Thursday, 15 November 2012

No Travel

It’s part of my job and I love it and still I planned not to do it this month. There has been a big load of desk based work waiting for my attention. I have not been able to do it completely. As I started on it and went deeper into it, there was sudden realisation that I was doing things which were not urgent but important.

They could get addressed only after I stopped and had a look introspectively as well as extrospectively. There is no array of running images passing by but I get a view which creates impression and enables analysis and thoughts. Sometimes this can question the path you have chosen for travel. Question is are you ready to stop and face that question or you are not stopping just to evade that bigger question.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Some Cherry Tomatoes and a Horse in Melghat

26 September 2012

I am visiting a village called Kanjoli in Melghat region of Maharashtra. This village, situated on a plateau at the fringes of Melghat Tiger Forest Reserve, is inhabited mainly by people of Korku tribe. Majority of the villagers in this area which is infamous for stories of malnutrition and infant mortality, draw out their subsistence not from the forest or their land but by migrating to other areas for unskilled labour work.

I am here for seeing the work that is being done on home gardens. The villagers have been traditionally cultivating some vegetables and herbs in the small plots around their house. In some of the households they also grow corn and pigeon peas in addition to the vegetables. Majority of these home gardens last for the rainy season and cultivation is stopped as the rains recede completely. Efforts are being done to revive these home gardens and to improve the diets of the people through the produce from the home gardens.

As I visit one home garden after another, women and men come forward proudly to show off their planted saplings and vegetables grown in their plots. One man shows his tree guard made to protect his Moringa plant. It has been made innovatively using stems of Besharam, a weed that is so abundantly found in the area that it is called Besharam meaning shameless. Another person comes forward complaining about yellowing that has started in his Papaya plant and worrying about whether it will stop producing fruits. One person shows us how he has planted some saplings and sown some vegetable seeds in the very limited space available around his house. I get a sense that people are quite excited about the intervention.

But then there are some home gardens which show very poor survival of planted saplings. One old lady while visiting her home garden demands that along with saplings she should be given some maintenance cost as well. In one home garden I see some cherry tomato plants. The plants have started bearing tomatoes and their weak stems have started falling on the ground because of the weight of the fruits. I suggest the farmer to stake them. The old man smiles and tells me that they have been grown like that for years and he does not have to do anything for it. Some fruits fall on the ground and decompose but seeds remain in the soil and plants come up every rainy season. I visualise a heap of cherry tomatoes sold at very high price by a vendor in Mumbai and here is a farmer who does not care about it. I see some aerial yams at one house which are becoming rear these days. I ask for its local name to the people around and many are not able to answer my question.

“Eh!” I exclaim as I see a horse roaming freely in the grassy patch outside one house. The animal comes as a surprise just by its existence in Melghat. “Whose horse is that?” I ask. The owner turns out to be just in front of me. “I bought it.” He says proudly. “Why did you buy a horse. Do you have some business carrying loads?” He frowns and answers, “Nope. It’s for my son. He wished for a horse and I had to fulfil his wish. Now he has his fun as he sits on it. The horse is very docile. He will also allow you to sit on its back in case you wish to click a picture of yours with that camera.” He winks and continues, “I bought it for 10000 rupees. I had to bring him through the jungle. I had to find my own way. It was a walk of two days and there was nobody to ask around also but I made it. I could not afford hiring a truck since I had exhausted all I had earned during my stay at the work site. And still I have to spend a lot since that horse needs special feed.” I start imagining how his son would be. He must be a cheerful lad. But the boy turns out to be a gloomy eyed and sad looking one. “Look at the mobile phone he is having. I have bought it for him. There is no network here but still he can hear music with it.” The proud dad continues but I don’t want to continue any more with that discussion in that village where school attendance depends solely on the midday meals served to the students and people migrate in desperate search of work just to fill their hungry stomachs. I move on.

