Friday, March 23, 2018

Memories of an ordinary Indian :: 12 :: Gwalior Dussehra

When three of us, i.e a brother and the sister and I, were small children our evening haunt used to be the Miss Hill’s School. The head mistress was Mrs. RK Hukku – a family friend – who used to live on the premises. The school was not even a furlong from our house. Mrs. Hukku had a door opening on to our lane just before it met the main road with the High Court on the other side.

 Her husband had died young. He, I believe, was from the Imperial Police and was posted at Jabalpur.  She had six children, two sons and four daughters. The eldest one, Shashi, was paralysed from waist down.  He couldn’t move by himself. Mrs. Hukku had a number of helpers and they used to move him on a chair with long arms extending to front and the rear from the seat. He was very fond of my eldest brother and couldn’t possibly miss a day without meeting the latter. They would sit together and talk of various matters and occasionally play mahjong. Mrs. Hukku, too, was very fond him, and used to treat him like her own son.

Children of the two families were more or less of the same age – give or take a year or two. Only difference was that while she had more daughters than sons on our side we had more boys than girls. Nonetheless, the relationships were always friendly and cordial. After all, we used to meet every evening for boisterous and noisy games since childhood and that relationship continues till today. My eldest brother is still in touch with those Hukkus who survive - most of them, unfortunately, having passed on except the ones at Chandigarh and Durham in North Carolina.

Miss Hill’s School is from where we used to watch the Dussehra procession carrying the Maharaja on a golden howdah placed on a profusely decorated elephant. Likewise, the British Resident (representative) used to follow sitting on a silver howdah on top of another dressed-up elephant.

Dussehra processions in Gwalior used to be huge celebratory affair – as I believe they were in Mysore and Kulu. Villagers would come to town and camp on footpaths in huge numbers along the path of the procession. It must have been a four or five kilometers distance that the procession would cover slowly at elephant’s pace preceded by the various regiments of the Gwalior Army, their respective bands, the senior officials and ministers in their own horse-drawn carriages or horses wearing spectacular Maratha ceremonial dresses, complete with the atypical Maratha headgear. The procession used to be pretty long and, given the pace of the elephants, it used to last quite a while. I remember the Dussehra procession of 1946 was more spectacular and stretched out as all the units that the Scindias contributed for the Great War had come back.

The procession was occasioned by the Maharaja’s worship of his deity across the town located at Gorkhi where my brothers used to study in a government school housed in a converted palace. Gorkhi was, in fact, the seat of Scindias before they moved into the Jai Vilas Palace. It was here, therefore there was a cluster of palaces that were later converted by Madhavrao Scindia (Sr.) into educational institutions. Close by there was a place we called Kampoo which, in fact was a distortion for a camp and it was here, it seems, the Scindia’s force used to camp in 18th and 19th Centuries.

 As it was a ceremonial outing for the Maharaja the roads used to be blocked for all kinds of traffic. There was hardly any traffic those days, anyway. It was mainly human traffic, especially those multitudes who had trudged all the way from villages and would camp on the sidewalks. They would expectantly wait for the hour when the Maharaja would be expeted to appear. As the time of the procession approached they would dress up and tie their huge, sometimes colourful, turbans and wait for the Maharaja’s elephant. I still remember the pervasive din that thousands of people talking – all at the same time – would hang over the entire area. They would watch the passing panorama of army units and their bands with admiration and in voluntary silence. However, as the elephant carrying the Maharaja circled the traffic island with his father’s statue a huge roar would go up and people will break into slogans: Maharaja George Jiwajirao Scindia ki jai (Victory to Maharaja George Jiwajirao Scindia). The Maharaja would acknowledge the people’s enthusiastic greetings with folded hands wearing a smile.

The Maharaja would be in his royal finery wearing his family jewels and the famed necklace of pearls of thirty strings and would be holding a ceremonial sword. The necklace somehow couldn’t be missed with so many strings of pearls hanging from his neck. But he seemed to gallantly bear the overwhelming weight for the duration of the procession. As he passed by and disappeared from view people would lapse into animated praise for the Maharaja’s beatific smile and handsome visage.

