'(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 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 ...


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