'(The Blog) With No Name', perhaps best described as a stream of notes and thoughts - 'remembered, recovered and (sometimes) invented'.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

A Peep Into The Other Half

I had lived my entire Indian life in South+Maharashtra+Gujarat, which sum to less than half of this country. Last week, I made a quick foray into the rest (many thanks to Gyani) - and have just returned to tell the story.

Godan Express: A 20 odd hour journey from Kalyan to Allahabad. Every coach of 72 capacity had upwards of 120 people packed into various contortions (I sat thru the whole journey including an entire night at one end of a berth as an 'RAC' passenger). No Examiner ever came to check the tickets. No pantry car, nothing much to eat, just an infinite parade of chaiwallahs, almost all fellow travelers chewing pan and gutka,... All lights in the coach burned thru the night and at daybreak, kids and more kids trooped in carrying bundles of some twigs and shouting 'Daaton!', and everyone bought those twigs and started chewing them furiously.

Landscapes - yes, a massive basalt mountain, to the north of the Kasara Ghat, with its top eroded into an entire assortment of fantastic crags - spires, spikes, towers, blocks, ... And at daybreak, we passed some sandstone cliffs and fallow slopes which marked the descent into the Gangetic basin, which at least at this time of the year, is intensely green with cultivation of a primitively intensive type (I don't remember seeing anything like a tractor). Most villages in these parts have houses with unplastered brick walls... Then we went clang-clang over the Jamuna - wide,sluggish, seemingly very filthy and many on the train started flinging coins into the holy waters - and crept along a high embankment with tangled thickets of ramshackle buildings stretching away on either side and finally into the huge Allahabad railway yard.

Allahabad, 'the city of God': A sprawling place, home to a million and more; not much of a bus service, no auto-rickshaws, just hordes of 'Zero Pollution' (and diesel fume spewing) six-seaters and bigger hordes of muscle-powered rickshaws and horse carriages, a throwback to my (now distant) childhood when there were a few tongas in Palghat, Kerala (which had auto-rickshaws then). The other day, I did my first ever cycle-rickshaw ride and missed my second tonga ride - the first having happened a generation ago during a visit to Rameshwaram, which then did not have motor vehicles. Some wide roads do exist but these have been seriously encroached upon by builders and shopkeepers and most other roads are impossibly narrow. To my knowledge, no intersection has traffic lights, just cops directing the chaos...

The 'Sangam': Jamuna flows into the Ganga - a wider, shallower and seemingly more sluggish and more filthy - and of course infinitely holier - stream. A flat, triangular, biggish and slushy piece of land between the two is alleged to have human densities upwards of one person per square foot (adding up to a total of millions) during the 'Kumbh Mela'. Even on an ordinary day, one sees sizeable troops of villagers who seem to camp for days on end at the holy place in some huts and tents and gangs of otherworldly Sadhus...

The Campus: The place is fairly vast, tranquil and tree-filled - on the left bank of the post-Sangam Ganga. The well-spaced-out buildings are solid and roomy and centrally air-conditioned and the whole complex is served by a dedicated power station (I am told the neighboring villages get power for a total of 12 hours a day - in random spells). At night, one sees small bands of jackals (or foxes?)trotting along the quite walkways. In the mornings, the cries of peacocks fill the air.

The Highlight (Gyani apart, of course!): Had boarded the 'Mahanagri express' just an hour previously and we were coasting along the paddy-filled plains, in a lovely twilight. A pair of Sarus cranes - seemingly six feet plus in height, beautifully grey-blue - suddenly materialized by the wayside... they seemed to be simply standing still, just watching the train go by.

"Few other sights are so stirring to a birdwatcher(*) as a pair of these cranes. They are always seen as a twosome. They bond for life and their marital devotion is legendary. ... In Gujarat, there is a touching custom. If a husband and wife are given to quarrelling frequently, the elders persuade them to go and watch a pair of Sarus in the field.... the largest of cranes and the tallest flying bird, the Sarus is the only resident crane(**) of India...."

(from 'The Dance of the Sarus' by Theodore Baskaran)

(*) - this blogger is not much of one, yet.
(**)- ie in good old Mallu, this bird is a 'Sthiramkutti-kkotti'


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