Holy cows, politics, religion, Uncategorized

A tale of two identities: Whats your beef?

One reason why Modi-wave gripped India in 2014 was the idealist/economist lens with which he viewed the nation. He ‘seemingly’ rose above petty communal rhetoric that had been his cross since Gujarat, and spoke about development, growth and the rise of a super-power. We were under the impression that he wanted to establish an expansionist pro-capitalist identity of our nation on a scale unimaginable to us. He has been sloughing day in and out to retain that I presume, continuously on tour for bilateral talks, erecting a new identity abroad. But our own identity politics has taken a backseat, or rather is going back to crude basics. The secular nation that was promised to all and sundry, has turned into a hollow premise on which lies the now unsteady foundation of India.

The majoritarian govt that has been elected by such a massive popular vote has taken to blatantly infringing on rights of the citizens. The latest assault has been the restrictions imposed on sale of cattle for slaughter, sounded through an amendment issued under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act. Cattle brought to the markets would have to be sold for agricultural purposes, a tab on which would be kept by the Animal Market Committee. The rules define ‘cattle’ to mean “cow, calf, bull, bullock, buffalo, heifer, steer and camel”.

While the subtleties of the ban are lost in the political humdrum, the move does seem to reek of majoritarian bliss. Well my mother advocates what our government has implemented; I am a non-vegetarian and she has never restricted consumption of meat in our Hindu household, despite being a vegetarian herself. Though we have our own holy cows. Her behaviour, could be diabolical or hypocritical to an extent. To put into perspective rhetoric of religious sentiments, would anyone eat pork in an Islamic nation, where its consumption is banned? Well, the only logical answer I could come up with was the fact that these nations are Islamic- they have a religion with which their nation’s identity is inextricably linked and therefore that religion may well dictate rule of the land. Do not confuse my acceptance with assent, but only an explanation. India however has no national religious identity. What we have is one religion which dominates in number. Hindu beliefs are not the beliefs of all those who live in the nation and cannot be enforced. Nehru writes in Discovery of India- “A Buddhist or a Jain in India is a hundred percent product of Indian thought and culture, yet neither is a Hindu by faith. It is, therefore, entirely misleading to refer to Indian culture as Hindu culture.” We must pay heed to these words.

One of my mother’s pet arguments (and of many others I’ve met) – if people have a right to decide what they eat, why would anyone deny someone who has an appetite for Tiger meat? Or why raise such a hue and cry over killing of dogs in China? So, for the former- Tigers are Endangered. There aren’t a whole lot left in the world to make steak out of. She does not relent but I do feel like a hypocrite when I am all for beef consumption but would gladly sign a petition condemning Yulin festival in China. What I condemn is the brutality with which those dogs are tortured and killed. But the right to their consumption remains with the citizens. The gruesome reality does not feed the fodder of my argument. If I stick to my own canon, all animals must then be equal.

What NDA is doing is not based on sound economics either, if they plan to squeeze all the profits out of this nation. India ranks 97th out of 118 in the Global Hunger Index. People are starving across the country, with southern states reeling under the worst drought in decades. In such a situation, selling unproductive cattle earns them extra bucks that are the difference between a full and an empty stomach. Also, the fact that Centre has not banned cattle slaughter but only ‘banned sale of cattle for slaughter through animal markets’ is walking a thin line. This has supposedly been done to counter illegal slaughter houses and ensure hygienic conditions but all this ban would effectively do is drive the industry underground, pushing thousands out from the ambit of cattle sale in the markets amidst excessive legalities. Unproductive cattle are an economic burden, one which farmers, who are strapped for cash, cannot afford. The irony of India being the world’s largest beef meat (buffalo though) exporter isn’t lost on me. Since the order now includes buffalo, the economic scene may waver a bit. We also have a flourishing leather industry which may face tough times, and the consequences may not bode well for the economic super-power dream that has been fed to us. Regulating the conditions under which slaughter takes place is necessary but eliminating cattle trade from animal markets for now seems very restrictive.

A new order may be passed after certain petitions post which buffaloes may be removed from the ambit of the ban. The economic dream may well thrive. But we still have our holy cows.

