Friday, June 22, 2018

Destinations :: North-East - Shillong (1988-90)


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Umium Lake
It was late evening, dusky with menacing clouds. We were on our way up from Guwahati to Shillong. Rain came down in torrents just about when we were labouring up a steep hill in an ancient Ambassador. Through the thick shroud of falling rain the forest on both sides looked menacing. Suddenly, the car stalled and came to a halt. The driver, a Mizo, unlocking the bonnet, got out unperturbed in the blinding rain to investigate. A little tinkering and the dead engine miraculously came to life. Thanking God for saving us from a soggy night out in the wilderness, we moved on, reaching Shillong around nine – somewhat late by north-eastern standards. After a four-year stint in Maharashtra, we were heading to Shillong on a posting for two years to preside over the North Eastern postal administration. 
                                                               
A misty view from our living room window
Waking up next morning to a glorious sunshine we forgot the mishap of the previous evening. The green, thick-with-pines hills of Oakland, the neighbourhood we were parked in, were bathed in gorgeous sunshine and, set off against the turquoise of the sky, looked devastating. A bracing gentle breeze blew across the trough immediately below that once was the polo ground. Beyond we espied range after range of Khasi Hills in bright sunshine. Bowled over in the first few minutes that we spent out in the open, we realised what everyone said
In our front yard
was really true. Shillong was, indeed, incredibly beautiful.

No wonder, with all its undulations, it has been given the sobriquet of “Scotland of the East”. The striking resemblance with the Scottish Highlands is further reinforced by the ubiquitous tartan that the Khasi men and women wrap themselves with. Its Tudor houses, the gardens, the works, remind cognoscenti of Devonshire or Sussex. Incidentally, we were allotted a house that was essentially Tudor in  design and very comfortable w2ith added attraction of whispering pines within touching distance. Tucked away in the remote north-eastern hills, untouched by hordes of tourists, it has also been branded as the country’s “secluded Shangri-la”.

Drawing its name from the Khasi God “Leyshyllong”, who is believed to be residing on the Shillong Peak, Shillong was a small village until 1864 when it became the civil station for Khasi and Jaintia Hills. The British also used it for rest and recuperation. It remained the summer capital of eastern Bengal and Assam for many years. On the
A smll part of Shillong
formation of the Assam Chief Commissioner’s Province in 1874, it was the obvious choice for being designated as the capital. It remained so until 1972 when on formation of Meghalaya comprising the Khasi, Jayantia and Garo Hills it became the capital of the new state.

Perched on Khasi Hills at an elevation of about 5000 ft. above sea-level, Shillong is blessed with substantial rainfall and an equable climate, though winters could be cold. Perennially dressed in green, it offers crisp, clean air and a nature that is feast for the eyes. The town’s
Forest along Camel's Back Road
attractions, therefore, are in its natural features, peaks, falls, lakes and gardens. Laitkor Peak, commonly known as the Shillong Peak, at about 6000 ft. is the most important and is the highest point of the town, as also of the state. An air force station located on it keeps vigil with its radar over 400 kilometres all around. Nearby are the two falls, Gunners’ and the Elephant Falls, both beautiful places for a day’s outing, more so during the monsoons. Just beyond are two other falls known as Upper and Lower Elysium offering just as pleasant views
Other attractions are the two lakes. The one plumb in the town is the Ward Lake, a
Our living room
serene body of water surrounded by green hills. Beautifully maintained, with a botanical garden thrown in, it was always a pleasure to spend some time in the midst of nature. We would walk over to it, stroll around on its winding paved pathways lined with flower-beds, stand on its picturesque bridge feeding fish and then retire to the cafeteria for a refreshing cup of coffee.

The other one is much bigger, the Umiam Lake, commonly known as Barra Paani. Only 17 kilometres away from the town it is a picture-postcard country with the blues of the skies reflected by the water of the expansive Lake fringed by green hills.
Another view of the living room
Offering facilities of various kinds for water-sports at the Lake, the Meghalaya Tourism runs a Charles Correa-designed Orchid Lake Resort with well-appointed rooms. We, however, just sat around out in the open, taking in what nature so generously offered.

Known for its orchids, Meghalaya claims to host 600 of the 800 species that are found in the country. I found a few blooming on wayside trees which I promptly captured on film. The Orchidarium run by the
A fall on way to Cherrapunji
Botanical Survey of India offers a large collection of them under one roof. We were lucky to see several varieties in bloom. We also saw for the first time in our life the pitchers with blood-red lips of the carnivorous pitcher-plants that the Botanical Survey grows in its extensive gardens. Some of the pitchers were of impressive proportions.
With so much of greenery around, the place had to have a generous population of butterflies. For the visitors the Museum of Butterflies is a must-see, something which we never saw anywhere in the country.

