The Unadorned

My literary blog to keep track of my creative mood swings with poems n short stories, book reviews n humorous prose, travelogues n photography, reflections n translations, both in English n Hindi.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

A Visit to Kasauli--the Pen Picture

Happy Holi n happy reading!
I knew of Kasauli, the birth place of my favourite author Ruskin Bond. And that was all I knew about the place thanks to my bookish information.

And the other day, as I visited the place, the feeling turned out to be a kind of déjà vu for me. The quietude of the place was so poignant, so hauntingly attractive! It was like the wealth of wisdom hidden behind the silence of a quiet person. Nay, it was like the warmth of a sunny December morning that disseminates without ado ease and delight. I could not have remained untouched by the vibes of the environs that were only too profound.  I could not have helped getting soaked in the ambience.  

Then I was to go to Monkey Point. ‘That is a must visit at Kasauli,’ any guide worth his salt would recommend that. But then there was a rider: I was told that taking photographs there was not allowed. It was the seat of a certain defence establishment and that was the reason behind such restriction. So, it was to shape as an unadorned visit and there was nothing more than that to expect out of it.

Visiting a place without a camera means one should put one’s power of observation into overdrive. One should observe more and that too more keenly…so much so that the hidden spirits of the ambience lay bare themselves to the pair of perceiving eyes. Sound, colour, smell—they are not to be perceived only; they are the entities to materialize before one’s very mental eyes. One should be prepared to remember…and it was to be a lot of memory-work at that! And now, while actually trying hard to recapitulate what I saw, I feel how a snap or two would have made the difference. Don’t they say ‘A picture is worth a thousand words?  

An excursion to the hilltop could not just be fun. It was a daunting task, to say the least. Even before I started climbing, as I looked up from the foothill I could clearly read that people going up were just plodding their steps, some of them even drawing their stamina from the side rails. They were looking so small, as if the miniature version of their original selves, for the cramped canvas had that much place allotted for them in the composition of panorama. Nay, they were like the dolls out of the alcoves and mantelpiece, ordered by an invisible magician to crawl up to the hilltop. They were moving upwards in unison and against gravitation, and they were, as if, going against their will. I wondered who could be the magician that wanted this feat to be performed by those dolls animated!

And then I reached the foothill to start the task. It was my brief to myself to prove that I was fit enough—I should continue doing everything enjoyable even though it entailed perspiring a bit. If the real beauty of the landscape lies at the hilltop viewing point, I should have a glance of it—an eyeful of it. How lofty was the point? Well, I could not keep count of the steps I had to climb nor was there any indication of it in the various snippets and signage available around. Nevertheless, my breath spoke it all—it was nothing if not a rigorous uphill climbing.

For a change, let me be precise what I say. I had noted down the altitude of the place. Monkey Point is only 6430 ft above mean sea level, even less than the height of Shimla that is situated at 7100 feet!

Hold it for a second—I’ve a point to make here. The Wikipedia says that Shimla is located at the height of 300 to 6000 meters! Encyclopedia of Britannica says it is at 7100 feet (2200 meters). Somebody should volunteer and correct Wikipedia. There has to be a limit to bragging I say! Height-wise Shimla is less than Ooty in South India. (Ooty-7500 feet or 2300 meters)

Anyway, coming back to my topic, the difficulty level of climbing a hillock is not dependent on its height alone. The main point to see here is how steep is the climb, say what is its gradient. As for me, the rough and ready guide was, as I said it earlier, my breath: if I was panting for breath, then it must be steep. And without entering into the issue of trigonometric proof I can assert that: that I was climbing a steep hill. Agreed, as I went climbing I came across elderly fellows and kids returning from the top spot but that was not to make the climb any less tiring. Among them there was an elderly gentleman, too, who could make it up to the top and as per his own declaration, he had three blockages in his heart. Then what was he doing there instead of going for an angioplasty? I wondered. A couple of stents would make his life easier. Anyway, his dear blockages notwithstanding, he could do that…and that was the highlight. I gasped my appreciation, “Tusi great paaji,” and the fellow attributed his success to the blessings of lord Hanuman ji whom he came to see at Monkey Point.

