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

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Gulbarga - Day 2

The concluding part of the log from Gulbarga, written a long time ago ...

Day 2:

9 am: We are at Gulbarga bus station, waiting for a bus to a place called Nilogi; to see the ruined city of Firozabad, we presumably need to get down at a stop called 'Darga' and walk a few kilometers...

Late afternoon (writing from the Khwaja Banda Nawaz Darga, Gulbarga): Our bus leaves Gulbarga and progresses smoothly down the highway to Bangalore. After an hour of toordal fields, we get off at 'Firozabad Darga'. A small teashop and a deserted shack with the board "Tire Panjar & Repare" sum up the civilization at this place. It is severely hot; the Darga enclosure offers relief in the form of a dense stand of neem trees. We ask a passerby: "How does one get to the palaces here?" He laughs: "Palace?! What do you mean?"

The teashop guy sounds more knowledgeable: He points at a mudpath branching off from the main highway. "A mile or so" he adds. We can't be sure since there is no trace of any wall or ruin to be seen from here. But lets see,...

We have walked for almost an hour from Darga. Scrub, then more scrub, the odd villager with a flock of goats, a bullock cart, that is all we have encountered. Our mud path hits a slightly wider mud path. We ponder the next course (left, right or return) when an old man approaches. He speaks urdu: "A little down the right-going path is our village. Just beyond is the old fort and ruins"

Another kilometer in the burning sun and our path hits a cluster of dwellings, all built with heaped stone slabs. A single, narrow trail winds among them; it is mercifully cooler here. We sense people staring at us. A lad asks us something in Kannada. On our failing to reply, comes the question in basic Hindi: "You, which village?". "Hyderabad", we say. Puzzlement, then silence.

Just beyond the houses we spy a stone arch, old and decrepit. Approaching, we see some walls, a couple of Bahmani style domed tombs,... But we can't quite reach them - crude thorny fences balk us; and vacant spaces among the ruins are under toordal cultivation.

A youngster - about the same age as Zafar he seems - approaches us. In my severely challenged Kannada, I ask him the way to 'Jama Masjid'. He says something which we couldnt make out a word of. Then he walks off, gesturing to follow him.

Walls on all sides, not even a pillar within - we come upon a mosque in such a state. Neem trees have grown inside near the western wall. The rest of the interior is again a toordal field. "My name is Sivakumar. This is our own cultivation" says the young chap, in Kannada even I could follow. He leads us up a precarious stone stairway to the top of the mosque wall. From here, we see a wider surrounding area. A spread of ruins, a big river (Bhima, it is) meandering past them... Not too far, rising to nearly 40 feet, stands an edifice with a mostly collapsed dome - ("Hiroshima town hall!" - Satish remarks) - must be what remains of the medieval royal palace.

We get down and walk around a bit and inspect some ruined - and awfully smelly - tombs. Toordal fields, thorn fences, heaps of stones, not even foot trails. Quite a labyrinth this place. But for Sivakumar, we would have had to leave without seeing a thing.

We were talking about Fatehpur Sikri, another 'ghost town', then the 'Roman Forum'. But those two are well-visited and well mapped places (and yes, expensive - you part with a solid fee to even enter them). Firozabad has yet to get the 'Protected Monument' board, routinely put up by our Archeology people before even most insignificant of monuments.

We note with a shudder that there is very little water left. Hurriedly taking leave of Sivakumar (must say, despite the hopelessness of the language situation, he could communicate quite a bit with us, conveying information and more importantly, an earthy camaraderie; he even initially refused a small tip we tried to hand over), we walk briskly back towards Darga stop.

We are in luck and don't have to wait much there. In hour we reach the city, grab a bite and head for the Banda Nawaz darga, located in the eastern quarter. It is quite clear even from a hundred meters off that we are entering a major center of pilgrimage. Crowds, rows of shops selling religious bric-a-brac. Near the main darga complex stand a row of seven domed tombs - the Haft Gumbad. We skip them.

We tiptoe our way, barefoot, along the white-hot stone floor of the darga enclosure; to our relief, the place, at this hour, has only a modest number of worshipers. The complex is elaborate - the saint's tomb, then tombs of his line of followers and relatives and several other buildings. A big arch with carvings of lions attacking elephants, pillared halls with Vijayanagar-style corbels... We encounter an old woman sitting in a shady corner, singing some sufi devotional lyrics with great fervor. As we pass her, she pauses and wishes us Khwaja's infinite grace. I get an inexplicable feeling she really means what she has just said.

Khwaja's tomb is quite big, done in Bahmani style; its interior has a remarkable air-cooling system. The inner surface of the crowning dome has beautiful decorative work with pieces of colored glass and stones. A metal partition surrounds the grave and devotees touch their forehead on it and stand in silent prayer. The grave itself is covered with a rich brocade strewn with rose petals; the fragrance of 'attar' is in the air. We sit in a corner, not too far from the Master's resting place, resting our own tired bones; I reach for my notebook....

