रामजी की शादी

“आज़ादी के बाद की सरकारों में यह सबसे अच्छी सरकार है.” मेरे दोस्त इक़बाल ने भाजपा सरकार के लिए कहा. मैं इक़बाल का मुँह देखता रह गया.

इक़बाल कॉंग्रेसी था और मैं जन संघी. लखनऊ के कॉफी हाउस में घंटों हम दोनों अपनी अपनी पार्टियों के समर्थन में बहस करते हुए लड़ पड़ते थे. फिर भी हम दोनों, मेरे दिल्ली चले जाने के बावजूद, अंतरंग मित्र थे. कई साल बाद काम के सिलसिले में लखनऊ जाना हुआ और हम दोनों एक बार फिर कॉफी हाउस में बैठ कर पुरानी यादें ताज़ा कर रहे थे.

“कल्याण सिंह एक सख़्त मुख्य मंत्री है.” इक़बाल कहता रहा. “उसके राज में गुंडे और बदमाश जान बचाने के लिए यू.पी. से भाग कर दिल्ली में सरेंडर कर रहे हैं.”
“और बाबरी मस्जिद के बारे में क्या कहना है?” मैंने पूछा. उस समय तक बाबरी मस्जिद का पतन नहीं हुआ था.
“कहना क्या है? मस्जिद तोड़ थोड़े ही दी जाएगी. यह तो सिर्फ़ सियासी चालें हैं.”
“बड़ा भरोसा है तुम्हें कल्याण सिंह और भाजपा पर.” मैं चकित था.

अगले दिन मुझे रामपुर जाना था. इक़बाल का छोटा भाई ज़फ़र रामपुर में ही रहता था. उससे भी मिला. उन दिनों मुख्यतः बाबरी मस्जिद ही चर्चा का विषय होती थी. ज़फ़र का कहना था कि “मसला ना तो मस्जिद का है और ना ही मंदिर का.मसला है एक कीमती जायज़ाद का. उस ज़मीन पर मस्जिद रहे या ना रहे, मुसलमान को कोई फ़र्क नहीं पड़ता. हिंदू उस ज़मीन पर मंदिर बनाना चाहते हैं, शौक से बनाएँ. लेकिन क्या यह बेहतर नहीं होगा कि उनके जो मंदिर खंडहर हो गये हैं पहले उनकी मरम्मत कराएँ? ”
“हमारे पड़ोस में एक शिवालय है.” ज़फ़र कहता रहा. ” एक ज़माने से वहाँ पूजा नहीं होती. कोई देख भाल नहीं होती. कोई जाता भी नहीं है वहाँ पर. अगर कोई जाता है तो मुहल्ले के कुत्ते, जो शिवालय को पाखाने की तरह इस्तेमाल करते हैं. उसको क्यों ठीक नहीं कराते?”
दम था ज़फ़र की बात में. मैं कोई जवाब नहीं दे सका. इत्तेफ़ाक़ रखता था उसके साथ.

शाम की चाय पीने के बाद मैने दिल्ली के लिए बस पकड़ी. रामपुर से दिल्ली अधिक दूर नहीं है. सोचा देर तो हो जाएगी लेकिन रात का खाना घर जाकर ही खाऊंगा. हापुड़ पहुँचते पहुँचते अंधेरा हो गया था. ट्रैफिक अधिक होने के कारण बस धीरे धीरे सरकती हुई चल रही थी. फिर उसका सरकना भी बंद हो गया. जाम लगा हुआ था.
दशहरा आने वाला था. हर शहर में जगह जगह रामलीला हो रही थी. यही वजह थी जाम लगने की. आशा के विपरीत, जाम खुलता नज़र नहीं आ रहा था. ना ही बस सरक पा रही थी. काफ़ी देर हो जाने पर कुछ होशियार लोग बस की सीटों पर से गद्दियां लेकर बस की छत पर सोने चले गये. आधी रात हो चली थी और मैं भूख से बिलबिला रहा था. आस पास कोई खाने की जगह नज़र नहीं आ रही थी. नज़र आया तो केवल एक हलवाई और उसके पास भी सिर्फ़ दूध बचा था. सोचा दूध से ही भूख शांत की जाए. सड़क पर भीड़ के सिवाय कुछ नहीं था. हलवाई से एक कुल्हड़ दूध लेकर पीना शुरू किया. आधा ही पिया था की एक बच्चे ने धीरे से मेरा पैर थपथपाया. नीचे देखा तो पाया कि थपथपाने वाला बच्चा नहीं, एक कुत्ता था. बड़ी अशातीत निगाहों से मुझे देख रहा था. उसे निराश करना अच्छा नहीं लगा. बचा हुआ दूध उसे देकर हलवाई से और दूध माँगा. दूध ख़त्म हो चुका था. मान मसोस कर बस में बैठ गया.

समय का अंदाज़ नहीं रहा. न जाने कब बस ने आगे बढ़ना शुरू किया. किसी प्रकार हापुड़ की बाहरी सीमा के पास पहुँचे. यहाँ शायद कुछ चुंगी देनी थी. बस खड़ी हो गई. मैं सोई सोई आँखों से बाहर देख रहा था. सफेद कपड़े पहने एक बुजुर्ग जाट किसी से पूछ रहा था “भाई यो जाम सा क्यूँ लग रा?”
“राम जी की साद्दि होन लग री.” जवाब मिला.
“राम जी की साद्दि के सड़क पै होवै? सड़क पै तो कुत्ते कुत्तियों की साद्दि होवै?” जाट के उदगार सुन कर खुशी हुई. जिन्हें हम अनपढ़ गँवार समझते हैं वे दरअसल कितने समझदार हैं.

इतने साल बीत गये लेकिन राम जी की शादी आज भी सड़क पर ही होती है.

यादें

नरेंद्र  भाई  साहिब और मैं अपने लैंबरेटा स्कूटर  पर  सवार  होकर  मुज़फ़्फ़रनगर  से  दिल्ली  के  लिए  एक आवश्यक  मीटिंग  के  लिए निकले. स्कूटर  मैं  चला  रहा  था. लगभग  115  किलोमीटर  के  इस  छोटे  से  रास्ते  पर  न  जाने  कितनी  बार  बिना  किसी  परेशानी  के चला  चुका था. लेकिन  इस  बार  कुछ  खास  ही था. खतौली  से  बाहर  निकलते  ही  सामने  से आने  वाली  तेज़  रफ़्तार  ट्रक  से  बचने  के  लिए  ब्रेक  लगाया तो  लगा  ही  नहीं. कच्चे  में  उतरना  पड़ा. उतरते  ही  देखा  कि  सामने  चार  आदमी  बैठे  हुए  ताश  खेल  रहे  हैं. ब्रेक  लग  नहीं  रहा  था.  स्कूटर  तेज़  था. उन्हें  बचाने  की  कोई  गुंजाइश  नहीं  थी. टक्कर  होना  पक्का  था. पता  नहीं  कैसे  मैं  उन  चारों  के  बीच  में  से, दो  आदमी  स्कूटर  के  एक  तरफ  और  दो  दूसरी  तरफ, निकालने  में  कामयाब  हो  गया. बीच  में  डाले  हुए  ताश  के  पत्ते  सूखी  पत्तियों  की  तरह  उड़ने  लगे. चारों  हड़बड़ाहट  में  उठ  खड़े  हुए  और  हवा  में  हाथ  नचाते  हुए  मुझे  गालियाँ  देने  लगे. मैं  रुक  नहीं सकता था.  मुमकिन  होता  तो  भी  नहीं  रुकता. पिटना  थोड़े  ही  था.

