Manas Ranjan Mahapatra, Noida, 29 October 2023
It was way back in 1985 that I was working in a project of NCERT. Late Rajiv Gandhi was the PM and suddenly Saturday became a weekly holiday along with Sunday. I was at the newly created ET cell, later named as SIET, Bhubaneswar and had come to Delhi for our review meeting.
But, what to do on a dull Saturday? We at Bhubaneswar were used to every Saturday, except the second ones, as a working day. A friend of mine suggested that I should go for sightseeing. I had seen the city in 1981 when I came for an interview at UPSC. As such, I was left with the choices to either visit Agra or Jaipur. For me, Jaipur was more enticing because I wanted to see the museum named after King Albert. The other reason behind my decision to visit Jaipur was the wonderful pink city that I had read about from the book “More Tramps Abroad” by Mark Twain.
This was my first visit to picturesque Rajasthan and was followed by many till 2019. I also have many friends there beginning with Simantini Raghav, wife of legendary author Rangeya Raghav, and upto Sangeeta Sethi, author and storyteller, a senior officer from the insurance sector.
Jaipur as a city was created by Jai Singh-ll (1699-1743). He was a scholar and seeker. He created the city after thorough study of the plans of some of the cities of the world and Indian ‘Shilpa Shastra’. After creating the city, he shifted the capital from Ajmer to Jaipur and established observatories at Jaipur, Delhi, Varanasi, Ujjain, and Mathura that were called Jantar Mantar. It was a time when Astronomy was like magic and he hired the expertise of Xavier D’ Silva, the famous Spanish Astronomer, along with Indian experts Samrat Jagannath from Maharashtra and Muhammad Sahi from Delhi.
While seeing the observatory at Jaipur, I was remembering Samant Chandrasekhar (1835-1904) popularly known as Pathani Samant who didn’t have the scientific know how, but was assessing the movement of stars and planets with the help of a traditional bamboo hollow pipe. But he didn’t get the recognition that he should have got. Odisha was not so fortunate as Rajasthan nor our scholars had access to the world those days except kings. Ministers and bureaucrats have taken that place now.
My next target was Albert Hall. The year 1875 was a milestone in the history of Rajasthan not because of the visit of the Crown Prince Albert’s visit to the city of Jaipur, but because of Sawai Ram Singh’s (the then ruler) decision to offer his Royal Guest a ‘Bazaar’ that was blushing pink in colour. In the following time, Jaipur has been called as the Pink City.
Sawai Ram Singh didn’t stop there. He planned a museum in Ram Niwas Garden. By that time there was no museum in the country which can give exposure to both east and west. Sir Samuel Swinton Jacob, renowned architect of the world, was given the assignment to design. Albert Hall was the first Indian Museum showcasing artefacts from various parts of the world including rural India and textiles from the whole country.
I have visited Jaipur several times during 1996 to 2019. Many lovely stories have been experienced at Jaipur. Don’t know if I can write it in one go. But, Jaipur is always special for me. However, I can’t forget my good days in the first Jaipur Literature Festival though the organisers have forgotten me after I retired as Head of National Centre for Children’s Literature.
Apart from Jaipur, the other city of Rajasthan that always mesmerised me is Udaipur. It’s said that descendants of Prince Luv, one of the twin sons of Lord Rama, established the state of Rajasthan. Rajput heroes faught with mighty Moghuls. The capital city of Udaipur was established by their legendary King Rana Uday Singh of Mewar in the 16th century.
I have been to the city of Udaipur a number of times, either to deliver a talk in the newly started university, or for organising a Book Fair, or on my way to Kumbhalgarh or Salumber. The most fascinating time was when I visited the fort Kumbhalgarh where Rana Pratap was born.
I have always a strong urge in me to write on this historical city and the great Rajputs. My first visit to Udaipur was with Poet, Art Curator and Artist Prayag Shukla. Our host Vimla Bhandari sent a car to the airport for picking us up and taking to the place, a small town called Salumber popular for Hadi Rani, the newly married queen who cut her head for her husband, who was fighting with Moghuls and was attracted more to her beautiful wife than the war.
