Monday, July 25, 2016

Engulfed in the labyrinths of time

The mounds of Rakhigarhi are still buried in obscurity, although it is one of the biggest sites of the Indus Valley Civilisation

Kuldip Dhiman
As you drive up the mounds of Rakhi Shahpur to reach the archaeological site of Rakhigarhi in
Haryana, you get a feeling that you are travelling 5,000 years back in time. Once at the site, you can see archaeologists and expert workers excavating the site and slowly unveiling the mysteries shrouded in time.
It all began with a toposheet that was published exactly a hundred years ago by the Archaeological Survey of India regarding the archaeological site of Rakhigarhi, now in district Hisar in Haryana. However, there was no mention about the site until 1969, when Dr Suraj Bhan published exploratory data stating that Rakhigarhi was a site belonging to the Indus Valley Civilisation.
Nothing was done about the site for the next three decades. In 1997, the Archaeological Survey of India undertook excavation under the direction of Dr Amarendra Nath. A very detailed report of his findings was later published in which he pointed out that the land around Rakhigarhi shows the availability of a number of resources required for a basic subsistence for a settlement. He categorised the site as class I fertile land. The settlement had a fortification around it. The streets were well-planned and had an efficient drainage system. Water was resourced from rivers, canals and wells.
The existence of a river has now been confirmed by satellite images produced by the ISRO. There is a disputed claim that this river, which has dried up, is the legendary Saraswati.
The presence of a thriving river made it possible for the people of Rakhigarhi to have trade links with other regions within India such as Gujarat, and outside India such as Mesopotamia and Egypt.
New beginnings
Currently, a team of archaeologists led by Prof Vasant Shinde of Deccan College, Pune, is excavating the site in collaboration with the Directorate of Archaeology and Museums of Haryana. At the site, you can also meet Wazir Chand, a local resident, has been selflessly helping researchers and the media for the last four decades. He is an unofficial guide and caretaker of Rakhigarhi.
The Shinde team started excavating at Rakhigarhi in 2011. Until then, seven mounds had been discovered by previous excavators, but the team found two more mounds. Earlier, the area of the site was estimated to be one and half kilometres, but with the discovery of two new mounds, the estimated area is three and half kilometres, making it one of the largest sites of the Indus Valley Civilisation. The uniqueness of Rakhigarhi is that in one place itself, one can find antiquities belonging to the early Harappan, mature Harappan, and late Harappan periods.
Marvel of engineering
If you climb up the mound, you can appreciate the engineering and architectural brilliance of the Rakhigarhi Indus Civilisation. Describing the layout plan of Mound-2, an archaeologist says, “You can see that the settlement pattern is in north-south direction. These people made structures at different levels. This was to avoid the ravages of flood waters. It is because of this technique that these structures have survived for so long.”
An interesting fact is that the bricks are all of standard sizes. One size is 1:2:3 and the other is 1:2:4. This size is universal to all Indus sites so far found, indicating that they had some sort of standards bureau.
“The discovery of gold and copper ornaments and several beads at Mound-2 suggests that it was the workplace of craftsmen, especially jewellers and bead makers. We also found drainage with firebrick structures. After analysing the samples, we can determine if it was freshwater drainage or wastewater drainage. In one of the trenches we found very small copper beads and some tiny gold filings.”
At the camp, where the archaeological findings are kept, you can see a number terracotta cakes, weights, beads, bangles, pots, jars, toys, and toy carts.
Like the people of Harappa, here, too, they buried the dead and placed pots with cooked food and water. It appears they believed in transmigration of the soul. Samples of the skeletons found at the site have been sent for DNA sequencing to a laboratory in Korea. After the results arrive, it may be possible to know the race of the Indus Valley Civilisation people. We might find an answer to the question why the Indus Valley Civilisation came to an abrupt end. As we wait for the results, many more mysteries may emerge from the mounds of Rakhigarhi.

The lone ranger
For the last forty years, Wazir Chand has been tirelessly and selflessly working to get
Rakhighari its rightful place in world history. Although poor and undergraduate, he has spent his own time and resources to preserve the site and guide researchers. He laments the fact that although UNESCO has listed Rakhigarhi as one among the tem rare archaeological sites, not enough is being done to preserve and promote Rakhigarhi. “Researchers and tourists from all over the world come here, but there are no road signs and milestones to guide people to Rakhigarhi. We badly need a hotel with a restaurant here for the convenience of visitors. Rakhigarhi must also be declared a world heritage site. Although Wazir Chand’s name has been mentioned with great respect in respectable journals and newspapers such as Science and The Guardian, the government has done little to recognise his outstanding work.

