Baadshahon ke Samrajya Mein
The journey was highly forgettable. Unfortunately, worse memories linger longer. The bus stopped at every possible village along the way, at least, so it appeared. Every time it stopped (which was about once every 20 minutes), the lights came on. if that wasn’t bad enough, the leg room was woefully inadequate for a tall person like me. Needless to say, I slept not a wink along the way. And that’s quite apart from the fact that I had no dinner. I’m certainly not feeling weak, but sleepy I sure feel. Missing the odd meal or the odd bit of sleep is one of the unavoidable hazards of travelling and I’m accustomed to it now.
7:00 A.M: We’re still on the way and the conductor tells me that we still have a long way to go. To relieve myself of the boredom, I’ll tell you something about this city- and since you know quite a bit about Delhi already, I’ll stick purely to the history of this city.
Delhi is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world (a description that would fit several Indian cities by the way). Apparently, archeological evidences have established that this city has been in existence since at least the second millennium B.C. It is believed to be the site of Indraprasth, the capital of the empire of the Pandavs of the Mahabharat. In fact, a village called Indraprasth did exist in Delhi until the turn of the 20th century, before it was demolished by the British (we’ll come to that presently).
How the name Delhi came into existence is not known, though one possible origin is from the word Dehli, which is Hindi for threshold, denoting this city as the gateway to the Indo-Gangetic plain. Remember, the Hindi pronunciation of Delhi is Dilli, which could easily be a corruption of Dehli. I have myself seen several people pronounce the name as Dehli.
The earliest identifiable dynasty to have ruled in these parts was the Mauryan dynasty. It is believed that settlements started growing in the parts during the age of the Mauryas, around 300 B.C. This city (or village as it probably was then) was of course, not the capital of the Mauryas, who were based at Patliputra- present day Patna. Apparently, archeological remains of 7 different cities have been found here, which includes:
- Qila Rai Pithori (built by Prithviraj Chauhan between 1180-1192
- Siri built by Alauddin Khilji around 1303
- Tughlaqabad, built by Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq sometime in the 1320s
- Jahanpanah, built by Muhammed Bin Tughlaq sometime between 1325 and 1350
- Kotla Firoz Shah, bult by Firoz Shah Tughluq in the second half of the 14th century
- Purana Qila, built by Sher Shah Suri in the first half of the 16th century
- Shahjahanabad, built by Shah Jahan in the first half of the 17th century, which became the capital of the Mughals and is known today as Purani Dilli (Old Delhi).
Apparently, this place was once dominated by the Tomara dynasty (of Rajputs), who built a city called Lal Kot sometime in the 8th century A.D. Lal Kot then fell to another Rajput dynasty- this time, the Chauhans around 1180 A.D or so. The new rulers renamed Lal Kot as Qila Rai Pithora. The city, now called Qila Rai Pithora fell to the Afghan Mohammed Ghauri in 1192 A.D when he destroyed the armies of Prithviraj Chauhan.
But Ghauri died in 1206 without an heir. The vaccum of power led to a power struggle, at the end of which, Qutb ud-din Aybak (who commanded the armies of Ghauri and the administration of his Indian empire) grabbed power. It was he who built the now famous Qutab Minar in Delhi and the Quwwat-al-Islam mosque- the oldest surviving mosque in India. Qutb died accidentally in 1210, precipitating another power struggle, at the end of which the Turkish ex-slave Iltutmish emerged as sultan. All (but one) of the subsequent rulers of what’s referred to as the Slave dynasty were descendants of Iltutmish. This dynasty ruled till late 13th century, when they were overthrown by the Khiljis. There now followed a long period when Delhi was tuled by a succession of Turkish or Asiatic rulers: The Khiljis from 1290-1320, the Tuglaqs from 1321 to early 15th century, The Sayyids (who claimed to be direct descendants of the Prophet) from 1414 to 1451 and finally, the Lodhis who ruled from 1451 to 1526.