Shopping is mostly in what is known as “Police Bazaar” or the more sophisticated Laitumukhrah. Burra Bazaar, “Iewduh” as the locals call it, however, is an interesting tiered shopping complex on a hill-slope. From shoes, cloth and sundry other items to everything edible is available in this huge complex that is somewhat like an ethnic mall. Pineapples, my favourite fruit, were dirt cheap. Dolled up Khasi women, wearing traditional aprons with colourful chequered shawls can be seen selling fish
Wards Lake
or betel-nuts, locally known as khowai. While porters carry loaded baskets suspended from their foreheads, people shop, haggle or simply chat in the midst of this relentlessly on-the-move humanity. Although not for the squeamish, its USP is its uniqueness.

For diversion there is the 18-hole Shillong Golf Course, once reportedly listed among the world’s most beautiful one hundred golf courses by the Readers’ Digest. Close to the town, its picturesque fairways and greens attract even non-golfers. Diversion for the more ordinary, however, are the archery contests held every afternoon in the Polo Ground. Betting and imbibing fiery local
A Pitcher plant
brews go hand in hand evoking varying emotions – heights of euphoria and depths of depression.


Though Cherrapunji has yielded its place to Mausinram as the wettest place on earth, its earlier reputation drew us to it. With about 800 inches of rain per annum, we had imagined a dense tropical forest of sorts. At the end of the 55 kilometre trip we were amazed to see a bald plateau, bereft of all vegetation. All that rain simply runs over the rocky surface and down the precipices into Bangladesh. The trip was,
Forseted road sides
nevertheless, made memorable by a few remarkable way-side water-falls and the view from Cherrapunji of the plains of Bangladesh a few thousand feet below.

A melting pot of several ethnic groups – north-eastern tribes, Nepalese, Bengalees and other non-tribals – Shillong is, perhaps the most cosmopolitan of towns in the north-east. Its bracing climate, natural endowments, hanging mists, its flowers, its
Tudor houses (locally called Assam-type) and, above all, the friendly and colourful people make it an out-of-the-ordinary place for those who crave for new experiences. Devoid of spectacular views of mountain-snows, it is a hill-station with a character. Ours, indeed, was a pleasant and rewarding sojourn.
Roadside orchids

During a part of my stay, Late Purno Sangma was the chief minister. I found him generally wearing an infectious smile. He told me he, though of Garo stock, was in fact not born in Meghalaya but in Sushong, a place in Moymansingh District now in Bangladesh just below the Garo Hills, where my father, too, hailed from. He told me he was building roads in Shillong, as, he said, the place needed good roads and indeed in a few months most of the roads were done up It was a pleasant experience to have met a chief minister who seemed to have had no airs.

Being in-charge of the North-eastern states I had to travel to all of them. My impressions on each will follow.





Friday, May 18, 2018

Our Life Our Times :: 21 :: Cricket changes with time


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Cheer leaders in IPL
The ongoing Indian Premier League Season 11 (IPL11) has a few more days to run; the final is going to be played on 27th May. So far it has been an interesting tournament with the fancied teams going down and some not-quite-fancied ones doing well. For instance, Bangalore Royal Challengers, a fancied team with the likes of Virat Kohli and A B De Villiers, are virtually scraping the bottom of the table this season along with Mumbai Indians. On the other hand, the non-fancied Sun Risers Hyderabad, from which much was not expected, was doing well by topping the points table.

One can see the craze for the shortest version of the game from the crowds in the stands. Thousands of cricket lovers collect at stadia unmindful of the beastly heat and other inconveniences faced in summer. The innovation in the game 11 years ago in India has met with resounding success. The Eden Gardens at Kolkata, by far the largest and most commodious of stadia in the country, announced one evening over the telecast that it had counted more than 67 thousand spectators entering the stands that evening. What cricket lovers find interesting are a quick game of cricket which is not only interesting, it also is exciting besides being brief, played during the cooler hours of a summer day. Remember, Cricket had earlier been only a winter game. The T20 League has converted it into a summer game. What they love are the colourful vestments of the teams, lusty hitting with the ball sailing over the boundary line, occasionally, several times in an over, landing in one of the upper tiers of the pavilion and top class fielding. Not only the groundwork of the fieldsmen is superb with the saves on the boundary line, on occasions, being spectacular, their acrobatic catches are to be seen to be believed. All the teams have great athletes among them who are frightfully fit. Reports say some of the players are so fitness-crazy that they hit the gym sometimes even after a game.