Penning life first hand

Kuldip Dhiman

It is difficult enough to write a book on one subject, but Bangalore-based polyhistor Mridula
Sharma writes with ease and authority on ayurveda, alternative medicine, self-publishing, vegetarian diet, and psychology.
Wow! No Side Effects!, her first book is primarily about simple traditional ayurvedic cures, although she talks about yoga, homoeopathy, and other alternative medicines as well. How did she manage to write on remedies when she is not a trained doctor?
“There is no greater ‘trainer’ than life. I wrote what I experienced, and I got it from my mother who was an encyclopaedia of herbal remedies. She taught me how small alterations can bring about great changes in personal health. Many who benefitted from her remedies requested her to pen knowledge in a book. She couldn’t do that, and I took to the task.” 
  Mridula says her book is different from several others published on ayurveda and alternative medicines, as it comprises simple, yet efficacious remedies. “The most common feedback that I receive from my readers is that the book is so interesting that they cannot put it down. They feel that I am talking to them through my words. Personal touch is very important in healing.”
The book has separate chapters on what to eat, how to breathe, remove toxins from the body, combat ageing and handle stress. There is also a chapter on dealing with obesity in a natural way.
Mridula had to self-publish the book. Most publishers ignore new authors and novel ideas. Self-publishing is a viable idea, especially with great advances made in printing technology. Without any publicity or promotional tours, the first edition of the book was sold out within 10 months. Of late, she has been approached by publishers to have it translated into Malayalam, Hindi and Spanish. 
 “Soon after the launch of my first book, I received a call from Kolkata. A girl wanted to know about the process of self-publishing the book. Her aunt had a book ready, but did not know how to publish it. I gave her a lot of tips.” After a few days, the editor of Femina South, late Madhuri Velegar, interviewed her, and she also asked her about self-publishing. “I realised that the subject hasn’t been written about and I might as well write a book on self-publishing. Thus was born Write Your Book and Self-publish. In this, I have dealt with topics such as how to get the ISBN number, copyright, essentials for making a book, and how to market it. It also deals with the pros and cons of going to a publisher and how to seek a publisher, etc.” 
Raising a Vegetarian Champion, her third book, is a complete guide for parents who wish to see their children as sports champions. “It advices on how to start shaping children from the very beginning, how to chart their progress, and make them international champions.”
 Though the title says ‘vegetarian’, it is only the recipes that are vegetarian, the rest, as the subtitle says is about giving that extra edge to all potential sports champions. “This book came about as I have raised four champions. My daughters were swimmers and my son is a tennis player.”
Talking about her next book, Mridula says, “We all have our genies within us. All of us have immense potential in us, but from childhood, we are told ‘you can’t do it’.”
She adds, “It is this that prevents us from aiming for the stars. We All Have our Genie is about power of thought and how we can lead a life desired by us.”
Mridula Sharma is one author who practises what she preaches. Although she is in her sixties, she is full of life and has a balanced outlook.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

The Chariot of the Sun

The magnificent stone structure of the Konark Temple in Odisha is an architectural marvel

