On the occasion of World Tourism Day, we got Richa Chadha to write a travelogue about her stay in Sweden while shooting for Jia Aur Jia.
Memories are strange – just like life.
When you are living them, that’s all you care about- the current, the necessary. Afterwards, they fade away, like old ATM receipts.
So I decided to write about my Swedish experience before the wonderful details start blurring from memory. It’s been several months but almost everyday, I miss the country.
Sweden is a Scandic nation, which to my mind, embodies the best of Europe.
We made the port city of Malmo, in the south of the country, our base camp for the filming.
The Swedes by and large have a great love for nature. Almost everything you see there, from a take-away coffee cup to shampoo – reflects their environment-friendly attitude. Even through the harshest of winter, its not uncommon to see several people cycle to work. The roads allow them to, as does the mindset of society, unlike in our country where cyclists are usually assumed to not have very many options of private transport.
It is also almost a Socialist country. The taxation is very high, almost a gruelling fifty percent. There are many beautiful benefits that accrue from this. The State gives back to the people. For instance, since land technically belongs to no one, there is no appreciation of property. I saw a villa with a picture perfect view of the sea and the mountains, which was cheaper than a 3BHK in a decent society in Andheri!
Our genial line producer, who has been living there now for close to thirty years, admits to have not spent a penny on his son’s education or healthcare till date. His son is 20. There are several other indications of what can only be described as evolution in the true sense. If a couple decides to have a baby, they can choose who takes advantage of the nine month paid maternity leave. Apparently, truest equality of gender exists. I met an incredibly accomplished (and attractive) freelance writer. The fact that his baby was strapped to him, as he wrote and enjoyed a cup of coffee at a beautiful roadside cafe, only made him sexier.
You can go to a bar, and can be hit on seriously by a number of men or women, as per preference, and you can reciprocate or initiate or not. There’s no judgement in any choice you make. This is a truly liberating thing for both men and women, I think. The only time I felt violated was when we caught a man making a video of my colleague and I dancing one weekend in a nightclub after a hard day’s shoot. But, oh, he was an Indian. Need I say more? (Poppy shame.)
Home to HnM and Ikea, the Swedes are big in functional but aesthetic design. It’s not a rare sight to find five people wearing the identical HnM design on the road, any given day. What was refreshing was that the country seemed to celebrate differences. I was astounded to find mannequins representing different ethnic groups in a store! This is something I have never seen anywhere else in the world. And let’s not even get started on the Caucasian, blonde mannequins on various spots every now and the in Aamchi Mumbai. Food for thought? (Homogenisation is so passé.)
The Swedes are also huge on baths, and some very peculiar ones at that. On our first day of filming, we were meant to sit in a sauna for several minutes till we were sweaty and then jump into freezing cold sub-zero water. Apparently, it is the birthplace of the Sauna and several other ‘exotic salt’ type bathing experiences.
Strangers were friendly, receptive and unusually liberal. If there is racism, I didn’t feel very much of it, except on one occasion where we stepped out for dinner with the team. But owing to my general fondness of the country and the people, I am willing to give the ‘oppressors’ the benefit of doubt in this case. The restaurant was particularly crowded that night. Also, Malmo is known as the city of immigrants, which makes it difficult for any establishment to actually be racist in thought or functioning.
I miss the city and the countryside. But what I miss most is my late night run on the deserted city roads. I never felt unsafe on account of my colour or gender. It was so liberating to feel the drizzle on my face and the wind in my hair. Invisibility in another continent can make you reflective… and peaceful.
I am still craving to experience the same liberation… mingled with the sights and sounds of home, at home. Hopefully, I won’t have to wait very long. Or shall I say, I’d be happy if my grand daughter can, one day, some time in the distant future?
Here’s to hope.