Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Inheritance - Chapter 1

It was 1978. Rain was incessantly pouring outside. For a young man who had just shifted to this part of the world, such rain was nothing short of a catastrophic, but for the people of that sleepy small town on the Konkan coast, it was just another day in their half-year lasting monsoons…they slept unfettered by the thunderstorms.
The young man had no idea of how things would shape up in this new place. Geared with his ambition to make a career in radio, he had recently joined as an engineering assistant to the Akashvani radio station of Ratnagiri.

Music and Mathematics were two of his greatest passions, the ones he had successfully nurtured since childhood.
If middle class would have allowed a luxury of choice between his passions – and had he made up his mind to sing and play the harmonium, he could’ve been a prodigy.
But nonetheless through his indigenous formulas, he soon treated numbers like musical notes… he would calculate huge numbers within seconds… like an illusionary creation of musical symphony… numbers and musical notes grew more alike.

So being the kid of the 60’s and in a family of 6… the academic route was the safest. After graduating in Physics, he grabbed the opportunity to work at the radio station as a technical assistant, something that combined his academics and his passion for music.

As Gulzar Sa’ab has famously said, ‘…jo lagaye ne lage aur bujhaye na bujhe…’ Passion never dies.
So even unknowingly, the kid… now a young man saw himself taking up the ‘engineers’ job at the ‘radio station’.

The rains showed no signs of letting up; the peon came into the technical room and brought with him a world full of solace: a cup of hot tea. With it also came the first job at hand - the young man was asked to inspect a technical error, none had been able to figure the lapse. The sound console was lying like a corpse that was turning colder every minute. The technical error had to be resolved to bring the radio station back to life.

He concentrated his sight on the wooden board, the board with the colours of the world descending on it in the form of the many different coloured wires. Soon the hot tea worked its magic, he noticed the two wires that were responsible for this technical glitch. The wires were separated from each other and to get the Sound console working, the wires needed soldering. The peon got the equipment and soon the dexterous hands started to repair the fault. But something strange happened then…something he hadn’t seen in the 23 monsoons of his life. Hardly, did he know that this ‘first’ incident were the ‘first’ of the symptoms to come, his troubles had still nine more years to come by.

As he was about to join two extremely thin wires through soldering, he couldn’t figure out the approximate distance between them! It was amusing, for an adept technician like him, joining two wires was not the hardest of the tasks. Little did he know that his amusement could lead to a frightening reality.

Scientifically, observing a very thin set of wires during soldering requires many of one’s eye nerves to concentrate on that small junction. And even after putting in several attempts, the young man still couldn’t notice the distance between those thin multi-colored wires. Finally, he had to give up. The Sound console couldn’t be repaired, even after successfully identifying the problem!

His apprehension got the better of him… neither did he mention this rather unusual occurrence to anyone, nor did he took up soldering in future.
Few months into the job, personal family reasons had him to leave the job at the radio station – thereby terminating a career close to music, however obliquely but still close to music. He returned to his hometown in Gujarat. The family needed him there.

Then – much like the quintessential small town middle class today, all that the family aspired was a government job for their son and the obvious perks associated with a stable job. Soon, the young man struck gold. He was appointed as a cashier in a centralized bank. The mother was ecstatic and the family members couldn’t have asked for a more suitable career. A few years passed, he got married, and soon ‘settled’ in his career and routine life. He’d to his good forgotten that obscure occurring on that rainy night in that coastal town, an incident which had left him baffled then… now rested in the deep forgotten pits of memory.

Life was looking up - sometime later, he fathered a beautiful angelic daughter.

And then came 1987. The year that he would never forget throughout his life. The young man and his two brothers, with their respective families decided to visit Kashmir. This was just a year before the Kashmir insurgency. (The insurgency has got nothing to do with this story though.) The joint family was enjoying the snowfall at a hill station near Gulmarg. They had just come out from a major Railway ticket-fiasco at Jammu (an incident I would narrate some day later, it’s a different story for a different day).

The weather was extremely cold. There were some tourists lurking around. The tough dark-brown horses were shuttling the tourists, the mules were carrying the heavy construction material and the locales were busying milking the tourist season.

While enjoying the snow, the eldest brother took out his film camera and asked the family to pose for a memorable picture. After all joint family trips, snow, Kashmir - all are a rarity. Our man was given the camera and asked to click a picture of his elder brother and his family.