Kuldip Dhiman

No matter how good it may look in pictures, the true measure of a place’s grandeur can be felt only when one actually goes there. This is true of the Sun Temple at Konark in Odisha. It is the feel of the architectural material, the location, the local sky, and the sounds that makes all the difference.
Odisha’s king Narshimhadeva, the first of Eastern Ganga dynasty, decided to make this huge temple complex consisting of four temples dedicated to the Sun god in 1255 AD. The site chosen by the architects was in the north-eastern corner of Puri, one of the four sacred dhams. ‘Kona’ means ‘corner’ and ‘ark’ means ‘the Sun’, hence the name Konark.  It is 35 km from Puri and 65 km from Bhubaneswar.
Statue of the Sun god
Nearly 1,200 workers took 12 years to complete this magnificent stone structure. It stands by the sea where stones were not available, so they got these from Khandagiri and Udayagiri, 64 km near Bhubaneswar. The stones were transported on wooden rafts that were carried by the current of the Chandrabhaga river. Instead of using bonding material such as limestone, the architects fixed metallic rivets in the stones and interlocked them.
The temple is made in such a way that can interest people from all stages of life. At the bottom of the temple are carvings of 1,600 elephants and horses for children. For the young, there are plenty of statues depicting 64 types of lovemaking. And for the old, there are the images of gods and goddesses.
A sculptural panel
The first section of the complex is called Natya Mandir or Nrityashala. It depicts 128 types of dance styles through 758 sculptures. All these statues are carved out of a single stone. Some of the important statues depict Shiva doing the Tandava, Krishna engaged in a leela, and Kubera, the lord of wealth. There are also several panels depicting the epics and the Puranas.
One of the wheels of the chariot
The Natya Mandir has three entrance points. These were designed in such a manner that rays of the sun reached the suspended statue of the Sun God in the main temple. Originally, it was 90 feet high, but 42 feet from the top have got destroyed. The big temple behind is called Prarthana Mandir. It was 140 feet high, but now it is only 127 feet high.
The Konark temple is designed in the form of the chariot of the Sun god. It has 24 wheels and seven horses. Twelve wheels represent 12 months of the year. According to the Indian calendar, each month has a Shukla paksha and a Krishna paksha, so the other 12 wheels stand for them. Seven horses represent the seven colours of the sun’s light, and the seven days of a week.
Each wheel has eight spokes. In the Indian time system, the day is divided into eight pahars comprising three hours each. The wheels served as a sun dial. One can tell the time accurate to a minute by observing the shadow of the axel falling on the rest of the wheel.
Talking about the magnificence of the main temple, Bheem Sen Malla, an experienced ASI Guide, says, “The main temple was behind the Prarthana Mandir. It was 227 feet high but got destroyed. There are three theories about how it got destroyed. One view is that there was a huge magnet on top of it which controlled all the iron rivets in the structure. A statue of Surya Bhagwaan made of panchadhatus remained suspended in air because of the magnet. In 1498, Vasco da Gama established ports, and in the 16th century, the Portuguese came here to do business. The compasses of their ships used to get disturbed by the magnetic energy, so they took out the magnets of the temple, which destroyed the temple. The second explanation is the region was struck by a super cyclone. Third explanation is it was destroyed in the Muslim invasion of 1568. However, no one can say with certainty why it got destroyed.”
In the far left corner of the complex is a structure where one of Krishna’s sons by the name Sambu meditated. It is said he was suffering from leprosy. To cure himself, he bathed in the Chandrabhaga river, prayed to the Sun for 12 years and finally got cured.
One whole day is required to properly see the Sun temple. And while in Konark, one must find time to visit other temples nearby such as Rameswar, Chitreswara, Tribeniswara and Utpaleswar known for Shivalingas, and Ramachandi Rudrani, Khileswari, Charchika and Chitreswari, the other incarnations of Goddess Durga. 

Sunday, March 20, 2016

The unyielding shall not yield

The Ballad of Bant Singh
A Qissa of Courage
Nirupama Dutt
Speaking Tiger
Pages: 214
Price: Rs 250

Reviewed by Kuldip Dhiman

On the ill-fated night of 6 January 2006, Bant Singh, a folk-singer and crusader of the oppressed was passing through the fields of Jhabhar village on his bicycle. Presently his path was blocked by seven young men. He realised he was in danger because these upper class boys had attacked him twice earlier. Before he could do anything, four of them struck him and dragged him to the edge of the irrigation canal. “There they put his legs on the embankment wall. A rough cloth was thrown on him as four of the men pinned him down. Two raised the metal handles and brought them down with all their strength on his shins. The pain stunned Bant but he still tried to raise himself and shouted, ‘What are you doing? What have I done for you to hit me?’ One of the boys struck him with even greater force and hissed, ‘We are just doing a job that has been assigned to us. Today, you will not get away!’ Blow upon blow, and the bones of Bant Singh’s legs were splintered beyond repair. Then, sure that Bant had been irretrievable incapacitated, they swung him about and began attacking his arms.”

This horrendous incident is from veteran writer, poet, translator and journalist Nirupama Dutt’s book 
The Ballad of Bant Singh, which I received on the very day some Jats of Haryana launched their stir demanding a special backward status. In a matter of days, they spread arson and anarchy all around paralysing the entire state. As I read the book, I found it hard to miss the irony of the whole situation. On the one hand, we have a large population that has been socially oppressed for thousands of years, and on the other hand, there is a better placed social section that is now agitating to gain the selfsame reserved status which was given to the downtrodden to allow them to catch up with the rest.

Nirupama Dutt’s book is about a man from a disadvantaged section stretching his hands out to justice and in turn having them cut off.  What was his crime for which he was brutally attacked and left for dead?

Six years ago, Bant Singh’s daughter Bajleet, who was then a minor, was gang raped. Outraged by the despicable act, he rightfully  sought justice.  In order to stop him from reporting the matter to the police, he was offered money and gold by the culprits as if violation of his daughter’s honour was a kind of minor road accident in which the defaulter offers money as compensation. In rural areas, the poor sections are taken for granted, and sexual crimes against their women are not seen as crimes at all but rather as a favour done to them. When Bant Singh refused, he was threatened with dire consequences. He did not care about such threats, her pursued the case and as a result, three of the accused were awarded life imprisonment.

