|State of Rajasthan|
he lullabies of the train finally stopped and the noisy crowd woke me up. I got off at Chittodgad and waited in the freezing cold for my train to arrive from Ahmedabad A few travelers joined forces and started burning paper and other garbage for warmth. Another group huddled under a blanket and shared a bidi (home-made, unfiltered cigarette). Instead of holding the bidi in the mouth, they sucked at it through the fist and then passed it to the next person. I admired this style of community-smoking. The people who were hungry ate poori-sabji and poori-rabari (poori and saturated milk with elachi and sugar.) I tried to engage in historical reminiscences to keep me warm. Bapparawala fought with the king of Lodi for this city. Chittodgad became the battle ground for innumerable battles. How many times did Chittodgad defeat the enemy! Allauddin destroyed Chittodgad in a rage when he realized he couldn't have Queen Padmini. Padmini committed Johar along with Karmavati and other courtesans. I looked for the castle of Chittod in the blinding darkness of the night. And then the train arrived.
We traveled past Kishangad, Bhilawada, and Ajmer stations, and arrived at Phulera junction. There were a lot of vendors selling sweets. I tried Sohan halwa (wheat flour, sugar and cashew with an overdose of ghee), revadi (hard sesame candy), and tea. As we approached the next station, a railway employee hollered "Asalpur-Jobner" as if to wake up sleeping passengers. I quickly got off the train with all my luggage. I was the only one to get down from the entire train and began to wonder if I had come to the correct place. It was still dark around. There were a few lights which were left on as if to protect the lampposts from passengers who might run into them. They did not seem to serve any other purpose. Then I saw a lantern walk towards me. It was the middle aged station master. Instead of asking for my tickets, he greeted me, "Master sahib, Namaste. Kushal mangal? You must be the new one; you must be a professor at the agricultural college." He said he knew every master at the campus and took me to his office. The office was full of equipment: a telephone, files, and lots of government propaganda signs. He made me sit on a chair that had been made when Lord Wellington had come to visit as the Governor General of India.
The station master explained why people get confused at his station. Apparently the station was just "Asalpur" to start with. Ever since the agricultural college was built, they added "Jobner" to its name! He told me that the campus was actually seven miles away, and that there was no adequate transportation. Either I had to walk through the sandy hills of the desert or ride a camel. But now there was a road, he said proudly. Once a professor arrived from Allahabad equipped with an electric fan and table lamps. When the station-master informed him that there was no electricity in Jobner he got on the next train and disappeared. The fleas in the chair began bothering me and I had to come out of his office. It was dawn already and I could see life around. Rajput travelers were warming up, a farmer was ploughing his field and singing, a pair of peacocks were feeding, and hundreds of parrots were looking for food. An army of monkeys was looking for a victim.
A motor bus arrived, making a lot of noise and causing a lot of pollution. Everybody ran to get a seat. The railway lineman in his blue uniform volunteered to load my luggage and used his influence with the driver to get me a front seat. I asked a gentleman in the bus about the agricultural college and he introduced himself as Hargyan Singh and added that he too was a professor. Then he told me that the bus wouldn't leave until the next two trains came and went, so he took me to have tea. In a thatched hut, a man was running the tea shop equipped only with water, a stove and Sev. When we ordered two teas he started the stove and began boiling water with sugar, ginger, and elachi (white cardamom). He protected the flame with a zinc sheet. He filtered the tea with a dirty cloth and served it to us. When I asked for water to drink, he scooped some out from the pot and poured it on my cupped hands. I could not drink water from my hands in the intended manner and wetted my shirt. He smiled at my inexperience, demonstrated how to drink without spilling a droplet and offered me fresh water in a glass. I realized the importance of drinking from my hands when it came time to wash. The tea tasted like the cold medicine that my mother used to give me and he charged 25 paise for the glass.
The bus driver entered the tea-shop after his haircut next door. My companion and I realized there was still a lot of time to kill and sat waiting in the sun. After the next two trains arrived at the station, the passengers positioned themselves inside and on top of the bus. The suit-clad driver sounded the horn really loudly and more people came running to catch the bus. The conductor collected the fare from everybody, but did not issue a single ticket.
The bus stopped every half a mile. The professor explained that the fields on either side of the road belonged to the colleges. I told him of the embarrassing situation in Udaipur and expressed my concerns of a repetition in Jobner. "Our dean is a kind man. Even if he does not have the papers, he will make a trunk-call to Delhi and have you appointed," he said with great pride. As the town approached we saw some construction sites. He told me that if they were ready I could have a flat (apartment) for myself. I asked him if there was any lodging till the flats got ready. "In this village, there is not even a decent tea shop you can forget about finding any lodging." He had a hearty laugh. The bus pulled over at the campus. Hargyan Singh took me to his office and asked me to change and report for duty. There was an attached bathroom and toilet next to the office, but no water. I changed and left to meet the dean.
All the buildings of the campus were new. Every department had its own building. The grand administrative block was domed with intricate Rajasthani architecture. The dean's door-man wore a khaki uniform, a big turban, and a large mustache. The dean welcomed me in immediately. The large hall was carpeted. The dean's personal assistant, John from Kerala, was typing and greeted me with a smile that said, "I'm also from South India." The dean expressed his regrets for my Udaipur experience. Meanwhile Hargyan Singh walked up to him and started chatting in Hindi. From their conversation I could tell that there were two political groups in the university who fought intensely for power and posts. Hargyan Singh was just returning from an interview for a promotion and had found out from inside sources that he was being preferred to the opposing faction's candidate. The dean then introduced me to Dr. B. P. Mathur (henceforth referred to as "BP") and gave him the responsibility for my well-being. BP immediately called out for yet another assistant, Haribaksh, and said to him, "Before Gyanlata starts cooking, please go and tell her that the guest is going to come for dinner." I thought Gyanlata (meaning the ivy of knowledge) was a very beautiful name. Singh, BP, and the dean then talked long hours about the politics of the university. Since I did not know the players, I did not understand much of it.
I went to BP's house with him in the evening. The inner roads of the village were much worse than the ones we had traveled on so far. They were made only with dry sand. We climbed up and down, walked through extremely narrow lanes and finally reached the house. It was a two story concrete house belonging to a rich Marwadi and BP was renting it. When we opened the steel gates, everyone knew that we had arrived. The children hollered from upstairs, "Papaji!" The entrance was large enough for a camel to go through. But it was always closed in order to maintain security. They had a smaller door built into the big door and we had to bend to enter it. In front of us was a square shaped yard around which there were locked rooms. In one corner was an underground water tank. They had made arrangements to collect every drop of rain water that fell on the building and store it in this tank. They told me they used this water throughout the year for all purposes except drinking. I then met the rest of the family.
BP introduced his wife as Laxmi, making me wonder who Gyanlata was. The children greeted "uncle-ji" (me) with a Namaste.
|Kamat's Potpourri Timeless Theater Rajasthan|
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