We would hang around the School playing this or that. Soon it would be time for re-appearance of Maharaja as he would be going to another family deity up on the hills beyond the Victoria College. Normally it would not be an elephant that he would use. It could be a well dressed horse or one of his convertible Cadillacs or Rolls Royces. We mostly saw him in his convertible Cadillac – the American luxury car of those days.

It is not that only Scindia subjects would assemble in large numbers to get a glimpse of the Maharaja. Even Maharani Vijaya raje Scindia would come to the High Court building right opposite to the Miss Hill’s School. Special arrangements would be made for her to watch the procession in complete privacy. As she would be observing purdah the entire porch of the High Court would be curtained off for her. I even now do not know from where exactly she would be watching her husband pass by on an elephant’s back. It was only much later in 1947-48 that she came out in public on a horse-drawn carriage with the Maharaja and Vallabh Bhai Patel, the first Home Minister of India.  

*Photo from internet

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Bhopal Notes :: 63 :: Internet in Bhopal at snails' pace

I was having problems with Facebook but then I realized that the speed with which internet was being delivered to us in Bhopal (Idgah Hills) was very slow. On an average it was around 8mbps whereas the average for India was a little more than 18. I complained against the slow speed on 1504. I didn’t get any satisfactory answer. The woman at the other end was incompetence personified. She asked me from which state was I speaking from when at the very outset I had given her my number with the STD code telling her I was speaking from Bhopal.

I carried out an ookla speed test and found the speed of dixed broadband was hovering around 8mbps. Obviously we are getting a speed that is far slower than what the rest of India with a speed of aroun18 was getting. On my complaint somebody from the BSNL rang up to inquire whether the speed had improved. I told him it had not and obviously he also knew it. Perhaps he cannot do anything about it as the servers have aged or are overloaded. My Ookla test plainly said “change server” and it gave BSNL only one star out of five. Incidentally 8 or thereabouts is the speed for mobile internet in India. For fixed broadband services it is worse than snails’ pace. One can imagine the gap in service when one finds that in fixed broadband services Singapore tops with a speed of more than 150mbps.

It seems what we get as fixed broadband is an apology for it. I wonder how business and industrial establishments cope with this kind of slow speed.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Destinations :: Jaisalmer (1994)

Sands of Jaisalmer
Having come all the way to Jodhpur we thought we might as well take in Jaisalmer. Around a couple of hundred kilometers away Jaisalmer is, unlike Jodhpur, a genuine desert town, situated plumb in the middle of the Great Indian Desert of Thar. On the way we came across the site of what was termed as the first Indian Nuclear (“peaceful”) Implosion, vis. Pokhran. The nuclear tests were conducted here in 1974 that heralded India’s entry into the select group of nuclear powers. The tests were later described as Pokhran I as eventually before
Expansive Jaisalmer Fort
declaring a moratorium on nuclear tests five more tests were conducted in 1998 and were designated as Pokhran II.

Pokhran was the only interesting site on the way. Curiously, Prosopis Juliflora kept our company all through in widely scattered clusters. This only indicates the hardiness of the plant and its capacity to survive in very arid conditions. One wonders whether it would be able to extend its octopus-like tentacles into the Thar Desert.

Yellows of the Fort show up in slanting sun raysAdd caption
Jaisalmer brought back the memories of the film made by Bharat Ratna and Academy of Motion Pictures & Arts award-winner Satayjit Ray’s film “Sonar Kella”, the Golden Fort. It was made more than fifty years ago and, coming from the master of cinematography, it was a great success. Perhaps for the first time a Bengali film director chose a locale so far away from Bengal where everything – from food to the
A long shot of the Fort taken in high noon
spoken language – was strange to them. And yet, the place where the unit used to dine and perhaps also spent some nights still remembered them.

Undeniably the golden fort that has prompted people to call Jaisalmer the Golden City dominates it. It has such a wide sweep that it is difficult to capture it in its entirety in one photo frame. Not only that, the more than 800-year old fort is perhaps the only one that is lived-in and once used to host an entire city within its fabulous golden walls. Only with progressive inflow of people that
Facade of s haveli
settlements came up outside the walls. Remarkably, it has some intricately decorated Jain temples in its confines.

