Buildings, Durbar Bazaar, Kathmandu
State Central Library, Afzalganj, Hyderabad
Through a scanner darkly
We draw a magic circle and shut out everything that doesn’t agree with our secret games. Each time life breaks the circle, the games turn grey and ridiculous. Then we draw a new circle and build a new defense.
Crown Nursery Gardens, Salem
Crown Nursery Gardens are the largest nursery in Salem. On our return from Saravana Bhawan, we drop in, partly to escape the scorching sun, and partly to idle before it is time to attend the wedding in the evening. We end up spending more than an hour there.
The property has a large white manor house behind which sprawls the large nursery. ‘We have been in this business since the last 4 generations. We also have a farmhouse and orchard some distance away from Salem. It’s nice to be surrounded by plants. Unlike humans they are quiet, and they soothe you in a way few things do. But they do need care. People think plants don’t need love and care, but they couldn’t be more wrong’, the owner tells us. We aren’t surprised at his immaculate English. However, we are slightly amused at his mother’s refined English. The old lady speaks lovingly and reminds us of our grandparents who spoke flawless English despite little education.
After introductions, we go into the garden which is full of big trees and thousands of saplings. The overhead growth is so dense that we forget all about the sun. We can’t decide on the number of varieties. ‘Oh, 100 is too less, there must be more than 500 varieties here’, a gardener informs us. We stand in the shade listening to the chirping of birds and watching the squirrels. ‘It’s a complete ecosystem. You plant trees, and you end up having birds and animals. In a few years, your modest beginnings turn into a habitat for many’, an old worker tells us. We bank on S’s Tamil to see us through.
We get back to bid farewell after having explored the garden. ‘Visit Yercaud if you have time’, the owner suggests. We take the next bus to Yercaud and are late to the wedding. Tired and rejuvenated by our outings, we eat hungrily. If you are in Salem, try dropping in at Crown Nurseries. Take a book along, if you like to read in quiet shade.
Posing with books, Hanle
It was late in the evening when we reached the low green valley and decided to set camp. Darkness was at hand and cold winds were picking up. The gurgling stream nearby gave us cold water and the yaks disinterested looks. And then we saw him.
As he hungrily gobbled up the food we gave him, we gathered some discarded clothes and warm wear. He put them on (he even grabbed a pair of boots), gave us a big smile and told his story. It was evident from his manner that he hadn’t spoken for quite some time. Pausing, more on account of not being used to speak than reminiscing, and often stopping abruptly to continue a few seconds later, he gave us a brief account of his life.
'I wanted to travel, to see, to experience. They are important, experiences. After having been with humans for far too long I felt the need to cut myself off from society. Animals, though not very social, aren't that different though. It was bit of a disappointment, that. They too seek appreciation and warmth. Anyways, I've been around these parts for almost 3 years now, or so I think. I rarely meet people. I steal upon the campers and forage around when I am hungry. Trekkers rarely notice or sense my presence. Human senses have been numbed over the thousands of years. We all need to get back to the wild. There was a dog who used to keep me company, but he disappeared some time ago. Maybe he's come upon a better source of food. The bastard!…'
Before he left, he showed off some, skills which he claimed to have learnt in Japan. Supposedly he was a ninja for some time before escaping to India as a stowaway on a freighter. As incredible as he sounded, he was much entertaining. We didn’t have the heart to dismiss his stories, for what if they were true? Who knows what’s true and what’s not? Maybe we are all lying, or perhaps we have been telling the truth all along. Who can vouch? How can one be sure?
Bhai, kisiko bhi kaise pasand aa sakta hai wo? Na koi variation, na koi bol… bas yun yun… ek hi dhik-chik hota hai. Tum kabhi Goa gaye ho? Main gaya tha Goa, aur wahan pe Sunburn mein 7000 ke ticket le liye. Ghusaa andar, bahenchod sab saale aise aise kar rahe the. Main dekha aur socha itni saari janta kar rahi hai, to kuchh to baat hoga is mein. Thodi der khade rehne ke baad, main bhi kahaa, yaar Kartik tu bhi thoda enjoy karne ki koshish kar. Ek ghantaa maine bhi maara, uchhlaa. Saala, kuchh ho hi nahin raha tha. Keh raha tha, Kartik abhi majaa aayega, bas aane hi wala hai, thodi der aur, bas ho gaya. Main sar ghumaya, log saale pagalon jaise naache jaa rahe the. Aur main saala chuda hua khada hoon wahan. Maine kahaa bahenchod, chhodo yaar, bahut ho gaya. Bahenchod bahar aa gaya phir. Bhai, apne ko to chahiye koi bol ho, koi baat ho gaane mein, Honey Singh ke hi gaane chala do. Ladkiyan ho, kuchh ho raha ho gaane mein… ye kya EDM, ek hi dhun salaa. Wo aaya tha DJ, yaar kya naam hai uska, wo MTV wala, Nikhil Chinappa, han… us se kahaa hamne, bhai Honey Singh ke kuchh chalaa de, bola, ‘I don’t consider them as songs’. Bahenchod! Abey, kyun hase jaa raha hai? Ab to koi joke bhi nahin maari. Bhai, sambhal jaa.