It was very hot. Summer in India is otherwise the hottest in Rajasthan. On our way to Salumber, we picked up two bottles of beer for consumption. By the time we reached the destination, a guest house, it was dinner time. We were invited by the organisers to the venue in which all the invited poets, mostly women, were taking dinner. Prayag Ji is not a heavy eater, nor am I. But once our dinner was over, Prayag Ji was taken by surprise when the assembled women invited him to chair the Poets’ Meet held immediately after the dinner. I was also invited to the dais. The reading continued till midnight and we had to leave in the middle.
Next day, after delivering our talks, we came back to Udaipur and made our night stay there. We visited places of some artists and had our food. Our hotel was at the bank of the lake.
My next visit to Udaipur was for delivering a talk in the Book Publishing Course organised by NBT. I took two classes there on Copy Editing and visited some lakes. Udaipur is a city of lakes and lake side murals.
My next visit to Udaipur was with my wife for a visit to several places. My daughter had a friend in a village nearby Kumbhalgarh and she had started a Non Governmental Organisation there. She took us for a visit to Kumbhalgarh Fort. While coming back to Udaipur we went to Nathdwara. The temple was closed due to lunch break and there was no proper space for parking of vehicles! Jaya, friend of my daughter, who drove her car to bring us to Udaipur had to literally fight with the evil lobby.
We stayed at Udaipur Circuit House which was on top of the lake. Two days later, we went to Salumber where I was to receive `Salila Samman’ for lifetime contribution to Children’s Literature. Author Kusum Agrawal and her husband brought us back from Salinger whereas, it was author Tikam Anjana who took us to Salumber.
My last visit to Udaipur was for organising a book fair there.It was an opportunity to know that Rajasthan has many Urdu poets who have participated in `Mushayaras’ throughout the world.
My longtime author friend Sangeeta Sethi was there. She asked me about where I am thinking to settle after retirement. I narrated her a story by Javed Akhtar which I have read several times and every time I find a new taste. I quote the story here:
“Our joint family home housed 14 of us from age 5 to 95 years.
Today I watch both the houses abandoned and nature taking over the garden my mother used to tend for hours every day. The Jamun, the Drumstick a few Ashok, Neem and Peepal have survived but all beauty is both transient and fragile and the law of entropy powerful. The lovely flowers of myriad colours are all gone. I wonder what happened to the peacock family that came everyday and ate from my mom’s hand. The Bulbul, the sparrows, the parrots, spotted flycatchers, Cuckoos, a huge troop of monkeys that once in a month would upset the order of the place.
Once people leave, a home becomes a house. Initially I didn’t feel like selling and now I don’t feel like going. Time has taken away ten of its fourteen occupants.
I walk around our neighbourhood and see similar fate of so many homes once full of life now replaced or lying still.
Why do we stretch and stress to build houses? In most cases our kids won’t need it or worse fight over it.
What is this human folly of attempting permanent ownership in a leased life with an uncertain tenure given by a landlord whose terms are non-negotiable and there is no court of appeal.”
One day all we have built with love and EMIs will either be demolished, fought over, sold or lie in ruins.
Every time I fill a form that asks for `permanent address’ I smile at human folly.
There is a Zen story that an old monk walked into a Kings palace demanding he wanted to spend the night in this Inn and the guards told him, “What Inn, can’t you see it is a palace?” The monk said “I came here a few decades back someone was staying there, a few years later someone else took the throne from him, then someone else. Any place where the occupant keeps changing is an Inn.”
George Carlin says “house is just a place where you keep your stuff as you go out and get more stuff”.
As houses get bigger families get smaller. When the house has occupants, we desire privacy and when the nest empties we crave for company.
Birds and animals must be laughing at us humans that give up living in order to build their dream home and in the end depart the Inn they mistook as a permanent residence.
I am a Rapporteur of time. Don’t try to stop my move, for I am a poet, a traveller. If I don’t, who will ?
I have been writing for the last half a century and have got a lot of applause from my readers in Odisha and outside. Many of my friends feel that I am ignored by national bodies in getting recognition, awards or invitations.
At times I feel sad. Then I console myself….you are an author, keep on writing. It has a permanent value. These awards, recognition and invitations are temporary. Better not to run after the golden deer.
Back in Delhi these days. Don’t know where to go from here….