Built by the Rajput ruler Jaisal around 900 years ago the fort was the city known by its name. It is about 1500 ft. long and 8oo ft. wide and inside are residences as well as temples. That pest Alauddin Khilji laid a siege of the fort that continued for 8 o 9 years in the 13th Century that
The famous Patwon ki haveli
disrupted life in the fort pushing women to commit Jauhar and men to die at the hands of the Muslim invaders. Later there were repeated attacks, including by Humayun, on the Fort. Apparently it was a coveted fort, presumably for the riches it had hidden inside.

Jaisalmer is also known for its havelis with typically Rajasthani architecture. Havelis are what hordes of tourists come to see. They are highly decorative indicative of the artistic flair of the artisans who had developed their skills over hundreds of years. The way they would cut and fashion the stones are awe-inspiring. What is more, the architects who designed the buildings and supervised the construction seem ro have had amazing capability of visualization
Another famous haveli of Salim Khan
when they planned massive havelis with countless rooms and intricately worked-on doors and window with projected balconies.

The most famous of the lot is Patwon ki Haveli, a massive structure with dozens of windows that are intricately carved and decorated. The projected balconies and windows called “jharokhas” are essential ingredients of Rajasthani architecture. Perhaps the easy and profuse
 a haveli suffering from disuse
availability of soft sandstone in Rajasthan have promoted and fostered
flowering of artistic work on them.

The town has a number of museums to keep the historically-inclined busy but what we thought was to enjoy out in the open the sand of the desert. We had several camel rides – which is much different from a horse ride. Probably a camel ride tells more on one’s spine. More fascinating, however, were the turbans of the camel keepers who kept us company during the rides. We happened to see some glorious sunsets over the desert.

Bhopal Notes : 62 :: Deficient policing gives molesters a field day

Parade of apprehended molesters
Our state, Madhya Pradesh­ has achieved new heights in excellence in administration. On 17th March newspapers brought happy tidings for the chief minister who appears to be a favourite of the PM. The vernacular press headlines screamed that MP recorded during the last one year as many as 5310 crimes against women - highest ever recorded in any state in the country. Besides, the paper reported that as many as 5 molestation cases were recorded in Bhopal during the preceding 24 hours even as three molesters were being shamed by parading them through the streets when women fearlessly went up to them to give them a hiding.

Crimes against women seem to have become routine. One opens newspapers and finds the city pages full of reports of rapes, molestations and suicide by girls who either were raped or persistently molested. While school and college-going girls are routinely molested in broad daylight those who go to late evening coaching classes or are held up at their offices have the worst of it. Worse, even the minors and infants are not spared by these brutes.

 Some of the most heinous kinds of rape cases have taken place in the city but there seems to have been hardly any initiative on the part of the local administration. For some time after an incident policemen become active and take some cosmetic measures as is happening currently but soon they fall back into the same inertia. Many a life of young intelligent girl aspiring to achieve something in life was cut short by the increasingly bold and fearless molesters of the town. Fear of law and its supposedly long arm – the police – appears to have evaporated.

For long for crimes against them politicians have been blaming the girls for their outfits – brief or otherwise. All the time they refrained from blaming the police whose cover of sensitive areas has disappeared apparently because of a conscious decision to give up the beat policing system. While the so called VIPs are guarded 24X7 by batteries of policemen common men and women have literally been left unprotected against the wolves prowling the streets. It is probably to deflect attacks on these well-guarded politicians for their overprotective layers of policemen that girls/women were being blamed for attacks on them for their provocative attires or conduct. Politicians have cornered the lion’s share of scarce police resources even as the police population-ratio in the state has progressively become dismal.

Only this morning (18th March) the Times of India in a news headline said “MP grapples with shortage of cops, higher crime rate”. The story below it said the state has a crime rate higher than the national average and numerous vacant posts of police personnel against the sanctioned strength.  It quoted from a report of the Bureau of Police Research that said that the state’s crime rate in 2015 was 338 per lakh population against the national average of 234 per lakh population. At the same time, the Bureau said that the state has a sanctioned strength of 1,15,756 of policemen in January 2017 but the actual strength was 98,466 – more than 17,000 short.

