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  • Writer's pictureShershada Rauf

A Georgian Memoir

Updated: Oct 2, 2020

Stepping into Georgia was a liberating experience in itself. There I was, travelling alone internationally for the first time, to a country that had a largely notorious reputation at the time in my hometown (owing to a war that could be traced as far back as 2008). The onus was on me to prove several perceptions wrong.

My fellow travellers consisted mostly of an Asian crowd. Most of them my generation- groups of three, four, five young adults accompanied by a real adult who would assume real responsibilities. Some newly married, blushing new brides, some older than my own grandparents, and a few like myself- with nothing but a backpack.

The twenty minute journey from the airport to the hotel consisted gazing intently at innumerable old, dilapidated houses lining the streets, hoardings scripted sometimes entirely in Georgian, intense greenery, and azure blue skies.

The city of Tbilisi reminded me in parts of my own Indian city. It hadn’t yet lost its character to development, it was still raw, thriving with genuine expressions just as its people. It had its slight imperfections, but these only beautifully enhanced the otherwise perfect Tbilisi.

There was intrinsic beauty even in Tbilisi’s dilapidating structures. None of these structures screamed, even meekly, for help. There was immense beauty in their imperfection, in their dilapidation. None of them were coerced into an idea of correctness, grace or elegance, they just were by virtue of their existence. They were uninhibited, with bare brick facades speaking of a past, giving away an age, and surely having aged gracefully.

In no time,  I had begun to fall for all that Tbilisi stood for. It's local architecture, green landscapes, unformidable, unmissable beauty of the clouds, it’s people, their carefree lifestyle, broken English echoing on busy lanes, and more selfishly, the city’s affordability.

View of Tbilisi as seen from Narikhala.

I started my journey in the city-centre spending a few pensive hours at the Georgian National Museum and was astounded by the richness of Georgia’s history. This induced an understanding about the sense of pride in the Georgians I would meet in the coming days. They seemed well aware of the country’s tumultuous past, of the builders of their nation and its annihilators, and their on-going struggles with the mighty power that is Russia. Their sense of pride, I learnt, is well reasoned.

Most people do not speak English in Georgia, and there seems to be no need for them to. Though this makes communication difficult for tourists, there is no shame in Georgia associated with not knowing English, unlike in our parts of the world. That there could be a people so rooted to their culture and proud of their history, was a refreshing knowledge in a world so caught up in its need for Western consumerism. The communication barrier allowed me to immerse myself into the nuances of the language of Sakartvelo- the tonal modifications, their script, the tongue rolls and the sounds emanating from the epiglottis, a skill not many linguists have yet achieved. In no time I found myself reading a little off the many Georgian sign boards, and within a week of being back home I learnt to fully read, write and speak Russian, a popularly used language in the country.

In the following days, my journey continued to the country sides outside of Tbilisi. In an old Mercedes, with a Russian driver, Gurami, whose English lexicon consisted not more than three words: “Papa”, “finish” and “no”. He had just one music CD he kept playing over and over again, as if our lives depended on its reiteration. But as I passed the roads whose edges were embellished in velvet yellow by flowers gently studded on a hundred or more shades of green, I was listening to Russian and Turkish songs for the first time, completely flabbergasted by the realization that several Indian songs featured in Gurami’s playlist. This Russian driver who spoke no other language could word Hindi lyrics with great precision.

Over time I learnt that it was not just Gurami that loved India and Indian entertainment. The first words I completely deciphered in Russian were those told to me by an old tramp at Narikhala: indus khorosho, which literally translates to India is good. That she later tried chasing me and stealing my money is a story for another day.

Travelling through the countryside, through Mtskheta, Sighnaghi, Kakheti and Kazbegi felt like traversing through paintings.  Paintings with intricately chosen palettes, with shades of colours that I hadn't yet thought of creating. Like transcending through other worlds. There rose, from nothingness, mountains of great might that expanded into several different horizons. There were clear waters, rivers giving into the increasing heat, frozen snow: there was one of nature’s best creations presenting itself before you.

As with any touristic expedition, my journey involved meeting a few people interactions with whom I would go on to treasure for a long time to come. Paul, the American guy with a humour that could kill you, his well- established Swedish writer friends, Margit- full of hospitality and love, Thomas, with an unbiased view of the world and Manu, out tour-guide on our final day, a genius with the purest of hearts. Owing to them, leaving Tblisi was difficult and as I left Georgia, I promised myself that if not for Batumi or Kutaisi, if not for more of Tbilisi and Georgian vineyards, I would return for the love I had developed for these Georgians.

The most amazing company! Cannot wait to reunite and visit Margit and Thomas’ home in Telavi

I left Tbilisi in three days after having warmed my heart and calmed by soul, with a single concern that if the trend continues, this little Georgian Capital would in no time be consumed by tourism and western capitalism leeching off of it. That there would be an unquestionable trigger for its buildings to be towering monsters of reflective glass facades the way already it has already begun to happen, and maybe someday, sooner than later it too would lose its identity to demands of a foreign world.

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