As soon as our man held the camera, he was in for a surprise again… a surprise that would bring back a memory conveniently forgotten. He saw through the viewfinder and could easily see the family he was trying to take the picture of, but there was an electric pole besides the family, which appeared strange for some reason. No he wasn’t seeing a ghostly apparition… but on second thoughts – what followed wasn’t any less ghastly.
The sight left him cold. A certain portion of the pillar that was in the frame appeared bent from the middle. It was as if someone had hammered the vertical pole from the centre and taken its central part away from the vertical line. What was it?

To be continued…

© Copyrights 2009 All Rights Reserved. Hardik Mehta

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Aman Ka Tamaasha - by Prakash Gowda

Apropos to the Times of India's initiative "Aman Ki Aasha". Here's a different take on the concept of Aman ki Aasha. By posting this poem I am not saying whether I am in support or against the concept of Aman ki Aasha. Maybe I am just evading to discuss this topic. Actually I could even fall in love with the concept since Gulzar saab has written those wonderful lines about

"Aankhon ko Visa nahi lagta..."

And the amazingly beautiful lines about playing Kabbaddi on the border.

"Utho kabaddi Kabaddi kheley sarhado par
Jo aye ab ke to laut kar phir na jaai koi..."

Enough to fall in love with your enemy. Salaam Gulzar saab.

But by posting the Aman Ka Tamasha poem by Prakash I do agree that the dream of having peace with Pakistan is far from true. Especially now, with those Huge Tunnels coming up in Pakistan. I think they are watching a lot of Sunny Deol films.

Thus on this Republic Day, I do want some opinions from people on this concept of Aman ki Asha. The way I had tried commenting on the concept of Parade in New Delhi last year. Here.

Here's the poem

Aman Ka Tamaasha

Aman ki aasha, ka liye bataasha,
Sarhad paar chale hum, liye ek naya tamaasha.

Laut kar dekha, to sarhad par khoon laga tha,
Khoon nahin bhai, yeh ketchup hi hoga,
Jo kisi fauji ne is paar phenka hoga.

Wireless par aatankwaadiyo ki dhamki sunaai di,
Dhamki nahin bhai, yeh gaane ki farmaaish hi hogi,
Jo sarhad paar, chaai ke tapri se kisi ne guzaarish ki hogi.

TV on kiya to dekha: ek bazaar mein bumb phat gaya,
Bumb nahin bhai, yeh mehez chund pataakhe honge,
Jo us paar se kisi ne Idd ka jawaab Diwali se diya hoga.

Nafrat ke trishool nahin phenkne humein,
Magar pyaar ke mantar bhi nahin japne hain.
Us paar saare aakhir apne hi to hain.
Din mein dekha to kya hua,
Aman ke khwaab aakhir sapne hi to hai!

Is Gantantra divas par aao us paar haath milaaye hum,
Haath kat bhi jaaye to kya hua, haath to badhaaye hum!
Saath phir sur milaaye hum,
Desh mein log bhookhe mare to kya,
Aao Kasab ko biryaani khilaaye hum!

Aman ke geet behro ko sunaaye hum,
Pyaar ki paribhaasha anpadho ko sikhaaye hum.
Apni har aah ko, aman ki aag mein aao sekein hum.
Gaate, muskruaate agle haamle ki, aao raah dekhein hum.

- Prakash Gowda

If you all like/agree/disagree/dislike. Please leave a comment on Prakash's blog. He is anticipating reviews for this work of his. Here's the link for his blog

© Copyrights 2009 All Rights Reserved. Hardik Mehta

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Loss of Sensitivity and why our Generation creates problems for itself...

If you enter a room of a young bachelor, living independently in a metro city, who earns a good salary or rather enough to over spend on himself or herself - one of the first things that would come to your mind is - why did I enter in the room at the first place?

Now figure these observations and am sure, 80% of them would come true in any given one room of these kind of species. The Species, as I described are generally recently graduated, working, far away from the idea of marriage, forget marriage, far from the idea of society or civilization, drinking shots, smoking pot, losing the plot, earning more than required and savings - of course Not. (blame it on the phenomenon of instant gratification)
And mind you these species are all over and are increasing in number with the way migration to metro cities for a better, brighter future is happening. So here are some peculiarities to be seen once you enter their houses, not homes.