The short manpower has converted maintenance of law and order into more of a joke. Whether in rural or urban areas crime is rampant. Rapes in Jabalpur, Gwalior and other towns are as frequent as in any other town. Rural MP is as unsafe for women as its urban parts. Elsewhere the sand mafia has become so emboldened that it resorts to attempts to killing of forest or police personnel when they try to prevent illegal sand mining. It is anarchy that reigns in the state

 The shortage tells heavily on policing all around and especially for providing safety and security to the common man. Since the government has not acted upon the orders of the Supreme Court to make the Police independent of political control, politicians merrily draft policemen mostly in excess of requirements for their own security. No wonder crime is increasing and the criminals have a field day, becoming bolder and fearless by the day. Even if they are nabbed they can be easily bailed out as investigations take time since there are not enough policemen to investigate crimes. No wonder molestations, rape, robbery and murders, especially of senior citizens, are frequent in the state capital as also elsewhere in the state.

Besides, even the policemen are stressed out because of the heavy pressure of work. Suicides in the force are not uncommon. A few months ago even a deputy superintendent took his own life on account the heat he was facing because of the heavy load of work. It is not that the facts are not known to the government but there is a perceptible drift, more so when the assembly elections are creeping closer and closer. None, for the present, including those in the government, is going to do anything substantive to take care of the state’s law and order.

When a non-performing government is fighting for its survival what the people can do is to take measures for their own safety. The vulnerable sections will have to take such precautionary measure as can ensure the safety and security of their life and property.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Destinations :: Jodhpur (1994)

Jodhpur and its Meharangarh Fort

Sometime in 1994 official business took me to Jodhpur. Instead of flying my wife and I decided to go by the metre gauge train and in the process, we had to negotiate the incredible crowds of the Sarai Rohilla Railway Station of Delhi. The station is named after a noble of Mughal era and has nothing to do with the Rohillas of Uttar Pradesh as the name suggests. The railway station serves railway traffic from and to the Northern and Western India. An overnight journey took us to the fabled city of Jodhpur.

Jodhpur is the largest city of Rajasthan after the state capital of Jaipur.
Receptionists of the Fort offering a musical welcome
The city was founded around five hundred and fifty years ago by Rao Jodha Singh, a Rajput chief of Rathore clan, who conquered the surrounding territories to form the state of Marwar. Later the state came within the Mughal Empire in which it contributed significantly by providing warriors of note. The British too made it subservient to the Crown of England. When the British were preparing to
Gusrds of the Fort
leave the Maharaja did not wish to join the Indian Union. However he was persuaded to do so by the Home Minister of Independent India. It was a case of mischief by Pakistan which wanted to enlarge its territory by offering various benefits to the Maharaja, almost verging on bribery. Fortunately, the mischief was nipped in the bud.

The Meharangarh Fort dominates the city. Built on a rock about 400 ft. high the fort was constructed by Rao Jodha. Enclosed by thick walls the access to it is provided by seven gates. A winding narrow road leads one to the Fort where, like numerous other Rajasthani forts, there are a number of palaces known to be decorated by intricate carvings. The Meharangarh Fort has a
A palace inside the Fort
fabulous museum and the most interesting item in its collection are the palanquins that used to be in use for the peripatetic maharajas and maharanis.

The view of the city sprawled below from the Fort, which is one of the largest in the country, is unbelievably beautiful. It looks like a spread of blue as most of the buildings are painted blue. The city is, therefore, known as “The Blue City”. Rajasthan has three other cities which are well
A palace wall and the city beyond
known by their respective colours : Jaipur is known as the Pink City, Udaipur as the White City and Jaisalmer the Yellow or Golden City of India.

Most interesting feature of the visit to the fort was the strains of shahnai, an ethnic wind instrument, that became audible as we approached the Fort. Two men with colourful turbans wrapped round their heads
a part of another palace in the Fort
were rendering the music to the visitors – one was blowing into the shahnai and the other was providing the accompaniment by playing a set of two Rajasthani percussion instruments that looked like nagadas. The turbans of the two musicians with their ethnic musical instruments created just about the right atmospherics for a Rajasthani fort. There was another person in Rajasthani attire lurking
Jaswant Thada -  the Jodhpuri Taj Mahal
around and was more noticeable because of his substantial graying mustachio. Rajasthan is known for its men with massive growths on their upper lips.

