Thursday, September 3, 2009

Hostels are a stone's throw

When E.T.McKluskie the commissioner of the Indian Railways discovered the area now known as Mckluskiegunj during the time they were laying the tracks in the area, it was probably a haven of sorts. Situated deep in the jungle, cut off from civilization, serene, quiet with weather that was arguably very English it soon prompted a lot of english settlers to shift there.

McKluskiegunj transformed overnight. English bungalows sprawled over the densly forested countryside, mud roads were laid, a club house was established and buggys became the mode of transport.

It must’ve been tough living an English life in India, but sure seems they did a good job of it. McKluskiegunj had a bakery, a club and two churches that are still open and running. The one thing that was never mentioned or pointed out was a dairy. Tiwary’s simple explanation was – “Woh dood jyada nahi peete the.” which I found hard to believe.

Soon after the British left ,the place was taken over by a strong Bengali population. They bought over some of the English bungalows but didn’t really change them too much. As the naxal threat grew stronger, slowly they filtered out of town making way for ex-army personnel to come along and pitch camp. Some army personnel survive till date. Lt. General Misbah Mayadas, who retired during the time of the Bofors scam – also the author of a book Inside Bofors – still lives in his bungalow on his own. We see him drive past us while we’re on our way to the train station.

I tell Tiwaryji that wherever I’ve read of Mckluskiegunj ,there has been mention of a lady named Kitty.

“Oho! Kitty madam. Woh toh Mckluskiegunj ki hero hain!”

Our companions in the car wonder why.

Kitty madam comes from a strict, purely Anglo-Indian background. Having inherited the property owned by her ancestors, she still lives at in her ancestral bungalow alone. Her source of income. selling vegetables at the railway station. It makes for an interesting story for journalists, and story writers Tiwaryji points out.

“Woh khaini banate banate jabardast english jhadti hai na, toh in sab press walon ko bahut pasand hai.”

Thinking of the sight I laugh my head off. Khaini is chewing tobacco, popular in these parts.

Densely surrounded by forests Mckluskiegunj is now a dying heritage. A highly sensitive Naxal zone, it has lost almost all its old residents, and the tourists are few and far between. Everyone who’s been hearing of my planned visit warned me about the dangers. Advice was aplenty. Go in the morning and return by evening. Make sure you return by daylight. If you need a second visit go the next day. Dont use the same car when you go a second time. The reasons McKluskiegunj was chosen by its English creators is now exactly the reason its avoided by everyone today.

All the old bungalows have been converted to hostels, to support the Bishop Cotton School and two other girl schools in the town. It seems to be the only thing that keeps their economy afloat. Infact there is an abundance of hostels across town and the competition doesnt seem to affect the trade. Adverts are placed next to each other, all offering pretty much the same facilites at the same prices. A town once the pride of English settlers, and their marvellous bungalows is now filled with hostel facilities for a few local schools. The names true to form are resplendent of the town’s former glory and present heritage.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

What is Ranchi famous for?

There was a time long ago, when people who visited Ranchi were a source of humour among frinds. They were always associated with having visited the 'pagalkhana'. Only Agra's is better known. Nowadays Ranchi is famous for MSD's house ofcourse.

Friday, August 28, 2009

A Founding Factor

“Samaj ab Mar chuki hai. Ab bas iska satkar karna baki hai.”

A.K. Roy looks at me and smiles. One of the founding fathers of Jharkhand (the other two being Binod Bihari Mahto and Shibu Soren) and an active participant in the freedom struggle, Roy Saheb has remarkable leftist inclinations. His party the Marxist Co-ordination has regularly contested election ssince the 80s and has sent him to the parliament thrice. A man in his late seventies now, A.K. Roy is nonetheless still as firmly rooted to his ideologies as he was then.

We’ve been talking about Jharkhand’s formation, the struggle before and the struggle after. Roy Saheb is a major spokesperson for the theory of two Indias. One that consists of the exploiters and one of the exploited. Jharkhand , not surprisingly lies in the latter. Roy Saheb elaborates.

“In our society, we’ve completey destoryed the concept of nationalism. In our society, according to differences in geographical location, region and culture there are different stages of development. In every stage of such a situation, there are people who are exploited for ‘greater needs’. Adivasis, Harijans, Dalits they are not just exploited economically. Socially... as nationals they are cast aside, exploited, from within the system.”

I point out to him that most of our leaders have come from such communities. They’ve all used their communities as mere vote banks, never turning back later. I tell him about Sahibganj.

“Those challenges exist. That’s true. Most often they are corrupted quicker. Their resistance is lower. They’ve never experienced such a life, so when they are afforded a chance they grab it with all four limbs. ”

In the long silence that follows i pay a lot of attention the sounds of the old fan. I see him looking at me intently, still smiling. A.K.Roy’s hindi is still heavily laced with a bengali accent. I change the line of enquiry a little, i venture to ask him about the existent Naxal threat. I stutter halfway through asking him about whether today’s Naxals still follow and have an ideology they believe in. I’ve been warned. He’s an obstinate man, fiercely conscious and aware of his actions.

In 1977, during the Lok Sabha elections (the çhange of guard’elections), Jay Prakash Narayan the leader of the Janata Party heard of A.K.Roy’s nomination for the LS seat from Dhanbad as a member of the Marxist Co-ordination. My grandfather went to try and convince him of out ofit. He was asked to go and ask Roy Saheb to join the Janata Party, and contest the seat for them. A.K.Roy refused, influencing the JP to withdraw their candidate from the area. Jay Prakash Narayan reportedly told the leaders to concentrate on the other constituencies. A.K.Roy was elected to parliament for the first of his 3 terms that year.