बड़े  ध्यान  से, धीरे  धीरे  चलाते हुए  मेरठ  पहुँचे. मकैनिक  ने  बताया  कि  औयल  सील  लीक  होने  के  कारण ब्रेक  ड्रम  में  तेल  आ  गया  है. सील  चेंज  कराई  जो  मोदीनगर  पहुँचने  से  पहले  ही  फिर  लीक  हो  गई. इसके  बाद  साइलेन्सर  भी  साथ  छोड़  गया. साइलेन्सर  ने  तो  हमारा  साथ  छोड़  दिया  पर  हम  कैसे  उसका साथ  छोड़  सकते  थे. पीछे  लौट  कर  गरमा गरम साइलेन्सर  उठा  कर  कॅरियर  पर  बाँधा. अब  इतना  समय नहीं  था  कि  मोदीनगर  में  साइलेन्सर  और औयल  सील  ठीक  करा  कर  मीटिंग  के  लिए  समय  पर  पहुँच सकें. बिना  साइलेन्सर  का  स्कूटर  इतनी  आवाज़  कर  रहा था  कि  घबराहट  के  मारे  दूर  दूर  तक  लोग सड़क  छोड़  कर  भाग  रहे  थे. किसी  प्रकार  टाइम  पर  मीटिंग  अटेंड  करके  बहन  के  घर  जंगपुरा  पहुँचे. वहीं स्कूटर  ठीक  कराया. भाई  साहिब  तो  अगले  दिन  बस  से  वापस  चले  गये. मैं  एक  दिन  और  रुक  गया.

मेरे  बहनोई  ने, जो  बर्मा  शेल  में  काम  करते  थे, मुझे  कहा  कि  तुम  इतना  अधिक  स्कूटर  चलाते  हो, तुम्हें हेल्मेट  पहनना  चाहिए. अपने  एक  डीलर  से  मुझे  हेल्मेट  दिलवा  भी  दिया. किसे  पता  था  कि अगले  दो  दिनों में  यह  हेल्मेट  मेरी  जान  बचाएगा.

कुछ समय पहले  ही मैंने  एक  जीप  खरीदी  थी  जो  उन  दिनों  निर्माणाधीन  नरोरा  एटॉमिक  पावर  प्रॉजेक्ट में  किराए  पर  चल  रही  थी. दिल्ली  से  मैं  नरोरा  चला  गया. नरोरा  अलीगढ़  से  अधिक  दूर  नहीं  है. पतली सी  बिल्कुल  सीधी  सड़क  नरोरा  को  मुख्य  सड़क  से  जोड़ती  है. सड़क  के  साथ  साथ  रेल  की  पटरी  है  और  दोनों  के  बीच, उन्हें  अलग  करने  के  लिए, लोहे  की  ही  रेलिंग  है. खाली  सड़क  पर  द्रुत  गति  से  मैं  स्कूटर चला  रहा  था  कि  खेतों  में  से  एक  बुग्गी  (भैंसा गाड़ी) निकल  कर  तेज़ी  से  मेरी  ओर  आने  लगी. बचने  के लिए  मैंने  स्कूटर  बाँयी  ओर  मोड़ा  और  उसका  हैंडल  रेलिंग  से  टकरा  गया. स्कूटर  मेरे  नीचे  से  निकल  गया. मैंने  दोनों  हाथों  से  रेलिंग  पकड़  ली  थी. रगड़ता  हुआ  थोड़ी  दूर  तक  गया. सिर  कई  बार  रेलिंग  से टकराया.   हेल्मेट ना  पहना  होता  तो  उस  दिन  मेरा  राम  नाम  सत्य  निश्चित  था. मैं  शॉक  में  था. सिर  को  घुटनों  के  बीच  दबा  कर  बैठा  हुआ  था. आँखें  बंद  थीं. कुछ  ही  क्षणों  में  कंधे  पर  किसी  का  स्पर्श  महसूस  किया. सिर  उठा  कर  देखा. मैले  कुचैले  कपड़े  पहने  एक  बदसूरत  आदमी, जिसे  देख  कर  बच्चे  डर  जाएँ, एक  गंदे  सा  अल्यूमिनियम  का  कटोरा  मेरी  ओर  बढ़ा  रहा  था. कटोरे  में  मटमैला  सा  पानी  था  जिसमें  कुछ  कीड़े  भी  तैर  रहे  थे. पता चल  रहा था कि  साथ  बहते  नाले  का  पानी  है. एक  सांस  में  सारा  पानी,  कीड़ों  सहित, पी  लिया.  उस समय  यह  पानी  मुझे  अमृत  लगा.

हाथ  खून  से  लाल  थे. रुमाल  के  दो  टुकड़े  किए  और  उस  देवता  समान, बदसूरत  आदमी  की  मदद  से  दोनों  हाथों  पर  बाँधा. थोड़ी  देर  बाद  लड़खड़ाती  टाँगों  पर  उठ  कर  स्कूटर  स्टार्ट  किया. एक  ही  किक  में  स्टार्ट  हो  भी  गया. वापस  नरोरा  की  ओर  रुख़  किया  और  पाया  कि  हैंडल  इतना  टेढ़ा  हो  गया  है  कि   सड़क  पर  सीधा  चलने  के  लिए  उसका एक सिरा  पेट  से  लगा  कर  रखना  होगा. किसी  प्रकार  नरोरा  पहुँच  कर  डिस्पेंसरी में  ड्रेसिंग  कराई.

मेकैनिक  के  नाम  पर  केवल  एक  लोहार  मिला. उसने  हैंडल  सीधा  करके  उस  पर  एक  क्लैंप  फिट  कर  दिया.  औयल  सील  उसके  पास  नहीं  थी. उसकी  जगह  उसने  ‘बेरजा’  नामक  एक  पदार्थ  ब्रेक  ड्रम  में  लगा  दिया.  उसने  बताया  कि  बेरजा  तेल  लगने  से  सख़्त  होता  जाता  है  और  मेरे  लिए  वह  ब्रेक  का  काम  करेगा. ऐसा  ही  हुआ  भी. इस  ही  हालत  में  मैं  स्कूटर  को  मुज़फ़्फ़रनगर  तक  ले  कर  आया.