For visitors there is another incredible site to see. This is Jawant Thada which is not very old as it was commissioned around the end ot the 19th Century. Its marble cenotaphs are remarkable. It was built by Maharaja Sardar Singh in memory of his
The marble crematoria
father Maharaja Jaswant Singh II. The complex has a good-looking garden with fountains come alive during the day.  It is now used as a place of last rites for members of Jodhpur Royalty. It is known as the marble wonder of Jodhpur or even the Taj Mahal of Jodhpur. Some of the marble sheets used in it are so thin that they glow
Entrance of Jaswant Thada
in sunshine.  The sun here is rather strong and that has given the city its second nick name, viz. the Sun City.

The fort and the city beyond
Umaid Bhawan Palace is of more recent origin and, hence, it is a lived-in palace that also doubles up as a hotel. The visitors get an elevating feeling of sharing the hotel with a real-life maharaja. It is an opulent 5-star hotel managed by the Taj Group. Completed in the 1940s, Umaid Bhawan has more than 340 luxurious rooms some of which are used by Maharaja Gaj Singh of Jodhpur, many others are set apart for the hotel and a few house a museum. Like any other palThe Fort and the city beyondace it is located in the midst of splendid gardens with almost regulation fountains at play and pavilions embodying typical Rajasthani architecture. One gets a feeling of opulence scattered all around. Perhaps this is how maharajas live even today in independent
My wife Bandana with Meharangarh Fort behind her
India when there have been divested of most of their titles, lands, wealth and power.

One was surprised to see that for a desert town Jodhpur is pretty green.  Perhaps the Indira Gandhi Canal has made some difference by charging the underground aquifers. Although it looks arid but it certainly does not give the impression of being a desert town. The invasive Prosopis Juliflora also has spread greenery around. Only time will tell whether this invasion
The blue city sprawlled below the Fort
by a foreign species would be beneficial for the community living around Jodhpur.

One must talk about the kachoris, a local fried preparation on which one could snack – no, even survive at least for a day. It is much bigger than kachoris found elsewhere and contains a lot of ghee. We had one each one evening and were done for the day.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Bhopal Notes :: 61 Ridge Road and its ditches

One of the decrepit Bhopal roads
I happen to live on the Ridge Road located on that part of the Idgah Hills which overlooks the famed but now-decaying Upper Lake of Bhopal. While the view from the windows is exquisite the approach to the complexes like ours or the newly-built billion rupees bungalows is horrid. In my 22 years of living in this flat I have hardly ever seen the road in good repair. Whenever patchy repairs were carried out they never survived a bout of rain. And for years it has remained in its decrepit and crumbling state with the residents remaining in the hope that at the time of elections of councillors perhaps the road would be attended to. For at least ten years now this has not happened.

After the last elections the newly elected Mayor happened to visit the road and promised to make such a good road of it that people would be able to use it as a dining plate and dine right off it. More than three years have since gone by but t residents are yet to see the surface of a dinner plate; in fact we have only seen the road progressively deteriorating with far greater numbers of ditches than seen any time before. The councilors are indifferent as indeed the Mayor. So far no signs are visible of any repair work of the road. It is understood that a few times contracts for the work were awarded but the contractors ditched it and disappeared without carrying out the work. Perhaps, their tenders were so low that the contractors later realized that they would be left with any margin on construction of this hilly road after paying the cuts of the officers and councilors.

I, for one, am unable to use this only approach to my flat unless I am in a vehicle. Long time ago, at least now it seems so, I used to take my constitutionals on this road. But then I was younger and my bones were perhaps stronger. Now a few steps here and the joints creak and at every step there is the fear of a sprain in the ankle, jagged stones-strewn as the road is.

Thus a very important source of my wellbeing has been taken away from me by the negligence apathy of the government-sustained municipal corporation and its councilors and the Mayor. Thay are responsible for keeping me unhealthy and, hence, unhappy. The government, however, is touting its Happiness Department that is having a ball with tours abroad. They are reported to be looking for ways and means for extending happiness to the citizens of the city. Why doesn’t it occur to them that people will derive happiness if only the functionaries of the municipal corporation – elected and unelected – did their work sincerely, effectively and honestly? The chief minister has been shouting from the roof tops about “su-sashan” (good governance) in order to make people happy. Surprisingly it does not appear to have occurred to him that rendering effective public services to people is an important component of “su-sashan”.

