Venice: A Good Experience with the Indian Bureaucracy and a Bad One with a Fellow Indian

Venice has been my dream destination since childhood. But my primary purpose for visitingItaly in the year 2003 was to attend an academic conference in Modena, and not tourism. The trip to Modena was possible because I got sponsorship from the University of Modena, Italy and Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR) New Delhi.

During my Ph.D. days I remember (in 2000) I was looking for a grant and one of the professors told us to forget it if I did not know someone high up personally. Those days ICSSR had that kind of an image. But it was my good fortune to meet the then Director General of ICSSR in a conference in New Delhi in 2002. He was giving a talk on the changes implemented in ICSSR. I remembered I asked him during the question-answer session that “Why ICSSR does not have a website (it has one now), when its grant seekers are spread all over the country?” He answered me with patience. I was even then looking for a grant and somehow I approached him after the talk and gathered enough courage to tell him about a paper being accepted and would ICSSR look into it? He said his email is in the handout given to us and I should write to him directly, if need be. I thought it was a typical conference promise and such a senior bureaucrat will not remember my request. But when the time came to apply for the grant, I was so pleasantly surprised that Mr. Bhaskar Chatterji was true to his word. Of course, the conference was good (the best in my area) and I had prior conference and publication records but how many times such things do not carry any weight with the Indian bureaucracy. I would remain eternally grateful to him for handling my application so nicely and they never made me feel like a nobody, seeking a grant.

Flowers in a Window (Modena, Italy)
So, I went to Modena and when I realized Venice was two and a half hours away, I decided to go to Venice (of course, on my own money). But it was to be packed somewhere in my hectic schedule. I arrived in Modena on September 11, 2003 1.30 p.m. Italy time. September 12 was completely devoted to the conference and later in the evening was the conference dinner. September 13, I had my paper presentation and after the lunch the conference was over. On September 14, I was taking a flight back from Bologna at 10.30 a.m.
On September 11, though I was completely jetlagged I decided to visit Venice, so that if I got delayed on 13th due to some reason I would not be going back home without having seen Venice. Now a few of you might think- why not to stay back after the conference instead of this mad rush? Well, my conference organizers (University of Modena) paid my hotel rent. I live in Indiaand earn in Indian rupees and they do not go very far in Euro or dollars.

Venice from a Train Window, Italy
I checked the schedule and took a train to Venice (http://www.trenitalia.com/. The approach toVenice is really beautiful. Suddenly I found that every one in my car was standing up and pulling the windows down (it was non-AC train). That is how the approach to Venice affects people. There was only water as far as I could see and a faint outline of various objects of the city. I was quite awestruck by the view, so much so that I forgot to stand. I could hardly wait to get into the city.
 

 

AsI got out from the train station and it was raining lightly. Right in front was a fountain and kids were playing near it. Beyond it was a canal, and I started wandering in just any direction that caught my fancy. I started walking on my left and there were a lot of shops selling various glass souvenirs and Venetian masks. The display windows of the mask shops look very curious and eye catching. I had no particular thing in my mind while I started my stroll.
 

 

Eye catching Venetian Masks, Italy

There were various boats (water taxies) and gondolas in the canals but I did not try any of those for the simple reason that I knew that gondolas are very expensive and I am very fond of walking. I really liked the atmosphere of the city a lot. I was so tired after my journey from New Delhi to Modena and then to Venice. But the sight of water, houses, churches and bridges large and small cheered me immensely. I went to the famous Rialto Bridge on foot and was barely back in time to catch the train back to Bologna.

On September 13, once again I came back to Venice and this time I rolled the windows down, stood up and watched the sunset as I approached the city. It was raining harder this time (but it stopped after a while) and it was dark as night was falling. I was really hungry and decided to try a colorful restaurant with seating arrangement outside. It was magnificent to sit by the canal and see boats and gondolas moving on the lake.

Then I tried to resume my walk to Rialto but there were very few people and with all those narrow empty roads somehow my courage failed. Instead I took a walk around the areas near the station and Venice looked different at night with all those lights on. I picked a few souvenirs from a shop at the train station.

Gondolas, Venice, Italy

 

A Quite Place, Canals and Bridges, Venice, Italy

Beautiful Venice, Italy

It was just before 11 p.m. and I decided to proceed to Bologna and spend the time at the airport and it was here that I was in for a shock. When I came to Venice on September 11, there were trains to Bologna from Venice Mestre after 11 p.m. but not on September 13. There are many trains going from Santa Lucia to Mestre. I decided to try my luck there. I reached Mestre around 11 p.m. only to discover that the next available train to Bologna is in the morning at 6.30 a.m. There were many people on the station and just for variety; I decided to spend the night there instead of checking in a hotel.
It was somewhat cold that night at Mestre. I had only a thin woolen sweater, which was pretty adequate for indoors in non-AC surroundings but not for a night at a station. One of the passengers waiting at the station was having a Heineken. After a while he tried to strike a conversation with me. I was not in a mood. He started the conversation in Italian and to put an end to it I said I speak English, which is true.

That was my undoing. He could somehow guess I was from India and so was he. He kept on getting drunk and speaking not very complimentary things loudly in Hindi, which only I could understand. I kept on ignoring him and feeling cold. I took a walk outside and saw many hotels just across the street including a Best Western. I stayed on the station but I would have moved to a hotel if at any point the station were to be deserted. That drunken Indian boarded a train after 2 hours or so. I caught my train at 6.30 in the morning and safely caught my plane back to New Delhi. In the plane, after the lunch I was so fast asleep that when I got up after some 2 hours I could not figure out where I was.