 

Memories From The Past

Maruti, launched in 1980s, took the fun and adventure out of driving. The country knew only Fiat and Ambassador till the advent of Maruti. A small minority, who had the privilege of driving imported cars did not, and still do not, know what they have been missing. Poor things would simply switch the ignition on with a half turn of the key and commence a boring journey with a criminally fine tuned softly humming engine with no sign of trouble. How boring.

Dad had acquired a first generation car just before independence. I don’t recall what make it was. I was too small to care anyway. It had spoke wheels, a stepney mounted vertically next to the bonnet and a running footboard. A canvas top which could be folded if so desired. There was a sort of a rack jutting out of the back of the car on which our British masters probably made their servant stand. Commoners like us used it to lash our luggage on. It was fun to watch the driver every morning. He would lovingly clean the car, open the bonnet, check brake fluid and water level in the radiator. Then he would use a handle, a must have gadget for every car those days, and try to crank the engine to life. If he was lucky he would succeed in a couple of attempts. More often, it took better part of an hour. Sometimes it took even more. The car used to ferry us children to and from school. Sometimes we would get lucky. The car would refuse to start giving us a solid reason not to attend school.

Fiats and Ambassadors, the second generation cars, dealt a death knell to handles. Cranking up the engine was not required anymore, which also saved the drivers’ hands from blistering. The manufacturers, surely with the welfare of auto mechanics in mind, produced cars which, on getting delivery after years of waiting, had to be taken to a good mechanic before it could be proudly presented to the family. The mechanic naturally extracted a hefty sum of money to make the car roadworthy. Radiator water and brake fluid still had to be checked daily and battery had to be topped up once a week, as before. Even then, breakdowns were frequent. One took the car cross country at his own peril.

I had inherited my Fiat after it had been used by several members of the family for more than a decade. Being recklessly adventurous, I would frequently drive from Delhi (where I had moved) with wife and daughter to Dehradun (where my sister lived). And, believe me, each trip provided its share of excitement. If the fuel pump did not malfunction, the fan belt would snap. If the radiator did not leak, the distributor would go on strike. If nothing went on the blink, we will have a flat. All in all, a fun filled exciting adventure. Sometimes, the car would decide to stretch our fun loving adventurous spirits to the limit. Like the last time we took it to Dehradun.

We had left Delhi before day break one May morning and were serenely cruising along at a sedate 60 kilometers per hour, the maximum speed it could attain, and crossed Modinagar in time to see the birds start looking for the proverbial early worm, and the cows venture out in search of fresh pastures. Suddenly a volcano erupted under the bonnet sending volumes of steam skyward. The radiator pipe had burst. No mechanics were in sight, nor was there any traffic that early in the morning. The three of us were hotly debating what course of action could be taken. Just as we were on the verge of coming to blows, I espied a car coming from opposite direction. I waved to it and it stopped. Leaving wife and daughter to guard the car, not that anybody would want to steal the ancient contraption, I hopped on and got down at Modinagar. No shops, least of all an auto repair shop, were open so early in the morning. I waited and waited and waited. Finally, after an hour or so, I found a shop being unlocked. I hurried to it and begged for help. The only help offered was to sell me a roll of cotton tape with which I repaired the burst pipe as best as I could. Refilling the radiator out of a twenty liter can of water I always carried for just such an exigency, we set out again. Of course, the radiator had to be refilled every few kilometers.

By and by, we entered Roorkee cantonment. The volcano erupted again, this time spewing smoke. With a loud protest from the engine the car shuddered to a halt. The distributor had short circuited. There was no way the car could move, unless pushed. We pushed, my fuming wife and daughter from behind and I, in control of the wheel, from the side. Noticing a peddle rickshaw after a few minutes of this vigorous exercise, I sent the two girls to my brother Narendra’s house, a professor in the university and sat down to wait. It was a long wait. An hour or two later, help arrived in the shape of my brother with a couple of men. We resumed our journey the next morning, driving a car just repaired and confident that the short hop from Roorkee to Dehradun would be trouble free. We could not have been more wrong. The radiator sprang a leak, this time from a tiny hole at the bottom. The twenty liter can was proving to be an asset. Soon after, the engine decided that it had contributed enough and handed over the baton to a wheel which went flat in the middle of the hill road.

But no fun, excitement or adventure can last forever. We reached our destination. This was when it was decided that the time had come to say sayonara to the old faithful. We sold the car. My wife and daughter had enjoyed pushing the car so much that they refer to it every time our current Estilo gives even the slightest hint of misbehaving.

Coming back to the new generation of cars I started this discourse with, I must say they are no fun. I have done of tens of thousands of kilometers’ dull, eventless and unexciting driving in the Marutis, and Hyundais, and Hondas, and Fords and a dozen others. The only excitement, if you choose to call it an excitement, they offer is a rare flat. Gone are the days of fun and adventure. How boring.

A Journey by Bullock Cart

Given the primitive mode of transport in 1950s, the 50 kms from Dehradun to the family farm at village Shyampur near Veerbhadra in Rishikesh appeared more like 250 kms. The first decade or two since independence had not seen much development and means of travel and communications were still rudimentary. We led a primitive life at the farm, living in thatched straw huts, using kerosene oil lamps for light and wood for cooking. Yes, life was tough but enjoyable. We fished in the river Song, flowing close to the farm. Cousin Dhirendra sometimes entered the forest with his shotgun and often returned with a boar or a kankar (a species of deer) or some other game and the family had a feast on such occasions.

I, a young teenager, was schooling in Dehradun. I would travel to the farm for festivals and holidays. The summer vacation would naturally be spent at the farm. The mode of travel to the farm was the Nahan-Haridwar bus, the only direct bus available. It arrived at Dehradun every evening and took nearly two hours to the farm.

During one of my vacations we planned to visit Haridwar, reaching in the evening and returning late at night. We spent a leisurely afternoon fishing in the river and repaired to Sitaram’s tea stall just outside the neighboring Satyanarain Temple in time for our evening cuppa. He cleaned our catch and converted it into delicious fried fish for us. All five of us, my sister Manorama, cousins Asha, Dhirendra, Narendra and I were still hungrily digging in when the bus arrived. We rushed and boarded the bus which rattled on.

A few minutes and maybe three kilometers later, cousin Dhirendra suddenly asked, “Where is the gun?”

“At Sitaram’s shop.” Trembling in fear, I replied.