30 September

It is the last day of Ganesha Festival and my mother is teaching her new daughter in law how to make Ukdiche Modak, a traditional Konkani sweet delicacy. As I relish one Modak and start unpacking my bag, I reminisce about strongly guarded Moringa trees and rapidly diminishing aerial yams. I smile to myself as the images of the horse and the father son duo flash in front of me. I look at the small plastic carry bag in which I had carried some cherry tomatoes for taking out the seeds. They are ripe but still not spoilt. “They won’t be able to come up on their own. I have to sow them consciously.” I tell myself.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Pune to Mumbai on Train

23 September 2012

All the Mumbaikars and Punekars who are born between 1900- 1980 have a special place for the train journey between Mumbai and Pune in their hearts. A Marathi song written about the train Deccan Queen summarises it all, the excitement during the journey and the love which passengers have for this route.
The route used to pass through marshlands near the creeks of Mumbai, paddy fields near Karjat, the mountain pass called Bor Ghat in the Sahyadri range, the hill stations of Khandala and Lonavala, flat terrains on the backdrop of hills near Talegaon and crossed the rivers near Pune. Apart from these exciting natural features covered in short period of only three and half hours, there was some other fun to be had on the route. After getting away from crowds of Mumbai, first major stop was Karjat where people came out to buy spicy Batatawada which they used eat in the train while it passed through the majestic mountains. If it was a rainy season then there was additional pleasure to be had for the eyes because of presence of waterfalls. After coming up the pass, there was cool and refreshing air to be had at Khandala with the additional fun of having to pass through clouds in case it was rainy season. As the train moved more towards Pune afterwards, dry hard rocks, grassy plains, Sorghum fields, small houses and simple temples built in traditional style became prominent.
This change itself was bringing the excitement. The train was linking two different cultures, money making Mumbai to academic, historical Pune. Each station in between had its own identity.
Yesterday I made this journey after so many days to realise that majority of the towns on the route are now lost in concrete and dust. The Batatawada at Karjat and Chikki at Lonavala are no longer their own speciality but can be found at any place on the route. The major site at the hill pass is the mega highway which tries to belittle rocky mountain peaks. 
Lost is the identity as well as beauty of the route. It has became another mundane journey like some local train in Pune or Mumbai. The excitement on the route is long gone and so is the song of Deccan Queen.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Jammu and Kashmir

It was a family trip with my wife and four year old son. It was long due since in the last six years of our married life we never had done any long tour though I myself have travelled a lot for official reasons because of the nature of the jobs which I have taken till date. For my wife and my son it was the first trip out of the state so they were very excited for this trip and so was I since I was going to visit the region of Kashmir for the first time in my life though I had visited almost 20 states till that time. Following is the general experience based on the itinerary. I am refraining from expressing my thoughts since I need to keep it short, sweet and in one post.