Gulbarga - Day 1

Long ago, I was a student in faraway Hyderabad. One October morning, I set out with a then friend by name Satish on a two day exploratory trip to nearby areas of Karnataka. Here I reproduce some notes – they were hastily scribbled in a tattered notebook (which is still with me) as the tour progressed, with very little reflection or rumination. They stand at the very beginning of my travel writing efforts. I wrote in Malayalam; what follows is an almost faithful translation.

Day 1

7 am: I begin writing this log at Lingampalli station, waiting for our Wadi bound slow passenger train to start. Across us sit a small family. Beyond is a bidi smoking old man casually reading an urdu daily and a curled up sleeper; hardly anybody else in this sleepy coach. A train pulls alongside. A whole host of shaven heads peep out of its windows; must be an express from Tirupati.

7.30: Our passenger has just halted at Shankarpalli. The woman sitting across whispers something to her husband in Marathi, presumably about us. We ponder whether to strike a conversation with them…

8: Chittigidda, a small hamlet. Eucalyptus trees and cornfields. Red earth. Shades of Bangalore.

8.30: Stuck for quite a while at Vikarabad Junction.

9: Dharur: The run from Vikarabad has been among scattered low hills. It has been a pleasantly bright morning. … A wild and largely uninhabited stretch – rocky hills, shrubs, dried up streambeds,…

9.15: Rukmapur: a big crowd of gypsy women squeeze into the train with heavy-looking loads. They raise quite a racket with their animated chatter. Then, lulled by the trains steady rhythm, they fall silent, but for a short while. At the next halt, Tandur, they troop out.

9.45: Manthatti: a flatter and drier tract of the country... fields of toordaal, monotonous stretches of thorny scrub… It is getting uncomfortably warm.

10: Kurugunta: We are in Karnataka now. Big, yawning quarries, a cement factory, … And I make a startling discovery. For a while the toddler who had been sitting with his parents across us has been exploring the coach and he has just shat in my shoes.

11: Quite hot now. Monotonous scrub, quarries, heaps of stone fragments, Flocks of scrawny goats,…

11.15: Sulhalli. Mirages flicker over plowed up fields of black soil.

11.40: Wadi junction. No connecting trains to Gulbarga for hours to come. We step out into a town that is remarkably chaotic for its modest size. Dirty streets, air thick with dust, … a cement factory looms over the urban mess. As outlying as its chaos is Wadi’s diversity – in a five minute walk here, you can hear loud talk in Kannada, Telugu, Urdu, Hindi, Marathi and Lambadi.. We manoeuvre ourselves into a ‘tempo’ about to leave for Shahabad. Suddenly there is a big commotion. A hijda, wearing the dress of Lambadi women is scolding/abusing someone very loudly. The combination of sheer force and total unintelligibility make his rants interesting to hear…

4.15 pm: Wadi to Gulbarga was a long haul thru dusty scrub marked here and there by heaps of pieces of chocolate and grey colored stone. At the end, it is a big relief to be in a place where decent food and rooms for rent (and cold beer) are available.

10 pm: I am writing this from our hotel room.

Gulbarga's massive medieval fort stands at the western edge of the city, its neighbourhood marked by extreme filth and poverty. Over the centuries, large chunks of the hefty walls have crumbled, turning the surrounding moat into a row of awfully smelly pits. Over the main gate, there must once have been a dome, of which nothing remains. We got off our auto in front of the Jama Masjid.

Modelled on the famous Cordoba mosque, the Jama Masjid has about 75 small domes and a single bigger dome at the west-center, all supported by an intricate interlocking grid of structural arches. Sadly, thick coats of white lime have been recently applied and it mars the overall effect of the edifice somewhat.

A young boy of about 12 accosted us as we explored the mosque. He gave his name as Muhammad Zafar. Within minutes, he was chatting away with us as if we had known each other for a long time. He bade us to follow him and led us thru several dark and gloomy gallies in the residential quarter of the citadel. We climbed a battlement and he showed us a big bronze cannon and launched into a live commentary of an assault on the fort and the invaders being cut down by the cannon’s thunderous fire. …

Looking around and beyond the walls, we spotted a solitary domed structure perched on an elevated tableland a couple of kilometres away and asked Zafar about it. “ Oh, it’s the Chor Gumbaz! Come, lets go there!” and we were off.

More gallies, more poverty. And presently there appears a dargah. “lets pay a quick visit. Khwaja Banda Nawaz, patron saint of Gulbarga, lived here for 20 years. It’s a very holy site. All prayers made here will come true!”.

We enter the gloomy interior. Near a solitary tomb sits a middle-aged and bearded caretaker. Based on what I had seen in Hindi films, I kneel in prayer before the grave. Baba (as the caretaker was addressed) pats me on the head with a bunch of peacock feathers and asks me to lift a smallish pyramidal piece of marble in his custody using only two fingers of the right hand. I manage, albeit with some difficulty. Baba speaks: “Very good. Most people fail in the first attempt to lift it, not because the stone is too heavy – it isn’t- but because they misjudge its weight. You are smart and lucky. Khwaja’s blessings will be with you!”