- The corner plug will always have a mobile charger hanging loose, its switched permanently On. As if the charger has to be on its toes. "Salaam sir, you have entered the room, now please crash and put the mobile here, till the time you go out next". Of course that permanently On charger switch is not going to burn your pockets, so why to worry in switching it off. Let it be On.

- Fans, tubelights would be permanently On - Day or Night, Darkness or light - whether one is in the room or not. And the most interesting fact comes now, At the end of the month, when the electricity bill appears, you would see them roaming around with the bill in their hands: "How come so much amount in the Bill?, I just come at night to sleep". If science has some power please invent those kind of tubelights, fans who sense that if there is no one in the room for more than ten minutes, kindly gets switched off on its own.Mr. Pachauri, something to distract you from that Himalayan blunder debate. Me thinks, even if those Glaciers are not going to melt by 2035 then does it mean they are not going to melt anytime - at least lets not stop those environmental measures. A stitch in time...and the rest you know.

- Wet Towels on bed. the most irritating aspect of bachelors. I would direct a order from High Court for the most severe punishment, if I would find doing this for more than 5 continuous days. Yeah, please tell me I am talking like a nagging housewife. But aint she most of the time right, guys?

- Since kitchens come under common area, either it is everyones responsibility or of course, the convenient - no one has a responsibility. So lets pull in all the trash there. Either the maid will collect it or it will always be away from my sight at least.

- Now the next one according to me is very interesting and I have followed it very keenly. If a gardener, electrician, plumber, carpenter, or any such person comes to offer his services, then invariably the arguments on payment would happen and often it would be for a meagre sum of 20 or 40 bucks. Now everyone who would be taking those services, will always feel at the back of their minds that the other person is out there to cheat me. So invariably needless arguments would result in. But at the same time, they wont give two hoots to such a paltry sum of money while spending on much much trivial stuff. A simple thought that even an electrician/plumber/carpenter etc are out here to earn and support ther families. Even you bloody get paid more than what you deserve, then a 20 or a 30 Rs more wont make him enough rich for you to be jealous. If you take the same line of thought and go ahead am sure - there will be many Balram Halwais of the The White Tiger fame. Arrey, Why not. We need more Balrams to make these young privileged class understand the value of money to someone who doesnt have much.

- Anyways coming back to these character traits, one of the biggest trouble makers are people who smoke. This is not being mentioned because I dont smoke, or I find smoking repulsive - But more than half of the smokers make their rooms or their surroundings so inhabitable with their smoke, ash, ash trays and a complete loss of sensitivity. The last especially when hardly many realize that the opposite person may not feel the same as I feel about smoking.

- While going out, Main doors are always kept wide open. The simple idea of keeping them ajar doesnt exist.

- Mobile ringtones on the loudest possible volume and talking on it loudly when there is someone else in room, who is sleeping, resting or not in the mood to listen to your bakwaas. Actually for mobile there has to be a whole new book written called "Mobile Manners" and it has to be given free of cost, when a customer buys a mobile. With serious changes taking place in our lifestyles, we also need to update our manners accordingly.

There is a list of such traits - From keeping newspapers in toilets, loud music, dirty laptops, leaking taps, tainted washbasins, open toilets etc - But as of now I would limit myself to these. By writing here, I am just jotting these observations which I happened to do in daily life. If only these Species have a little more responsibility towards machines and themselves. The way they have so many things to make themselves look good - conditioners, face washes, cleansers, shampoos, soaps, gels, creams, moisturizers etc - there is only one attribute that would take them long way - sensitivity to your surroundings.

To contradict these thoughts and rather than whining away on these habits, I think its time to get married. :)

© Copyrights 2009 All Rights Reserved. Hardik Mehta

Post script: Have read the two most amazing film scripts in last 3 days. beautiful indeed.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Images from The Grand Indian Wedding

There is nothing as Big in an Indian's life than a Wedding. full stop. We do not care about ambitions, awards, achievements, anniversaries etc as much as we care about the Great Indian Wedding. Its the single most important event in a common man's life. A few months back when one of my dearest friends was getting married, I had the chance to capture all these wonderful images of celebration, pomp and gaiety.

please click on the image to view large.