The shortest version of the game has become popular and league matches like those of IPL are being organized in numerous countries. What is out of the ordinary is that such tournaments are played in places like Brazil, the US and even Afghanistan as also in countries like Canada and Hong Kong. From such a survey one finds that cricket as a game has extended its tentacles to numerous countries, big or small. Obviously the shortest version of the game is found to be interesting, even exciting by those who had hardly ever seen a cricket match earlier.

And yet, the connoisseurs of the game look down upon the T20 matches that are played with white balls after sundown. They think that the only test of cricketing ability of a player is his performance in Test matches, each test being played over a period of unbroken five days. There is something in what they say. A five-day match not only tests a player’s ability to focus on the gruelling game during the day-light hours for five consecutive days, it also tests his endurance and ability to withstand the mental and physical strain with grit and determination. While professional players in the shorter versions are physically highly fit, the test players are no less. The great disadvantage in test matches, however, are its long duration during which as many as four innings are played out in a sedate and unhurried manner without the kind keen rivalries that sometimes can ruin the atmosphere in which the game is supposed to be played. Cricket has been known to be a “gentleman’s game” where acute and reckless competitiveness is discouraged, especially in test matches. Conventional courtesies shown to each other by opposing team members, coming down over the past couple of centuries, have been seen to have been observed, though, of late these are progressively witnessed less and less. The Tests, though considered the only hallmark of perfection in the game are witnessing progressively declining numbers of takers as evidenced by the largely empty stands in stadia where these are played.­­

Those who love test cricket call T20 matches bang-bang cricket in which the ball bowled by a bowler is meant to be hit and hit as hard as possible. No wonder there are sixes galore which would be a rarity in Test cricket. In the ongoing IPL matches as many as 700-odd sixes have been lobbed over the boundary line so far, a huge number of which have been hit by young Rishabh Pant, a Delhi Daredevil player. This is precisely what is held against such games by the lovers of test matches. They feel that such a display of brawn does not require the technical finesse of the game. It only needs power and timing to bang the ball hard so that it crosses the boundary before a fieldsman can intercept it or takes the aerial route to cross the boundary line. They say that is not what cricket is all about. It is a game of patience and perseverance and hitting boundaries or sixers are not the aim. The objective should be to play the game with technical perfection. Don Bradman is held out as an example of such kind of Cricket, He, it seems, never hit a six and yet has had the highest average of runs made in Test Cricket, a record which has not been beaten so far. And remember, he hardly had any protective gear - which included only leg-guards, an abdomen guard and a pair of gloves – and he used to play against fierce fast bowlers of his times who generally aimed at his body.

It is not that T20 games do not require perfection. They do and those who figure at the top work to attain that perfection. Yet they can fail in matches forcing them to work far more to become infallible. Since T20 games have now become a vehicle of drawing out the crowds the best of the country’s players, as also those who are being groomed to replace older ones are picked up for various teams and they are coached rigorously.

What is wonderful about the IPL is participation in each team of foreign players and some of them are the best in the business. Young Indian players rubbing shoulders with the best in the world does have an impact on our rising young men. They not only learn the technicalities, they also imbibe the attitudes that make one great. The infusion of foreigners is a great concept that not only fosters greater international understanding, it also promotes friendly relations among cricket playing-countries. I am sure those who watch the telecasts of the games feel exhilarated to see foreign players sharing spaces with their respective Indian team members and hordes of former cricket players from practically from all cricketing countries who have joined the efforts of the IPL management in the shape of experts, coaches, commentators, et al. This makes for not only a colourful atmosphere, it also builds life-long friendships. I am sure in other countries also such exquisite collection of cricketing greats takes place. But, here somehow it is different; IPL is a very good paymaster and pays well to attract the best in the world.

T20 Cricket has made many Indian players billionaires. In fact, in every season the tournaments have produced numerous billionaires. The payments being so high, there is an attraction to be “bought” as a player in the IPL. Almost all the recognized cricketing countries are represented in the IPL with the sole exception of Pakistani players. Cricketing ties with Pakistan came under strain because of infusion of militancy on the borders by Pakistani Army and now, for quite a long time, there has been no cricket between the two countries. On the other hand for the first time ever and quite curiously a distinguished player from Afghanistan is playing for one of the teams in the IPL. With the tough competition for being included in the IPL, cricketing standards have improved and one dares say that India’s bench-strength for every form of cricket and for every department of the game has become formidable.