It is believed, as I came to know reading the signage literature at the hilltop, that Hanuman while going to fetch Sanjeevni for the treatment of Lakshman had kept a foot on this hill and another at Jakhu, Shimla. So far I knew that Hanuman had negotiated the entire distance from Sri Lanka to the Gandhamardan by his celebrated aerial manoeuvre. This was just another version, mutatis mutandis—I concluded.

There were quite a few educative marble plaques installed along the track to divert the climber’s attention from the rigours of the climb. One such couplet was राम नाम का गिद्दा/ की पुट्ठा की सिद्दा. I tried to get some meaning out of that. Ignorance of Punjabi was no excuse and what I interpreted was something like this: Within you lies the book (गिद्दा) of Ram, waiting for its pages (पुट्ठा) to be straightened (सिद्दा). The explanation was laughably inaccurate and there were people near to correct me. But they did no such thing. I remained content with my provisional (wrong) understanding of the spiritual couplet until I was on my way back. The pundit of the hilltop temple who also returned with us imparted me the actual meaning of the couplet: While dancing to the tune of Ram’s name, it hardly matters if the steps are correct or not. In other words, one can be a devotee without going through various formalities that have grown around the name of Ram. Aha! How true!

And at the top it was just anther scene of top view. Should I say it the bird’s eye view? Nay, big-picture is the right term to narrate it. The hills around that took us hours to negotiate were looking so tamable! Despite the sylvan exuberance, it all looked like the plains from the hilltop, as though landscaped and manicured to wear the beauty of highland wilderness! The roads encircled the hills, bypassed them, jumped from peak to peak and, in any case, respected the norm of being serpentine. There is no way one could have imparted the difference of being straight, the straight-line course. Er, it was my moment to revisit the long-forgotten geometry lesson: Is a curve really the combination of innumerable straight lines? Or is it that the straight line plus another dimension make it a curve? Aha! I got the right word: Curves are the 3-D realities of terrestrial existence and straight lines are the artificial representations of it only.

What had the height to say there? Now that it had been conquered, did it actually insist on its primacy? Nope, it was not to brag and frighten again. Even, otherwise, the highest of the peaks concedes its defeat at that defining moment, saying ‘Alas! The hillock yonder is taller than me.’ Even standing on the Everest if one asked the summit the same question, its answer would follow likewise, ‘Nope, I’m not the tallest. The peak yonder is taller than me.’ The other end of the ridge facing Monkey Point has a peak and that was to appear taller than Monkey Point. I had once experienced the phenomenon in 1996 as I scaled Saddle Peak in North Andamans. And I wrote a poem too. Let me quote
A rest after the haste and haste after a rest
Thus the mocking peak was finally scaled
Lo! It was no momentous deed of ours
The neighbouring peaks were even loftier.
(Scaling the Saddle Peak, In Harness)    

And come five o’clock, it was time to return. It was the rule and rules are always to be respected. We returned and the last one to do that was a dog. He was robust and officious, and from the beginning I had suspected that the canine was there to perform a specific duty. Who was his master and whose orders was he carrying out? Anyway, my haunch was correct: even if it was not admitted, the animal was there to ensure that nobody was left at that point after it was 5 PM. As we were returning, I asked the pundit as to what was the name of his dog. He said the animal had no name. ‘How strange! The animal has a duty to perform and is condemned to namelessness!’ I muttered. Then I insisted that the animal on duty deserved a name, a good name. The pundit complied with my request and christened his pet then and there. He became Sewak, the servant of Lord Ram. I only wish the pundit were sincere about the name and the next day onwards started calling him as such—Sewak the servant of Lord Ram. 

A N Nanda

Labels: ,

Friday, March 15, 2013

Something of Everything

Water power, the greatest of all powers on earth.

A View from Naggar
It doesn’t stop and goes on and on. It charts its own course and nobody can ever stop it. No rock is powerful enough to block its way. Aha! There’s no need to drink milk if one’s drinking water—say pure water, the water that trickles down the slopes of the Himalayas with all its celestial sweetness intact. It’s the elixir of life. Water connects earth with heaven: it’s the purest connection between mundane and heavenly. Water is solace; it cleanses the heart in the form of tears; it fills human heart with courage to move on, all the loads of human imperfection notwithstanding.

