November 11, 2009

My own roots

Left wondering at an issue of Outlook, I began thinking abut my own roots, as modest as they may be. And I have been left in a state of confusion about my origins. I was born in Bengal to Punjabi parents who all the while that I was growing up have kept their Punjabi nuances high but are unmistakeably Bengali in several of their actions. I have lived in Bengal, Delhi, Chandigarh, Bhopal, Kotagiri, Dubare and many more places that have had a considerable impact on my present. They could have been those memorable days in Dharamsala with Vaibhav and his mother or Vagator when life was supercool and we were the champions of the world.

So where is my home and what constitutes what I call as my home. Okay, when I close my eyes like in the movies, I see Bengal.... but Bengal of my limited childhood vision... those games at the river, cycling and that search for the unknown that must have led so many young lives to their deaths across the globe. That is the Bengal that I remember. I grew up there at least till I was sixteen years old and fervently believe that what I am now is because of those days. But my Bengal was different from the Bengal that outsiders know. We were faraway from the hustle and bustle of city life, from the intellectual capital that is Calcutta, even a small town was big, living as we were in the wild, in the coalfields of the Asansol belt. That was my Bengal and it was a cocoon that we stayed in. And that is what I return to each year. Perhaps, it is the reason for me persuading my parents not to avail their house allowance and shift to their apartment in Asansol but continue staying in the company house that the family has been living in for several decades now. That is what stays behind, those forays here and there without fear of policing, the fact that friends were all several hours away and walking back home each day. These are what my thoughts about Bengal is and this what I call my home.

Delhi was never my home and cannot be so in future. Infact, I dread the day that I will work in Delhi and dread my memories there. But Punjab has always been my home. Like an NRI returning to India, I was glad when I went to college in Chandigarh. It was a personal homecoming and I took to it like I never stayed anywhere else before. The three years in Chandigarh compels me to acknowledge that Chandigarh and again not Punjab is my true home. But will I ever stay there, in the city. Difficult question but yes at the end of the day, I might return to Bengal to live out those days when looking out of the balcony will be my serious preoccupation.

That brings my thoughts to Kotagiri.... Kotagiri where ???? is what most friends still ask me. But Kotagiri is where my heart settled and my body aspires to stay. I have internalized the place to such an extent that presently when people ask me about my roots, my first answer says Kotagiri.... you know Kotagiri near Ooty, then my mouth blurts out that I am a Punjabi and not a Tamil, so actually I am from Punjab. Finally, it is with a grudging nod that I mention that my actual home is Bengal.

So where am I from, from the hills where I have stayed for the first four years of my professional life, from the humid plains of Asansol where I learned what home was or from the picturesque foothills of Chandigarh where I had the time of my life.....

I cannot really answer this perplexing question but the more I see the world around me and the more I rote the phrase that when in Rome, be a Roman....... I realize that home is all that, it is in fact when all all three places are put in a mixer and the resultant is what home is..... Roots are supposed to spread wide, isn't it...

November 10, 2009

Of Great Lakes in Big Cities and small Towns

Of the wide expanse of land of what we call India, there exist several pearls lying strewn about. Small ponds, big lakes, huge wetlands and many more. They are found everywhere and in a bygone era, must have covered the length of the country. They are found in dry deserts and moist latitudes and in a sense convey the spirit of diversity that marks out India.

There are the millions of pukurs in Bengal, as important an identity to the Bengali ethos as its rasgulla. These pukurs are small ponds that serve as the lifeline of the Bengali village. Bathing, washing utensils, a playground for children and ducks alike – pukurs are there during the year. How they manage to be so full of water during the entire year is possibly due to the high water table of the state.

As we travel westwards from Bengal, pukurs change in character. Where there were several as the eye met, the numbers decrease and the size starts increasing and by the time, we reach the capital, these ponds become all too infrequent and mostly dry during the year. The character changes but traditional societies always have had the lakes that they call their own in their villages.

Then there are the giants amongst lakes, Chilika in Orissa, Tso Moriri in Ladakh, Bada talab in Bhopal and Sukhna amongst others. These are society creators and you find cultures developing from within them. Chilika supports hundreds of thousands of artisans, farmers, fishermen and tourism activities while also performing her duties as that of a normal lake’s roles and responsibilities. Tso Moriri is a giant lake on the Changtang plateau of Ladakh and houses a diversity of animals that make the lake their breeding grounds. Bada talab is a unique wonder that was created several centuries ago by a strong willed ruler and changed the face of Bhopal forever. For any person who visits the town, the overbearing legacy of the gas tragedy fades away with a view of the lake and one sees Bhopal in all its majesty. That is what the lake does to you and a visit to Bhopal is worth a mention, if only you have to travel to have a glimpse of the lake. Sukhna in Chandigarh has a unique identity in the town of Chandigarh. It is popular as a picnic place, as a jogging track but also for many as an unique location that is at the foothills of the Shivaliks and provides an awe inspiring view of the Kasauli hills. There is a popular legend in the Sukhna region. During some evenings of the year, the rising moon looks like a forest fire and alternatively as a fading sun. His illusion can go for several minutes and unless encouraged by your friend to look carefully, you can leave for home assuming that it was indeed the sun at seven thirty in the evening. Sukhna exudes a carefully manicured magic that though man made yet, is identified with the soul of Chandigarh, itself a man made wonder.

Then there are the dams. Several of these temples of modern India may not have served their original purpose and infact have contributed to wide scale destruction of habitat and natural flora and fauna. However, over several years, the regions adjoining these large dams in Kabini, Bhavani, Totladoh, Periyar, Tungabhadra, Hirakud, Supa, Stanley, Harangi, Bommanhalli, Linganmakki, Nagarjunasagar have recovered to a large extent and have become perennial source of water to animals ad birds. These lakes, if they can be called so, form beautiful landscapes and many are now being used as popular tourism sites. These lakes have a charm that is theirs. Still waters and plenty and old tree stumps exist in abundance providing a nesting pot for many a bird. Cormorants and storks compete for space with darters and terns, creating a vivid society that is ever busy in their zeal for food and space. These dam lakes, if the initial destruction is to be overlooked, are modern temples of wildlife and efforts should be taken to prevent any new developments in these sites.

Then, the wondrous wetlands. Small and big, damned or free flowing, deep and shallow are ancient natural systems for storing and releasing water, much before engineers came in with their degrees and decided something must be done with these wildernesses and began the process of over development.

Hampi Uninterrupted