26 August
Started from Mumbai by Swaraj Express.
Train taking us to Jammu
27 August
Reached Jammu in the evening 4:00 pm. Journey was long but made good by good company of passengers around and a group of tourist with whom I could share some advises as well as anxiousness. In Jammu, we visited Raghunath Temple. They do not allow cameras inside. The temple complex is worth a visit and claims to have all the 33 crores of Hindu deities. Just opposite the temple there is Amritsarian di Hatti, a restaurant where you can get tasty snacks. Try their piping hot Gulab jamuns. The cyber cafe owner who happened to be a Hindu migrant from Kashmir gave lot of advise about safety, expressed his grief and shared his memories. That was very touching.
Raghunath Mandir view from out hotel in Jammu
28 August
Started from Jammu for Pahalgam at 8:30 am. We had hired a vehicle. On way after about drive of 4 hours comes Peerah, a village with lots of Dhabas famous for Rajma Rice topped with Desi Ghee. I highly recommend to stop for the same. Some of the Dhabas offer beautiful views of a dam and a hydroelectric power plan on Chenab river in the valley. On this highway which connects Jammu to Srinagar, one has to pass through Jawahar Tunnel which is almost 2 km long and it is an experience itself. After crossing the tunnel we enter Kashmir valley and after a few kilometres of hilly road one reaches Titanic View Point. It offers the first view of Kashmir valley and when we saw it with golden coloured rice fields it was just mesmerising. We took a detour to Verinag. This is the place where Jhelum river originates. A beautiful reservoir with clean, cool and blue water with a back drop of deep green forest and garden around it makes it a very serene place. It is one of the most memorable place that I visited in Kashmir. After spending time travelling on a flat road with beautiful double story houses, rice fields, apple and pear orchards on both the sides of the road, we reached Anantnag and suddenly we became uncomfortable with the crowds and chaos in the town. The town is full of bearded men and completely veiled women giving it the feel of an Islamic Extremist town. No wonder they want to rename it Islamabad. The original name Anantnag however beautifully means the place where uncountable number of streams emerge. We continued towards Pahalgam and at one point met white and pure waters of river Lidder which accompanied us throughout upto Pahalgam. At some of its sections between Anantnag and Pahalgam one can do river rafting and facilities for the same are available.
Dam on Chenab river
Origin of Jhelum at Verinag
Lidder river at Pahalgam
29 August
Our hotel offered good view of the Lidder river and the forested hills. In the morning after breakfast of tasty Aaloo Paranthas and tea at the hotel itself, we started for the Pahalgam sight seeing. First we visited Besaran meadow in the morning. Riding on the steep and hilly paths while taking my son on the same pony was quite an experience. It took us almost 3.5 hours to return to Pahalgam taxi statio from Besaran covering some other nearby points. After having a light lunch we started off for Aru valley and Betaabwadi. On these routes there are lots of spots where Bollywood film songs have been shot and we heard a lot about the same from our taxi driver. Aru valley has a similar meadow like Besaran. The other points nearby were not covered by us however since we were tired of our first pony rides. Betabwadi is a nice peaceful place on the side of the river which is one of the tributaries of Lidder. Many locals were also seen taking dips into the river water and it was making me envious of them since I also wanted to do it was not carrying spare clothes.
DSCN1706Besaran Meadow
DSCN1729Pony wallah
DSCN1743Betab Wadi
30 August
We took a taxi in the morning and reached Srinagar. It was my friend Ashraf, who had helped me with the planning and bookings of the tour. Now I just left everything to him. He came in the evening accompanied by one of his friend Mushtaq. They drove us to Parimahal and Chashmeshahi. Parimahal is located at a higher location and offers beautiful views of Srinagar and Dal Lake. Chashmeshahi is a place with origin of a spring and a garden with fountains. After that we spent some time on the banks of Dal Lake snacking on roasted corn. The smell coming from nearby Kebab stall was very much inviting but could not go for the same given the company of my pure vegetarian wife.
DSCN1785View of Dal Lake from Parimahal
31 August
It was the day allocated for Gulmarg. We waited for one of Ashraf’s friend Sajjad who was going to drive us there. I had read some travelogues, searched internet and interacted on web communities for this Kashmir trip. I had listed some places for visit. There were some also on Gulmarg route but with Sajjad coming late, could not cover them. I realised that I had decided to be more of a guest of Ashraf than a demanding tourist and had decided to leave everything on him. After this realisation my itching about the same stopped and I became relaxed. We went to Gulmarg and did the famous Gondola ride, the tickets of which we had already booked online. The second point of Affarwat was the place which we were looking forward too for experiencing snow, especially for my son and my wife who were going to see it for the first time. We got it after a small climb from the gondola station. It was made difficult for me since I had to carry my son and that too in the thin air at that high altitude. The Indian tourists were behaving very irresponsibly by throwing garbage here and there and I could not expect anything different from them. In the evening after return we had dinner with Ashraf and his family. I could taste some Kashmiri stuff which was very much palatable. Tabak Maas, Kaantee Kebab were quite delicious. My wife had to bear with me eating non vegetarian food somehow.
DSCN1914Snow finally
1 September
In the morning till the time we were waiting for Ashraf to come to take us to the houseboat, we visited Pratap Singh Museum. It is a place where we learnt a lot about Kashmir’s history and culture. Not many tourists visit this place but for the interested it is very valuable. Then in the afternoon we reached houseboat. It was just across one of the ghats on Dal Lake. We took a longer Shikara ride after taking lunch and I recommend it highly though I found the pressure of floating vendors too much. But I have to appreciate the fun of shopping while being on the water. After shikara ride, we visited Shankaracharya Temple and the three Mughal gardens viz. Botanical garden, Nishat garden and Shalimar garden. All the sites were just beautiful though it was quite tiring since we covered them very fast. The day ended with very bad food at the restaurant near the ghat on Dal lake. The ambience and nice comfortable bed on the houseboat helped to balance the bad mood which was set after dinner.DSCN1978With a group of Kashmiri girls living in Dal Lake
DSCN1990Habitations in Dal Lake
DSCN2039Flowers at Nishat Garden
2 September
With very boring and expensive breakfast on houseboat, we were all prepared for getting back home. Ashraf picked us up and drove us to the airport. We also did the last remaining shopping for the apples, apricots, walnuts, saffron and traditional Kashmiri rice all under his local knowledge about the good places to buy them. They did not come cheap but we got very good quality products and back at home all people are happy relishing them. Srinagar airport has very long repetitive security procedure so we had to start very early for the airport.

