Glimpses of Shekhawati

The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom. ― William Blake

Here are a few preliminary glimpses of my Rajasthan trip and my travel through the Shekhawati region (North-Eastern part of the state) – will post more details later. “Rajasthan” literally means “Land of Kings”, hence decided to check out a few affordable palaces and experience the “royal” life 😉 🙂

Before Independence, there were many small independent princely states in this region and each state had it’s own fort or palace. All these states were later integrated into India after Independence. Some royal families have converted their forts or palaces into hotels, and guests can get a peek into their heritage, traditions and history.

Many towns in this region fall on the ancient “Silk Route” (old international trade routes), and were home to a lot of wealthy Marwadi merchants. These traders built magnificent “havelis” (mansions) to showcase their wealth. However after the (silk, opium and spices) trade declined, many of them moved to Calcutta or Bombay, abandoning their mansions. A few descendants have restored and preserved their ancestral homes, and they are the main attraction in this area. All have distinct architecture and beautiful frescoes and paintings in them.

It was an enchanting experience to stay in these palaces and visit the havelis on the Silk Route and feel transported back in history 🙂 🙂 On some days we were the only guests in the palace, and almost felt like we owned it!! In addition, the people of this region are very warm, friendly, hospitable and proud of their culture, so I ended up having a truly wonderful trip!

 

The Animal House

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One of my fondest memories from childhood are the visits to the “Animal House”. We lived in a medical college campus and I used to often visit my mom’s department in the medical college during school holidays. Spent most of my time there either plucking roses from the rose trellis in front of the building, or gazing at the numerous rodents and rabbits in the Animal House, or watching my mom’s experiments.

She was a “doctor” who did research and teaching rather than treat patients. Heard her tell her friends and colleagues several times that she chose the “teaching” side so that she could spend more time with her family and kids. A few times, also heard her remark to some friends that she regretted not having picked the “clinical” side, because it might have been more fulfilling.

Most of her research involved working with mice or rabbits, and it used to be very exciting to watch her do things to them like giving injections, or making them run around in a maze, and sometimes even operate or cut them open. This was a difficult job that required a lot of skill and patience.

Most mice were generally not co-operative and seemed to hate injections, and she was once badly bitten by a mouse that was desperately trying to avoid the needle. She then walked around with a huge bandage around her index finger for a few days, inviting a lot of sympathy from many people. I was very much affected by that incident and remember telling all my friends about how an angry mouse had bitten her, and bringing them home to show the finger 😦 😦

Despite being familiar with all the shenanigans of the mice, I still loved visiting the Animal House that was in the basement of the college. Could spend hours and hours there and had to be dragged home unwillingly. It was an amazingly long dingy room with a very high ceiling. When you first entered it, you could immediately see rows and rows of cages, with scores and scores of white mice in them. When you looked more closely into the cage, you’d notice that almost each cage had several generations of mice – of all different shapes and sizes. There would be some really old fat and sluggish ones, younger frisky ones and tiny pink babies as well. One would never get bored watching them because there was always some interesting activity or other going on, or a few cute newborn mice to gape at.

The room also had a very distinct stench of soaked Channa (whole Bengal gram), and that was the primary food given to all these animals. The mice loved them and would continuously munch on them, and never seemed to desire any other variety in their menu.

When you walked past these rows and rows of mice, you could finally see the rows and rows of Guinea Pigs. They were also kept in similar cages, ate the same food and had similar families. But they were prettier, larger in size and also much cuter. Once you tired of watching them, you could proceed further and reach the rabbit cages.

The rabbits were my favorites and undoubtedly the best looking. They also came in many colors and combinations – white, black, brown and mixed. They seemed to be the darlings of the keepers as well, because in addition to Channa, they were also given carrots and cabbage. And like the mice and Guinea Pigs, they also spent most of their time eating.

Rarely beyond the rabbit cages, in the farthest corner, you could sometimes find monkeys. However caged monkeys were an unusual sight that I spotted only a couple of times. My mom told me that it was terribly difficult to handle a monkey during experiments since they were big and aggressive animals. I was glad that she didn’t have to handle them after I saw what a tiny mouse could do.