We approach Chor Gumbaz at almost sundown. With some difficulty, we follow Zafar up a crumbling stone staircase to the shoulder of the domed building. Sunset on the Deccan – it's always such an experience of clarity and immensity…

Zafar has more to say to me: “Brother, you are truly blessed. I know you may not be convinced, you would be wondering “Hey, what is the big deal about lifting a small chunk of stone?!”. But that is the whole idea about Khawaja’s grace. If I tell you to pick up a big rock, you would say “No way!” but if His Grace is with you, you will manage, just as that piece of stone. He can get even a puny lad like me to move a mountain!”

We walk back to the fort via a different route, past hutments and ruins, neither really distinguishable from the other. A big walled enclosure looms.

Zafar launches into another story: “ This was a building a sultan wanted constructed overnight. The architect failed, he couldn’t even begin the dome; the sultan put him to death. In there, you can see his grave!”

Its quite dark inside. A feeble lamp has been lit and shows a modest burial site and a dozen fellows sitting nearby engaged in a game of cards. They don’t seem pleased to see us. Bats wheel overhead. We retreat in haste.

We bid farewell to Zafar and cut across the fort picking our way through gallies, now depressingly dark despite the odd electric light. Children throng the narrow pathways, playing, quarreling, shitting…. Hooded and veiled women stand around in clusters and talk ...

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Taken to the Gleaners

A new facebook page by name ‘Cochin Diaries’ has been put up by some Journalism students. Here is a picture there; it was taken at Chellanam, a fishing harbour near the city.

The gist of a short descriptive passage at Cochin Diaries:

Day after day, eagerly awaiting the return of fishing boats, they hang around our beaches – poor and ragged old women and men, some physically challenged, some immigrants from other states. Not having money to actually buy any fish, they fervently pester the fishermen to part with some of the least appealing bits in their catch. And then they go around selling what is (often grumpily) thrown into their baskets. The fishermen donors themselves are hardly well off and are subject to all the vagaries of 'Kadalamma' (Ocean Mother).

These pictures of hand to mouth struggle on the margins of our modern society reminded me of some recently read lines from the Bible (btw, a I discovered a very useful retelling of the Book called ‘The Good News Bible’ but a few weeks ago and have been reading the earlier portions thereof with great pleasure). Since quoting from the King James version is cooler, let me do so:

When thou cuttest down thine harvest in thy field, and hast forgot a sheaf in the field, thou shalt not go again to fetch it: it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow: that the LORD thy God may bless thee in all the work of thine hands. (Deuteronomy)

And when ye reap the harvest of your land, thou shalt not make clean riddance of the corners of thy field when thou reapest, neither shalt thou gather any gleaning of thy harvest: thou shalt leave them unto the poor, and to the stranger: I am the LORD your God. (Leviticus)

Wiki on gleaning:

Gleaning is the act of collecting leftover crops from farmers' fields after they have been commercially harvested or on fields where it is not economically profitable to harvest. Some ancient cultures promoted gleaning as an early form of a welfare system.... When people glean and distribute food, they may be bringing themselves legal risk(!)… the Soviets…. criminalised gleaning, under penalty of death, or 20 years of forced labour in exceptional circumstances.

And of course, we have 'The Gleaners', Millet's masterpiece. We will always have 'The Gleaners':

Question: Is there anything known about gleaning in India? Our tradition sets great store by charity and giving ("datta" of the "da") but there don't seem to be much written on gleaning or any related kind of picking up the crumbs (no, I haven't examined Manusmriti). To my knowledge, no Indian language has a dignified word for gleaning. Those who pick up anything - scraps/offal/detritus - are insultingly called "perukki" in Malalyalam (the negative connotation of the word has led to an equally insulting slang phrase for a ball-boy ("out-perukki" - one who picks up a ball gone out of play; so much for our notions of dignity of labor!).

And I just heard that our rice-growers wouldn't return to the fields after harvest to gather missed grains - for a rather more pragmatic reason: rats would be hurriedly scurrying after the loose grain and snakes would have come out in strength to prey on them!

I couldn't yet find any Biblical lessons to fishermen - whether they ought to give up a certain fraction of their catch etc.. At any rate, Kerala's struggling fisher-folk have more than lived up to the Biblical injunction on grain gleaning: they not only part with some of their catch; indeed, rather than generally leave some fish around somewhere, they directly hand it over to the recipients (however grudgingly). Perhaps, deep within, they feel bound to their beneficiaries by the shared 'karma' of being fed by Kadalamma.

Note added on January 7th 2017:

Just found in Mahabharata (where else?!) this bit (I quote from an online source):

"There lived a Brahmin with his wife, son and daughter-in-law. He used to follow the lifestyle of Unchavritti (living on grains picked from post-harvest leftovers from the fields....."

Thus begins the story told by a half-gold mongoose. In some versions of the story, Unchavritti is the name of the Brahmin in the story.

Unchavritti (which appears to have been viewed with a certain level of respect), is often distinguished from living on 'bhiksha' (alms). Of course, the latter is, as opposed to a gleaner's, a life-style absolutely devoid of labour and production. There are also some who take 'unchavritti' to mean the lifestyle of musical mendicants such as Tyagaraja, Tukaram, Kanakadasa and so forth.