8 September
We are still basking in the memories of our trip and have forgotten all haggling and bargaining we had to do and also the backaches developed because of being unaccustomed to long pony rides on the rough hilly terrains. We are now left with a wish to visit many places we were not able to cover during this trip. Special thanks go to Ashraf for making my trip to Kashmir smooth and easy and for his great hospitality. Indian Army, Central Reserve Police Force and Jammu and Kashmir Police are doing a great job by making the region a safe haven for the tourists and I hope that peace returns to the Kashmir and remains like that forever.

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

In there

31 July 2012
I have undergone some sessions on meditation at different times. This is something I had never seriously looked into before. In a training workshop on noetic action which I finished two months back, a small session on meditation was conducted. I was quite inspired by the training and thought that I shall have to internalise meditation somehow. It was the last day of the training and after the long tiring day in the peak of the summer, I had one more task in front of me. I was supposed to pick from Dadar station, my mother in law and brother in law, who are not used to hustle and bustle of the city. Their train was going to arrive by midnight and I had to start for Dadar by taking the local train by 11:00 pm.
Even at night, temperatures had not come down much and humid air was causing incessant sweating. I was extremely tired and wished that I got through the task and lay myself down on the bed as early as possible. The local train arrived at the station and I hopped in. It was night time and crowds had started to recede. I found a seat and then train started. There were 20 minutes to go till I reached Dadar.
I closed my eyes but realised that if I kept my eyes closed, I might just start snoozing. The thought of practicing some meditation came to my mind. I closed my eyes and started focussing on my breath. The thoughts started flooding in. There were so many things to do and the time that I seemed to have was so little. I was feeling an upsurge of activity in my brain and it was difficult to concentrate. I opened my eyes and saw that people in the train were mostly busy with themselves. Some were reading, some looking out from the window or chatting with their fellow passengers. Nobody knew me and nobody seemed to be bothered about me sitting upright with my eyes closed.
I closed my eyes again with more determination to be successful with the meditation this time. I decided to count my breaths till 30. I started off to find that I was getting distracted by my own thoughts. I tried focussing again and renewed my target. This time I did not try to control the thoughts but just kept on counting the breaths. To my surprise, this time just after 10 breaths, I found that thoughts were not distracting me any more and in fact they had stopped. After a while breaths started to slow down and I had started to like the peace in my mind. I could hear all the external sounds such as people talking, loud calls by moving vendors, hissing and creaking of train and still nothing was disturbing me. I could hear a eunuch clapping and begging. I could perceive him coming near me but I did not feel like opening my eyes though I like majority of the people become uneasy by such things. I kept on counting and concentrating on breath. The eunuch came near me and begged for money by keeping his palm on my head. While I was totally unmoved, he said sorry and went away.
After about 200 breaths I opened my eyes and I felt a lot of things had not changed. Out there except for the man in front of me who was looking at me, the way movement of the people was taking place had not changed at all. It seemed that time had not progressed much. However I found for myself that I was not feeling hot and sweaty. My mind did not have any clutter. In there I was at peace with my own pace.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Witchcraft and Farmers in Konkan

20 May 2012

I visit rural parts of southern Konkan frequently and across the districts of Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg, people like to tell and retell stories of ghosts and witchcraft. Hilly areas and good tree density at many places allows more space for the lesser number of humans and more number of the stories surrounding the souls of the dead, who apparently like to hang around those who are still living in their bodies. There is a great obsession amongst the majority of the people about the effects of the powers of the dead.

Move around the village and you will come surely across some small clusters of tall trees which have not yet fallen prey to the human greed. Near those trees on the grounds you are likely to find ash remains of the fire lit some time ago to cook meals. They say that souls of the dead of a Brahmin like to hang on those trees and they can be satisfied only by rituals performed by Brahmin priests and share of the meals prepared by them. There is nothing really harmful about this superstition. In fact it helps to save some trees which otherwise would have easily fell and certainly having a delicious meal cooked on open fire under the trees in beautiful environment itself is a great pleasure.