The composition of the Animal House never changed, yet I never tired of it and always looked forward to visiting it. Many times while exiting it, I’d ask my mother if I could keep a Guinea Pig or a rabbit as a pet and the answer would always be a “No” and I would grow quite glum. (I finally got to keep two Guinea Pigs, a kitten and a squirrel as pets and will write about them in another post)

As if to compensate for the disappointment regarding pets, she would next take me to the small tank in the college garden. This tank was veritably a mini water-zoo, full of frogs and tadpoles in various stages of development. We would spend a lot of time bending over it observing the tiny tadpoles, and I’d be amazed to learn that they would soon change their shapes and turn into huge frogs!

We would finally walk away from the tank towards home. The roughly ten minute walk through a grassy path was also very enchanting – ever since I discovered snails. One day as we were trudging along and I was stopping on and off to pluck some tiny flowers along the path, my mom pointed to a greyish brown shell on the path and told me that it was a “snail”. However it looked very ugly and uninteresting and I didn’t show much interest. But she poked the shell with a twig, and miraculously a tiny head peered out from it and went back in!! Then I looked closely again and found numerous such shells along the path, some with their heads out and others within. From then on, I’d walk on that path with a long enough stick to poke them and watch the magic 🙂 🙂

I have delightful memories of spending time with all these “animals” back then. Visited Bangalore again a few years ago and went down those same paths looking for those snails. But, was very disappointed. Thanks to many more buildings and concrete coming up, the snails seem to have totally disappeared from those paths 😦 Couldn’t spot even a single snail on that path 😦 Consider myself lucky to have spent my childhood in Bangalore when it was still a very green, lush and beautiful “Garden City”.

PS: Attached photo is that of the “Monument to the Laboratory Mouse” (sourced from the Internet), which is a sculpture in the city of Novosibirsk in Russia.

Neelkanth Temple

Neelkanth temple inside Kalinjar fort is so amazing, it’ll awaken the sleeping poet inside you. This temple was unlike any I’ve visited – its really ancient but still working. It had a very magnificent and giant statue of Lord Shiva carved onto a fort wall! A really mysterious, beautiful and spiritual place…..a veritable delight for an art historian.

Kalinjar Fort

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Panna Tiger Reserve is on the way from Khajuraho to Kalinjar Fort.

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Panna Hills

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Road leading to the hilltop fort.

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First view of fort.

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Ruins of a nobleman’s house.

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Banke Bihari temple ruins.

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Eager kids wanting a photograph 🙂

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Stairs leading to Neelkanth temple.

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Eerie ancient tree inside fort.

This day last year, I was at Kalinjar fort in Banda district of UP, which is 3 hrs from Khajuraho (Madhya Pradesh) 🙂

The road to this fort passes through some incredibly lovely scenery and many idyllic and picture perfect villages. There were beautiful green fields in the shadow of the Panna hills, rows of colorful huts and bullock carts. The rural scenes were so enchanting that we wanted to stop and wander about, but couldn’t because we had to reach the fort before it closed.

This historic fort was used by the Chandelas and many other dynasties. Sher Shah Suri met his death here in 1545. It’s very rich in history, but there’re hardly any tourists because of it’s isolation and the absence of hotels nearby. Also, no tourist guides to take you around or explain things. Nevertheless, the place had a lot of charm because it was desolate, calm and mysterious, and we wished we had reached there earlier to explore more of it. It was also remarkably clean and well kept, probably because not many people visit and litter the place.

We saw some locals going to visit the Neelkanth temple inside the fort. We followed them but almost decided to skip it because it seemed like a steep climb and it was getting dark. However, luckily we went ahead and it was an out of the world experience! This temple had some of the most impressive carvings I’ve seen. There was a huge and impressive sculpture of Shiva on a rock adjacent to the temple. In front of the temple there was a one storeyed yagna mandap, but apparently, it used to be seven storeys high, before an earthquake destroyed it!

There’s a freshwater pool in the rocks right above the temple and water is said to drip continuously onto the Shiv Ling. The whole place was utterly mesmerizing and spiritual. Here are some photographs of the fort, will post pics of Neelkanth temple in a later post..

Vancouver Views

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Photographs I took in Stanley Park, at Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. It’s surrounded by the sea and is supposed to be one of the most beautiful parks in the world. The views from it are simply mesmerising.

