|State of Rajasthan|
Kamat's Potpourri- Rajasthan Travelogue - To Udaipur
Kamat Goes to Udaipur
he cloth merchant of Ahmedabad was fast asleep. Yet his servants were busy at work. One was cleaning the shop and another was washing the floor. Large bundles of cloth had arrived from the factory and waited to be opened.
The handcarts were all pulled by girls. From the way the goods were arranged, I could tell that it was a wholesale mart. There were many shops next to each other. Ahmedabad is home of the Calicloth (a.k.a. Calico, a fine blend of rayon and cotton). That day, a new branch of a chain of mills was being opened, and I could see the decorations, pooja materials, and the music band.
I walked past a few snack shops and then saw one eatery that was very crowded. From my travel experiences, I knew that crowded places usually do not disappoint. Various dishes, from Sev and Pakora to Chakri, were being served hot. Everything was made with chickpea beans and was deep fried. I did not look for the more familiar dosas or idlis and instead enjoyed the local breakfast fare. My journey was still half a day ahead, so I deposited my luggage in the cloak-room at the railway station and took a stroll. Ahmedabad was the capital and full of wealthy people, and yet the streets were neither broad nor clean. The buildings were modern but unattractive. At a busy circle, they had imprisoned a statue of Mahatma Gandhi.
As the hours progressed, Sethjis arrived for work in their fancy cars. They wore clean dhotis, starched shirts with golden buttons, and Gandhi caps. They greeted neighbors, offered daily prayers, and started analyzing the previous day's stock markets.
Gujarati children are very pretty, although it's difficult to say the same about housewives. The latter consume large quantities of dairy products and put on a lot of weight. To make matters worse, they have servants for every task, and cars to go around in, and do not get opportunities to burn the calories. One could see a lot of women in expensive clothing giving directions to their servants, while breathing like steam engines, as if breathing were the most difficult task in life. I have read that many housewives commit suicide because they cannot find deep love and trust in their homes.
All the buses of Ahmedabad had Gujarati signs on them, and I could not tell where they went. I asked the bus conductor in Hindi about the destination of the bus. He replied in Gujarati with a question about where I wanted to go, which I did not know. So I started walking again till I got tired. For meals, I found a vegetarian restaurant in which everybody seemed to be enjoying their lunch except me. Every dish had jaggery (solid brown sugar) in it and I didn't like it. I prevented the server from mixing sugar in my curds so that I could at least enjoy my curd-rice.
The train was overcrowded, but most people were local commuters, and I got a very good seat. There was a Marwadi going to Jodhpur in my compartment. He had countless pieces of luggage and a biscuit-tin full of snacks, which was locked. He fought with a coolie (porter) for the latter's wages, and won. He pushed aside everyone else's luggage and made room for his own. Apparently he ran a candy shop in Mumbai, and he was on his way to a wedding. At dusk he washed his feet – thereby making the entire compartment wet, pulled out a deity's photo, muttered scriptures, and prayed. Then he unlocked his lunch box and ate poori (fried bread), sabji (a cooked vegetable dish), pickles, and sweets. As he chewed his paan (a mildly intoxicating mix of betel leaves and various nuts and spices), he told me that he was a religious Hindu, and therefore could not eat food that was even distantly related to meats. He carried his own food everywhere he went. In the morning when the train stopped at a station, he took a bath under the drinking water tap, returned to the seats in his wet clothes, and worshiped God in a loud voice. His co-passengers cursed him for waking them up.
We entered Rajasthan at Abu Road station. The famous Dilwara temples of Abu Mountain are only thirty kilometers from here. A government insider who was traveling with me explained that Gujaratis, who face prohibition in Gujarat according to law, come to Abu for drinking parties and thereby cause local disturbances. He even predicted that since there are so many Gujaratis in Abu, it may one day join Gujarat.
As the sun rose with his glorious red rays, I saw a Rajasthani farmer couple engaged in feeding the crops. The husband was pulling water out of a very deep well with the help of a pair of bulls and a leather pouch, as he sang folk songs. The woman was emptying the pouch as it came out of the well. The wheat fields looked a burning red in color, as if the farmer's sweat and blood had smeared the crop. The distant mountains and fortresses reminded me of the glorious era that had gone by. The locals must have easily chased away Muslim invaders by simply denying them water in this desert. It is the harsh desert that has made Rajasthanis bear the hardships of so many wars. How many Johars has this Sun God seen! This was the land of beautiful Padminis who had driven Allauddins crazy with desire. This was the land of brave men like Rana Pratap Singh, who built a great tradition of valor.