All geared up for the blast...

Colorful Water Cans ready for the guests.

The unique Mausaji, who would always have an opinion!

Jai Mata Di

The wonderful moment in midst of Mata ki Chowki.

The Random dancing Uncles. They have to have a jig after a swig, so what if a bhajan is playing on.

The Colours and the Lights: the two best parts of Indian Weddings.

More Colors and Light.

The Women of Light

The Band Master who can sing in both male and female voices in the wedding.

Whenever I see the photo below, i think of just one song.
Mainu Saari Raat Jagaundi aye,
Aa Sapne Bade Dikhaundi aye,
O Jugni Ok Sho K Khel Rachaundi Hai...

Mainu Maar Gayi, Tu Yaar Meri
Tu Pyaar Meri, Tu Jugni Jugni
Ho Jugni Jugni, Ho Jugni Jugni.
The song has an amazing tempo for any Baraat to go wild on the roads and people to fish out their pockets and throw the money in air. I dont know if the song has anything to do with weddings.

The Baraat entering the venue.

The Fireworks

More Fireworks

The symbol of an Indian Wedding

© Copyrights 2009 All Rights Reserved. Hardik Mehta

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Excitement at the Bandra Terminus and how we were in for a surprise...

It was never meant to be a third consecutive post on Indian Railways, but yesterday I happened to experience a wonderful event of sorts, so couldnt resist this lil piece. My mom, after her week long stay in Bombay, was returning to Baroda yesterday. I accompanied her to the railway terminus. Little did the two of us know that we are in for a sweet surprise.

While booking her ticket few days prior, I came across a train called Yuva Express, unheard of. This train operated between Bandra-Nizamuddin, obviously stopping at Baroda - and it was the only train with tickets available, which ideally should be good news when someones booking so late... but the number of seats available were so many that I had my doubts - "yeh train jaati bhi hai... itni seats kaise khali hain" - that too on one of the country's busiest routes!

Anyways, putting my reservations aside - and believing more in my last minute luck, I decided to go ahead with the booking!

So yesterday as we entered the Terminus, we saw (what looked to us then) the usual Railway station scenario, people running around - passengers, coolies, vendors all alike; very loud and equally incomprehensible announcements, the railway staff.... wait a second, the railway staff - with their crisp ironed uniforms... freshly shaved faces... sweepers with a grin on their face... suddenly all of it ceased to be a normal day - I observed closely there was a spring in their step, their was excitement in the air and before we could figure out, we saw it right there... right before our eyes.. in its splendid glory - the Brand New Yuva Express on the platform. Cliche, but it truly was decorated like a bride. Each door, each window, each coach was freshly painted with light green and yellow - you could smell the paint. The colorful decoration material, the shining frills, different flowers were all adding to the festive atmosphere - and then I realized, today was an auspicious day for a journey to begin - 15th January - and thus the Train's first run!

The brand new seats, the fresh green carpet, the non-corroded doors and no sign of those ubiquitous viscous red spits on the walls. No smells, no dirty spots and no leaking water from basins.

None of the passengers who'd decided to take on this chair car journey to en-route to delhi were expecting a travel like this! And as soon as they had settled in with their luggage, out came the camera-mobiles, the handycams, the still cameras - everything and anything that could capture that moment...!

Soon the new Engine was connected, The Local Band, who had been called started playing vigorously. An old frail man went down to the tracks and stood between the Engine and the Boggie - to connect it. He joined them via a hook and a few rubber tubes here and there. In the meantime the entire Railway staff was here. The guard had a fresh starched Green flag in his hand. The Black Coat TTEs, the senior personnel, the junior sub-ordinates, Engine Drivers, the Station Master, the technical staff, the Coolies, the railway police - all were beaming in pride. They all had red tikkas on their foreheads. It was a sight of familial bonding, a family we otherwise would have never imagined. And it occurred to me, like how each Railway Station is actually a separate universe with its own set of family members.

Since it was the inaugural run, the Flash Photographer was also here. I was seated with my mom and since it was a Chair Car, the seat besides me was still vacant. A particularly busy middle-aged businessman was just outside the coach talking loudly on his mobile. As soon as he saw the Photographer getting inside the coach with his bulky camera, the businessman cancelled his call and rushed inside pushing the photographer and hurriedly came in to take the vacant seat besides me.