The cousin simply stared at me. Gratefully, I thanked my lucky star. It was premature, as it proved in a moment. He blew the lid. I still shudder to recall the way his tongue lashed at me. Suffice to say that I wished the ground, in this case the floor of the bus, to part so I could bury myself. My offer to get down, walk back to Sitaram’s stall, recover the gun and searchlight, walk to the farm and try to sleep was scoffed at and summarily rejected for fear of I would end up as dinner for a panther or two. I was told in no uncertain terms though, that because of my criminal negligence, my cousin was likely not only to lose the gun, but his arms license as well which he would never get again. Cousin Narendra tried to perk me up by telling me that Sitaram was no stranger to us and that he would probably return the gun. It did help, but not very much. I had not measured up to the responsibility given to me.

You see, I had been pestering my cousins to teach me to shoot and, after a lot of begging, I was finally recruited as a gun bearer. A gun bearer’s duties included, I was told, to carry the gun and the searchlight while the gunner walked along carrying nothing. To me, the job was like that of a bus cleaner who would clean for ages before he graduates to drive. I also suspected that I was conned into carrying the gun so the cousins did not have to carry the weight. I was given instructions in how to carry a gun -“carry it in your right hand with the barrel always pointing to the ground, never point the gun at anyone” etc. I was also told in no uncertain terms that I should not let the gun go out of my possession. It was a twelve bore double barreled gun. The searchlight, attached to a twelve cell battery pack, could be strapped to the forehead and threw a powerful beam. It was a powerful contraption, I thought.

The bus duly delivered us at Haridwar, one of the holiest cities in India. The first thing cousin Dhirendra did on arrival was to buy a six cell torch to compensate for the searchlight I had managed to leave at Sitaram’s tea stall. Liquor and non-vegetarianism do not go hand in hand with our tirthasthals. Haridwar is no exception. It is another matter that both are openly available within striking distance of the town.

Har-ki-Pauri, the main ghat on the bank of Ganges is dotted with a number of temples crowded by devotees offering pooja to the god of their choice. Each temple has a priest overlooking the ceremony. We spent some time with our kul-purohit (family priest), Pandit Kabool Chand, who presided over the rituals in one of the temples. Hindus also perform the last rights of their dead after cremation at Har-ki-Pauri. The sadhus, with their long matted hair and ash smeared bodies, and pandas looking for prospective clients are seen everywhere.

The weather at Har-ki-Pauri, even in the hot summer months, remains pleasant with a cool breeze blowing across the icy water of the Ganges. After spending a few pleasantly cool and peaceful hours it was time to head back home. It was past midnight and no bus would be available till after daybreak. However, a bullock cart, plush with mattresses and pillows and cushions was already in position waiting for us. It was earlier dispatched to Haridwar to carry us back. We climbed in, made ourselves comfortable and began a slow journey homeward. The pace at which the cart was moving, we did not expect to cover the thirteen kilometers before sunrise.

Trillions of stars could be seen in the cloudless summer sky. Nobody had heard of pollution in the 1950s. I was too excited to sleep. Cousin Narendra seemed to know everything about the universe, its galaxies and stars and solar systems. Not being an awfully bright student of astronomy, I fail to recollect most of what he taught me that night. I do, however, recollect the anecdotes and legends of the area he regaled us with.

The story that comes to mind is of the 19th century Garhwal ruler who, defeated by the British, was trying to escape with his family. He carried his treasure consisting of silver, gold, diamonds and other precious stones with him. Hotly pursued by the British and finding himself surrounded he put the treasure in the barrels of several cannons, put them in a cave near Bhimgoda, Haridwar and sealed the mouth by cannon fire. He had the men killed to keep the location secret. He was captured by the British  in the battle that ensued. Later he died, and the secret died with him. The treasure still lies buried in an unknown cave somewhere in the hills of Himalayas near Haridwar. Or so the legend goes. Fascinated with the story, and with vision of acquiring great wealth, much later we armed ourselves with a metal detector and scoured the hills around Bhimgoda, hunting for the treasure. Regretfully, our search came to zilch.

Once in the dense forest, my two cousins kept pointing to the shrubs on both sides of the road where brightly shining eyes of wild animals could be seen. Every few minutes both would repeat in accusing tones, “So much game today and we are without our gun”. I wish I had the wit and courage to tell them that the game was there because we did not have the gun.

None of our group could sing. Yet our two sister kept singing all the while with my cousins and I joining them at the top of our voices. The din we created must have scared the poor panthers away. We did not see any.

I heaved a sigh of relief when a sleepy eyed Sitaram, rudely awakened from his well earned beauty sleep, handed over the gun and the searchlight. The only fallout was that I never learned to shoot.

A Journey Through Madhya Pradesh -4

Our journey from Amarkantak to Nagri, a small town in Bastar, 370 kms away, barring  a near fatal skid, was rather uneventful . It was a miracle that our car only brushed a stationery truck instead of ramming into it. My wife’s brother was posted in Nagri in the heart of Bastar, a tribal dominated area of Madhya Pradesh. We spent a few delightful days with him and his family. Bastar is a large district, almost as big as the state of Kerala. Bastar is a beautiful country predominantly inhabited by tribals who lead a primitive life, wear no clothes, are untouched by modern civilization and lead lives hardly better than animals. No wonder the Naxal militants find them to be easy recruits.

scan0015

We had been on the road for nearly two weeks and it was time to get back home. So, at 5.15 AM on 20th June, we started on our return journey. On the way to Jabalpur, our destination for the day over 500 kms away, we climbed nearly 1000 steep steps to visit Bamleshwari temple. The temple, though supposedly ancient and popular in the region, was a disappointment. There was a big crowd of devotees and a large number of shops catering to them. The loudspeakers blaring bhajans (holy songs) fashioned after popular Bollywood songs added to the din and cacophony. We could not take it for more than a few minutes, beat a hasty retreat to the safety of our car and continued towards Jabalpur.

The famous marble rocks in the river Narmada are close to Bhedaghat, Jabalpur. We reached Bhedaghat at 7 PM and decided to stay the night there. All hotels were full. We were offered accommodation in thatched huts. The huts were spacious and clean. Alka and Bitto were excited at the prospect of being able to get a feel of, what they thought, village life. They were in for a disappointment as a closer inspection revealed that the huts were infested with insects and lizards. Since no other accommodation was available, we decided to try our luck in the city. Finally we checked in at a Madhya Pradesh Tourism Hotel at about 9 PM.

We made Bhedaghat, 27 kilometers from Jabalpur,  after breakfast the next day and straight away entered the river in a boat. Bittoo was thrilled to go boating in a river which, only days earlier, she had stepped across in Amarkantak. Soon we found ourselves among white rocks, reflecting the bright June sunlight. We passed under some overhanging marble rocks which, the boatman informed us, were known as bandar kood (monkey’s leap), I expressed my doubt. It would have to be an exceptionally athletic monkey to be able to jump across. The boatman tried to convince me telling me that parts of the rock had fallen in the river, thus widening the gap. I believe him.