Snow at a Close-up: On the way to Solang Nala
Thus water moves on, and has been doing so since time immemorial. Let me quote Alfred Lord Tennyson from his poem “The Brook”—

And out again I curve and flow
To join the brimming river,
For men may come and men may go,
But I go on for ever

Way to Manali: Before the Cloud could Overtake
It’s silver ambience all around: remember the silver sparkle of the snow; remember the fluffy clouds scudding across the blue autumn sky from horizon to horizon. Feel the enchanting smile of your sweetheart; feel the blossom of lily in dew-drenched autumn morning. Remember the plum tree abloom on the slopes of the mountains in all resplendence and feel its purity. And feel the moonbeam reflecting on fresh snow and imbibe its sublime tranquility. Feel hope and feel the assurance of god—He’s watching us every moment, communicating with us through his silvery vibes, his own little heavenly vibes.

The Flowering Plum: On the way to Manikaran
Flower: she’s the embodiment of ethereal beauty that enchants, and she’s now abloom. She’s in a hurry to give her best. She has no time to wait for the lazy leaves to get up from their slumber and see how the world had been in their absence. She knows she has to smile and make others do that, and she cannot be too late. She knows smiling first is smiling the best, the purest.

Mahogi: On way to Kullu

There’s charm in walking alone. In the words of Rabindranath Tagore, Ekla chalo! Jodi tor dak shune keu na ase tobe ekla chalo re. “If no one responds to your call, then go your own way alone”.  When what one longs for is peace, one has to follow his heart. It is so very near yet so elusive! Let me quote Robert Frost:

These woods are lovely, dark and deep
But I’ve promises to keep
And miles to go before I sleep
And miles to go before I sleep.

Water is music. Listen to the waves lapping against the seashore. Listen to the river bubbling over the ancient rocks, imparting the eternal truth of existence. Listen to the charm of silence, the rhythm of bliss and ecstasy.

Solang Nala and Beyond

Look! High above the mountains where the moon casts his silver magic, forever—since time immemorial, where, night after night, low-hanging stars besprinkle their diamond blessings, stands a house—his celestial house. Going there to the neighbourhood of divine abode makes him special, a cut above the rest. Why so? For he aims for a special communion with god in a very ancient way, with a vow to do the penance till god almighty is pleased to grant him boon, to be deathless and all-powerful, to do exactly what Vyas once found Pandavas doing for their mythical preeminence, say going to swarg without having to die. Living there, where lord Shiva is his neighbour, where the lord descends from Kailash to visit his dear little devotee in the midst of his rapture and trance. Living there would bring him the secret knowledge of life and beyond.

The Beas
If going straight is not the choice then what else? If it has to move on not as a crow flies but as a snake slithers, let it be so. It is sufficient if it does not lose its way in the wilderness. It is sufficient if it goes on and on.Again to quote Tennyson

I chatter over stony ways,
In little sharps and trebles,
I bubble into eddying bays,
I babble on the pebbles.

A N Nanda

Labels: ,

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Emperor

This is yet another story from my Hindi short story collections "Virasat". I have chosen to translate it for those who would like to read it in English. As for posting the original story in Hindi I'll do that but after some time. Happy reading.
The Emperor
There was no end to Mr Ashwini Shrivastava’s trail of predicaments. Being the police commissioner of the city, it was his responsibility to nab all the criminals in action and bring them to justice so that the city remained a safe place for its inhabitants. He was striving hard to live up to the genuine expectations of the public. Even though he was always on his toes, the newsmongers of the city sniffing every corner for grabbing sensational gossips had long started raising doubts on the sincerity of the police, ‘Look, if the police are so very casual in handling a crime committed before the bungalow of a central minister, then what’s going to happen to the common citizens?’

In fact, the episode started with a wisp of smoke curling out of a letterbox in the morning of that fateful day. And the worthy letterbox was installed in front of the bungalow of the minister Mr Vindeshwari Yadav. It was only for five small minutes that the smoke billowed out of the box—or maybe it was for ten minutes at the maximum—but that was sufficient to bring Ashwini Shrivastava a brand new sack of problems. When he discovered the thin wisp of smoke from the letterbox, the Hon’ble Minister was sauntering about in front of his bungalow and planning to defeat the vicious plans of his political rivals. Suddenly, his attention was riveted by something unusual in the letter box. ‘What! There’s smoke in a letterbox!’ the minister was out of his wits. It was sufficient to terrify him. "God! There could be something sinister about it. The modus operandi of crime is changing every day. Maybe it’s an act of a terrorist—who can deny that? Maybe it’s a contrivance of a foreign power to spread terror in the country.” It hardly mattered who had committed the crime; it was undoubtedly a kind of warning to the government. So he must uncover the conspiracy, and he must do that immediately.