I was surprised by this sudden behavior. I looked at him curiously, he saw me and turned while saying:
"Kya pata shaayad kal ke newspaper mei photo aa jaye..."

The Photographer adjusted his lens, and the businessmen adjusted his smile - FLASH....FLASH
Two photos in a row, as the photographer went ahead, the businessman started the mobile conversation again.

In the meantime the Band Master and is colleagues were on a all time high, signaling to us that the Departure time is near now. The most crowded section on the terminus was the first coach were the Name of the train was written on a crisply written signboard - "Yuva Express". Every tom, dick and harry was there with their mobile cameras and getting the photo clicked with the new train signboard. From the crowd came a coolie, fished into his pocket and came out with an expensive looking mobile. He requested someone

"Mera zara ek photo nikaal do na..." and went ahead to pose.

The Videowala with his shaky camera had joined in. As he entered the coaches, needless to say the businessman's mobile conversation had to wait and he again repeated the same flash smile - with the desire of a picture in next days paper, and excitedly took the seat.

A typical Delhi family entered the compartment with their fat, over-stuffed luggage and the same goes for their kids - fat and over enthusiastic. Amidst all this brouhaha, on the next platform was Kutch Express standing in its loneliness and being completely ignored. From the sight of Kutch Express it looked like the train was feeling a nostalgia - one which brings with it an all time low. There was a time - a time of her first run too and today... Never, like today, had her passengers ignored like this. The Engine and its Headlights' contorted facial expression. The vertical of this :(

Whereas the atmosphere on the Yuva Express platform was like the Titanic on its first run. The passengers sitting around my mom too were excited, some of them had started calling their homes and telling them "you better be on the railway station to receive us, you would get to see this fresh new train".

Ah! the joys of public transport in India.

As soon as the "full of vigor" Horn blared at its top - everyone from the Railway Station family called for a loud slogan that would mean that "let this train have an amazing run throughout the country". Slowly the train started moving out of the Terminus and the Band members were rigorously playing now. The passengers standing at the doors of coaches, as the train moved out they waved a "Bye Bye" - I dont know to whom - cause the bye-bye continued to the non existent -and long gone family members.... they were just waving in case the Video Camera was rolling on...!!!

And just when the last 2 coaches of the train, (which were completely vacant!!)passed by, a thought occurred to me - "Where are the Jack and Rose of this Titanic?".

And to my utter disbelief the last completely vacant coach - had a young lovey-dovey couple. The only ones to be on that coach - as the generator's hot air and the Guard's last coach passed by us - I thought about that much-in-love couple in that coach - hmmm "not for anything is the train named "Yuva Express..."

P.S: Later I read the news and came to know that Yuva Express is meant for the Unemployed youth of India. One can travel in an air-conditioned coach from mumbai to delhi or vice-versa in 300 Rs. Wow! I think the largest takers of the train would be the jobless (or rather the job seeking delhi youth) vying the film industry.

picture courtesy: The Hindu website
© Copyrights 2009 All Rights Reserved. Hardik Mehta

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Maa Reva Calling and an encounter with Indian Railways: Part 2

WARNING: A Long Post.

To continue from where I left… I finally reached Amarkantak.
To tell you honestly, the exact place where they say that Naramada originates from - the place with "Narmada Udgam" engraved, (In a very ‘I was here’ way), the first look makes you feel it’s like a municipal gutter lid, which has been leaking for years. The water is at its opaque best, there are ‘just-about dead’ flowers, ‘rotting dead’ flowers, ‘life being sucked out’ fresh flowers thrown in. Add to it the green pudiyas and some organic waste floating around. The instant thought – Did I travel 1300 kms to see this puddle? So much for the romance of Narmade… No I couldn’t let go of the hopeless romantic in me, not so easily… I saw a Panditji sitting there in all his pomp and glory.
So we, Psycho and me, thought of testing him:

We announced our arrival to the very trance like pronunciation of the word – very popular among the pilgrims, "Narmadey..."
(with emphasis on the ‘…deeeeeeeyyyyyyy’….. the sound of which would ring till the end of any conversation!)