Last week I visited one of my relative in Konkan. They are farmers and telling me their stories. It was late in the evening and very dark outside and of course good time to start stories of the ghosts. But this relative of mine is a very practical farmer who also acts as a village trader with a keen sense of business and a good sense of humour. It was obvious that like common folks in the village he did not believe in the witchcraft stuff. “There are some particular days when these activities are supposed to be very effective. Such as if you wish something bad for somebody on no moon day, they say chances are high that it becomes true. These are the days you have to be particularly watchful of your bananas, since these ill wishers many times like to steal them instead of buying them.” He then narrated his recent experience of ash gourd crop. “Ash gourds are considered to take in them all the bad spirits and hence people don’t eat them in this area. We at our home don’t mind eating them. In fact various food products made from them fetch very good price in Mumbai and I had planned tried to some experiments in my newly started food processing business. I sowed them on a neglected patch of land since they need little care. I was very happy when I saw very good flowering and also subsequent good fruiting. I forgot that it also is a good medium for the people engaged in doing some witchcraft. On a day before the no moon day I visited the plot just to find that all of my ash gourds were gone.”

His neighbour who was sitting there silently till this time now started to talk. He told how he lost his two animals till date by deeds of these people doing some witchcraft. He also did not believe in that nonsense. But his experiences were making it clear that so called non sense was also a great social menace. People tie certain things with bananas and many of the times they use pins to attach these objects to bananas. They leave those bananas at certain places in the village which are frequented by the people at whom their ill wishes are targeted. These are found and eaten by free grazing cattle. The pins attached cause injuries in their throats or stomachs and animals die many times.

Well these are small but common instances having a very wide spread in a region where you also come across an occasional case of human sacrifice. After hearing those stories and trying to write them down for this blog, I get a broader question in my mind. We have been trying so much for extension of the science and technology but why have we not promoted scientific thinking yet? Any answers?

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Mumbai to Kudal via Panhala and Kolhapur