The last of the Lodhi kings was defeated by Zahiruddin Babar in the first battle of Panipat in 1526. Babar, who belonged to Samarkhand in modern day Uzbekistan and claimed Timur and Ghengiz Khan among his forebears, established the Mughal empire (the word Mughal is actually Persian for Mongol), which dominated Delhi from 1526, all the way upto the uprising of 1857, barring a short hiatus of 5 years under Sher Shah Suri. The Mughal Empire was the only one which controlled almost the whole of India before the British, who came to assume control over Delhi (and the whole of India) after the 1857 uprising.
The capital of the British Empire in India was moved to Calcutta post 1857. However, in the aftermath of the partition of Bengal in 1905 and the bloody struggle that followed, the British decided to move the capital away from Calcutta, if only to break the growing political power of the Bengalis, whom they came to view as a disloyal people. King George V announced the shifting of capital to Delhi during his visit to India in 1911. it was then that the British decided to build a new city, designed by Edwin Lutyens, which is known today as Nai Dilli (New Delhi) which remains to this day the seat of the Government of India. It was during the construction of the new city that the ancient village of Indraprasth was demolished.
And I fear I’ve been boring you, `cuz looking at my watch, I can see that its nearly half past 7. tell you what, I just called my friend, and she told me that I have to get off somewhere near Haldiram Chowk- which just went by. They’re put up at the NTPC (National Thermal Power Corporation) guest house; apparently, the bridegroom’s dad works for that company.
7:30 A.M: What good luck! As you can see, I’m getting off the bus and the gates of the NTPC complex at Badarpur are right in front of me. We’re on the Old Mathura Road by the way.
And even as I talk, I can see Swagat, the NTPC guest hourse (Swagat, of course, means welcome in Hindi). So here I am folks, home and dry. Well, its time to brush up, have a shower, coffee and breakfast. I'll have to let you go for the time being folks. Bye for now.
8:30 A.M: Here I am, refreshed after brushing my teeth and a quick shower. The arrangements here aren't all that great and worst of all, there isn't even a towel! I had to borrow one. But then, I'm so accustomed to travelling that having to manage with a borrowed (and already used) towel is hardly an issue. I'm going down to have breakfast and I fear, I'll have to leave you for now. My friends are coming soon and I'd obviously like to have a few moments off with them... if you don't mind of course!
10:00 P.M: Welcome back! Sorry for leaving you out in the cold for so long and then recalling you back so late in the night and that too for so short a while. But I was impelled to share a few quick words about my impressions of the evening. Let me tell you before I start off, that this was the first North Indian wedding I've ever seen or more accurately, engagement. And it would be worth saying at the outset, that I might not be too popular for some of the comments I'm about to make... but someone has to be honest, isn't it? Right, off we go!
I get the impression that people in these parts are quite aggressive. I'll tell you what I saw today: the engagement was at Pragati Maidan- quite a massive complex. I'd gone to wash my hands after dinner and there, the manager was apparently unhappy with the cleaner's work. Being unhappy with a subordinate's work is of course a common thing. But what shocked me was the manner in which he shouted at the cleaner. Believe me, I've never seen anyone shout at another man like that. I've myself been shouted at and not once, but many a time, but this was not just shouting, but revealed a deeper social issue.
As you know, I've travelled extensively in U.P and a wee bit in Bihar as well. One thing you'll find in common in those parts, is that people of lower status i.e. below you in social or organisational hierarchy are nothing. It is generally accepted that people below you are lower beings who deserve no respect and can be treated any which way. And so people bully everyone below them and fawn on those above. Believe me, servility runs high. Since those parts are not so far from here, I daresay what I just saw was a relection of that: the cleaner being a few grades lower on the organisational and social hierarchy could just not be conceived of as another human being equal to him by the manager. The manner in which he shouted indicated that the manager thought no better of that poor chap than a dog, whom he was putting in his place. No one would dare to speak like that even to a beggar back in my part of the country.