"Narmadey" is like the buzz word in Amarkantak. The way "Oh, so cool…" is for Bombay and "Jai Mahrashtra" for Mumbai. Or like "Ganga Maiyaa ki Jai" in Haridwar. The holy man reverted back with not-so warm an enthusiasm. I asked him:

Me: "…Panditji, yeh Narmada shuru kahaan se hoti hai? "

Panditji: "…tumhari umr kitni hai…"

Wise question, but what’s the connect? – I thought to myself, not wanting to irk him I replied.

Me: "…Sataais saal"

Panditji: "…Toh wahaan kya likha hai saamne, padho...." pointing to the engraved writing.
Oh! Now I saw the point – the pandit with the attitude, I continued.

Me: "…Panditji likha to hai Narmada Udgam, lekin lag nahi raha ke Narmada yahaan se shuru hoti hai..."

Panditji: "…yaheen se shuru hoti hai."
He said, getting up – actually I knew from the tone itself – it was the very end of discussion tone, his arising from his glorious posture merely confirmed it.

Infact for a moment I visualized the next cut, the panditji - accusing me of blasphemy, takes the holy - opaque water in his hands and throws it on me saying, more chanting:

"moorkh baalak, mata ke baarein mei sawaal karta hai...

Errr…I raised my hands to cover my face…err…” and I snapped out of it.

We went around the series of temples and then caught hold of another Sadhu – he was the visibly harmless one:

Us: "…Narmadeyyyy..."
Sadhu: "…Narmadeyyyy..."

Me: "…Baba Yeh Narmada ki dhaara kahaan se shuru hoti hai..."

Sadhu: “…Yeh jo jitne chaaron aur parbat dikhaai de rahein hai na, (he said pointing around a full circle – after the finger tour he continued) - …in sabhi jagah se dhara aati hai...So convincing was his act - that both psycho and me did a 360 degree with our eyes following the direction of his finger – we looked around…and before I could ask him anything more, the Sadhu vanished much like a mythical figure.

Psycho concluded: "Basically no one has a clear idea of what happens with the river, but everyone has their story... jaise unke saamne hi shuru hui thi…"
Yeah, the start we don’t know – the end, we’re ensuring is very near!

For the next 3 days, we kept walking-walking-walking and talking-talking-talking, of course without any Mobile network. So sorry dear Idea, Balki, Abhishek and Ilaya Raja, your campaign didn’t work in Amarkantak. – No mobile coverage is equal to being completely untraceable! Much like what I feared…that the river would be once it leaves Amarkantak.

So coming back to the River, the most amazing thing that struck us that they have stopped the flow of the river just about – actually nearly right from its start!
Right after the few small ghats, for people to - wash away their sins, pets, kids, clothes, utensils and their SUVs, not necessarily in that particular order, comes a small dam-like structure which kills the flow of the river.
Why the SUV mention in the pilgrim land of Amarkantak, here’s why… there was a man constantly roaming on a Bicycle and shouting on top of his voice: No it wasn’t “All is Well!” He was shouting in chaste hindi:

"Ghat par gaadi dhona manaa hai. Jo koi yeh kriya karta paaya jaayega, toh usse 500/- rupiye jurmana vasool kiya jaayega"
(Washing your Cars in the River is prohibited. Rs. 500/- punishment).

While walking in and around we discovered that there is still a lot of vegetation, forests, trees, natural resources remaining for men to plunder. Good News all you corporations. Plunder….

From the place one is standing till the far end, right where till one's vision can go - there are mountains and mountains, covered with thick – dense trees, trees and some more trees. It was a beautiful sight. Seen in the photo below.
We sat there hours, letting the eyes soak in the sight of so many greens – eyes deprived of them for years in the megapolis. Then from somewhere behind one of those mountains came the moon. It was 31st December - Full Moon Day… the BLUE moon day. I hadn't seen the Moon so clear, so full in so many years. If the year was 1969, one could have seen Armstrong and Aldrin eating popcorns and jumping around.

While watching the river flowing ahead, we picked up a conversation with a local guy at Dudhdhara waterfalls, we asked him, "…where does the river Narmada go from here?"
He replied back: "To the Gulf of Khambhat..."
Wow...10/10 on geography, but we’ve not exactly come from Brazil.

I insisted: "We know that, but what's the first town or village it crosses".
He realized his mistake and smiled back saying: "Dindori..."