Maybe in Modi’s world, much like Orwell’s, some animals are more equal than others.

art, india tourism, madhya pradesh, mandu, mptourism, prose, traveling, Uncategorized

With Love, from the Ruins of Mandu

“Shout out as loud as you can,” said our guide Tukaram, as we stood perched at one end of a broken wall that barely reached my waist. My sister and I were a bit unnerved with his enthusiasm, so our guide, visibly frustrated at our shyness but still undeterred, took the task upon himself.

“Will Mallika pass or fail?”

The echoes amazed me and filled the area around us, to my dismay, with the resonance of the latter. We laughed at the juvenile trickery and continued our journey around the city.

Mandu, erstwhile Mandava or Mandogarh, is a tottering city in the southwestern state of Madhya Pradesh, 60km from the city of Indore. Nothing could mark a greater difference than the towering buildings of Indore and this city of Mandu, which is closer to oblivion each passing day. Situated atop a plateau, lying close to the lazy course of the Narmada, the city was once fortified with walls stretching upto 50kms. The intricately carved walls, domes, pillars and entrances have endured centuries of dynastic wars and the harsh hands of Time.

Having been situated on the top of a plateau, mainly for strategic advancement, the city has been designed around water harvesting and conservation mechanisms, with innumerable wells, tanks and channels which direct water to the depositories, undergoing traditional means of purification through pebbles, sand and charcoal. Everywhere you look there is a beautifully carved structure that stands encased in history.

No less enchanting is the structure of Jahaz Mahal, the story of which is etched in my memory. The ‘floating palace’ as it was called when it was built, stood in the centre of man-made lakes, giving it the celestial vision of being afloat. Sultan Ghiyas-ud-din Khilji built it for his queens, concubines and the attending staff going upto thousands in number. It is one of the most elaborate extant structures of the ruined city. The royal palace complex at Mandu also includes the Hindola Mahal, or the Swinging Palace, a T-shaped structure which is a perfect specimen of the Malwa architecture.

As we negotiate the area, peppered with carved buildings encircled by broken battlement walls, Tukaram breaks into a song which is reverberated by the walls around us. A soft breeze saves us from the sultry sun that threatens to char my skin. Tukaram goes on the explain how the walls and columns were hollow structures with deep interconnected water ducts that ensured the service of water even in the most obscure corner of the palace and kept the palace cool in summers. He moves on to guide us to another area in the city and metaphorically into the past of Rani Roopmati.

We saunter into the area adjacent to the Rewa Kund, which makes up Baz Bahadur’s palace and Rani Roopmati’s pavilion. Baz Bahadur, the last independent King of Mandu fell in love with a beautiful shepherdess, Roopmati, who was also a marvelous singer. He convinced her to accompany him to the palace, agreeing to her condition that her palace must face the venerated river Narmada, which is how the foundation of the Rewa Kund was laid. The broad steps leading to the main gate of the palace are flanked on the sides by high arches, which probably served as aqueducts built into thick walls that supplied water to the palace. The love story was doomed for a premature end when Akbar invaded Mandu. The king fell in the battle and Rani Roopmati consumed poison                to avoid capture at the hands of Adham Khan.

Tukaram, consumed in his tale of love and beauty, comically fell into a small hole in the ground, amidst peals of laughter from the children nearby. He got up, dusted himself and continued stoically like nothing had transpired. He reminded me of how the present, ignorant of the majestic past, gleams at the tottering palaces and empty tanks, shrugs and looks in the other direction while those that remain entrenched in the past, only hope for reparations, for regained glory. As our trip ended, we eschewed the mundane cobbled roads and climb to the terrace of the palace to see the sky change hues. The city which once was one of the richest and also one of the biggest in India during the reign of both the Ghuri and Khilji dynasties, now sits, a lonely guardian on the walls. Men, many old timers like our Tukaram, believe that on a clear starry night, Roopmati’s voice can be felt glimmering through the air, and rippling across the surface of Narmada nearby.

In the meanwhile, hues of orange burst upon the horizon and we look till the sun is gobbled up by the distant curve.