The fire tenders were pressed into service—not one, nor two, but the three of them. The contingent was competent enough to tackle a smouldering letterbox. Police dogs also arrived within half an hour only. Now, men, animals and machines were ready to strive their best. Would not they exert themselves, now that the task was no smaller than extinguishing fire in the letterbox installed in front of the house of a minister?

Well, it so happened, there was no need for anybody to do anything, because the fire died out on its own. The firemen generously sprinkled water not on the letterbox but on a peepul tree standing nearby. Funnily the sniffer dogs brought by the police went round and round the letter box. But they did not do anything more than that as a street dog would have done to the letterbox under the situation. And finally everyone went away.

Initially it appeared the case would be solved without any hassle. But that was not to happen. Around twelve o’clock noon a barrage of phone calls started coming to the police commissioner from the minister’s office. The minister desired to know whether or not the offenders were traced; whether by then any action was initiated against people responsible or not, whether the case was assigned to the country's intelligence agency or not; and so on and so forth.

When pressure on the police started building up, the commissioner Mr Srivastava resolved to go ahead rather effectively. He called a meeting of his subordinate officers and became very critical of their attitude of casualness. He even reprimanded all concerned so that the seriousness of the matter actually sank in. Then he gave an order to suspend the SHO of the area. Poor SHO! Howsoever did he implore and whatever explanation did he put forth, there was none to listen to him.

Thereafter, addressing his deputy commissioner Ashwini Shrivastava said, “Mr Amarnath, get ready this instant. You’re given just one day to inquire. If you can solve it, it’s good for everyone…and if you fail, well, it’s going to bring calamity on both of us. You may also be transferred…along with me. Go and do something immediately."

Deputy Commissioner Mr Amarnath Singh took it as a challenge. Why should he dither at all? Had he not got the experience of solving many such cases, more complicated than this? During his twenty years of service, he had won police medals on three occasions. Those medals meant a lot to him. Once he nabbed a ferocious robber even exposing him to great risk. Now Mr Amarnath Singh would have to do something – befitting to his reputation, for the sake of his senior, and for the honour of the police department.

He began his investigation as a policeman should do. The Department of Posts assured him of full cooperation. First of all he paid a spot visit to examine the affected letterbox. And the inspector of post office also reached there around the same time. The letterbox was opened front of both the officers. It was found that not all the letters had been charred.  More than half of them were saved, and they were retrieved along with the ashes of those charred letters. It appeared as though the letters got singed waiting infinitely for the lovesome touch of dainty palms! Mr Amarnath Singh began to examine them one by one. Is there any trace of a letter bomb? The minister must be on the hit list. Not for nothing he was in jitters. But where was wire? And where was the chemical odour of the explosives? Amarnath Singh took a pinch of ash and started sniffing even though the sniff dogs had given a clean chit. He cogitated on another possibility. It was possible that the mischief was the handiwork of a drug peddler. As he was aware, there was an undercurrent of competition among those duffers. Maybe, they were using the postal channel to supply drugs to the addicts, and maybe out of vengeance, one of them had burnt the letters stuffed with the substance so as to destroy other’s consignment. Amarnath Singh would not have considered the possibility, had he not spotted a stub of cigarette among those singed letters. He then sniffed and tasted the ash but found nothing to buttress his theory. So he decided not to go ahead with the lead.

Would a small piece of half-burnt cigarette be able to describe the whole incident? Would he be able to finally satisfy his commissioner…as well as the honourable minister? Why would a terrorist use such a thing as a cigarette to attack a minister? And, why would a common criminal target a minister?