Sunday, May 13, 2018

Bhopal Notes :: 62 :: Wielding the axe


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The news has just come in that the trees in Bhopal are getting massacred once again - in the name of development. The heritage complex of Minto Hall, the old Legislative Assembly complex, is being converted into a convention centre and a plush hotel. The project is being carried out by the MP Tourism Development Corporation.

Practically the entire complex has been warded off by tall galvanized corrugated sheets hence nothing is visible from outside and one does not know what exactly is going on inside. The complex had hundreds of trees in its park-like front yard - some native and others decorative, some tall like palms and other stocky like neem and others. According to the reports the front-yard is likely to be redesigned and for that purpose the trees that are currently there have to go. It seems nails had been driven in the trunks of the trees sometime back to kill them and now the trees are slowly dying. They have virtually been crucified.

This is not all as it is only about the front yard. Behind the building the road that runs hugging the Lower Lake had thousands of trees with dense growth. To facilitate access to the hotel-cum-convention centre they have widened the road. In doing so the huge trees with dense foliage that were coming in the way have been mercilessly removed. Shorn of the greenery, the place now looks bald and bare. And one can be sure, that it is going to look like this for years as compensatory planting is not going to take place in a jiffy.

Trees, despite their significant contribution to the local environment, are the things that face the axe first. Having been denuded of trees in South TT Nagar by the Gammon India’s Central Business District it is now the turn of North TT Nagar. Here the old residential buildings have been razed to the ground and axes and bulldozers are yet to follow for the new Smart City. Here, as indeed elsewhere, every house had one or more trees around it – full grown and shady – planted by the residents who have now left. Quite clearly, trees are considered essential for healthy living. Trees are described as Life Force and yet they are felled mercilessly for the sake of “Development”. One feels no human development in an urban area can take place without trees and greenery.

One more assault on trees seems to be coming soon. The development bug is coming to the old city near the Cambridge School. The old government bungalows of Pari Bazar next to the school are being demolished. Here, too like the other settlements in Bhopal, there are huge trees in every compound. As these houses were lived-in for much more than half a century, the place is a paradise of greenery. Men of the local authorities are, however, sharpening their axes as the structures are being progressively grounded. A few more hundred trees are going to be sacrificed for optimal use of the precious land. 

 One wonders as to why the existing trees are not saved and urban areas built around them. More than fifty years ago my eldest brother, who was the collector of Bilaspur district, had taken me to Korba, a new township that came up for the workers of the newly installed Korba Thermal Power Plant. Everyone knows that coal is found mostly underneath thickly forested areas. The chairman of the Madhya Pradesh Electricity Board, SN Mehta saw to it that trees were not felled randomly. Only those which came in the way of putting up the structures could be felled. So what I saw was a beautiful township with small bungalows prettily situated in small compounds along with teak trees around them. This only happened because of Mehta’s acute concern for the environment in an area where coal ash pollution was likely to be severe.

One tends to feel that municipal and government bosses and their civil engineering colleagues need to be guided properly to display a bit of concern for the trees. Bhopal has already lost heavily in so far as greenery in the town is concerned. From 67% of the land area covered by trees the city has touched a low of only 11%. And yet felling of trees is continuing unabated. It seems nobody has any concern for the micro-climate of the city, its underground water sources and the general health of those who will reside in such stark and bare environment, more so in the days of rising temperatures with added stress of water scarcity. Already, it has been reported that during the last 50 years the last five have been the hottest.   

*Photo from internet

Friday, May 11, 2018

Memories of an ordinary Indian :: 16 :: Prabhat Pheris


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The other day it was 25th day of the month of Baisakh of the Bengali year 1425 and it happened to be the 157th birth anniversary of Nobel Laureate Rabindra Nath Tagore. Although I am far from the festivities on this joyous occasion but can one really control the mind? No, it is pretty self-willed, more so when one is old. It just needs a trigger to act and move – covering long distances and time-spans in next to no time. Normally, one does not remember the dates of birth of people, including one’s own, but this time somebody mentioned the 25th day of Baisakh and the birth anniversary of the poet. That set my mind rolling and it crossed distances and decades in matter of seconds.  

It travelled back in time more than seventy five years nudging the memories of my childhood that was lucky to have witnessed Prabhat Pheries. Bengalis, wherever, they might be, celebrate such occasions with cultural programmes of lectures, recitations and singing of songs of Tagore. But for us children what was most interesting was the Prabhat Pheri, meaning basically a morning stroll around the town accompanied by music and singing. We in Gwalior were a very small community of migrant Bengalis who had made their home in the domain of Scindias who had, ironically, plundered Bengal in raids a century or so ago. And, yet there were enough boys in the community who would come out to join Prabhat Pheries in the mornings on days like this – 25th Baisakh, -  that are reckoned as significant and auspicious.

