, well marked, with excellent road discipline and no over speeding makes travel up to 500 km. possible in about 4 hours driving time. This seems a distant dream in mera bharat.

The city walks promenades, river fronts and beaches along with the tourist spots have always been well maintained and give tourists excellent infrastructure to comfortably enjoy the tours. our visit to Buchan caves near Lakes Entrance was indeed spectacular and educative too. Our trip to Ocean grove living in a wonderful house with scenic locales was great too. We will cherish these visits and sites for years to come. We were also witness to a wonderful tulip garden show in Lilydale near Melbourne, an example of the influence of dutch culture in Oz. The spectacular tulip beds colours and local farm produce were a totally different facet of the Melbourne we knew from the past.

Parties in Oz the family ones are hard work for the families hosting the parties, but over the last four visits I see changes and the ability to handle large numbers and the family team work in handling these parties has become much better. The guests too seem to pitch in with food help and co-hosting making parties a happy tension free affair. Our relatives and close friends in Oz have now become much more informal and our comfort levels in parties has increased over the years. We are indeed grateful to all for making our daughters birthday party a memorable affair, the like of which she has not had in India.

Our three weeks were not used to do the usual tourist tours as we had already seen and experienced those before, but were spent in spending quality time with family especially my nephew and niece. While they are growing up and rapidly becoming part of a multi-cultural society, we are happy that we have much to share and interact with them. Sometimes i wonder if we will have relevant stuff to share in future, but these apprehensions that we had at the start of our tour disappeared at the end of the three weeks and in the end we wished we could stay for a bit longer.

Goodbye Australia we will come again and we would like to have all of you friends over in India  whenever you wish. We have lesser space than you can offer but we will try and make up with our spirit of "Atithi Devo Bhavo" translated as the desire to treat guests as we would treat God.

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