“This Naxal movement has undergone changes yes. As it is with every movement they have changed with time, but obviously they are still fighting with intent. Nobody sponsors them, they don’t go around gathering money so then how do they sustain themselves?

By looting, and dacoitery i answer under my breath. He talks about how a corrupt system is the reason for the fear of Naxals.

“Bhrasht sanstha, naxal ka sabse bada hatiyaar hai.”

Two days back, a train from Ranchi to BasukiNath stopped all of a sudden in the evening. The immediate reaction of the passengers was, that it was a naxal agitation. The Naxals had declared a bandh for the next day. Roy saheb found this hilarious.

“There was no reason for them to believe something of that sort. It could have been anything. But, the fear prompted them to immediately think it was a naxal attack.”

We take his leave and go for lunch. The conversation is essentially about A.K.Roy and what the party is today. Gradually, the talk shifts to the failure of Jharkhand as a state, A.K.Roy’s disappointment and the way forward.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Sahibganj to Ranchi

There is no drought in the Santhal Pargana area of Jharkhand. One round of the crops has always been harvested and a second round is being planted. Re-plantation of rice is on. There is no dearth of water. Ponds, lakes are aplenty, causing Rakesh Uncle to exclaim about how these fellows don’t deserve drought relief, but will partake in it anyway.

Driving from Barharwa to Rajmahal, the road is narrow and covered with potholes, slush and water. Villages guide our course, names highlighted with neon boards. Jharkhand in the Chotanagpur region is amazingly well developed in comparision to these areas. Fields are full of water, the rice is growing and Wordsworth’s nature is well illustrated all around.

Jharkhand’s leaders all claim the Santhal Pargana region to be their ‘karam bhoomi’. Unfortunately for the residents this has not translated into action. Much like what we’ve seen in several African countries in the past, in Jharkhand too leaders have risen from downtrodden, backward communities only to rise to power and fail their communities. On the way to Sahibganj, we see a bus with a sign which says SAHIBGANJ to RANCHI. I express my concern for the passengers and the places where it might stop to give them respite from the bad road conditions. Rakesh Uncle answers in good humour.

“Sahibganj se Ranchi non-stop hota hai. Wahi toh route hai.”

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Monumental Greatness

We drove down to Rajmahal via NH 80. 80 kms later I am left with no doubt this is one of the narrowest in the country. Surrounded by fileds though it is quite picturesque, made all the more enjoyable by Kishore Kumar humming in the background. In Rajmahal, we went to see the monumental structures erected by a homesick Mughal community leaving symbols of continuity and reassurance. The Singhi Dalan (Marble Pavillion), a structure on the banks of the Ganga subjected to much ransacking by later rulers, so much so that once made of marble, the only traces of the material are in the pillars. The Jami Maszid, a splendid structure resplendent of Mughal architectural glory, modelled on a mosque in Damascus, diminished a little by the ASI’s attempts at renovation, The Akbari Maszid still in use and The Mughal bridge.
In 1592, Raja Man Singh the appointed ruler of Gaur or Greater Bengal (included Bihar and Jharkhand) built the mosque as a token to show his allegiance to Akbar. At the time, Rajmahal was the recognized capital of the state of Gaur, and was witness to several mutinies, revolts and wars between the tribal factions and their Mughal rulers. Although modelled on a mosque in Damascus, Man Singh appears to have tried his best to replicate the Mughal architecture we recognize so well. A large preayer hall, a courtyard with a fountain supplied water from channels running across the mosque, three gateways, the mosque has it all.

Three generations later, Shah Jahan’s son Shah Shuja appointed the governor of the area was responsible for the Singhi Dalan. Rumour has it that Shah Shuja was paranoid in expectation of an attack and had a hollow pipe installed at the base of pavillion used for communication across different buidings in the area. Much like a telephone control tower today. My insight reveals that this was probably put to good use during Aurangazeb’s attack on Rajmahal for the succesion to Shah Jahan’s throne. Aurangazed’s revolt against his father resulted in the annexing and destruction of all such monuments. It was then that Rajmahal surrendered its importance to Calcutta.

The Singhi Dalan was reminiscent of Red Fort on a normal day in Delhi. People catching naps in shaded corners, professors chatting around, groups of men playing cards, college boys sneaking around for a smoke. During a good monsoon, the Ganga would’ve reached right up to the stairs for descent. Commendalble though that it missed its mark by a mere 25 yards this year. The sign on the outside proudly declared

“The Singhi Dalan or Marble Pavillion built Shah Shuja, the son of Shah Jahan but many believe it was made by Raja Man Singh for his monsoon viewing…..”

We walked around Jami Maszid, revelling in its magnificience of its effect on a sunset. The ASI has been working on its renovation for the last 6 years, kindly displayed by their contracted labour who’ve been sitting and gossiping for the last hour or more I’ve spent here. A noe must be made to commend their performance on parts that they have finished with. They really do give the ruins a lot of character.
We start leaving when a car drives up and offloads some tourists. They look at the construction material strewn around and rush back towards their car pushing each other out of the way for the best seat. The driver looks at us, grins looking at us and exclaims – “Press?” I shake my head. Out of the corner of my eye I see Rakesh Uncle nodding.

Album at:

Take a look.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Image vs Text

I have received some complaints about how the blog is very text heavy. I've kept it this way on account of the fact that too many pictures make it run/load slowly. There is a gadget on the right that at all times gives you the permanent link for my albums.

Recent album updated is at

Bhagnadih ka Bhagya

I peered in through the open door, expecting someone to call out and ask for my identity. My guide, a reporter(patrakar) for The Dainik Jagran nudges me and ushers me in. It’s been a long wait to get till here and I didn’t need a second invitation. I walk in and the first thing that greets me are the busts of the two great men. Right behind them propped up by the wall is a family tree that confirms the existence of the clan. I look around for the inhabitants of this modest rural household. I somehow find it inappropriate to be talking insde the house. I gesture towards Birender Bhaiya.