That night, we heard some hushed gossip among the Sadhus and some local men at Amarkantak: "Aaj to partyyyy hai... DJ bulaane waale hai ladke..."

I felt like running, but where to?? I had left Mumbai and come here, only to run away from the party nights-DJs and now this!

At the same time –I got curious, how would the Amarkantak version of new years DJ night be? Not probing further - Psycho and me decided to return to the city and now explore the 0.25 sq. km market area of Amarkantak. Finally we found a dilapidated tea stall with a small bonfire… The perfect place to celebrate our 31st dec 09.
The perfect place to
“To thank the someone up above – who watches, takes care and keeps a check on us…”
“Thank God…”
“For the love and peace”
The decade has been a very good one. We swam across careers and felt the high and low tides of life. At the start of the decade, we didn’t know where we were headed, joining the B.Tech in dairy technology at age 18, the quintessential gujju boys headed to the US land four years from then…to age 27 – the trying to be film maker/story teller.
With the decade coming to an end - we finally know where we want to row our boats.

While returning we spotted a small serene lake. We sat there for next many hours.
As Dev sir told me a few days back: "We have forgotten to hear the sounds that are around us". Right there I heard a dragonfly flapping its wings, the sound of the small tides, the shepherd whistling to his herd, his stick sometimes landing on the hard wet mud ground and sometimes on the cattle s back, the sound of stone landing on the lakes surface – and the ripples that generate, the sound of feet sinking in the wet grass… the wriggling toes to remove the mud stuck to it. I stored these sounds, crystal clear in my memory bank – If technology would’ve permitted; I would’ve recorded them and taken with me back to Bombay. But on this go greenesque trip, I had to rely on my senses to capture it all… the eyes the sight... the ears the sound.

Part 2B: The Journey Home

Indian Railways are always known to surprise you with its unadvertised-or rather uncalled for adventures. Our foolishness lead to one such adventure. It was biting cold that night. Like biting. I cant stress more. It was somewhere near 5 degrees. And like most of our trip, we were as unplanned. We emptied our backpacks, whatever last bit of clothing possible for a drape that we had with us, it was all on us yet we were feeling cold!
As we reached Katni Junction, we were told that the next train towards Mumbai is "Bhagalpur express" (again) at 3 30 am. The clock was striking 2 in the night then, an hour and a half in this biting cold!! Freeze!! A few minutes later to our ‘warm’ surprise - the Mumbai-Gorakhpur Express chugged in. We thought that the "Enquiry" person must have goofed up and this train must also go on the same route. We got in and surprisingly found a relatively empty compartment, contrary to the popular belief, that all trains headed to Bombay are full!

The thought of the warmth of our homes, and the much satisfying exhaustion of the trip made it easy for us to sleep till the biting cold out did my intention - I got up and rather innocently asked Psycho: "Why has Jabalpur not come?" It was 5 in the morning now.

"CHAI, CHAI, CHAI..." - breaking the calm of a cold morning, came the ubiquitous tea vendor. We thought of asking him: "Bhaisaab, Jabalpur kab aayega?". At first he was surprised and gave us a look as if we have asked his Tea for free. In a split second, his expression changed. It was his moment of power – knowledge is power, and it was clearly with him this time on!

Vendor: "bhaaisaab, Jabalpur reh gaya 250 km peeche..."

SHIT!!! We realized the mistake. The Train was actually coming from Mumbai and not going to – heard of the glorious Up/Down version. 3120 up means to the destination 3120 down means from –or some such! And there we were somewhere near Satna - supposedly the last station in northern Madhya Pradesh. If it wasn't for that biting cold, we would have slept in hope and dream of our homes and got up to find ourselves in Gorakhpur amidst travel agents who would take us to Nepal and from there to the Mount Everest.

"Jaldi...bhaag" screamed Psycho. We were shivering with the cold. It was severe. While running I realized that all these bloody news channels should get out of delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and take temperatures for interior India and the statistics would be alarming. Soon on the next platform came "Gorakhpur-Durg" express.

To the Enquiry guy: "Yeh train Katni jaayegi?"
Enquiry guy with on his yet another lazy morning: "haaaaaahhh ... jaayegi..."


Below are the few pictures of Amarkantak and that terrible cold night inside the train. They are in low resolutions.