“Bant Singh’s was that rare case,” writes Dutt, “in which a Dalit had defied the sarpanch of a village to seek justice in a court and had succeeded in having the culprits sentenced to life imprisonment. And for this, he and his family had to pay a very heavy price. This is because a Dalit had actually succeeded in getting an upper-caste Jat man and two others convicted of rape.” This could not be digested by the powerful landowners, and they decided to make an example out of him. The idea of retribution is very strong among the landowners. They seek revenge even among their own caste and it can run through generations. And Bant Singh was from a lower caste, he had to be dealt with severely and immediately.

Dutt’s powerful narrative is a mix of biography and documentary, although at times the documentary aspect becomes longer than necessary. As Bant Singh is also an accomplished folk singer, Dutt has deftly made use of folk songs and poems to tell the story. However, one notices the tendency to read more than what was intended in folk literature, and to see everything from one world-view.

The book portrays the hell Bant Singh, Baljeet Kaur and his family went through at the hands of the rich and powerful. Although they were physically and emotionally tormented, they did not cow down.

When you watch him speak and sing on the television, you find a cheerful man without a trace of self-pity. The head bows to him in respect to his indomitable spirit, and also bows down with shame because such inhumanity continues in this age in the world’s biggest democracy.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

From the master of mystery and macabre

Review by Kuldip Dhiman for The Tribune

Indigo —
by Satyajit Ray.
Translated by
Satyajit Ray and Gopa Majumdar.
Pages 264.

Kuldip Dhiman

There is this 200-year-old haunted mansion in Raghunathpur where ghost hunter, Anath Babu decides to spend a night alone. In the dead of the night he waits for the ghost to show up. . . . We read in anticipation. Will the ghost appear or not?

Then there is this strange man simply known  as ‘Mr Eccentric’. He has a peculiar habit of picking up lost things off the ground and telling all about their past owners. One day, he finds a button. ‘That button,’ he tells the narrator, ‘came from the jacket of an Englishman. He was riding down Jalapahar Road. The man was almost 60, dressed in riding clothes, hale and hearty, a military man. When he reached the spot where I found the button, he had a stroke, and fell from his horse. Two passersby saw him and rushed to help, but he was already dead. That button came off his jacket as he fell from his horse.”

In Bipin Chowdhury’s Lapse of Memory, a stranger walks up to Bipin Chowdhury and says, ‘We met every day for a whole week. I arranged for a car to take you to the Hudroo falls. In 1958. In Ranchi.’ Mr Chowdhury had never been to Ranchi. Bipin Babu begins to check with others and they all say he was indeed in Ranchi in 1958. Bipin Babu begins to wonder if he was losing his head.
Indigo is a collection of 21 short stories, some translated by the master himself and some by Gopa Majumdar.

Satyajit Ray was truly one of the last of Bengal Renaissance men. We usually think of him as a filmmaker, but he had other talents too. He was a gifted artist, illustrator, musician, and popular writer of fiction.

In this collection, we get an assortment of ghost stories, science fiction, and the macabre. These genres were introduced in the West by Edgar Allan Poe, Arthur Conan Doyle, Franz Kafka, Daphne du Maurier, Ray Bradbury....

Satyajit Ray was no doubt influenced by these writers but he tells the stories in his own style. In the story, Khagam, Ray combines horror and macabre genres. In The Hungry Septopus, we have Kanti Babu, a botanist who is in search of a rare carnivorous plant called septopus. He finally finds it, but he never imagined the horror his find would unleash.

Indigo is a haunting ghost story. Told in the first person, it grips you from the beginning to the terrifying climax. In Ratan Babu and That Man, the protagonist is an eccentric loner who finds a doppelganger, a lookalike, in Manilal Babu. He thinks that he has finally met his alter ego who will understand him and empathise with him, but unbeknown to him, there is danger in store. In this story, Ratan Babu’s sudden urge to kill Manilal Babu is not very convincing but the story is chilling nevertheless.

Barin Bhowmick’s Ailment, Anath Babu’s Terror, The Two Magicians, Ashamanja Babu’s Dog, Indigo, Khagam, The Hungry Septopus, and Fritz are some of the best stories in this collection. Anath Babu’s Terror, a ghost story, is good but its ending is not very satisfying. Some stories build up the suspense well but disappoint at the end.

In most of the stories, the protagonists are unassuming men finding themselves in extraordinary situations. The stories written in the first person are more engrossing than others. Ray creates realistic characters and the atmosphere in each story makes you feel as if you are a part of the narration. Both Ray and Majumdar have done a great job of translation.

One wishes at least a couple of Ray’s detective stories were also included in this collection.