“Sab bahar kaam mein lage honge.”

“Ugh” I nod.

In May earlier this year, the state government had decided to gift Siddho-Kano’s descendants new dwelling units as part of the celebration of the 154th anniversary of Santhal Hul. The Telegraph Jharkhand wrote -

Converting the family home of the legendary martyr brothers into a heritage temple, setting up a museum housing documents and other testimonials related to the Santhal Hul, beautification of the Kadam Dandi – a fountain where they took a bath before going to war- and a stadium are also on the cards.

I walk around the village, my guide pestering me to hurry up, complaining about how he has to get back to work. A bunch of kids spot my camera. Chewing sugarcane they venture closer, till i can ask them their names. One of them is co-incidentally called Kanhu. Later i learn it is a common name in the area, nothing to be acting smug about. I ask them about the temple, stadium and the likes. They tell me the stadium is at the other end of the village. We walk to the Kadam Dandi, where i find a chap bathing.

“Siddhu - Kanhu ladne ke pehle nahate the. Aaj kal log kabhi bhi naha lete hain!” my guide exclaims to general amusement.

“Yeh ladayi ke baad naha raha hai.” I say spotting two buffaloes sitting in the shade, their dark skin glistening.

The sun is out in full force and so is the workforce in the fields. Almost everyone, man woman or child is out with an umbrella. This is a phenomenon I’ve never seen practiced anywhere in India except the east. Rain or sunshine an umbrella is a must for the working class. I ask the children what class they are in. They tell me in detail, pointing out their school. The boss of the group is a girl who’s mannerism fiercely resembles some i know. She asks me if I saw the Murmu family tree when I was inside. If I haven’t there is one at the entrance of the village. She can take me there in the car.

Last year Suresh Mahto adopted the youngest of the Murmu generation and sent them off for their schooling in Ranchi. While the Murmu family still lives a life of normalcy away from the public glare, the village is hounded by politicians constantly. Each pays tribute to the heroes in their own way and promises a better future.

I look towards the village one last time while driving out. It’s a typically quiet, hot and humid afternoon. Paddy is being sown, women are out in the fields. My guide gently exclaims

“Sab Rajniti ka khel hai. Jab chunao aata hai toh unnati ki baat karte hain. Uske baad idhar ghoom ke bhi nahin dekha jaata. June tak sara development complete hona tha. Election khatam, sirf stadium bana hai.”

Monday, August 24, 2009

A strange situation

In the 70s the Naxal movement started in Naxlbari in West Bengal. Situated in dense forests the movement soon gathered force as an extreme leftist movement and was one of the defining occurences of the decade. In today’s India Naxals inhabit the forest area that stretches across the states of Jharkhand, Orissa, West Bengal and Chattisgarh. The forests are their hideouts their base. Jharkhand is full of such dense shrub growth. At some places the cover is dense enough for one to travel right through to Chattisgarh without ever coming in contact with civilisation.
After days of unrest, accidents laziness and being lost, I’ve hit the road. the second day of my journeyis currently underway, and I’m driving back from Sahibganj to Dumka, known as the second capital of Jharkhand. It’s also the hometown/constituency of one of the state’s most well known leaders. Shibu Soren. It’s night time and the road is a single laned road, surrounded on both sides by thick forest. No animals yet. The silence in the car is unbelievably tense, Rakesh Uncle probably more than I am. Kishore Kumar hums in the background.
“Iss sab area mein itna aaram se raat ko chal sakte hain naa?”
“Abhi tum yeh jyada mat socho toh. Aaram se chalte raho.”
“Arey! Dekhiye naa, jiss se bhi puche hai, have not expressed concern over law and order. Sab ka complain road condition ka hai.”
“Haan! Idhar Naxal involvement nahi hai. Isliye loot nahi hota hai.”
“But yehi sabse under developed area hai Jharkhand ka. Atleast abhi tak hum jo dekhe hain. I would have assumed that Naxal involvement here would be maximum.”
“Haan. That is logical. Par ab un log koi ideology wala Naxal thodi na hai. Aisa koi bolta nahin hoga but it is true.”
At dinner, yesterday I start off this conversation with my father. He explains differently. He assumes that the situation is such because the forest cover there is not continuous and dense, something I refuse to believe. It is nearer to Naxalbari than the other Naxal affected areas. The reason for this absence is cause for research. Answers will be provided soon.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Review Meeting Minutes

Faculty present: Koshy, Meena and Raghu
Date: August 1st 2009


1. Why Jharkhand?

2. What is the core idea of the travelogue?

3. Where does this idea reveal itself?

4. Has the organization of these stories begun?


•Narration of inspiration (the idea of my grandfather’s migration to the land) is essential to convey the core idea. Make the journey more personal.

•Information in the form of history, geography should be different from what is already available on the net.

•The writing is coming from a single person’s perspective (mine). Is there a need to change that? Maybe not, but all points of view, discussion must be covered.

•If you’re thinking of a book, start organising and editing information into chapters, sections and such. Start designing the book. You’ll find that it’ll help with presenting the core idea more clearly.

•In the editing try and find the relevance of events in the bigger story rather than place them in the timeframe they happened. Eg: Shabnam’s films.

•Try and include maps into your travelogue/blog. It’ll help the viewer place themselves.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A journey to the center of the Earth

It isn’t as desolate and gloomy as it’s made out to be. Workers are chatting, working some pausing to take breaks, some subdued humming can also be heard. I hear a deep rumble come closer, and closer, till I can distinctly place it to be the trolleys coming towards the loading point. Apart from the fact that there is no light there is scarcley anything that would suggest I’m inside one of the most dangerous working conditions on this planet. An underground coal mine.