A while later we came upon a human like black figure on the face of a white rock. It was the image of Kalbhairav, another manifestation of god Shankar, the destroyer. It was natural formation, according to the boatman. It looked painted to me.

scan0017

                                                                   Bandar Kood

scan0019

scan0020scan0018

                                                                Image of Kalbhairav

scan0016

                                                                           Dhuandhar

At Dhuandhar, the river falls from a height of 39 meters to form a milky white pool before flowing downstream.

There being nothing else to see, we proceeded to Lalitpur. Running low on fuel, we stopped at every fuel station but could not get any. They were unable to dispense petrol because there was no electricity. It must have been a regular feature of the area for a few kilometers down the road we found a couple of enterprising villagers selling fuel to motorists like us. We bought the much needed petrol at a premium and drove on.

We could smell rain in the air as we neared Sagar on way to Lalitpur. And then we saw the rain falling in the distance. We were mesmerized by this beautiful ethereal sight. The rain gradually overtook us. Alka tried to raise the glass on her side, and the glass came in her hand. Somehow, we kept most of the rain out and reached Sagar, bright and sunny and dry,  in time for lunch. Alka and Bittoo enjoyed a leisurely lunch. I joined them for a quick bite after I got the glass repaired.

We had planned to stay the night at Lalitpur and see a whole palace which we were told was built using glass bottles, mainly beer bottles. Once again we could not find accommodation because all hotels were taken by a political party for its delegates attending a political rally. Having no choice, we motored on to Jhansi. A unique feature of this drive was that we kept entering and exiting the states of UP and MP alternately. No, it was not a winding road. It was the state boundary which was winding. Thankfully, we checked in at a hotel minutes before their bar and kitchen were to close. We placed our orders even before signing the register.

The next morning we proceeded to Shivpuri near Gwalior. Shivpuri used to be the summer capital of the erstwhile Maratha rulers of Gwalior state till it ceded to join the Indian republic. We stayed in a charming little cottage within the national park. Once again we found the park bereft of greenery, thanks to the dry month of June.  We did visit some beautiful monuments though. It was a marvel to see a stone wall in one such monument, a chattri (cenotaph), through which the flame of a match could be seen from the other side.

scan0025scan0026scan0027

Left Shivpuri after breakfast and could have reached home around tea time but were diverted to Aligharh from Mathura because the highway was block due to Haryana bandh.

Were relieved to finally reach home after a grueling outing lasting over two weeks and 4000 kms.

(Revised under duress. My wife and daughter decided that the original did not faithfully described all that we had actually encountered. Hope they would be satisfied)

 

सुहाना सफ़र ४

“यह हाथ में पट्टी क्यों बँधी है?” बाँये हाथ में पट्टी बँधी देख कर मेरे मित्र विनोद ने कुछ इस अंदाज़ में पूछा मानों कोई रहस्य जानना चाहता हो.

“छुरा लग गया” मैंने संजीदगी से  जवाब दिया.

“छुरा लग गया? कैसे?” विनोद ने जानना चाहा.

हमारे परिवार का एक बड़ा सा फार्म है ऋषिकेश के पास जहाँ अन्य फसलों के अलावा फल फूल के पौधे भी उगाए जाते थे, ख़ासतौर पर गुलाब के पौधे. सन् १९७२ में जवाहर लाल नेहरू गार्डन, श्रीनगर, कश्मीर से १०,००० गुलाब के पौधे सप्लाई करने का ऑर्डर मिला. इतने पौधे हमारे पास नहीं थे. महरौली, दिल्ली में बड़े पैमाने पर गुलाब की खेती होती थी. तय किया कि महरौली से पौधे खरीदे जाएँ.  इस आशय से मैं अपने घर मुज़फ़्फ़रनगर से बड़े भाई नरेंद्र के पास रुड़की पहुँचा जहाँ से हम दोनों दोपहर के खाने के बाद अपनी पुरानी सी फ़िएट में सवार होकर दिल्ली के लिए निकल पड़े. शामली में माता पिता के साथ शाम की चाय पीते हुए कुछ समय बिताया और सूरज छिपने से कुछ पहले आगे चले.

सूरज छिपने के बाद मेरठ डिवीज़न के राजमार्गों पर यात्रा करना ख़तरे से खाली नहीं है. लूट पाट एक मामूली घटना मानी जाती है. खरीदने के लिए काफ़ी नगद हमारे पास था इसलिए भाई साहब ने अपनी पिस्तौल भी रख ली थी. पिस्तौल, जो कुछ समय पहले ही विदेश से मंगाई गई थी, के साथ पाँच गोलियाँ भी आईं थी. मैंने न कभी पिस्तौल चलाई थी न ही मुझे कार चलानी आती थी. फिर भी पिस्तौल सीट पर रखी गई और भाई साहब ने मुझे ज़ुबानी ट्रेनिंग देते हुए निर्देश दिया कि अगर रास्ते में हमें कोई लूटने की कोशिश करे तो मैं बिना हिचकिचाए गोली चला दूँ. इस तरह पूरी तैय्यारी के साथ हम शामली से दिल्ली के लिए चल पड़े.

अंधेरा हो गया था. हेडलाइट जला ली गई थीं. भाई साहब गाड़ी चलाते रहे और मैं, मन ही मन, पिस्तौल चलाने की प्रैक्टिस करता रहा. सोचा कि सड़क पर लुटेरे रुकावट करेंगे, भाई साहब को गाड़ी रोकनी पड़ेगी, एक आदमी छुरा लेकर मुझ पर हमला करेगा, मैं गोली चला दूँगा, भाई साहब प्लान के मुताबिक यू-टर्न लेंगे और इस तरह हम लोग लुटने से बच कर वापस शामली चले जाएँगे. भाई साहब और मैं पूरी तरह सतर्क थे, हर दिशा में आँखें गड़ाए बढ़ते जा रहे थे. अचानक जिसका  डर था वही हो गया. बीच सड़क पर एक ट्रैक्टर खड़ा था. तीन चार आदमी उसके दोनों ओर खड़े थे. भाई साहब ने ब्रेक लगाया. बड़ी बड़ी दाढ़ी मूँछ, पगड़ी बाँधे, ख़तरनाक सा दिखने वाला एक आदमी मेरी तरफ बढ़ा. मैंने पिस्तौल उठाई. वो आदमी पास आ गया था. मैं घबराहट में पिस्तौल का सेफ्टीकैच खोल नहीं पा रहा था. अब वो मेरे बिल्कुल पास था. गाढ़े की चादर में से, जो उसने ओढ़ रखी थी, एक हाथ निकला. उस हाथ में छुरा . . . . . नहीं था. “ट्रैक्टर खराब हो गया है. कच्चे में को निकाल ले” वो बोला.

