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.
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.
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.