And then, the engagement itself. Everything there was showy and superficial in a manner I could scarcely describe. Coming from a part of the country where ostentation is virtually unknown outside of high (as in extremely rich) society, I was aghast at the kind of ostantation I saw there. As far as I know, none of the parties concered were particularly rich and yet, some of the things I saw there would be the kind of stuff you would normally see in a wedding between very rich families.
What astonished me most, was the practice of giving 21 gifts to the boys side, apart from rings for everyone in the boy's family. I have no problems appreciating other cultures, but I really couldn't help asking myself what all that was in aid of. I'm no communist, but I think 21 gifts is not just unnecessary but also downright frivolous. I can understand rich people indulging in all that, but why should middle class people with limited means engage in such frivolity? And I honestly don't see any reason why the boy's people have to be entitled to such privileges. In an age where women rubbing shoulders with men in every sphere and are competing with us, I honestly fail to see why the bridegroom's side should receive any privileges simply being from the boy's side. And before people start branding me as a feminist, let me shrug it off. I'm assuredly no feminist.
And I might also add, that the traffic in this city is nowhere near as orderly as Delhites would have us believe. I've seen a lot of dilliwallahs comment about the lack of road discipline in Bombay (a great deal of which is indeed true), but what I saw out there certainly gives the lie to their tall claims about the discipline in Delhi. Its pretty much free for all here- as it is in every Indian city I've been to so far by the way.
Incidentally, the roads in Delhi are far far better than those in Bombay. None of the pot-holed, uneven surfaces that are so commonplace in Bombay in this city. From the little that I saw, Delhi also gives the feeling of openness- unlike the claustrophobic feeling you frequently get back in my part of the country. But more than anything else, what strikes me about this city is the historical feel of this place. It could be a whim, but it appears to me that one can still feel the presence of the mughals in this city. This historical character is something which, I confess, I immediately fell in love with. That something my own city so acutely lacks- eventhough its the place where several defining m0ments of Indian history came to pass.
And those, my friends, are some of my impressions of what I saw today. But come with me tomorrow, we're going (my friends and I that is) around Delhi. Hopefully that'll be a wonderful experience. Good night, see you tomorrow!
Tuesday, 6th February 2007
9:00 A.M: As you can see, we're preparing to leave. When we'll get going, I haven't the foggiest. We've just about woken up and there are four of us waiting to use the same bathroom. You can now imagine the kind of collective inertia that's now going to set in!
11:00 A.M: Finally, we're about to go! After all that fussying, harrying, etc. The swearing did not materialise, if only because there are women around! And before we set off, let me share an interesting experience with you. I was using a heating rod (as opposed to a water heater) for the first time and let me tell you this: in cooler places, the rod is of little value. The water runs cold by the time you get down to bathing!
We're now off to the nearest Metro Station. Where it is, I haven't the foggiest. But my friend Sridhar has been to this city many a time and he'll show us the way. What it means, is that we're now playing follow the leader.
11:45 A.M: Here we are, at Central Secretriat- that's the name of the metro station. We're going by metro rail! I confess that I've never seen metro rail and I'm really eager to see how it is. The ticket system is superb: your ticket is in the form of a token, which you have to insert into an electronic token box (don't know what its called) for the barrier to open and allow you entry to the platform. Its so similar to the metro stations in foreign countries I've seen on T.V. Assuredly, this kind of a thing was inconceivable for Indians even a generation ago.
For the benefit of those who haven't been here, there are three lines on the Delhi Metro:
- Shahdara Rithala (Red Line)
- Vishwa Vidyalay- Central Secretriat (Yellow Line)
- Indraprasth-Barakhamba Road-Dwarka (BlueLine)
We are, of course, on the Yellow Line. Apparently the plan is to take a train upto Rajiv Chowk, which is where this line and the Blue Line converge. There we get off and go on to Connaught Place. Rajeev Chowk is incidentally is below the road where you have Connaught Circle. In fact I'm told that Rajeev Chowk is the official name of that area.