 

 

 

 

featured image:india.com

article, life, traveling

To the Roots of Immortality

Trekking to this entangled mass of root is every man’s dream and no child’s play

Meghalaya is quite a serene state – the only welcoming sounds are the bubbling streams that overflow the narrow banks as the rain fills them with gushing water. And I am not romanticizing to the point of exaggeration. The state can boast of a lot of things, among them, having one of the wettest places in the world as a tourist destination – Cherrapunji. The monsoons are the best time to visit our Eastern counterpart. The southern Khasi and Jaintia hills are humid and generally moss covered, the dense woods resonating with chirping birds that fly across swelling streams and crisscrossing rivers. The trees are a different green, carpeted across as far as the eye can see. I remember driving into the quaint, quiet town, panning my head left to right lest I missed something. The beautiful interiors, with tiny wooden huts strewn on the sides of curvy roads lead your imagination to distant places in some far off imaginary land. It literally rains almost all the time, the pitter-patter of the rain makes for your lullaby and the morning wake up call. Cherrapunji is about 3-4 hours’ drive from Shillong, the famous city that often overshadows the little rainy town.

Nestled deep in the forests, at the slope of these hills, lie the quaint root bridges that are a treasure trove of wondrous sights. Those who come to Shilling and drive up to Cherrapunji, cherish their decision for perpetuity. The Ficus elastica, a species of Indian rubber tree with an incredibly strong root system thrives and flourishes in this area. The tree produces secondary roots from higher up its trunk; roots which can comfortably perch themselves atop boulders across riverbanks. The Khasi tribe – which has been long credited for recognising the ingenuous trait of the tree, and utilising it as an opportunity to cross the area’s many rivers – use sliced and hollowed betel nut trunks to assemble a guiding system for the roots. As the roots cling to the betel trunks, they reach the other side and are allowed to take root in the soil, leading to the final magnificent structure: a sturdy, living root bridge. There is something eerie about them, and they wouldn’t really look out of place in a fantastical world.

THE TREK

One special root bridge, believed to be the only one of its kind in the world, is actually two bridges which are set naturally one overarching above the other and is called the ‘Umshiang Double-Decker Root Bridge.’ The trek to this bridge starts from a narrow path which descents as one travels further. Some 3500 steps guide you down to crystal clear streams which form a small pool at the base of the trees, the roots of which hang above it like an earthly chandelier.

With each subsequent step, the noise of the world is left behind and the chaos dies a peaceful death. The steps are moss covered and all you have are sturdy bamboo sticks to help you balance out. You have to be careful, or you might break a couple of bones. A good pair of shoes may be your lifesaver in the treacherous trek. The trip is exhausting, but nevertheless it’s the last thing that will cross your mind after you reach the destination.

Going down the stairs is not an issue- gravity lends a generous hand too. It is the walk back that is the daunting task. The steps are extremely intimidating – I am a regular trekker so I don’t say it lightly. But the on-foot exploration of the place is to be waited for, with bated breaths. The slope works against you and you might feel your feet buckle occasionally from all the strain, but when you see local children trot down the slippery slopes in oversized broken chappals sans sticks, it rejuvenates you and you begin to take strides with renewed vigour. The root bridges, some of which are over a hundred feet long, take ten to fifteen years to become fully functional. They’re extraordinarily strong. Because they are alive and still growing, the bridges actually gain strength over time and most of the ancient root bridges in Cherrapunji may be well over 500 years old. The trail helps you unearth many beautiful aspects of the place.

 

How can such an unnerving trek feel like walking headfirst into the lap of nature and being one with the surroundings?

Seeing the bridge at first makes your heart skip a beat. The place which appeared to be inaccessible suddenly looms in front of you, larger than life in its dimensions and looks like the work of some gifted craftsman who weaves magic with his hands. The sight is etched deep and clear in my head. The stream, which flows silently underneath the huge structure, reflects the beauty as the sun sparkles off its surface, making the place almost ethereal. I remember people being extremely quiet after the arduous trek, and I still believe they were all trying to drink in the magic and beauty of the place, capture its essence for eternity.

While the sun is still high, it does well for one to lounge around, sit with the locals who often pass by the place. You might stumble upon some legends of the place that make for great stories around the fire. These root bridges are an integral part of the culture of the Khasi tribes, who have, through their efforts over the generations, taken the onus of saving and celebrating all that nature has to offer. What makes this union of man and nature more special is that it is a specimen of a man using his constructiveness to project a microcosm of nature’s abundance.

While modernisation coupled with fast paced industrialisation threatens to trample tribal culture in a major part of eastern states, to see some still live at peace in an antiquated hamlet brings peace to me in my mundane metropolitan existence. While life is hectic all year round, visits like these make for the perfect escape and it doesn’t take much to realize that it is imperative for us to protect these natural wonders for the sake of the future which is inextricably linked to our present.