I’m the type of person who feels out of place everywhere - where I’m not sure if I’d like the city, or I’d like the suburbs, or if I belong in crazy Asian streets or if I love European cobblestone or if I love middle eastern food or Greek and Roman history. Fortunately for me, Istanbul is all those things and more.
Confluence of cultures is not just a catchphrase in Istanbul. It’s when shopkeepers at the Grand Bazaar ask me if I’m American and I am, but that’s not all I am, and they ask me are you Indian, and I am, but that’s not all I am and I am not all of that. Istanbul is the ancient capital of the globalized world that I live in, and it’s a city that I could see even myself calling home one day. “If the Earth was a single state,” Napoleon once said, Istanbul “would be its capital.” There is never a dull moment in this living, breathing city. Every turn was a new delight, every site teeming with fascinating ancient history. I wandered around buildings that had seen more history than I could conceive of, of roads that saw empires and armies and kings, all rise, and all fall. I spent multiple evenings at the Bosphorus, knowing I could feel the life blood of Istanbul inside my blood too.
For me, Istanbul is more about the people who happened to us, the experiences that were, the events and feelings that read between the lines of our itinerary. Our chance encounters and conversations: with Sefket the weaver, and our nameless friend from the Grand Bazaar, the German carpet-seller. I wish I’d been able to go back and talk to him, to ask him more about Turkish and Germany, and what he feels about English, and what he feels about his profession and does he want to do this for the rest of his life and does he ever want anything more and what are his hopes and his fears and his thoughts and his dreams? With the Imam of Sultanahmet, whom I stumbled upon in the Blue Mosque on Friday, who spoke to us about religion and his work with the utmost kindness and humility, and Ferhat the bookshop-owner, with whom we spent 2 hours, talking about books and Istanbul and his job and the economy and something about his parents that I couldn’t understand, as we skipped over the language barrier like it wasn’t even there. I fanned it away like it was made of smoke and embraced this cultural stranger, who didn’t speak my language, but gave us all parting gifts as we left his store. The kind old man on the train who talked to me about India’s politics and warned us all to be safe on the tourist buses. The shopkeeper in Kadikoy, who spoke my language and swapped stories with me. The promises wrought to us by the fantastic guest lectures from the Chief Rabbi of Turkey, Laki Vingas, and the photojournalism of Josephine Powell.
Istanbul has touched my heart in a way that no city has before. Perhaps because Istanbul is so much more than that. Where past meets present, where nationalism coexists with multiculturalism, where a Muslim, Jewish, and Christian look like the blood brothers that they truly are, where east and west are indistinguishable. This is Istanbul..