You know this ride is exciting. I've never been in a metro rail train and this is one experience I'm certainly not going to forget in a hurry. The good thing is that you get an announcement before every halt, of the name of the station and the side on which the automatic doors will open. The speed at which this train moves is terrific. Now, if only we had something like that in Bombay! Of course, the Bombay project is on, but one wonders when it'll actually materialise.
12:00 A.M: Here we are, in Connaught place. Its a lovely place, I promise you. It needs no genius to say that this area is a purely commercial area. But this area has a character quite different from that of any commercial area I've been to in Bombay. Unlike the characterless concrete jungles you have in the name of commercial areas in Bombay, what you see here in Connaught Place is a far cry. But I'm told that with the proliferation of incredibly long one ways, its become quite difficult to locate individual shops here. Fortunately, We're just come here to have a bit of fun! My friend Sridhar is off to meet someone, coming back in an hour or two, after which we'll be having lunch together.
I believe Connaught Place was made by the British in the bad old days of the Raj. Apparently, this place was designed by Robert Tor Russell, Chief Architect to the Government back then, in 1932. The design is based on that of the Royal Crescent in Bath, England (at least, so I'm told. Never been out of India myself). I must say that there are a plethora of shops here, trading in (I guess) just about any item you can name. Its quite a massive area, with Connaught Circle at the centre and roads branching out in every direction with the circle as its radius.
3:00 P.M: Well you must be wondering what I'm doing out here so late. Let me say this: you were fortunate not to be stuck with me here. As it happens, my friend Sridhar has not yet turned up. I knew of course that his ek ghanta (one hour) was unlikely to be less than two; we know each other since nearly a decade now. Unfortunately, the others (who know him just as well) failed to see it in the same light. He told us that he's on the way... though his "On the way" is a pretty dicey thing- it could mean anything! I must say that I've learnt a thing or two from him about handling people and must also say that I'm going to be in trouble when he reads all this!
3:30 P.M: Here he is, his abhi aaya (in a moment) finally arrived at long last! There's of course, that same old cheeky smile. You know, there's just something about this guy tha can calm down (I imagine) even a raging bull. No matter how annoyed you are with him, you find yourself quite unable to be angry with him once you see him. Anyway, we're off to have lunch and what's more, we're off to Sarvana Bhavan! I can't tell yo u how relieved I am to be having some good old South Indian food! Not that I'm particularly crazy about it, even though I'm a southerner myself. Its just that I've had so much of the typical North Indian cuisine over the last month or so (read hotel food) that any change would feel like a godsend!
And I fear I'll have to leave you here for now. See you after the lunch break.
4:30 P.M: Lunch over, and I can't tell you in words how glad I was for the change. You know, the amazing thing about India is that in spite of the incredible culinary variety you find in this country, most restaurants across the country have exactly the same food. Its only the quantity of oil and/or masala that differs, everything else is exactly the same! I actually love North Indian cuisine- the genuine thing that is. But right now, the very sight of that Navratan Kurma, Paneer Bhurji, Paneer Mattar, etc, etc is enough to drive me round the bend! Anyone who's had outside food for too long a period would surely understand what I'm saying!
And coming back to the present, we're off to India Gate! We're of course taking an auto there and while we're making our way there, let me tell you something about the famous India Gate. It was built by Edwin Lutyens between 1921-31, the foundation stone being laid by Lord Connaught in 1921. I believe it was originally called the All India War Memorial.
5:00 P.M: Here we are, standing in front of India gate. You know folks, I've seen it countless times on T.V, but believe me, seeing it in front of you is an altogether different experience. Its hard to describe the pride that I feel standing here: the pride of belonging to a country that fought so bravely, with such forebearance for its freedom. Anyway, instead of sentimental babble, let me read out for you what's written up there:
"To the dead of the Indian armies who fell honoured in France and Flanders, Mesopotamia and Persia, East Africa, Gallipoli and elsewhere in the near and the far-east and in sacred memory also of those whose names are recorded and who fell in India or the north-west frontier and during the Third Afghan war."