A band of young men which included singers, a harmonium player, the heavy musical instrument being slung from the shoulders, a percussionist who would either have a set of tablas hanging from the waist or just a khol, a dholak-like percussion instrument of Bengali provenance and, what I presume were, manjiras would come out early in the morning singing while leisurely walking around the town in Prabhat Pheris. It used to be a remarkable effort for them to collect at an early hour at the appointed place and then walk along predetermined routes where accretions to the numbers would take place with more people joining the walkers. Apparently, they were oblivious of whether their songs were appreciated by those along their way who would look at them curiously unfamiliar as they were with the music and the language.

On this particular day, 25th day of Baisakh, it would be mostly the songs of Tagore, popularly known as Rabindra Sangit, with, perhaps, a sprinkle of other genres. In the music of Bengal Rabindra Sangit is a genre by itself along with others like Kirtan, Baul, Folk, Nazrul Geeti, Adhunik (modern), etc. It is difficult to say which is more popular but one finds that Rabindra Sangit, generally being more affective, eloquent, emotive and soulful, is what is sung and enjoyed more on any occasion. Tunes given to his songs by Tagore touch the heart, evocative of emotions as they are. In Tagore’s music also there are categorizations that were introduced after his demise so as to be able to organise and publish them for the lovers of his poems. So, we have generally three main categories Prem (romantic), Puja (devotional sometimes verging on mystical) and Nature (generally seasons). I am no Tagore expert. Far, far from it, hence I could be wrong. I am only a listener of his remarkable music which could have strains of folk, Baul, Kirtan and even European music. He was an extraordinary man who not only was a genius but he would also imbibe from whatever appealed to his heart.

Tagore was a polymath, a phenomenal achiever. He wrote hundreds of texts, dance dramas, short stories, novels and more than couple of thousand songs that he set himself to music. This is an incredible feat. He redefined the Bengali modern art and his doodles are incredibly beautiful and suggestive of the quality of his mind. Small people like us can hardly ever comprehend what he gave the world out of that genius of a mind that he had. Besides, he was humanist, an universalist, an internationalist and was, curiously, anti-nationalist, probably because of the havoc wrought in the world by highly nationalistic nations of Europe during his lifetime. That is how, perhaps, he conceptualized Shantiniketan, an abode of peace, in peaceful pastoral surroundings.

The Prabhat Pheri would wind its way through various streets of the small town Gwalior and enter our lane as there were a few Bengali families living there in the newly built houses. We would all go out to the verandah to hear the melodious music from the mellifluous voice of Khokon-da (Khokon Majumdar, perhaps the best exponent of Rabindra Sangit in Gwalior). It was great to see Bhagwat Dutta (I still 0remember the name)  sogging wet in his sweat beating away on his khol and dancing virtually Manipuri-style to his own rhythm. On many occasions the entire musical party would come up and have tea and refreshments at our place before another round of singing of Rabindra Sangit. It used to be magical. I have always felt that Rabindra Sangit sounds best when it is sung in chorus. A single man or woman singing Jana Gana Mana doesn’t give the same effect as when it is sung by a stage-full of accomplished singers. Incidentally, Tagore happens to be the creator of national anthems of three countries of the sub-continent including India. Anthems of both Bangladesh and Sri Lanka were written as well as set to music by him.Rabindra Sangit in the sonorous voice of Late Hemant Kumar. It made my day.

Slowly as the world became more materialistic and people became engrossed in their workaday existence uplifting activities like Prabhat Pheries were gradually given up. In a few short years the Prabhat Pheries of Bengalis in Gwalior just faded out but their music - whether patriotic or romantic or even the soulful music of Rabindranath - continued to reverberate within. As I moved on with my life I continued to harbor a faint recollection of those days. Then suddenly one evening during the Pujas in early 1970s as I reached Connaught Place walking all the way from Curzon Road Apartments I heard the soft strains of Rabindra Sangit being played on the public address system. As I stood in front of the Regal Building with all its crowds and confusion I heard out the entire LP of of Rabindra Sangit in the sonorous voice of Late Hemant Kumar. It made my day.