A list of rogues was available in the police station, and Amarnath Singh examined it while he pored over all their photographs pasted on the gallery. Mottu Yadav was in the list of pickpockets and the luggage snatchers; Mulia Hansada had undergone two terms of jail on being convicted for the crime of theft. Mehboob Khan was booked for looting railway carriage whereas Mangat Singh was made a career in fraud. Information was also available in the police station about a few other types of crimes and their perpetrators and Amarnath Singh cogitated on that too. But finally he failed to pinpoint anybody who was known for the crime of setting fire to a letterbox. So he began to realize that the case would remain unsolved. Now what precious little should he do? How would he face Commissioner Mr Ashwini Shrivastava?

Once again Amarnath Singh visited the spot. Standing there he looked around but could not find anything of his interest. It was already two o'clock in the afternoon. So far he had not taken his lunch and his stomach had begun rumbling. No sooner did he remember about his delayed lunch than a man came to his notice at a distance…and it was as fortuitous as that.  The fellow was sitting under a tree by the side of the road and contentedly eating something from a leaf-plate. A dog, too, was sitting nearby. While the fellow was taking his grub, he threw something in front of the dog from time to time.

An idea struck Amarnath, “Why not take the help of this mad-looking fellow? If it is for the police to ensure peace for everybody in the society, it has to take the help of every soul living in the society. And this is quite legitimate. Today, when the need is so great, even help from a crazy fellow was welcome. The police are for all, and all are for the police.”

In a trice he went near the mad-looking fellow. By then he had finished his grub. Reaching into his pocket the Deputy Commissioner took out a cigarette. And then he proffered the same to the lunatic. The fellow received it happily and without any loss of time took a box of matches out of his pocket. Then he lit it to take long satisfying puffs.

“So, you’re a smoker, aren’t you the one? And you always keep a box of matches with you, don’t you?” with great affection Amarnathji inquired of the fellow.

“Yeah, I’m the emperor of the world of luxury,” said the lunatic beating his chest.

“Aha, my worthy Emperor! Why are you sitting here like this? Come on, I'll accompany you to the palace,” said the Deputy commissioner Mr Amarnath Singh quite unctuously.

“Um..m,” uttered the fellow. It was only a faint guttural sound on his part. By then he was lost in his world of silence.

In the police station, the Emperor was given a nice chair, but he refused to sit on it. Now it was Amarnath Singh’s turn to convince to the fellow that this was not an ordinary chair but a royal throne. And he actually succeeded in convincing the crazy soul. Now the fellow went on to occupy the chair. Quite punctually he was served tea and snacks, and then a simple dinner, and when it was time to sleep a nice fluffy blanket. The cops in the police station began to address him as the Emperor.

At night when the Emperor was directed to go inside the mosquito net, he simply refused to listen to anyone. So, finding no other way, the Emperor was thrown inside the lock-up.

A determined Mr Amarnath Singh began preparing the papers with enthusiasm. He made a good use of his experience so that there was no error in documentation and the Emperor was smoothly presented before the magistrate the very next day. Whatever allegations were levelled, they were all quoted from the Indian Post Office Act. Seriously, there was no such provision under the Act by which someone from the public could be arrested on suspicion, and then prosecuted. In order to fashion a case like that, there was need to cite some other sections of the Indian Penal Code too. Say like conspiracy and stuff. But Mr Amarnath Singh had no time to be so thorough. He was only interested in quoting certain sections of the law so as to appear thorough in his job. His only interest at present was to bring the Emperor to justice…and more than that to report compliance. It was always there at the back of his mind that the honourable minister Mr Vindheshwari Yadav and his Commissioner Mr Ashwini Shrivastava were eagerly waiting for his compliance report.

A long spell of two months passed just like that. People forgot the Emperor and all his anti-social deeds. There was none to follow up either the progress of investigation or that of the proceedings in the court of law for that matter. Moreover, the honourable Minister Vindeshwar Yadav became totally immersed in his work. Then one day, the court acquitted the Emperor. Now the Emperor, free and proven innocent, was given back all his belongings and told to go out of the jail.

When the Emperor was stepping out of the jail premises, the jailer was present there. He was his special inmate and a special inmate needed a special send-off! Out of great curiosity the jailor asked the Emperor, “Mr Emperor, do you always keep an empty matches with you?”

An agitated Emperor replied, “I’m the emperor of the world of luxury.”
Basantpur,  29-07-2007
A N Nanda

Labels: , , ,