धीरे से गाड़ी कच्चे में उतारी और वापस सड़क पर आ कर सरपट भागे. इससे पहले कि मुँह के रास्ते बाहर निकलते दिल को सम्भाल पाता गाड़ी की हेडलाइट बंद हो गईं. सड़क नज़र नहीं आ रही थी. रुकना ख़तरे से खाली नहीं था. टॉर्च की रोशनी से सड़क देखने की कोशिश व सामने से आने वाली इक्की दुक्की गाड़ी को यह एहसास कराते कि हम कार हैं धीरे धीरे बढ़ते रहे. एक पेट्रोल पंप दिखा. रुक कर इंक्वाइरी करी. कोई ऑटो एलेक्ट्रीशियन इतनी देर रात गये नहीं मिला. एक ट्रक चालक ने कहा कि वो कर सकता है. मरता क्या न करता. उसने डैशबोर्ड के कुछ तारों को अपने हिसाब से जोड़ा और लाइट जलने लगीं. खुशी खुशी आगे बढ़े. बहुत देर तक नहीं चल पाई हमारी खुशी. रबर जलने की बदबू के साथ गाड़ी में धुआँ भरने लगा. जल्दी जल्दी तार अलग करने की कोशिश में भाई साहब के हाथ भी जल गये. हेडलाइट फिर बंद हो गयीं. पहले की तरह टॉर्च की मदद से धीरे धीरे आगे बढ़ते रहे और दिल्ली तक का १०० कि. मी. का सफ़र, जो  तीन घंटे में हो जाना चाहिए था, आठ घंटे में पूरा किया.

दो दिन बाद पौधों से लदी गाड़ी लेकर हम लोग शाम को दिल्ली से सहारनपुर, जहाँ से पौधे ट्रक में लदवाने थे, के लिए चले. हम दोनों बुरी तरह थके हुए थे. ड्राइव भाई साहब को ही करना था. इस डर से कि चलाते हुए नींद न आ जाए, उन्होंने जागने की गोली खा ली थी. इस बार गाड़ी ने, जो हमने दिल्ली में ठीक करा ली थी, कोई तकलीफ़ नहीं दी. मज़े से चलते रहे हम लोग, तब तक जब तक मैने यह नहीं देखा कि गाड़ी सड़क छोड़ कर कच्चे में उतरती हुई गड्ढे की ओर जा रही है. भाई साहब की आँखें बंद थीं. सो गये थे वो. स्टियरिंग घुमा कर गाड़ी को गड्ढे में जाने से बचाते हुए चिल्ला कर भाई साहब को जगाया. उन्होंने गाड़ी ठीक से किनारे लगाई और बैठे बैठे ही सोने लगे.

फार्म से भी पौधे सहारनपुर आ चुके थे. सभी पौधों को लकड़ी के खोखों में पैक करके उन पर लोहे की पत्ती लगाते हुए मेरे हाथ में चोट लग गई. इसी चोट पर बँधी पट्टी के बारे में विनोद ने ऐसे रहस्यमय अंदाज़ में पूछा था कि मुझे एक छोटे से संशोधन के साथ यह घटना सुनानी पड़ी. संशोधन केवल इतना कि ‘गाढ़े की चादर में से जो हाथ निकला उसमें छुरा था जो मेरे हाथ में लगा. दूसरे हाथ से मैंने गोली चलाई जिसके लगने से वो आदमी गिरा और हम तेज़ी से आगे निकल गये. पता नहीं वो आदमी सिर्फ़ घायल हुआ या . . . . .’

काफ़ी बाद में पता चला कि जिसे हम पिस्तौल समझ कर साथ ले गये थे वो एक लोहे के टुकड़े से अधिक कुछ न था. उसके साथ आईं पाँचों गोलियाँ बेकार हो चुकी थीं. चली ही नहीं.

 

 

A Journey through Madhya Pradesh – 3

Significant information is now floating on the net about Pandava Falls and Caves.  Two decades ago the place was quite unknown. We would have missed it if the man we asked for directions to Satna had not told us about it.

We had left Khajuraho early, just after our morning cup of tea.  About a km off the highway, 12 kms from Panna, we found a gorge about 100 feet deep, stone steps leading to the bottom. The place was deserted. Nothing moved. No vegetation except a few shrubs on the edges of the lake which had shrunk to form a small pool, a thin stream of water trickling in from some height. A few caves could be seen around the pool and some stone statues nearby.  The cruel summer months had devastated the area, burning all the greenery brown. It was pleasantly cool at the bottom though, as if air conditioned. The place transforms into a lush green forest in the monsoon months. Pandavas, of the ancient epic Mahabharata, are reputed to have spent part of their twelve year exile here, hence the name.

We refueled at Panna to reach Satna just in time for a late breakfast. Bandhavgarh National Park, the next on our itinerary, is about 135 kms from Satna. The road, a state highway, was in a shambles, littered with stones almost large enough to qualify as boulders. Resolutely we crawled through in first gear and reached Bandhavgarh around 3 PM.

We checked in at the White Tiger Forest Lodge within the park. Joined a jeep safari to view tigers and almost immediately found a family of tigers lazing in shrubs after a kill. Took a number of photographs but, thanks to the film role purchased in Khajuraho, none came out well. We watched the tigers for a couple of hours from the safety of our jeep. They continued with their siesta.It was getting dark and we returned to the lodge.

scan0016

A black faced monkey (langoor) visited us

The charming thatched cottage built on tall wooden stilts was surrounded by green shrubs and tall trees. It was like living in a tree house. We retired to bed after a wholesome dinner, hoping a tiger or two would visit us. We were disappointed. We hit the trail again early in the morning and saw a lot of wild life. Saw sambar, deer, antlers, wild boars, peacocks, langurs and more in abundance, but no tigers.

A group of caves in the Park betrayed signs of ancient human habitation. We were told that the caves were home to primitive man thousands of years ago. We also came across a rare monolith of Lord Vishnu reclining on Sheshnaga, the thousand-head serpent, near the caves.

scan0015

The reclining Vishnu

We reached Amarkantak , 200 kms from Bandhavgarh, in the afternoon. Not being able to find a room anywhere in Amarkantak, we were forced to stay in a crowded and shabby dormitory. It was our worst stay of the trip. We found the locals to be singularly ignorant of, and indifferent to the mythology and history of their beautiful town. We did not have access to the net then and had to rely largely on the locals who never told us about the neighboring 900 years old Kalachuri temples. I had earlier visited Amarkantak almost a quarter century ago. It was a small town then, almost a village. Some distance from the town we had found a pair of human footprints embedded in the rock over which a still young Narmada flowed. These footprints were said to have been left in mythological times by the sage Kapil. I wanted my wife and daughter to see them too and asked our guide to lead us to them. He was surprised. He had neither seen nor heard of them. Together we launched a search and, in a short while, it was my turn to be surprised. We found not one but two pairs where I had seen only one (so much for the veracity of some of our myths).  Our guide was happy though. The discovery had added to his repertoire.