*Photo from internet

Monday, May 7, 2018

Our Life, Our times :: 20 :: Height of hypocrisy


The news that the state government is prepared to relax the land use rules in the catchment area of the Upper Lake to enable the current additional chief Secretary who is also the future chief secretary to build much more than 10% on his huge plot is ominous. The question is if a blue-eyed boy of the chief minister is allowed to build to his heart’s content on his plot of land close to the Lake would the chief minister’s political and business cronies be far behind? Or for that matter, would he and his family be far behind? If the additional chief secretary gets a favourable relaxation in floor area ratio the flood gates will be opened for more and more relaxations in the catchments of the Lake – supposedly the life line of the City of Bhopal. It would be downright murder of this thousand-year old water body.


Everybody knew of the plan for quite some time. If one harks back to the City Plan that was prepared to replace the 2005 Plan it was so oriented to cater to the demands of the real estate lobby that the people raised a hue and cry and the chief minister had to toss it in the waste bin. The real estate lobby has always been wielding influence on the chief minister for reasons one can well imagine. One saw it in the matter relating to the Central Business District from where the lower middle class government employees were chased out, their houses were demolished, thousands of trees were felled but the business district is yet to come up. Rumours of heavy exchange of cash between Gammon India and the state’s political establishment became pervasive.

That was almost 10 years ago. Soon thereafter was the government’s brush with CEPT (Centre of Environmental Planning and Technology of Ahmedabad) which the government engaged – perhaps in its weaker moments – to suggest ways and means to conserve the Upper Lake. Before it could submit its report the government was already clearing proposals for construction of some educational institutions, including Jagaran University, a sports authority complex and incredibly the Sair Sapata, an amusement-park like outfit that was too close to threaten the Lake and the birds in its Important Bird Area.

In due course the CEPT submitted its report but that too was about five years ago. The government neither rejected it nor did it act on it. It did not even release it to the public though public money was spent for preparing the report. It just sat on it and continues to do so with a sense of creepy impunity. That recommendations of the CEPT did not quite match with the intentions and plans of the government became clear as reportedly the real-estate lobby was not happy with them.

 Day by day it is becoming clear that catchments of the Lake that are its source are now up for sale to the real estate lobby. The ruling party and the government along with the real estate lobby seemingly are salivating at the prospect of capitalizing the huge expanse of precious land close to the capital. That this may sound the death knell of the Lake is of no concern to them. What if money is made to inflate the burgeoning party and state coffers? After all, the state elections are round the corner. And what if the construction lobby makes billions and share their pickings with politicians and bureaucrats?  The lake could be taken care of by those who follow in the government if they so wished. Otherwise, just forget about it. The current trend apparently is that for short term gains everything, including a inheritance from medieval times, could be sacrificed.

One can see the hypocrisy of the government. On one hand preparations are afoot to kill the Lake for all practical purposes, on the other hand the chief minister has asked for voluntary labour, (he is also contributing his own) to deepen the Lake as well as the streams that feed it. Time was when the streams were perennial, now they are bone dry. At some places they are reportedly built over. The chief minister surely knows that voluntary labour cannot achieve the objective of deepening the Lake and its feeders. The whole move is only a kind of tokenism to fool the people.

 The utter neglect of the Lake and its catchments have suffered at the hands of this government is to be seen to be believed. As it has been reported, even the Lake Conservation Authority was wound up and the State Wetland Authority, if there is any, is utterly ineffective. The plan for the catchment that should have seen minimum construction may now see high rises, stadia and sundry colonies coming up. Even irregular and unauthorized colonies might be regularized. All their waste will mostly end up in the Lake. It is likely to become a septic tank like the Shahpura Lake which got the same epithet from one of the former BMC municipal commissioners. The damage that the Lake and its catchments suffered during the tenure of this government is unimaginable.

Hypocrisy of the chief minister was again quite plainly revealed in respect of saving the Narmada River. After allowing the River to be mined by sand mafia (including his relatives) for sand down to its rocky beds he thought of the Narmada Seva Yatra campaign. Initially unofficial, soon it became an official programme with crores of rupees spent. The numerous objectives of the Yatra, including construction of several sewage treatment plants along the river banks, have mostly remained on paper.

 The claim of planting 6 billion saplings along its banks on a single day has raised a lot of dust. The Guinness Book of records has asked for proof for planting billions of saplings on a single day which the government has not been able to provide so far. The six crore saplings raised as many questions as when the so-called Hindu saints contemplated a yatra (journey) to check the veracity of the government’s claims six of the prominent ones were quickly given positions of Ministers of state. They were thus bribed into giving up their investigations. Having withdrawn their own yatra they are now demanding all the perks of the positions in which they are now safely ensconced. Other so-called saints, and there are plenty of them, are terribly angry and displeased and are out to expose the chief minister.