Contrary to all expectations a cool breeze blows past. I turn around straining my eyes foolishly trying to find out where it comes from.

“Andar mein hawa acha hai naa?”

Shyam Sunder Prasad is a mining sardar at Bhurkunda. He’s been ‘deputed’to give me a tour. Cameras, to my utter dismay are not allowed. He has been quizzing me throughout the walk. What is coal used for? Which is the oldest mine in India? Why is it necessary to leave the pillars when mining? Why are the walls of the mine painted white? If you’re left alone and your battery dies out how will you get back? I’m not entirely sure if I’m supposed to answer the questions or plainly nod. I’ve tried both and have yet to illicit a reaction from him.

“Haan! Neeche ka taapman upar se better hai!”

He stops and turns around. I brace myself for another question. According to the alternate question theory I’m expected to answer this one.

“Batao aisa kyun?” he quizzically raises his eyebrows and shines his torch in my direction. I lift my hand to cover my eyes, and the movement costs me dear. He answers.

“Upar mein, bada-bada fan laga hua hain. Karib karib man leejeye 8 foot ka. Un fan se gas nikala jaata hai mine se. Jab gas nikalta hai toh….” He pauses.

“low pressure ke kaaran hawa andar aata hai.” I answer back.

We have now walked close to 4800m to a depth of around 850-900 m. There is complex mathematics involved in the deciphering of this figure and no questions will be entertained. Shyam Sunder babu tells me that they are de-pillaring parts of the mine right now. Imagine removing the pillar off from a building. Common sense tells us the roof will collapse. In a mine, several sections of stone are left in the shape of pillars (about 25m in diameter) to hold the roof up. When most of the coal from the area around is extracted they start demolish the pillars to use that too. This is done wheh they are retreating from an area. Slowly, they blast parts of the pillar, taking care to hoist temporary wooden pillars to hold up the roof.

We’re now standing in front of a pillar that has been drilled into and made ready for blasting. Small sticks of explosive (non-inflamnable - huge expense is incurred to import these) will be inserted into the holes, people will hide for cover and the fuse detonated. We’ve been waiting for the blasting team to arrive for about half an hour now.

I’m standing aorund, breaking pieces of coal from the walls, shining my light randomly, catching bits of Shyam Sunder babu’s conversations, when suddenly Manoj Bhaiya (trainee mining sardar in a different mine, union worker) who hasn’t said a word throughout the journey asks me

“Aap ko ajeeb lag raha hoga. Akbaki saa?”

“Nah! Aisa toh kuch nahi.”

“Aisa nahin lag raha hai ki kabhi bhi kuch bhi ho sakta hai. Kya pata kab kya gir jaye!”


I nod in silence, unable to answer. I’d never contemplated facing such a situation. I don’t think I’ve woken up to the fact that I’m in a mine yet. I look around and the workers are busy erecting another pillar. Shyam Sunder babu is supervising this. I’m left thinking about what Manoj Bhaiya said.

The climb back is a pain. The battery strapped to my back slowly gains weight and before you know it you’re back to the surface. Within minutes I’m sweating and contemplate going back.

I tried getting some pictures on my cellphone. a disaster as you can see. In one of them you can see the workers drilling through a part of the pillar. Strain your eyes, use your imagination to fill up the blanks and you'll see it.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Do din ke do Kand

7th August 7:30 p.m. – Dhanbad Station

“Train ab Kewl hoke jayegi.”
I’ve just settled into my seat, opened a book, waiting for the train to leave the platform. I nod without really listening to what’s been said. One of my co-passsengers gets fidgety. I notice him out of the corner of my eye. He pokes me.
“Bhaiya, aap kahan jaa rahe hain.”
“Gaadi ab Kewl hokar jaa rahi hai. Direct Bhagalpur pahuncha degi. Sahebganj raaste mein nahi aata hai.”
“Toh Phir?”
This huge message sent to my brain kept getting sent back, hopefully, for clarification. I start making the round of calls. Father, Mother, Raju Bhaiya……
To no avail. Nobody knows what’s happened. But they all confirm, if the route’s been changed Sahebganj is cut off.
I get off and find the nearest T.T.E. He confirms the news. The route has been changed. My phone starts ringing.
“Babu! Pakul mein accident ho gaya hai. Ek maal gaadi, engine ko maar diya. Over bridge gir gaya hai. Sab train divert ho raha hain.”
I get off, and search for a taxi to get back home.

8th August 8:30 a.m. - Giridih

“Chandeshwar Chacha!Pranam!”
“Aaj Hazaribagh se Ranchi aane mein mushkil hai. Kuju se road bandh kar diya hai. Aag lag gaya hai!”
“haan! Koi baat nahi hai. Phusro- Burmo hoke aa jaana.”
“Uhhhh… Theek hai.Aag kaise lag gaya?”
“Koyla hain. Aag lag giya. Ab yeh road bandh kar dega.”