Sage Kapil’s feet imprinted in solid rock

Amarkantak has the distinction of being the origin of three major river rivers – Narmada; Sone, a tributary of Yamuna; and Johila, in turn a tributary of Sone. No wonder Amarkantak is considered holy and is a sacred Hindu tirtha.

scan0017

A temple in Amarkantak

A rectangular tank (Narmada Kund) surrounds the source of Narmada from which a rivulet emerges. My daughter never stopped boasting that she had crossed the mighty Narmada (more than 1300 kms long) in one single step. The area is marked by a number of temples around the Kund. Some distance away is the Dudh Dhara (Milky Falls) where the falling water appears as white as milk.

A Journey through Madhya Pradesh – 2

Jhansi in Uttar Pradesh is only 112 kms from Gwalior. We concluded our site seeing and bade adieu to Gwalior after lunch. Driving on a decent road, as we neared Datia, a small town about 65 kilometers from Gwalior, we saw a tall structure, a palace, no less. Fascinated, we stopped by and went in. The seven storied palace, for some reason, has never been lived in. But we did see a Muslim grave on one of the upper floors. A blend of Rajput and Mughal styles of architecture, the entire stone palace is built without using iron. From no angle did it resemble the swastika we were told it was built as.

scan0015
A corridor in Datia Palace
scan0016
The ceiling

Paintings in Datia Palace

From Datia to Jhansi is a short hop of 30 minutes and we made it by 4pm. Right away we went to see the fort of the legendary queen, Rani Laxmi Bai, who fought the British during our first war of independence. As the forts go, it is a very small one, more like a fortress. But for its historical importance, being associated with Rani Laxmi Bai, one would not want to visit it.

Orcha, only 17 kilometers from Jhansi, is situated on the bank of river Betwa. We checked in at Betwa Retreat, run by MP Tourism. The cottages were well furnished, the staff helpful and courteous, and service excellent. We enjoyed a sumptuous dinner in the open by the swirling waters of the river.

Lord Ram is worshiped both, as a God and as a King in Orcha. The king only ruled in the name of Ram. The temple, Ram Raja Mandir, originally was a palace in which the queen lived. An ardent devotee of Ram, she was on pilgrimage to Ajodhya from where she decided to bring back His statue. The Lord agreed to come with her on the condition that he would not move from wherever she places Him on the ground. A message was hurriedly sent to the king to build a temple but it could not be completed before Ram and the queen arrived. The queen placed Him in her palace and started worshiping him. The temple was completed but, true to his word, Ram refused to move. The queen moved out her palace which was then converted into a temple.

Rani Mahal converted to Raja ram Mamdir

Although it does not find as high a mention in history as its much larger neighbor Jhansi, Orcha has more to offer to a tourist. One must visit the Ram Raja Mandir, Laxmi Narayan Mandir, Raja Mahal, the chhatris (cenotaphs) on the bank of river Betwa to glorify Orcha’s Bundela rulers and Jahangir Mahal. We were told that the last was built for Emperor Jahangir who stayed there as a guest of Raja Bir Singh Deo for only one night. This story is not plausible. More likely, an existing palace was renamed Jahangir Mahal after the emperor stayed there.

scan0024

The domes of Jehangir Mahal

scan0025

The cenotaphs at Orcha

The locals asked us to visit Rani Laxmi Bai Temple, a modest structure some distance from the town. We were told that the temple was built in the memory of the Rani of Jhansi soon after she was killed fighting the British in 1857-58. There are many paintings depicting battle scenes of the era which are said to be painted when the temple was constructed. The structure could be a hundred years or more old but the paintings appear to be of recent origin.

scan0026

Painting in Laxmi Temple

scan0027

A battle scene in Laxmi Temple

scan0028

The ceiling of Laxmi Temple

The 175 kilometer drive on NH 39 was a pleasure and we made good time to reach Khajuraho on the 12th evening. Hotel Jhankar, also run by MP Tourism, was a far cry from Betwa Retreats. It was barely livable and the food not quite delicious.

The temples at Khajuraho were built over a period of about 100 years, from 950 CE to 1050 CE during the reign of Chandela Rajputs. Hundreds of artisans, sculptors and artists must have worked at a feverish pitch for more than a hundred years to build some 85 temples.  Only 20 have survived the savagery of Muslim invaders and vagaries of nature. There are two groups of temples; Hindu temples and Jain temples.  Famous for their erotic sculpture, the Kama sutra theme constitutes only about 10% of the total in Hindu temples. Nude human figures also appear in the Jain temples minus erotic content. These 1000 years old temples representing the glowing period of a prosperous Chandela dynasty are now a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Photographically, Khajuraho, and later Bandhavgarh National Park, was a disaster. We had run out of film roles in Orchha and the ones we purchased from a local Khajuraho vendor turned out to be duds. A pity. I promised myself to return and take photograph. The promise remains unfulfilled.

 

A Journey Through Madhya Pradesh -1

Fools are they who voluntarily venture out in the Indian summer. The harsh summer months of north India force people stay indoors. One ventures out only if one has to. Travel in June if you must, but start early in the morning to beat the heat.

We piled in our non AC (air conditioned cars were still a luxury then) Maruti Suzuki 800 at 5 AM on June 7,1995 and drove non-stop to reach the family farm, situated between Haridwar and Rishikesh, about 235 kilometers away from our house in New Delhi, at 10 am. The occasion was grih pravesh (house warming) ceremony of my brother Dr. N.S. Bhatnagar’s new house on the 8th and my sister Manorama’s birthday on the 9th. Both were celebrated with great fervor in company of kinsmen and friends.

Our planned holiday trip to Madhya Pradesh was discussed threadbare by all. Our elders admonished us and told us we were being foolish to undertake such a long driving trip in the extreme heat of June. We were too obstinate to fall in line and departed, as scheduled, early in the morning on June 10, reaching Delhi for a late breakfast with my sister Aruna, before starting on  the next leg of our journey to Gwalior, 330 kilometers away.