Bluff and bluster does not always work. Greed for another term is making the chef minister do things which, I suppose, he would not have indulged in otherwise. But one can never tell about a politician. They have mostly been unscrupulous and hardly ever won the trust of the people.

*Photofrom internet

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Memories of an ordinary Indian :: 15


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Moti Mahal

The school can wait for the time being. Some more memories are streaming in.


More than three quarters of a century ago I think we Indians were very simple people – honest, sincere and loyal. When I look back I find these very values in several of my father’s students who were not only tremendously respectful towards him, they were also truly very fond us.


However, I do not recall the same attention towards their children by the students any of my father’s colleagues. Maybe, I never tried to find out. Nonetheless, our next door neighbour, for instance, was my father’s colleague and was professor of Hindi. He too had five children; the eldest one was a year younger than me. But I did not find any of his father’s students taking him out. In fact many of his father’s students were more frequent visitors in our house.
One of the names that readily comes to mind is Shiva Mangal Singh “Suman” who later became a leading poet in Hindi Literature winning several literary and national awards. A robust and handsome man, he would come and spend the evening talking to my parents and the children and occasionally would recite his poems or have whatever was cooked by mother. Much later in early 1970s I met him at the UPSC where I used to be Dy. Secretary. He introduced me to his companion who was the legendary Hindi poet, Ramdhari Singh “Dinkar”. They had been invited by the UPSC to act as experts for recruitment against some senior level posts.


The Saxena brothers Bajrang and Girdhar, along with Bhim Sen who used to live close to us were always solicitous and very friendly. They, with another Saxena boy, Gauri Shankar, would take us along in the evenings for strolls. I distinctly remember the antics of Gauri Shankar on his bicycle on the dry bed of Katora Taal , a pond that is still there near the college. He was an excellent cyclist and could perform numerous antics even as he was astride the bike.


Likewise there were others like Deep Narain Singh, Panna Lal Chaturvedi or Brij Kishore Dixit who would come to visit father in the evenings. I remember Brij Kishore Dixit would take three youngest of us out to his room in the hostel that was not far from our house. In summers he would get small cups of ice cream for us from a shop in front. After giving us a treat he would take us back home.


In today’s somewhat wicked India this kind of solicitude would be viewed with suspicion. Those were innocent days, people used to think and act straight. There was nothing ulterior about it as father could not have done any favour to them at the exams as those were conducted by the university at Agra that had colleges affiliated to it from Rajputana to Western UP and Malwa to Gwalior and Mahakaushal. Their attitude towards our parents was traditional guru-shishya (teacher-disciple) type, purely respectful and committed – a very straight and honourable relationship.. Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who went on to become the prime minister of the country, actually used to address my father as "Gurudev".


I visited the zoo many times in the company of these boys (they were boys then, now they are all gone).Gwalior used to have a well stocked zoo which was inside a very extensive green area known as Phool Bagh. They would take us there especially on the day when a buffalo would be let in to the tigers’ den. There would be a crowd in front of the building of two levels where tigers used to be confined to witness the gory sight. It was nothing much; the buffalo had no chance against a couple of hungry tigers who would attack it simultaneously. Many years later in 1966 I saw a similar sight in Kanha National Park where till then they used to put a buffalo out as live bait for visitors to witness the kill.


Phool Bagh was a huge complex of gardens, a zoo, an aviary a bara dari and a Theosophical Lodge sited on a small hillock. Father’s colleague, Professor Badri Narain who used to teach History and perhaps also was Theosophist used to live on the premises. He was a very welcoming person and though he and his family used to live in relative isolation away from bazaars they had always something to offer to us. His daughter later married Shriman Narain who was the president of the grand old party the Indian National Congress for some time.


What was the most unique feature as we saw it then in Phool Bagh was a building having in it as many as four places of worship for four different religions – a temple, a mosque, a church and a Gurdwara.. I wonder whether it is still there. This only exhibited the pronounced secular trait of the princely state. I have in my lifetime travelled practically in every state in the country but have not come across such an evidence of a culture that was so pronouncedly composite.