I resist the urge to curse. My father's watching.trudging up to the room,I haul my backpack into the car, and drive through the alternate route. Mine country, here I come.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Kaala mein Niraala

The drive to the coalfield areas is scatterd with relics, religious and of the British make. I undertook the drive this time to visit the Cheenamastika Temple at Rajrappa. A Kali temple situated on the banks of the Bhairavi and the Damodar, the temple has atleast 200-500 goat sacrifices everyday. Astonishingly I didn't see a single fly there.Google Maps doesn't list or display the rivers. The damodar basically flows eastward from Ramgarh. The place blocked out by the pictures is Rajrappa (unlisted again)

For a better look at the pictures:

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Black from a coalfield

In 2005, the roof of a coal mine at Sondha ‘D’in Jharkhand collapsed leaving 14 workers dead. Four years on, I was presented with the opportunity to visit the mine thanks to my father’s visit for a Coalfield Workers Union meeting.
The day of my visit co-incided with a pit meeting at Sondha ‘D’where the workers union was filing a demand sheet to the project officer stationed there. As I entered the meeting space, the area secretary was talking about a demand for a provision of better medical facilities at the hospital and the need for a female doctor. The speakers voice was loud and energetic but the mood around was oddly subdued. CCL fixes the minimum monthly salary of workers at Rs.9000, but keeping in consideration the dangers they face the money seems meager. The only hospital in the area looked disheveled and bare, prompting some trade union leaders travelling with me to comment that a visit needs to be scheduled.
I was walking to the mine with a gentleman I’d met for the first time that morning. He was a senior worker for CCL at Bhurkunda and CMU Vice president of the sector. It was only 9 in the morning, but searingly hot. The monsoons haven’t come yet (officially we are struck by drought now). As we are walking towards the mine,I casually ask if we’re going to go inside.
“Aap aaye hain thoda galat time par. Abhi shift change hoga. Par haan andar jaana hai to chaliye.”
We reach the trolley stash yard. There are several workers just sitting there, chewing tobacco and staring at us. I’ve been watching them at this while I’ve been climbing. My guide points me towards the entrance and tells me to feel free to shoot as much as I can from the outside. He excuses himself, muttering something about giving the workers a piece of his mind. I ease my camera out and walk towards one of the trolleys. A loud voice disrupts the otherwise silent setting. Kishoreji is talking to the workers.
“Aap log udhar baithak laga hai. Gaye kyun nahin?”
“Arey! Kahe ka baithak babu, kuch hoga nahin….”
“Haan, bilkul sahi aur aap baithe rahne se jaroor hoga na. Jaaiye kya ho raha hai. Aaj Project officer ke paas demand sheet dene vale hain….”
The workers not attending the meeting have been barred from doing so by senior officers of the CCL. A cut in salary will be effected if they don’t comply. I drift off, in search of my pictures.

A little later, Kishore ji walks me through the area. He shows me the entrance to the mine where the accident occurred. He points out the workers walking in, and makes me take note of the fact that some of them do not have boots on, simply because they’ve worn out before time (a pair is supposed to last 6-8 months after which you are allotted a new set) and the worker can’t afford a new pair. I notice signs painted all around, most of them declaring the need for worker safety.
“Huh!” I snap my head back, and stare at him dumbfounded. I cannot believe I’ve missed out on something that could’ve made a good quote. It sounded like a good quote.
Sanjay Bhaiya is with me. He takes stock of the situation and quickly asks Kishore ji to repeat himself.
“Bharat abhi bhi Ghulam hai.”
We nod obediently.
“Chaley hain tarakki karne. Sansad mein vote ho raha hai nuclear deal par, aur coal sector mein abhi bhi samjhota nahi hai.”
Walking silently he points at a pulley used to run the trolleys in the middle of the tracks.
“Yeh pulley, bahut dhyan se rakhna padta hai. Acha se grease laga ke, vibration na ho taki.”
“Vibration hone se kya hoga?”
“Vibration hone se voh ujad jayega. Phir udte huye, mine ke andar speed se ghuse ga.”
Kishore ji pauses to spit out his tobacco.
“Mine ke andar jis bhi worker se uska bhet hoga uske bete ki naukri pukki!”
We smile wryly looking at each other. For the rest of the trip I’m left in silence. I decide to not go inside. Permissions are required (Kishore ji makes a face when I say this), and I don’t have a flash.

Pictures are up at

I've tried to give you a map of where exactly this is. Hazaribagh is the place where i spotted the Siddho-Kano statues. East is Giridih, my hometown.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

HALT 7/13

I think I should justify the naming of the blog. It takes us back a year, almost to the day.
I’m travelling by the local train to Madhupur, to catch the train the Kolkata and subsequently the train to Bangalore. This is my first journey by this train for years. Usually the journey is done by car.The monsoon has set in and has been bountiful, greenery all around. The train is a shuttle that makes the trip from Giridih to Madhupur 6 times a day. The compartment is crowded, no its filled up to the brim. Cycles have been hung up on the windows, bales of hay are strewn around the floor, milk cans are clanging from wherever they’re hanging, and people are stuffed together, held from spilling onto the track by the all powerful indian adhesive ‘adjust kariye’. The train stops at all the small stations en route Madhupur, most of them small villages where the Giridih workforce comprising of milkmen, labourers, masons, house helps stay. I peek out of the window trying to catch the name of the station, so far I know we’ve crossed Maheshmunda and Jagdishpur, the notable names in the small list. I can’t believe what it says. I rub my eyes and look again. The damn thing stubbornly refuses to change. Written in black in 3 languages on a yellow board, the board says HALT.
This happened a year ago, when I was a stranger in my own land, unaware of what it was like to be a Jharkhandi. That year though, I saw HALT only once, always wanting to see it again. I mentioned it to my mother, who said it was probably the name the Railways had given to the village, and the vernacular was definitely different. During the course of this conversation, we started talking about the unique things that are Jharkhand and how nothing has ever been documented or preserved. The conversation gathered heat and momentum and when it eventually did finish, I forgot all about it.