It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening, couldn’t stop clicking 🙂 🙂

 

Waiting

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Translated a poem by Hindi poet Harivansh Rai Bachchan (1907 – 2003) into English. It’s a figurative and simple translation, not a literal one. Hope you like it 🙂 🙂

Waiting (प्रतीक्षा – हरिवंशराय बच्चन)

If waiting for you is so delightful, how divine would the meeting be?

The night is like the silence that remains
after a melodious tune
lost in dreams with it’s head resting on the stars
still hearing echoes from all directions….
If I could hear your song, how divine would that be?

You never promised to meet me
in the silence of this night
yet at these moments I’m delirious with anticipation
If you could fix a rendezvous, how divine would that be?

Tonight I’m awake with excitement
the sky is perpetually sleepless
but for whom are the constellations hopeful and waiting?
If you could visit my lonely hut, how divine would that be?

Lost in fantasy I imagine your footsteps
but overcome by realization a teardrop falls
and my fancies melt into a sea of despair
If you could embrace me, how divine would that be?

——————————————–

प्रतीक्षा – हरिवंशराय बच्चन

मधुर प्रतीक्षा ही जब इतनी, प्रिय तुम आते तब क्या होता?

मौन रात इस भांति कि जैसे, कोई गत वीण पर बज कर,
अभी-अभी सोई खोई-सी, सपनों में तारों पर सिर धर
और दिशाओं से प्रतिध्वनियाँ, जाग्रत सुधियों-सी आती हैं,
कान तुम्हारे तान कहीं से यदि सुन पाते, तब क्या होता?

तुमने कब दी बात रात के सूने में तुम आने वाले,
पर ऐसे ही वक्त प्राण मन, मेरे हो उठते मतवाले,
साँसें घूमघूम फिरफिर से, असमंजस के क्षण गिनती हैं,
मिलने की घड़ियाँ तुम निश्चित, यदि कर जाते तब क्या होता?

उत्सुकता की अकुलाहट में, मैंने पलक पाँवड़े डाले,
अम्बर तो मशहूर कि सब दिन, रहता अपने होश सम्हाले,
तारों की महफिल ने अपनी आँख बिछा दी किस आशा से,
मेरे मौन कुटी को आते तुम दिख जाते तब क्या होता?

बैठ कल्पना करता हूँ, पगचाप तुम्हारी मग से आती,
रगरग में चेतनता घुलकर, आँसू के कणसी झर जाती,
नमक डलीसा गल अपनापन, सागर में घुलमिलसा जाता,
अपनी बाँहों में भरकर प्रिय, कण्ठ लगाते तब क्या होता?

 

The Hindi Drama

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Recounting my one and only experience with dramatics and acting long ago in school. “Acting and drama” have been my weakest points and it’s rather embarrassing to share this experience, but am being brave enough to do so….

It was quite well known to almost everyone in school that I was no good whatsoever in acting as well as singing, and therefore no one ever bothered to consider me for any role that required either of these two skills. I had been tested and retested several times in the lower classes before this conclusion had been reached – especially in drama. Used to freeze on stage, forget all my lines and give the worst possible performance with the worst possible expressions 😦 But I never really worried much about this shortcoming because my hands were always full with sports and games – which were my forte.

However, when I was in the seventh standard, we got a new Hindi teacher – Mrs Gupta, and she was quite unaware of my “acting skills”. For some reason she took a liking to me and I became her pet. She would always call upon me for everything – to clean the blackboard, to carry her notebooks, to answer questions, for just about anything and everything – including acting 😦

She was a very good writer and had written the Hindi play for the School Annual Day herself, and to everyone’s surprise, she chose me as the heroine! I reluctantly accepted the honor because she didn’t give me any opportunity to decline it. However after a few rehearsals, she seemed to have realized her mistake, because she kept steadily cutting down my portion and lines. It would have been so much better if she’d dropped me altogether, but she was determined to retain me. Finally, I was left with just a “two word dialogue” that I still remember even today – “Suniye toh” (Please listen to me).

The dialogue was easy enough, but the acting was still a major problem. I was supposed to be the wife of a Mr. Sharma, and had to pat my husband on the shoulder and deliver the dialogue. The problem was that the boy who was acting as my husband was a senior, and not a classmate. I had never encountered or spoken to him before and he was quite a stranger. And to make it worse, the entire drama group had started to tease us as “Mr. and Mrs. Sharma” and crack jokes on us.

