1992 was a very important year for me. A turning point, you could say. I can’t pinpoint to a particular moment or event for there were many that made the year so memorable. But two of them were really special and, interestingly (or maybe not !) both involved travel. It was not the kind of travel I do today; rather, it was travel for the purpose of study as part requirement of the Master’s programme in Geology I was pursuing at that time.
In May 1992, I arrived in Bhuj (in Kachchh district region of Gujarat) with AK, a classmate, to undertake a 15-day field trip for our Master’s dissertation in Geology. Though both of us were based in Bhuj, we had separate sites of field work (about 15 km away) and our field work was individual. We had a common faculty guide, who was to join us in Bhuj after about 10 days. This would have given us time to finish the bulk of our field work and present our preliminary findings to him.
I was quite excited as this was to be my first solo field trip — in the previous field trips I had been part of a larger group of classmates. Having a geological hammer, compass, and topographical map all to myself made me feel quite important. Not to mention grown-up and empowered as well ! :P
First day of field work in May 1992. Just look at how delighted I am !
The first day of field work was exhilarating and as perfect as a young geologist like me could hope for — excellent rock exposures, variety in rock structures and textures, fossils, some intriguing geological puzzles… It was also very distracting, but I soon settled down and within the next day or two established a field work routine.
This book review is part of #TSBCReadsIndia, a reading challenge wherein one reads a book from each State and Union Territory of India. Presenting the second of 36 books to be read — the book from Tamil Nadu — in this literary journey across India.
I first heard of the controversy on Twitter. What started off as a few stray tweets in the morning, had turned into a full-blown outrage by the afternoon. Normally, I ignore twitter outrages as I find them tiresome, but this was different as it was about a book.
I followed the outrage that day on Twitter and then as Twitter predictably found something new to outrage about the next day, I moved to other sources of information. I also bought a Kindle version of the book with the intention of reading it at the earliest. Soon the controversy died down, the media moved to other stories, and the book remained unread.
Then #TSBCReadsIndia happened and I decided on Tamil Nadu as the first stop in my literary journey across India. That’s when I remembered One Part Woman, and realised that it was a book that fit all my criteria for the reading challenge — it was translated, it was recent, and the controversy surrounding the book was the bonus. :)
“Where is the bawri?” I ask a group of men playing cards on the road. I am at Fatehpur, a large town in the Shekhawati region of Rajasthan and searching for a nearly 400-year-old stepwell, locally known as bawri.
“You’re standing at the entrance to the bawri,” drawls one of the men.
I look at where I am standing and then behind me. All I can see is an arched entrance and garbage beyond that. Heaps and heaps of garbage.
“This is the bawri?” I ask in disbelief.
Loud, raucous laughter erupts from the group. “This used to be a bawri. It used to contain water, now it only has garbage. Therefore, it is kachre ka bawri (or a well of garbage). Why have you come to see this kachre ka bawri?” says another man in the group.
More laughter, this time mocking and derisive, as I look on in horror and recall all that I had read about the bawri or stepwell in Ilay Cooper’s book.
One place that everyone I spoke to in Shekhawati said I must visit was Lohargal. And all gave different reasons for visiting it.
It is our hill station, said one. You get the best pickles in the world there, said another. It is a holy place and a dip in the tank will remove your sins, said the third person. There is an ancient sun temple there, said the fourth. The mention of the sun temple got me intrigued. Then another person said, “There’s a stepwell at Lohargal. If you’re interested in history, you must go there.” The stepwell was the clincher to visit Lohargal.
That’s how on my return journey to Jaipur from Nawalgarh, at the end of my Shekhawati trip, I took a detour to visit the stepwell at Lohargal. It was an hour’s drive from Nawalgarh through steady rain, narrow roads skirting the Aravali ranges, and some beautiful scenery.
When we arrived at the stepwell, which is on the road, the rain had lessened to a light drizzle.
The stepwell. At the far end is the well and the well shaft and beyond that are the Aravali mountains
When I arrived in Nawalgarh, the first work of ‘art’ I noticed was not its famed frescoes or even its grand havelis — it was a piece of graffiti.
I was looking out of the window of the car I was travelling in, hoping to catch a glimpse of a fresco, when the car suddenly braked to let a cow pass. That’s when I saw the graffiti — a yellow rectangular patch with blue lettering on a cracked and patched surface. It was the contrast of the freshness of the graffiti against a dull and old surface that attracted me and I took a picture of it for that reason. The words (for those who can’t read the Devanagari script or understand Hindi) can be roughly translated to:
Even if it means losing your life, don’t give in to anything improper or immoral.
As the car moved ahead, I dismissed the graffiti as a one-off and resumed my search for the frescoes. Little did I know at that time that along with the frescoes and the havelis, I would be seeing other graffiti all over Nawalgarh.
Every traveller has a story or two or maybe more about chance happenings that led to something more, something interesting. This is one such story. :)
I had just finished my tour of the Dr. Ramnath A. Podar Haveli Museum at Nawalgarh and had walked out of the main door. Unlike other havelis, the entrance to the Podar Haveli Museum is not level with the road and is situated about 15-20 feet above ground. From where I stood, I had the advantage of height and could look around and into the compounds of neighbouring havelis.
One such pastel-coloured haveli caught my attention. Located opposite the Podar Haveli Museum, its architecture exhibited colonial influences. It also had a large painting on one of its walls which, from where I stood, looked pretty interesting. But the high walls, closed gate and the freshly painted look of the haveli indicated that it was perhaps inhabited. I decided to check with the Museum staff if they knew anything about that haveli and if it would be possible for me to visit it.
Turned out that the Museum staff knew quite a bit. The haveli was the private residence of the Podars, the very family that owned the Museum. This was where the family members and their friends stayed whenever they visited Nawalgarh. Currently, the haveli was undergoing repairs and renovation and was, therefore, unoccupied. And yes, I could go and see the haveli if I wished to.
Of course I wished to ! I didn’t need any further encouragement and off I went. :)