A month and a half back I was talking about HALT. It was then that my father later told me, that HALT was what it was supposed to be, a command for the train to stop at that point. It wasn’t the name of the station or any such misconception I may have gathered and was hopeful of sustaining. It was not a major station, junction or terminal. It was a halt for this train, and this train only. This revelation never deterred me, because when I sat on the train again and peeped my head out to watch the stations I noticed that there was another halt, but it was called, and specifically so , K.B.Sahay Halt. My station, the station that virtually started my journey into Jharkhand was not the same. It was Halt. Halt 7/13. 20 minutes from Giridih, for a 10 second stop.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Statues, neighbours and heroic struggles - Episode 2

In my second update for this title, we have a revolutionary who’s attained godly status in merit of his exploits in the freedom struggle. Birsa Munda or Birsa Bhagwan is probably the sole recognized figure from the state given due recognition across the country for his part in the freedom struggle. Bizarrely enough this man was born in 1875, long after the embers of the 1857 revolt were cooling off, to give way to a feeling of resignation towards their subjugated fate.His revolution is similar to Siddho- Kano’s with a similar set of objectives and ideals. Educated at a missionary school, Birsa Munda had been aware of the inferior treatment that his people suffered from a young age. The Permanent settlement Act decreed that all forest land was now the property of the British Empire. This resulted in Birsa Munda’s family losing all their possesions and being driven to the point of poverty. By his 23rd birthday, Birsa Munda had managed to put together a small army of his followers and attack and terrorise British strongholds in the Chotanagpur region. Interestingly, Birsa Munda wasn’t just a freedom fighter who rose against the empire, he was also a preacher who rose against Christianity, and its tax paying laws. It was these situations that prompted his rise from a mere rebel to that of a god-man, a healer and eventually god himself. His birthday appropriately coincides with the date of the formation of the state. Even today, Birsa Munda’s achievement in gathering all the tribal factions and getting them to fight against a common enemy is no mean achievement. He was eventually captured and put to death in 1900. Although his revolution came after 1857 and was suppressed and finally came to an end by the turn of the century, it resulted in a shift in the East India Company’s handling of the Chotanagpur region. Today Birsa Munda is commemorated all across Jharkhand, to the pint where almost everything of note is named after him (airports, stadiums, universities and the like). Worshipped as a God, revered as a revolutionary, and sometimes even called a bandit who happened to be in the right place at the right time, Birsa Munda is an essential part of Jharkhand’s history in the freedom movement and its folklore. This homage to the man was at Charhi, a small town in the Hazaribagh district.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

conversing in the car again

“Babu idhar sab gaon bahut rangbaaj hai! Hum log ka Mangrodih ab sudhar gaya hai!”
Driving to Rajrappa today. I have a different companion this time though. Sanjay Bhaiya comes from the village of Mangrodih, very close to where I live. I’m better informed now, having devoured a book on the state titled Inside Jharkhand. I can willingly and knowledgably enter into such discussions.
“Haan Sanjay Bhaiya! Aap ko pata hai idhar rehne vala sab bhumiar jaat ka hai. Un log naturally thoda ladaku hai.”
“Ek baat bataiye, Vaibhav Babu, Yeh Bhumiar log kahan se aaya. Saala in log jaat mein kahin fit nahin hota hai!”
Perplexed caught in a corner, with my tail between my legs I look left to see my dad smiling at me casually.
“Bataiye! I know you know the answer.” I grin at him.
“Jab Buddha ka dharam idhar Bihar , us samay toh Jharkhand Bihar sab ek tha… toh jab who idhar aaya na, toh bahut log dharam badalne lage.”
He stops, rolls down the window and continues.
“yehi, bahut din chala. Phir Shankaracharya aaye, aur Buddha ko idhar se bhagaya gaya. Iske baad jo bhi log convert kiye, they were asked to convert back.”
“Now when the reverse process was on, the Shudras went back to being the Shudras, similiarly the kshatriyas and the vaishyas fit into the ladder. Rahi baat Brahmin ki. Toh, yeh toh vaapas fit nahi ho sakta tha. They had quit Hinduism once, being brahmins so they couldn’t be allowed back into the fold like they were. Toh ek naya jaat banaya gaya. Who tha Bhumiar, fitting between the brahmins and the kshatriyas.”
“Toh yeh Bhumiar log aur Maithil Brahmin matlab ek hi hua?”
“haan! Yeh kaise pata chalta hai maloom?”
“Maithil ka brahmin ke liye jo bola jaata hai, wahi cheez idhar Bhumiar ke liye bola jaata hain.”
“what’s that?” I prod my father.
“Bolte hain… Agar raat ko ek Bhumiar aur ek saap mil jaye toh pehle Bhumiar se nipat lo. Saap toh dekha jaega.”
(If you ever encounter a snake and a Bhumiar at night, you should always deal and do away with the Bhumiar. The snake can wait for later.)
This is followed by laughter.
“Lekin Babu, aaj kal bhi gaon mein jaat ut bahut dekhta hai. Hamara shaadi hi le lijiye. Sab gothra (family tree) milaya jaat hai dekhta hai ki koi jaat ke bahar shaadi kiya ya nahin. Isliye toh humara shaadi itne door par hua hai.”
His wife’s village is about 90-95 kms from Mangrodih in a Naxal infested belt. I’m supposed to lunch there tomorrow.
“par Sanjay Bhaiya! Yeh sab jaat ka log toh jab kaam karne jaata hoga toh kuch toh niyam todna padta hoga.”
“haan babu! Jab sab city bombay, calcutta jaata hai toh ghar ka safai ka kaam, bartan dhona, kapda dhona. Bhumiar ho ya harijan sab karta hain.”
“Ab log padne lagey hain toh yeh samajik rukavat sab khatam ho raha hai. Acha hoga!”