Bro, how could anyone like it? There’s no variation, no lyrics… just this this… only one dhik-chik happening. Have you ever been to Goa? I have. There I bought a ticket for Sunburn for 7000 bucks. I went inside, everyone was fuckin’ doing this this there. I saw and thought all these people can’t be insane, there must be something in it. After standing for a while, I told, Kartik bro you also try to enjoy some. 1 hour I too kicked it, jumped. Motherfucker, nothing was happening. I was telling, Kartik bro you are going to enjoy it soon, it’s about to come, a little bit more, almost there. I looked around, everyone was dancing like mad. And there I was standing there totally fucked. I told fuck this, leave it bro, have had enough. Motherfucker, I came out. Bro, we need lyrics in our songs, there must be something happening in the song, at least you can play Honey Singh. There should be girls, some story in the song… what’s this EDM, only one tune. He had come, that DJ, what’s his name bro, the MTV one, Nikhil Chinnappa, yes… we asked him to play some Honey Singh songs, he said, ‘I don’t consider them as songs’. Bullshit! Fucker, why are you dying laughing? I haven’t even told a joke now. Bro, get your act together.
It was an interesting night.
'There are many valuable and sacred texts here. These need to be preserved lest they are lost to weather and time. Some of the texts in gold are already coming off. Theft is unlikely, but not impossible', said Chusku as we darted in and out of the dark dank rooms of the gonpa.
Vaitala Deula (Teeni Mundia Deula)
Among the numerous temples of Old Town, is Vaitala Deula, also known as the Teeni Mundia Deula, nestling unnaturally among brightly painted green houses in the crammed settlement of Ratha road. Years of road repairs and construction have ensured that the temple complex is now at a height lower than its surroundings. This leads to the flooding of the temple complex during the rains. In fact, when we visited, the flooding was so serious that water had to be pumped out from the complex to relieve the elderly priest the pain of hopping on slippery stepping stones at an advanced age.
Built in the 8th century, the Vaitala Deula is a tantric shrine dedicated to the troika of Durga, Devi and Chamunda. Perhaps to highlight the influence and dominance of Shakti worship, the Sisireshwara temple dedicated to Lord Shiva within the complex is of a smaller stature, and of considerably less religious significance. The towering Lingaraja temple nearby doesn’t really hold sway on the rituals of this worship-site where the divine female form is held in higher esteem than the powerful local male deity.
Supposedly belonging to the Khaakhara architecture school, this temple is famous for the three kalasas (or mundis as called locally) mounted over the semi-cylindrical roof. These represent the three forms of Durga, Devi and Chamunda and their unified presence. Sculpts of bhairavas (followers of Shakti), Ganesha (son of Parvati and Shiva) and Lakulisa (supposedly the teacher, and in some texts the follower, of Shiva) abound on the outer walls of the temple. Numerous images of joginis (matrikas) adorn the walls, embellished with intricate designs and delicate patterns.
Two images stand out - one elaborately carved figure of Ardhanarishwara (half male, half female form of Shiva and Shakti) and an animated sculpt of Mahishamardini (Durga killing Mahishasura). One interesting fact about the male sculpts is that their erect members point upwards (urddha lingas), perhaps signifying the attainment of higher spiritual aspirations through the means of their members. The priest pointed this out to us, noting that worship of lingas (phallus) in Shaivite towns like Bhubaneshwar was prevalent in the times. We left as the pumping motor came to life and started draining out the water from the temple complex. One wishes the temple to be better taken care of, so these architectural artifacts might be preserved for a longer time.
Room with a view, Hanle gonpa, Hanle
Whiff of the greens
Bhaskareshwara temple, Bhubaneshwar perhaps houses the tallest shiv-ling in the world. Legend has it that the shiv-ling started out small but inexplicably continued to grow. The priest saw it as a sign of divine presence and went about his duties uncomplainingly. He got himself a stool and later a ladder to perch upon in order to bathe, dress and garland the shiv-ling. However, his failing health and sore back came in the way of his priestly duties and much as he prayed to Lord Shiv to inhibit his growth, there was no stopping the ever growing ling. One day, driven more by despair than anger, he smashed his brass vessel against the ling breaking off a piece of it. 'Why don't you understand what troubles I have to undergo for the daily rituals? Why don't you just stop growing?', he cried. Since that day, the shiv-ling stopped growing. The priest died afterwards, and many more came and went, a temple was built for the shiv-ling and a garden was built around the temple later. But the ling and the legend have been untouched by the passage of time.
Successive generations of kids in the family are told this tale by their grandparents. Listening with wide-eyed wonder, they marvel at the ling that once used to grow. But the legend might not survive for a long time, for even children are busy these days. And grandparents neither have the interest nor the patience to narrate stories to kids who are more interested in the television anyways. If the temple outlives its legend, few are bothered by it. There are far too many miracles happening on the TV to care about tales spun by generations of worshippers.