It looks like that the time has now come that people need not depend on the government or its agencies for receiving essential services. They may have to take the bull by the horn and fill the staring gaps left by the local administration in the matter of road building by themselves. Newspapers have already reported instances where people have started building their colony roads by eliciting contributions from the residents. Clearly, this municipal body and the government cannot be depended upon for such services. The residents of Ridge Road may also have to do likewise and cut the municipal corporation from their lives at least in this respect.

*Photo from internet

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Bhopal Notes :: 60 :: Cleanliness competition - Bhopal is no patch on Indore

Indore Mayor hits the streets promoting cleanliness
I happened to be in Indore during the survey for the national cleanliness competition. The effort put up by the Indore municipal corporation was most impressive.

Earlier, I happened to have noticed the efforts of the Indore Municipal Corporation when I was on way back from Jaipur via Indore in November last. It appeared to have been a massive effort to win the first position. Somewhat fading signs of their efforts were still visible. The publicity seemed to have been of saturation level with all available walls plastered with slogans and graphics accompanied by the ubiquitous pair of specs of Mahatma Gandhi.

From the efforts that were being made this year it was quite evident that the municipal corporation was determined to retain its top position that was awarded to it in the first annual survey last year. As I went around the town on my businesses I found it to be a tremendous experience. I had to run around in autos on various errands and I kept my eyes peeled to see all the tell-tale signs of the massive effort put in by the municipality.

Unlike Bhopal, very well done-up roads were spotlessly clean. It was noticeable from the very point where our vehicle moved into the town. As is their wont, the autos took me through the lanes and by lanes. All were devoid of any litter. And almost everywhere there were slogans - some old and some newly painted with the same content. The painted slogans and graphics were done in professional manner that held attention. Good quality paint had been used for painting on the walls and, despite the prosaic content, they looked attractive. The paint jobs done in Bhopal on several public walls look pedestrian In comparison.

The slogans were mostly for cleanliness, like use of dustbins by householders, shopkeepers and everybody else, use of toilets for attending to nature's calls, and so on. Very effective use has been made of public spaces in a pleasant manner. BRTS buses have been painted in a very bright and colourful manner to disseminate information. The use of bright yellow has cleverly been used to capture people’s attention. What I saw was almost like carpet bombing; there was no escape from it. None could probably avoid being exposed to the campaign. It was as if the need to keep the city clean was being rammed down people’s throats.

The campaign and its execution on the ground has been exceptionally good surely ensuring for Indore a higher rank than other towns of MP. If it happens, as I believe it will, it would be very well deserved. From all evidences, the campaign for “swachcha bharat” has been carried out very imaginatively and sincerely and in vast contrast to what has been done in Bhopal. Mere sweeping with big brooms of carefully selected sites by the chief minister and the mayor, as was done in Bhopal, doesn't carry any conviction. Such efforts are, at best, photo ops giving the impression of being insincere, even deceitful - as fraudulent as the assurances and promises of the protagonists.

 It might be recalled that last year there were murmurs that the second position was obtained for Bhopal by unscrupulous means. Worse, many of us were surprised to see the city walk away with the second rank as it never in anybody’s imagination could achieve a rank among the first five. Here, whether it is the mayor or the councilors, they do not put in sincere efforts. Reports abound that they generally are busy making money by, inter alia, disfiguring the cityscape by installing illegal hoardings, installing kiosks (gumties) or introducing for monetary considerations pushcarts to create congestions in streets that are already chock-a-block with vehicular traffic.

 Though I live in Bhopal I would like Indore to top the rankings as the civic body there appears to be more sincere and honest in pursuit of its objectives. Its relentless efforts have encouraged the citizens to keep the city clean. Even the drivers of the autos proudly said that Indore had now become clean and beautiful. Such an expression of satisfaction and contentment is a huge take-away for the municipal corporation.

*Photo from internet

DISAPPEARING FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION Rama Chandra Guha, free-thinker, author and historian Ram Chandra Guha, a free-thinker, author and...