Friday, July 24, 2009

Bol Bum

The onset of the monsoon witnesses one of the biggest events of the Hindu calendar, one that is closely linked to Jharkhand. The Shravan Mela. Thousands of Shiva devotees called ‘Kanvariyaas’descend upon the state from all parts of the country. Before the outset of the project, I had always dreaded having to go for such an occasion. Crowds, Sweat, Pushing mobs, Dirt and uninhibited blind devotion are some of the things that would keep me away. My visit though was a minor surprise. Apart from the regular doses of religious fanaticism that one witnesses in such a space, there were some notable sighters.
The Sharavan Mela pilgrimage is like a marathon. Thousands, men women alike collect Ganga water at Sultanganj and walk the 105 kms to Deograh to offer it at the Baidyanath Dham at Deogarh. Bol Bum is the chant used by the pilgrims.Groups of pilgrims walk the distance barefoot. Some groups, most notably the Dak Bum and the Krishna Bum (a group from Nepal) do thejourney within 24 hours. The Dak Bum does the walk within 16 hours (average). The rumoured fastest this year was a Nepali girl who did the distance in 10 straight hours. Quite the marathon. Right outside the temple is a medical centre which tends to injured feet. Appropriately placed too. The myth behind the festival is an interesting one too. I don’t want to hurry it up here. It has Ravana in it!
The day I was at Deogarh, the estimated crowd was over 2 lakhs. This was Tuesday, one of the calmer days. Monday, had ended with a lathi charge and 70 Kanvariyas injured. The atmosphere around the area was tense. Atleast in the police camp, which is where I sat waiting for my escort and close childhood friend Raju bhaiya.
Raju Bhaiya appears smartly dressed in the uniform minus the boots. He takes one look at me, my orange shirt (co-incidental) and orders a change.
“You’ll never be able to get in wearing that!”
“Why? Isn’t this supposed to be the colour of the season?” I asked grinning widely.
“That’s all fine. But if you want to get inside the temple today, you’ll be better off in civilian clothing.” He grins back
“There was a lathi charge yesterday?”I ask him waving the hindi paper at him.
“Arey! Don’t ask yaar. These bloody bol bums. Some of these guys just don’t listen.”He mumbles away about a magistrate who got hit by a pilgrim who in turn got beaten by a constable. The constable was later beaten up by a mob (“Dhar liya”). In retaliation the police force is deputed at the area and a riot ensues. I drift off the conversation and soak in the crowd and the atmosphere. Thousands of pilgrims are taking a dip in the lake before going to take their place in the 15km long queue. I can see the two temples. One for Shiva and the other Parvati. The area around the temple is filled with people, all dressed in saffron. Raju Bhaiya suddenly pokes me.
“All this is the Panda’s fault.”
(Panda refers to the pandits in the temple)
“Huh! These people bathing!”
“Tsk! Arey, if those fellows didn’t accept bribes and shovel people in the temple breaking the queue none of this would happen.”
“Oh! But I’ll be breaking the queue too today.”
“Arey! Firstly you’re not here for darshan. Take that orange shirt off. And second you haven’t bribed me yet.”
“Is Deograh always like this?”
“Haha. Thankfully not.”
Come July and sleepy Deogarh is transformed into a sweating, fanatic horde, of human beings. Hinduism descends in full force and normal life is lost. Maybe it isn’t. As displayed by the sweet shops that make enormous profits everyday. Most of the shops are establishments that are open only this time of the year. Raju Bhaiya reckons they sit and count the cash they raked in for the next 11 months.

All around Deoghar during this time, Bum – another name for Shiva- is sprinkled liberally in the use of the vernacular. “Paani Bum!” “Khana Bum!” “Side dena Bum!” are phrases you’re not supposed to raise eyebrows at. Vrinadavan does something similar too. They add Radhe-Radhe to everything. But adding a ‘Bum’ is stepping over the line. Not to mention hilarious, especially when you ask someone the way to the temple and the reply swings between “Aage se right mein milega Bum !” to “Mujhe nahi maloom kahan hain Bum!” . As with most occasions related to the God of Destruction, this one too prohibits the sale and consumption of alcohol before the ‘darshan’. The pilgrims don’t consider this a disadvantage though. Ganja and Bhang come at reduced prices, and at any rate are considered ‘healthy’by most who partake in it.

The pictures are up. Have your say.

I still haven't found a good way for commenting on the pictures.Any suggestions? Till I do so please post them up here.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Are you smarter than a grass grazer?


Take a guess.100 bucks and the commodity for the correct answer. Answers posted as comments will be accepted. Cheers.

A 'Hatia' is held every week in the towns, encouraging the rural population to come in and buy or sell commodities. Usually its packed with everything from spices to cows and buffaloes, vegetables and spades. This week's was a bit tame thanks to an incessant half a day of rain.
Once I managed to venture in, I was prompltly confronted and asked about the newspaper I worked for. All things said and done, I've managed to update a selection of the pictures.

Have a look

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Of barriers new and old

Across our country there is a lot of talk of barriers. Barriers of caste, religious barriers, economic barriers, cultural barriers, gender barriers, language barriers and the most recently high profile sexual barriers. Modern day Jharkhand’s vote bank consists majorly of the adivasis (the tribal population) and the Mahtos. The Mahtos are a caste which branch out into several different factions of their own. Disputes are aplenty and infighting is a must. Remids me of the corsicans in an Asterix story. It was the combination of this vote bank that led to the formation of Jharkhand. In the rural, untamed, wild jungles of Jharkhand barriers are of a different kind.
I encountered a barrier today. One of the physical kind. The kind that goes up to let your car pass and when down asks you to stay put. A harmless looking bamboo tied to a string is what disrupts the otherwise peaceful and extraordinarily scenic drive from Dhanbad to Giridih.

This barrier stands at Taratand, where a police convoy guides you till Mohanpur. Between Taratand and Mohanpur is a stretch of forest, extradorinarily great to breathe around in the morning, that is home to the Naxals. The area is notorious for robberies, hijacks, kidnappings and highway dacoitery. In the last few weeks, there have been several accounts of a marriage party having been looted, a minibus being blown up and most amusing is that of the Home Guard Office not too far from where I live being ransacked and its arsenal emptied.