This teasing really angered and irritated me and I refused to pat him or even stand close to him. This stance angered Mrs. Gupta as well and led her to give us all a lecture on how we should be considering each other as “brothers and sisters” and not be so narrow-minded. After her lecture and cajoling, I finally agreed to a “two finger tap-tapping” on the shoulder.

Also shockingly, the regular teasing seemed to have had an opposite effect on the senior – Akash, because instead of getting irritated, he seemed to like it and ended up having a crush on me that lasted for a few months. This outcome was quite a nightmare, especially because he didn’t seem to believe in romance or courtship or any that sort of thing, and jumped straight to marriage!! 😦 😦

I would receive regular messages from his female friends or classmates regarding his intentions to marry me and this totally scared me out of my wits (after all, I was only thirteen years old). A few girls from business families used to regularly drop out of our school after finishing 8th Std, because “8th Std. pass” was considered qualification enough for their marriage. I was only one year away from 8th and therefore really worried. In addition, Akash was unlike any of my male friends or classmates, he was quite rowdy and violent.

One day I was shocked to hear that he had beaten up Ganesh – one of my classmates, because he had seen me chatting with him and thought that the chat was “too long”!! This incident really angered me and I strengthened my resolve to have nothing to do with him.

But the play was still on, and I was forced to “tap tap” on his shoulder and say “Suniye toh” on stage, while I maintained a cold silence and distance otherwise. Luckily the Annual Day was getting closer and this ordeal would soon come to an end. A few days before the final, Mrs. Gupta started talking about costumes and make-up as well. She paid more attention to the costumes of the more important characters in the play, and quite ignored me. Those days, make-up was a rare commodity since very few teachers or mothers used it. Therefore, special arrangements were made for the two more important girls in the play, while the others were to remain without it. But I got all excited and asked Mrs. Gupta if I could be “made-up” as well? I wanted to make sure that I’d be noticed for the five seconds when I’d deliver my two word dialogue 🙂 🙂

One of the senior girls who was involved in the play, acknowledged my enthusiasm and told me that she would bring her mother’s cosmetics on that day, and help me out. She told me that she was a “pro” at it since she’d been observing her mom for many years. This made me quite excited and elated, and I actually became quite enthusiastic about the play, despite the other hardships.

The Annual Day arrived and there was a lot of excitement regarding the various performances that were lined up, my family and many other parents would be among the audience. By then, I’d become quite adept with my two words – “Suniye toh” and had lost all my stage fright. I was even okay with the “shoulder tapping” because it would be the last time that I’d be required to do it, and was eagerly looking forward to “The End”.

The senior girl who promised to do my make-up arrived as promised, with a big box full of very interesting and intriguing bottles and got working on me. I was really excited and happy, and couldn’t wait to see myself after she’d finished. I was also wearing a silk sari and had braided my hair into a single plait instead of the usual two, to look older. When she was finally done, I rushed into the washroom to check the results.

When I looked at myself in the mirror, I immediately knew that something was amiss. I’d almost failed to recognize myself and did look much older, very striking, and somewhat strange. However, I wasn’t well versed enough in the art of make-up to be able to pinpoint the exact errors. It was also too late to redo it. So, I glumly thanked the senior girl and put on a brave face for the rest of the evening.

It really did take a lot of courage to survive that entire evening, because I had to constantly hear many comments. People were noticing me a lot, though not for the reasons I wanted them to. They kept saying “Hey, you generally look so much better without make-up”, or “Appu, make-up doesn’t really suit you”, and “What the hell have you done to your eyes (or lips)?!” The more diplomatic and sympathetic ones just remarked “You look different today”.

These comments and remarks kind of destroyed my new found confidence in dialogue delivery, and I’m not really sure what happened for those final five seconds on stage. Not sure if I spoke loud enough and delivered both words or just one word, and whether I “tap tapped on the shoulder”, or forgot that move. The only thing I remember is that the month long ordeal was finally over and that I could relax, without any more “drama” from the next day.

I’ll always remember my performance and experience in the Hindi play as one of my biggest embarrassments in school. However, I was wise enough to learn from it and never ventured into “theater” or “acting” ever again 🙂 🙂