© Copyrights 2009 All Rights Reserved. Hardik Mehta

Monday, January 4, 2010

Maa Reva Calling and an encounter with Indian Railways: Part 1

5 days. 3 states. 2 friends. 3000 kms in 4000 rupees. (all included)

The idea was NOT to spend the New Year amidst the jing-bang of Mumbai.

"Where do you want to go exactly?" asked Psycho. "I dont know, but the idea is to find peace when the next decade arrives" said me.

Then something struck: I replied him again on sms: "lets explore Indian Railways. Destination koi bhi ho, bas ticket kataao aur train mei chad jaao.." (Just think of a destination and get on board of the train that goes there).

Then again a destination came to my mind: Amarkantak. We did a basic research of whether a train goes there or not. It doesnt. Amarkantak is situated amidst Satpura Hills on Madhya Pradesh-Chhatisgarh border. Infact its on the top of the mountain range. The rivers Johila, Son and the most important lifeline of Central India, Narmada - they all begin here. "Udgam" as they say. River Son goes eastwards and joins Ganges without much controversy. Narmada flows westwards and as with things that go westwards, it comes face to face with controversies, wicked intentions, corrupt people, baseless right wing rhetoric and a BIG fucking Dam.

Back to Amarkantak, it has been a place in my heart than being on the map. Its been a place I have wanted to go ever since. And there s an interesting link on why Now?

Three reasons.

1. The river Narmada and its flow is a topic that is very near to my heart. I have my politics for trusting in Narmada Bachao Andolan. Thus, where and how does this river actually originate from has to be seen, before the politicians change its course or change the place from where it originates. On second thoughts, have they already changed?. Once while thinking wild I had made it a point to follow Narmada and its flow from wherever it passes through - various towns, villages, cities etc. Maybe a motorcycle ride awaits. But as of now, where does it all begin had to be seen.

2. Aseem Chakravarti, member of the wonderful band Indian Ocean, expired a week back, their wonderful song "Maa Rewa" has struck a chord ever since i had heard for the first time. For beginners, Maa Rewa is Mother Narmada.

3. Believe it or not. But the third reason is watching Avatar. When i saw the Na'vis being forced to leave their native land in the name of development, i was so shocked. I had always read about Harsud, about Kevadia, about all those fucking Big dams leading to displacement on mass levels but maybe had never seen that in actual visuals. Avatar showed me the sorrow of people and how does it feel to leave your own land, your own natural resources. As Arundhati Roy describes in her most dedicated essay: The Greater Common Good: "India's poorest people are subsidizing the lifestyles of her richest". More on Narmada later.

After the above three reasons, of which the last two happened in the previous week there was all the more reason to go to Maa Rewa. Its like she was calling, the way Delhi middle class would say: "Mata ka bulava kaun rok sakta hai..?"

Thus, we - Psycho, my best buddy in the last decade - our friendship literally started in 2001, now a student of NID, Ahmedabad, he and me started on this journey. We took the Bhagalpur Express from Kurla-Lokmanya Tilak to Jabalpur. From Jabalpur we hardly knew that we would be changing two more trains and one more bus ride to finally reach the destination. Being off season worked in our advantage - we got Sleeper Class tickets upgraded from General Class. In the wee hours of a December morning, we saw the great megapolis pass by.

There is an amazing romance involved with seeing the world pass by through the windows of an Indian Railways Train. Huts, Slums, Colonies, Trees, Cows, Herds, Kids, Electric poles, Clouds, Farmers, Vendors, Cities, Towns, Stations etc come and go. An interesting difference I observed is whenever one travels on Mumbai-Delhi or Mumbai-Ahmedabad route - we only see vendors selling packed wafers, branded food items, mineral water, cold drinks, chocolates etc - but when one travels through central Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh etc - we came across vendors selling grapes, bananas, oranges, custard apples along with the usual packed food.

Sunrises, Sunsets, Moonrises, Moonsets all suddenly become magical when seen through the windows of the moving train.

Below are some of the pictures taken through the moving Bhagalpur Express. Of course, needless to say, the Rights to use the pictures aren't your Father's Uncle's ancestral property. so please be aware.

Part 2 on Amarkantak and how we celebrated the arrival of 2010 at a dilapidated tea stall will be posted soon. Till then, enjoy the pictures.


© Copyrights 2009 All Rights Reserved. Hardik Mehta