I am writing here about a family trip which I made last week. There were no intriguing experiences which of course I did not expect. Now, it does not mean that you close your mind and stop thinking about whatever that is being perceived while on the way.
We wanted to visit my in laws in Kudal and the direct trains going there from Mumbai were all full in line with the expectations. My decision to visit was ad hoc and I decided to convert this problem into an opportunity. Instead of following straight route, I decided to reach Kudal via Kolhapur. Panhala is a historic place situated at slightly higher altitude of 1000m above mean sea level and just 20 km from Kolhapur. Spending a day here would have been a slight relief from hot and humid coastal weather. I searched for a guest house over the internet and booked it over the phone after some deliberations from both the sides.
With good road, comfortable sleeper bus operated by Konduskar Travels with the timely pickup, reaching Kolhapur was totally hasslefree. So was reaching Panhala with an autorikshaw driver found in Kolhapur who frequents Panhala. After having small rest, a hot bath and carefully prepared tasty, sumptuous but simple breakfast of Poha and Sheera we were all ready to explore Panhala.
We toured the town of Panhala by hiring an autorikshaw whose driver couples his job by also being a tour guide. The information received during the tour can be summed up as follows. Panhala town is actually located in the premises of a fort which came into existence in the 12th century during Shilahar period and was built by Kind Bhoj II. Afterwards it remained in the hands of Adilshah, whose Farsi inscriptions are still seen on many walls. It was later captured by Shivaji and later on transferred to his successors. It went into the hands of British in 1844 who destroyed the main imposing entrance of the fort in order to make road. The town still serves as a block headquarter for the surrounding 16 villages which are located at the base of the hill. If you want to make a tour of Panhala by knowing all the facts and the stories of warfare, bravery and negligence done in our modern times, do look for Mr. Nikam, a middle aged, short and silent looking person and hire his services as guide cum autorikshaw driver.
Statue of Veer Baji Prabhu Deshpande, Shivaji’s Sardar
In the evening we tried to traverse the town and its nearby surroundings on foot. My three and half year old son also walked long distance without complaining about it. The town has many old buildings and also a dark and depressing garden named after the first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. An interesting find on the road near the corner was an impressively built hexagonally shaped old well which is still in use. Somewhere in the midway while we were walking it started to rain and not just plain rain but with hails which we are not used to in Mumbai. We returned to the room all tired and had to remain satisfied with the boring meals offered by a nearby hotel.
The Historic Hexagonal Well near Nehru Garden
Next day we started our journey to Kudal from Panhala early in the morning. Since we were passing through Kolhapur, we stopped at one of our distant relative in Kolhapur and had to miss the Kolhapuri Misal which I was craving a lot. While in Kolhapur, my wife wanted to buy a Kolhapur chappal (a kind of footwear). The town is famous for them and if you happen to shop it at the Sant Rohidas Lane, where there are many Kolhapuri chappal shops, don’t forget to bargain unlike other places in Kolhapur, since they essentially cater to the outsiders these days. Also if you want to wear a no frills and highly durable chappal, try Abhyankar Footwear shop in Kolhapur. They sell only their own brand. Though with little variety and ornamentation, their chappals are reported to last for more than three years not because they get worn out completely but you get bored of them and want something new.
Now something about an observation which made me write this blog post. While from Panhala to the another corner of the Kolhapur city, at almost every junctures, there were these huge banners greeting a political leader called Ravikiran Ingawale on his birthday. They were in various sizes with him showing as the main figure and then photographs of his family members and those who were wishing him were displayed as secondary figures. The huge display was intriguing enough for an “ignorant Mumbaikar” like me to remember his name and keep that display lingering in my mind. I made some calculations based on my observations. These are as follows.
In about 40 km of the road traversed by me by me, I must have spotted at least 200 such banners. Given that Kolhapur is a city where roads cross from so many different directions there is a possibility of total number of posters 10 times the figure I spotted bringing it to a total number of 2000, which I think is a very conservative estimate. The total cost of erecting one banner must be around `1200 which makes the total money poured in by his well wishers in the city comes to approximately `24,00,000. Given the support cost for agricultural inputs of `6,000 per acre for an unirrigated rain fed food crops grown by the dry-land farmers, the same amount would have helped 400 farmer families with a total of 2000 souls to feed themselves for an year.
These are just the cost comparisons and not the directions for what one should do with his money. I don’t want to thrust my opinions about the kind of democracy in which are we are living on the readers but want to share something which I found after googling in Marathi about this guy at the centre stage of the posters.
A piece of information about what had happened in the past,
The banners which I had noticed have not gone unnoticed by the media as well,

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Fifty minutes on a Mumbai local train

8 March 2012
After settling myself again in Mumbai city where I was born and brought up, I commute like an average Mumbaikar. I am writing about it though it sounds like a subject of an essay given to a school student, especially because I assume that no school teacher would be happy reading what I am writing now. But now I am freed from them and can write something just for the sake of its ultimate pleasure found in the process.
I am out there in a Mumbai local train as I am not travelling anywhere in the country but on my regular commute to the office. “Oh! Shit!” I utter this, as I miss my supposed to be regular 8:07 am train to CST, just by a few seconds. I have to travel on 8:09 am train and go via Churchgate now. I get on the train and I get a window seat. These small things matter a lot and they are sufficient enough to make a commuter happy. But my disappointment and the words which I uttered are still lingering in my mind. I look out of the window and see what I had just uttered.
I find people, of course men, squatting at the sides of the railway line and defecating. “They do not have toilets and do not have other option,” I tell myself just to relieve myself from the bad mood that is being set. I just cant get it off as I again look outside to find slums that have encroached on the banks of Mithi creek. The train moves further. I see somewhere huge piles of rubbish and then it is followed by some patches of vegetables cultivated. I have already inserted the earphones in my ears and have started to listen to music to boost my mood into positivity.
Unfortunately the music is still not effective. I am very much Indian in the fact that I like to classify my music as per the suitability to the time of the day. The set of songs which I have put on turn out to be Marathi bhavageete, suited to an evening mood. The songs are either some love songs of lovers who are trying to convince their loved ones to come to them in the evening or some are completely pessimistic ones dealing with the people fed up with their sorrowful lives. I flip through the folder view of my mp3 player hurriedly since my journey would be over after 20 minutes. I find a folder with random collection of songs from Ghana. I had copied them, while I was in Ghana, from a number of individuals. It is good enough to get me out of this bad mood by at least taking me back to my good one year old days of overseas volunteering.
The songs start on high notes calling their favourite Yesu. Some of the songs were always played loudly on Sundays there. It brings in my mind the picture of the folks dressed in the best of their clothes, mostly having some white colour and perfectly ironed. All of them used to carry lively smiles on their faces while moving towards their church. It is a perfect happy go lucky Sunday morning mood I am experiencing though virtually.
I recall that I have a printout of an essay written by my boss. With the lively music in my ears and the long textual essay in my hand, I get engrossed in the music and reading simultaneously. I lose track of the externalities around me. The essay is about civic responsibility. I look outside occasionally now, I see ocean and then the hockey stadium with brand new astro turf. I reach my final destination. The ready made announcements in train, whom my son always calls as the virtual woman, declare the arrival of the train to the final station. My reading on civic responsibility is more than half way through and I have started to think about it. The man sitting next to me puts off the fan before alighting from the train. Such act is not normally shown by the civilians commuting on the train. I am also one of the average civilian and the act reminds me of one my responsibility.
I get down with the feeling of net positivity and set myself off towards my office. The spirit of Mumbai is also flowing through me.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Interesting Finds from Bihar