The structure was located plumb on the road that led to the Jai Vilas Palace only to be obstructed by its massive steel gates. Through these gates also used to pass a narrow gauge railway line that used to connect the Palace with the Gwalior narrow gauge railway station. The Maharaja’s own luxury carriages would come right into the Palace to pick him up whenever he would go out for hunts to Shivpuri, Kuno, etc. When Marshal Tito, the president of now-defunct Republic of Yugoslavia, came to Gwalior he travelled on this line marveling at the kind of luxury Indian princes enjoyed. He was taken right on to the platform inside the Palace portico.
Phool Bagh also had within its confines Moti Mahal, the State’s secretariat. It used to be a very beautiful building with a central hall and offices all around. It was surrounded by greenery, ponds and fountains. It used to be deserted when we would happen to go there as the offices would by then wound up their work. In any case, the working hours used to be very short as, I imagine, there was nothing much to work on except administering the State. Those were leisurely times and everybody would take things easy. Planning and development used to be on the back burner. The short working hours used to commence from 11.00 AM and run up to 4.00 PM, just five hours and yet the State was considered to be very well administered. Nonetheless, one of our neighbours used to leave just five minutes before 11.00 and start running to make it to his office before the scheduled opening hour – an effort that was everyday destined to be hopeless.

*Photo from internet



Monday, April 30, 2018

Memories of an ordinary Indian :: 14


http://www.bagchiblog.blogspot.com



As we would leave for the College in the evenings my father would extend his right index finger towards me to hold it so that if I stumbled I would be saved from falling on the uneven road and hurting myself. To my infant eyes his index fingers appeared fat and big. I was a mere child then and he would take me along to the college where he would play either tennis or badminton.

 On the way would be Tandon Stores, a very good looking store run by the brother of my father’s colleague who would force my father into the store and engage him in longish conversations. The store would be full of candies, toffees, pastries. cakes and what have you. Mr. Tandon was incredibly fair and he appeared to me like a white man. His apparel were also like those of the white men we used to see those days. He would be in half sleeves white shirts, khaki shorts stockinged legs with tough looking boots encasing his feet. The khaki sola hat used when he would go out on his bicycle made him look like a genuine white man. This used to be for summers; in winters too he would be smartly dressed. He would always fill my pockets with candies. While father played tennis, thanks to Mr. Tandon, I had plenty to keep myself occupied with. Much later Mr. Tandon’s s son became a good friend of mine when we were in the college.

Father was apparently was very easy to get along with. On the tennis courts a white man would come very frequently. He used to be in the employment of Sardar Phalke, who was a minister in the Gwalior State administration. Bradley by name from Ireland, he used to be teaching young Phalkes at home. He became very friendly with father and would borrow my father’s racquet to do some knocking around. He would frequently come home too. We used to find his hair style funny as he would have two partings on two sides and the hair in between would be raised – somewhat like the current trends in hair styling. Occasionally he would also bring a small car of the Phalkes and take us children on rides in the town. Quite curiously, he would come in summer afternoons to relax in what could be called the drawing room where we had a settee to lie around and relax. Apparently, with just a table fan, the heat of the summer didn’t matter to him much. As the evening approached he would have a cup of tea and get back to the Phalke’s big rambling sandstone house.

The same Phalke children became friends when we came together in the college. My mother used to like the youngest one – a close friend of mine – who used to be fond of her Bengali-ised Hindi. These are fond memories as all the Phalkes have since passed on. My friend’s son, however, does keep in touch. Bradley, Bradley Sa’ab for us, used to converse with us in his broken Hindi. I suppose, as the Phalkes one by one got admitted to the Scindia School – an Indian Public School that was meant for the children of Maratha feudals, Bradley Sa’ab had to pack up and go. But I do not remember him coming home to tell father about his impending departure.

***
I can recall two Hindi pictures that I saw with the entire family. The first one was Naya Sansar which apparently had a theme song with the same words. I remember scenes in which the hero would come out of the foliage to sing “Ao basal ek naya sansar” This must have been in late 1930s or early 1940s. The hero was Ashok Kumar. I don’t recall the heroin who most probably was Leela Chitnis. I do not remember the name of the other film but I remember during a brawl a bald man was hit on his head with a liquor bottle. I got so scared that I started crying and was quickly taken to my mother sitting a few rows behind us. The man who was hit was David Abraham, a consummate character actor who worked right up to 1950s.

Father had taken the two youngest of us brothers to the award winning Walt Disney film Vanishing Prairies. I still remember the landscape that appealed to me so much and the huge Prairies bison. They were being driven westwards or just killed when the Americans were out to colonise the Prairies. In the process, Walt Disney showed the wildlife of Prairies. If available online, I would want to see it again. It is such a powerful documentary. Another film by Walt Disney that I remember was the animation film Mickey Mouse. Enormously funny for children the film had a very long run. I don’t know whether it is ever shown to children in schools.

That reminds me; it is time to go to school.

*Photo from internet

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http://www.bagchiblog.blogspot.com Rama Chandra Guha, free-thinker, author and historian Ram Chandra Guha, a free-thinker, author and...