Its an awesome structure and a reminder of not so happy days when our soldiers were fighting for the interests of a foreign country. The references, apart from the NWF and the Afghan War, are all to theatres of the first world war, where several thousand Indian troops laid down their lives- a fact which the British have attempted desperately hard not to acknowledge. The Afghan wars were, by the way, cold bloodedly provoked by the British, in furtherance of their imperial designs on Afghanistan. The manpower and the entire cost of the Afghan wars were furnished by India, I may add. As far as I'm concerned, this monument is a reminder of the rivers of blood, sweat and tears our people shed in obtaining freedom.
Interestingly, the ground around here have seats on them. I guess any member of the public on a weekend can come here and take a seat. Perhaps they have regular open air performances here, or these are remenants of Republic Day parade just over a week ago that have not yet been taken away. Whatever it is, there's something of a holiday feel here. What realy astonishes me is the amount of open space here. This kind of open space is unimaginable back home in Bombay!
Interestingly, we passed through Janpath on the way here. You of course know who stays in 10 Janpath. Interestingly, the BJP office on Ashok Road is barely a stone's throw from Janpath. Now, if only our politics could be managed with the same proximity of thought!
5:45: Well its getting late folks! We have a wedding to attend today, time to get going! Its getting pretty dark here and as you know, it gets dark by six or so in these parts. Its twilight already and everywhere around me, I can see the darkness enveloping us. We have a long journey to make by the way. I understand that Badarpur is the other end of town... time to get going.
Well I fear that'll be the end of our travels in Delhi folks. I'd loved to have taken you to the Red Fort, Rajghat, etc, if only time had permitted. Some other day maybe! Anyway, we're off to Kanpur tomorrow and from there, we'll be going to Allahabad, Varanasi and Patna. Hopefully, there'll be more adventure there. And I fear I must leave you here- you wouldn't want me to be making any more nasty remarks, do you? See you tomorrow morning!
Wednesday, 7th February 2007
9:00 A.M: Here we go again! Its time to go back to Kanpur. And if you're wondering how, so am I! You know, for the second time in two days, I'm reminded of the sheer dumbness of having come to a totally unknown without the least idea how I'm going to return. It was one thing coming here, but with my friends now gone, I'm really wondering how I'm going to go back. The most logical thing would be to go by train of course, but one wonders if it'll be possible to get a ticket! And I assure you, I certainly don't have the stomach for another bus journey; there's unlikely to be an air conditioned bus to a city like Kanpur at this time of the day and I promise you, a person accustomed to the clean buses in Maharashtra would find it really difficult to make a bus journey by a janta bus in these parts.
I believe trains to Kanpur start at New Delhi railway station. So tither I go! And wish me best of luck to get a ticket folks! I promise you, you wouldn't want to get anywhere near an unreserved compartment in these parts- people pack themselves in like cattle over long journey. You know, I've heard of people travelling in unreserved compartments (as crowded as a second class compartment of a virar local) all the way from Allahabad to Bombay! Don't ask me how they manage it. What I can tell you, is that you either have to be insane or plain desperate to do something like that!
11:00 A.M: Here we are, in the waiting room of New Delhi railway station. Its assuredly a far cry (for the better) from the one at Satna. I finally managed to get a ticket to Kanpur. How I managed it, is quite another story... I'll tell you that some other day. The train leaves here in a few hours; I'm going by the Guwahati Rajdhani. Now why its called that, I haven't the foggiest, since the last stop of that train is actually Dibrugarh!
And I fear its time to say à bientôt folks. Its sad to be leaving you and happily, we'll be rejoining at Kanpur tonight. See you tonight!
And of course, its time so say Goodbye Delhi!