10 February 2012

These are some interesting things I saw, found or experienced while in Bihar last month. They were there irrespective of me so I can only claim that I found them very interesting, they caught my attention, left an imprint in my mind and made me write about them.

1. Potato is one of the major crops in Bihar. More than all the other states and communities, Biharis know how to treat their potatoes when it is time to eat them. Be it a simple vegetable preparation made by a housewife or some Sino-Indian fusion dish like Potato Chilly at a family restaurant in Gaya, one can relish the original taste of potatoes.

2. I had never came across discussion about Bihar as a popular tourist destination, but for those interested in history especially Buddhist history Bihar can be a really great place to be. Bodhgaya, Rajgir and Nalanda form a beautiful tourist circuit. The origin of Buddhist cave art for which Maharashtra is famous first started at Barabar caves near Gaya.


Barabar Caves, first of the Buddhist caves in India

3. Be it Assam, Maharashtra, Goa or Karnataka, migration of Biharis to many parts of India has been expressed as a concern. Certainly there have been disturbances with huge masses of these distressed people going to those places. But as against that I met two very interesting Maharashtrians who are earning their livelihoods in Bihar. Now this is something special when Maharashtrians are certainly not known for their entrepreneurial ventures in non Marathi areas.

a. While in Bodhgaya, after hearing our Marathi, the restaurant owner introduced us to a young, short and fair person clad in dhoti. Being a very cold night he had covered himself in shawl. He was looking at us without speaking a word. The restaurant owner told us that he is from Ratnagiri. I looked at him suspiciously since my native is from Ratnagiri and I did not expect it. The person spoke at last in his nasal but perfect Marathi. His name was Balu Marathe. His ancestors settled in Gaya 200 years ago. Their family has been working as priests for Maharashtrian families coming to Gaya for performing funeral rites. He was happy to meet a person with surname Patwardhan (me) since his mother came from Patwardhan family in Varanasi. He invited me to visit their place but I could not make since my visit was official one and my schedule did not allow me.

b. Again on another night in another restaurant in Bodhgaya. We came across one person who was taking some foreigners around. He was talking with the waiters and restaurant owners in Bihari form of Hindi. He heard us talking in Marathi and started talking with us in Marathi and told us that he was from Nagpur. Bodhgaya receives lot of Maharashtrian Buddhist pilgrims. He has now settled himself in Bodhgaya in the business of making arrangements for these Maharashtrian pilgrims but has also found his another niche by providing service to foreigner tourists. What I liked most was his expertise in dealing with people and fluency in all the languages he was using Bihari Hindi, Marathi and also English.

4. Bihar’s another very delicious sweet is Khaja. It is a crispy puff (like Khari we get in Mumbai) with sugar syrup thrown on it.. There is also one savoury version of it. Silav, a place near Nalanda is famous for it. Every shop in Silav advertises that its Khaja is unique. One of the shop advertises that their Khaja has been appreciated during a festival in Mauritius. I could not bring it back since carrying those puffs in unbroken conditions for days of my travel was difficult. If you happen to go to Nalanda, don’t miss this.