The enemy emperor Akbar was so impressed by the bravery of the Rajput generals that he built statues for Jaimal and Patta. As I was revisiting in my mind the history pages, the train stopped at a tiny station. Someone said "Try the Jelebies of this town. They are very famous." I bought the Jelebies for eight annas (50 paise) and they melted in my mouth. They were hot, crisp, and delicate. In the next station I tried Kachori and samosas and drank tea from an earthen cup. Even the disposable earthen cup was so artistic and delicate, that I decided to keep it. Rajasthan has a railroad station for every village and a hub (junction) every four stations. Even though Udaipur – my destination – was in the south, since there was no direct route I had to go north and take a detour. I made sure that I had all the papers sent by the CSIR (Council of Scientific and Industrial Research), which had offered me a job at the agricultural college of Udaipur University. I had written to the dean asking for the details of the offer, but had not received a reply. How could an important man like him be asked to do such a trivial thing?
I did not know where to get off and so I asked a co-passenger about the agricultural college. I was told that the campus was far away from the station and that I had to take a tonga. I found out that there were some hotels next to the campus. In Udaipur, the tongas are the primary mode of transportation. One never has to pay full fare for hiring one; one just gets more people to ride alongside in the tonga. They told me that four annas (twenty-five paise or quarter of a rupee) should suffice for a ride to the campus. I followed their advice, checked into a hotel, scrubbed myself until I shone, and went to the college with my papers. To my greatest shock, they told me that my arrival was unexpected, and that there was no job waiting for me. They suggested that I inquire in the neighboring agricultural university. I met the assistant registrar of the agricultural university who was very kind. He went through his stack of papers for the entire year and told me that he was not expecting me either. It was as if the sky had fallen on me. With a dry voice I explained to him that I had traveled for four days to accept this job offer. Then he reluctantly suggested that I meet his boss, the registrar, but added he might not be of much help.
The registrar was busy with some interviews and could not meet with me. A peon with a fifteen yard rumal (ceremonial handkerchief) offered me a chair. I asked him for an appointment with the registrar in broken Hindi, to which he replied in Mewadi that he understood. I wished him a long life. As I waited, the registrar came and went without taking notice of me. Finally at 4 P.M. the registrar and a boy with tea and snacks came in. Even before they asked me who I was, they offered me food. I was hungry. The registrar then went through my papers and said he had no idea what could be done to help, but suggested that there was an agricultural campus associated with his university in Jobnair, and that I might try there. He gave me some information about Jobnair and directions to get there.
I checked out of the hotel and hired a tonga to take me to the railroad station. The tonga-wala knew that I was a stranger and gave me a crash course in the history of Udaipur, "after Akbar destroyed Chittodgad, Pratap ran away to the Aravali mountains. Then his son Udaisingh built this beautiful city presently named after him," said the tonga-driver.
"This is the rose garden, and the shining tower that you see to the left is Rana's palace; Pratap memorial is on your right, and this is Sahe Liyam Ri Badi (courtesan's garden)," he went on describing the city without any regard for the state of my mind. He asked me to come again and spend a week so that he could show me every lake, temple and fortress. He acknowledged my tip with a big salam (salute).
I bought my ticket to Jobnair. Since it was the starting point of the train's route, I even got a sleeper. But I could not sleep. It was as if the train was running along the one-track thought in my mind, "What if they don't have a job for me in Jobnair also? What am I going to do? After all these years of sweat, hard work, and the highest education in America, and after all my work-experience, I regretted having to running around the country for a job that paid a mere five hundred rupees per month. Then I thought of millions of fellow countrymen who were concerned about more basic things, such as the source of the next meal, and felt happier about my status. At the next station I found a man selling hot pooris. I asked him to sell me five pooris. Apparently his math was poor, as he had to weigh them. He also weighed the bananas that I bought. I noticed that the Rajasthani passengers on the train were using their mattresses like blankets to protect them from the cold. I did not have much warm clothing, but the rhythmic movements of the train and my full stomach eventually caused me to fall asleep.
(Excerpted from the Timeless Theater CD-ROM)
|Kamat's Potpourri Timeless Theater Rajasthan|
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