To ward off the intense heat we knew we would face, we packed the car with gallons of water, quantities of fruits and syrups and a huge slab of ice to cool them. The temperature inside the car was only a shade cooler but not too uncomfortable, with my daughter Pramiti applying ice cool packs to our heads and her own too. Happily for us, saner people stayed indoors and we had the highway to ourselves. We appeared to be the only ones on the road. Not a single vehicle could be seen for kilometers ahead or behind us and we made good time, often doing 120 kilometer an hour. Lunchtime found us in Agra, a historical town. We had visited Agra often and decided to give it a miss. Instead, we stopped at a small Rajasthan Tourism restaurant at Dhaulpur for a late lunch at 3.30. We came to know later that Dhaulpur was burning at 50 degrees Celsius while we had lunch there.  Never before had we endured such high temperature and were afraid of being berated by our elders, should we suffer a heatstroke or the like. Fortunately, we survived the two week excursion without any ill effect. Continuing our journey, we reached Gwalior at 5.30 the same evening. The receptionist at the hotel we checked in, surprised that we were holidaying in the grueling June month, seemed to accept my explanation that we were a little mad.

We had driven more than 550 kilometers and should have been tired. But, crazy as we were, we freshened up, fortified ourselves with some snacks and proceeded to watch ‘son et lumiere’ – the light and sound show at the fort. For nearly one hour, the duration of the soul touching show, we lived through centuries of history. Its effect on one cannot be described. It has to be experienced personally.

scan0014
Gwalior Fort

I will not comment on the historical or architectural aspect of the places and monuments we visited during our two week sojourn of Madhya Pradesh. Twenty one years is too long a span of time to recall the finer details. Moreover, I cannot add anything to what is now available on the net. I will, therefore, relive the time we spent on the road and narrate stories and anecdotes we gathered about the places we visited.

Gwalior and its fort are no strangers to me. My mamaji (mother’s brother) lived in Gwalior. Ma would visit him often, and we children tagged along. Mamaji lived in Lashkar, an old locality. Later he built a house in Kherapati, a newly developed colony at the foot of the hill on which the fort is built. We youngsters would run up to the fort at will.

It is a sprawling fort, spread over nearly 3 square kilometers, built on the flat top of a thin, long, nearly  unclimbable hill rising about 350 feet from the ground around it. The imposing walls are visible from most parts of the city and beyond. There are many tales of how and when the fort was built. Some say that it has always been there and nobody knows who built it. Others claim that the fort was built before the sixth century. But most agree that it was built in the 8th century by King Suraj Sen and named after the sage Gwalipa who cured him of leprosy with water from a pond around which the fort now stands. The fort is one of the few in the country which were seldom, if ever, conquered. Yet it changed hands many times during its 1200 years old history. For most of its existence, the fort remained in possession of the Rajputs and the Marathas. Jivaji Rao Scindia, the last Maratha to rule Gwalior, acceded to India after the country attained independence from the British in 1947. It now forms a large part of Madhya Pradesh, India’s largest province in terms of area.

Of scores of historical structures built over centuries, the most important are – Saas-Bahu Ka Mandir, Man Mandir Palace and Gujari Mahal.

The local tale that the two Saas-Bahu ka Mandirs were built by a mother-in-law (saas) and her daughter-in-law (bahu) each competing with the other does not seem to be correct. Built in 1093, the temples were dedicated to Lord Vishnu, the God with a thousand arms (sahastrabahu). ‘Sahastrabahu’ corrupted to ‘Saas-Bahu, and the story of competing saas and bahu was born. According to an unconfirmed story, the two temples were covered by tons of soil to save them from being defiled when the mughals occupied the fort.

Of the two palaces Man Mandir and Gujari Mahal built by Maharaja Man Singh Gujari Mahal was constructed for Mrignayani, a Gujar princess whom the Maharaja married. Being of lower caste, she was ostracized by the other wives of the Maharaja. So he built a separate palace for her, away from the main palace.

Man Mandir, the other palace built by Maharaja Man Singh, is the main palace. The four story structure, of which two are underground, is also called the ‘Painted Palace’ because of the colorful blue, yellow and green intricate tile work.

Jai Vilas Palace, which houses Jivaji Rao Museum, was built on the fort’s foothills in 1874 by Maharaja Jayaji Rao Scindia. A part of the 400 room palace, is now converted into a museum and is open to public. The visitors get an insight to the opulent lifestyle of the kings. The Durbar Hall is beautifully decorated with, among many other valuable artifacts, a huge chandelier hanging over a large dining table atop which, along a track, ran a working silver train to serve the guests delectable delicacies from the royal kitchen. The museum has a collection of arms used by the warriors of old, the weapons and guns of the British, to say nothing of the priceless paintings and statues from around the world. Also on display are the carriages and cars of the Maharaja.

One must also visit the Samadhi of Tansen, the legendary vocalist and one of the nine nauratnas (gems) in the court of Emperor Akbar.

 

PAKISTAN DID NOT KILL MY DAD. WAR DID.

Gurmehar Kaur is neither pro-Pakistan nor anti-national. She is only anti-war, a pacifist. The statement, which should have been considered in the spirit I believe it was made in, has been exploited by all political parties including the ruling BJP and blown out of proportion by the TRP hungry media. It is true that Pakistan perpetrated the war that killed her father, Captain Mandeep Singh. It is also true that her father would not have been killed had there been no war. The threats to kill Gurmehar Kaur or to rape her only bring to light, once again, the dirty and intolerant minds of our country’s so called future.

The right to freedom of speech in our country appears to be selective. Umar Khalid is not anti-India when he says ‘Bharat tere tukde honge, insha allah, insha allah. . . . . . . . . Bandook ke bal par lenge azadi. Bharat ki barbadi tak jang rahegi (God willing, India will disintegrate. . . . . . . . . We will use guns to attain freedom; will continue to fight till India is finished). Yet Gurmehar Kaur is labeled pro-Pakistan when she say ‘Pakistan did not kill my dad. War did’.

Are the people waving Pakistani or ISIS flags and pelting stones at troops fighting the terrorists in Kashmir pro-Indian and patriots? Should they not be shot at sight? We expected our leaders, irrespective of their political affiliations, to endorse and support the Army Chief when he warned those who wave Pak/ISIS flags and pelt stones at our forces fighting the terrorists. Instead they condemned his statement and shouted themselves hoarse in defense of these anti-national elements. Should they not be prosecuted for sedition?

To what depth will our politicians sink in their ambition to grab and retain power? As the campaigning in the ongoing state elections show, the level of politicking in India, never high, has sunk, and is still sinking to new depths every day. Instead of educating the voter in the ways and means of making life, and in turn the country prosperous, freebies are offered, thus killing enterprise and the will to work. A nation cannot prosper unless its citizens prosper. And the citizens will not prosper if you give them free wheat, rice or free laptops and mobiles. They prosper only if they work, and work hard, to get these.

Not a day passes without top leaders from all political parties mocking one another and making frivolous remarks which are not even witty. They only leave one wondering about the level of their intellect. Every leader, across party lines, is guilty of frivolity and few, if any, are serious about making the nation prosperous.

Dear leaders you exhort us to be proud Indians. Give us a reason to be proud, sirs. Till then we hang our heads in shame.