Khaja Shop at Silav, Nalanda (Photo courtsey: Mr. Kiran Padale)

5. Southern part of Bihar is a drought prone area which receives 900-1000 mm of rainfall annually. From the ancient times, people in this part of Bihar, called as Magadh, have built a complex system of canals called Ahar Pyne. Ahar is a water storage body and Pyne means canals. Water is diverted to Ahars. These are spread on very big areas sometimes few hacters. The water is then distributed through a complex network of Pynes. Many times these Pynes also feed the water to other Ahars. The water from Ahars serve two major purposes, one is irrigation and the other is recharging of ground water. Due to various reasons in the last 50 years, the majority of the systems have become inefficient or altogether defunct. This has led to a crisis. Many NGO’s are now working towards revival of these systems. If restored and developed, it will be a great boost to the entire economy of Magadh.


A Pyne

6. As per my opinion, the current poverty problem of rural Bihar is rooted in two main reasons. Huge social inequalities and very low land holding due to excess of population. There are various ways of addressing the first problem. One of which might be Maoism or Naxalism. This is not my area of expertise so I won’t write anything on this. The other problem can also be a scope for introducing technologies which are highly remunerative but very much labour intensive. One notable thing has happened in Bihar is that Sumant Kumar, a farmer from Gaya has made world record in rice productivity. Check this link for this and many other promising stories from Magadh,


Monday, 6 February 2012

Not in Buddha’s Bihar

27 January 2012
Well, this is not the right mood to start a blog post but I am writing this since I have some free time to pass and my writing instinct tells me to do so. I had got dysentery in the morning and I am right now sitting in a lobby of an average rated hotel which is most probably one of the few better ones in Gaya, Bihar. The hotel owner has not allowed me to extend my stay by two hours over the regular check out time in spite of my repeated requests. I have taken medicine and my problem has come under control now. I can manage myself well but my vehicle is going to pick me up after two hours as per the new schedule. Somebody said to me while doing my project visit that in Bihar that people have very little sensitivity towards others especially when they are dealing with strangers or unknown people. My current experience has accorded that statement. I have now developed a firm negative perception of Bihar which I had tried not to carry when I started off.
My work took me first to Bodhgaya. This holy place, where Gautama became Buddha, is a very big international tourist destination and the sight for pilgrimage for Buddhists. The road from Patna to Bodhgaya is the one which gave me my first impression of Bihar. It seemed that whole of Patna is built on the puddles filled with all sorts of garbage. In the alleys were roaming the dirtiest pigs in the country. The children were playing on the street in spite of this filthy surrounding. Majority of the people on the roads were either just idly sitting or seemed to be roaming purposely. The villages which I visited as part of my work also showed the same picture of poverty with no signs of prosperity anywhere. Even the few houses in the villages which were looking better than others gave a sense of decay rather than freshness. The women and men both looked highly anaemic. While on the road, I could see little signs of new development which one sees in majority of the places in India. We drove on bumpy roads which were connected by age old single lane bridges, majority of which were closed for heavy vehicles. Near one of the rail line I came across a railway coach in a derailed and upside down condition. That reminded me of frequent news about rail accidents which we always get from Bihar.
Bodhgaya presented a different mosaic altogether.  This town is visited by tourists from all over the world. At the Buddhist temples and monasteries, it was all dominated by monks in red or saffron. Many of the Buddhist monasteries from different countries were beautifully constructed and with absolutely clean and pleasantly designed courtyards. From Japan to Sri Lanka, Buddhists from many countries have set up their bases at this place. But moment I got out on the streets, I found that peace was turning into disgust. There were beggars running after pilgrims and there were mounds of trash just over the corner. During the evening, just outside the temple I saw drunkards, mostly locals, fighting with each other.
The centre of attraction in Bodhgaya was of course the Mahabodhi temple which presented a sharp contrast to any other pilgrimage sight in India I had ever seen. It was dominated not by the agents of worship but by the devotees themselves. I am not a religious person but I found this sight very spiritual. It was a very cold winter morning. The temple premises were filled with pilgrims and around all the three sides of the temple monks, were sitting systematically in rows and there were guided prayers. However my eye could not miss a huge part of the crowd mostly composed of the locals speaking local Hindi but clad in red clothes trying to disguise themselves as monks and not at all praying but more sitting expectantly like beggars. They were laughing amongst themselves and talking about the food which will be distributed shortly. I realised that I was not any more in Bihar where Buddha was enlightened.