The convoy has been made stronger. Earlier it consisted of a few policemen hitching rides with the waiting vehicles. An armoured car has been arranged. One guides the vehicles across both ways and another is constantly patrolling the area. The stretch itself is only about 10 kms. No cause for concern there.I’ve seen this since I was a kid. It’s routine. You always try and reach Taratand before dusk. If not you have to wait for the first convoy. At 9. We missed the 9 o’clock that day. Instead we sat there till 11 eating litti and chokha. More about that, when we talk of cuisine.

Friday, July 17, 2009

A marriage that took 4 years

Let me tell you a little bit about Siraj. Born in a very large impoverished muslim family, he came to an aunt’s house as a little kid. His mother was a house help and little Siraj was a good companion for all the boys of the house. I remember going there in the evenings and playing football every evening. Sometimes in the summers he used to take my aunt’s son and me to a mango orchard nearby. We never really ate too many mangoes but it was an enjoyable experience anyway. We always believed he knew the place’s owner. Obviously not. One summer we were caught sitting there and my aunt was duly informed. All I remember of the episode is a lot of shouting and screaming, most directed at Siraj and some towards her son.
Then I came back from boarding school one summer and Siraj was gone. I never paid too much attention to it. Theirs was a huge joint family and the servants were often attached to a small part of it. He probably moved when they left for Patna. My aunt's son and I busied ourselves playing football videogames now and gradually forgot about him. I have to admit, I never asked for him, although a month later I overheard my mother talking about how he was about to be married. That put rest to any doubts I’d had about him running away.
The next time I met Siraj, he’d sprouted a beard. He insisted it was deliberate, but I was of the opinion that it was there due to nature’s insistence. We nodded at each other and shook hands. After the regular greetings asking of each other’s health, I ventured to ask him where he’d been. He grinned widely.
“I’d gone to get married, Vaibhav!”
“4 years you were getting married?”
“A lot of things happened in between…. I was…..”
I never got to hear about what happened “beech”mein. He was called inside the house for some errand and turbulent teenager that I was, I quickly forgot about it and never mentioned it again.
That was 8 years ago. Jharkhand was one year old. I was 14, and Siraj in his early 20s. We’ve had a lot of polite encounters since, nothing more than a few words. The ducks changed all that. Now that I’d provided him with a reason to laugh at me, I could freely converse with him again.
We were sitting in the verandah again. Darkness has descended and he’s got some free time which he spends noisily sipping tea.
(The following conversation has been translated into English)
“Siraj!You’ve left for a long time to get married.”
“Haha! To get married. I was gone for 4 years Vaibhav. I did a lot of things.”
“What things?”
“I went to jail for one….”
“Jail! Hahaha… caught for thievery?”
Sera looks at me quizzically.
“Vaibhav! You really don’t know too much do you? You should sit and watch these ducks man. Maybe they’ll do it again.”
Sera got up and started to leave. At the door he stopped.
“I had joined the AJSU. Got caught in Gumla for provoking a riot. Two years I was in jail. Babu got me released when Jharkhand was formed.
AJSU. The All Jharkhand Students Union. Founded in 1986, the organization was responsible for changing the way agitations were held for the demand of a separate state. Disillusioned by the infighting and turmoil in previous Jharkhand political parties the AJSU were responsible for more militant agitations in Jharkhand in lieu of the demand for a separate state. By the 90s though aligned with the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha the AJSU were contesting elections under JMM banner.
A few days later Siraj was the one who got my cup of tea. Better armed, more knowledgable and in the mood for a conversation, I picked up from where we’d left off. Although cagey about talking to me after our previous debacle, Siraj told me that he’d joined the Jharkhand Qaumi Tahrik as a party worker on the insistence of some of his friends. The JQT was a one of the first organizations to voice the demand for a separate state. Riding on the popularity of the AJSU, they blended into the same during the time of the protests. It was during one of these protests at Gumla during a lathi charge that Siraj had been arrested and put in jail labelled a ‘terrorist’.

I asked him how he hadn’t been released sooner. Most captured during the riot were released on bail or on dropped charges.
Slowly Siraj got up. He picked up my empty cup and looked at me.
“A thousand people must have been put in jail that day. The people who got released were all, big shots in the party. We were just workers. Truthfully, we had been told to react to violence with violence. So, we suffered. You could say I got what I deserved. Anyway, all that is done now. Jharkhand will soon be 9 years old. A lot has happened since, but not much has changed. Our lives are pretty much the same.”
He walked off. I looked out into the evening, trying to think about all the things that had happened. I tried to piece together our conversation, wondering what I had missed. It was only when the azaan started that I realized what Siraj had meant.

Thursday, July 16, 2009


In retrospect Siddho- Kanno’s revoltion does not seem as much a revolt against the system as it seems like a push to regain a society’s identity. The revolution was a failure, the British forces massacaring the Santhal troops into submission. Life goes back to normal till a certain soldier in Barrackpore decides to not chew on a cartridge. Jharkhand’s revolution is brushed aside as an aberration and a century later modern India is ushered into a world of light and freedom stroked by midnight and her gentle hour.

Come the dawn of a new millennium and Jharkhand is formed amidst great confusion. State formed. check. Government installed. Check. Formation day declared as holiday. Check. School syllabuses revamped. Check. Statues installed. Check. Identity formed.
Identity formed

“Tell me Vaibhav ! Where are u from?”
Ranchi. Actually its a small town called...
“Hmmm...... Ranchi. Thats in Chattisgarh right!”

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The first mass movement in Asia

30th June 1855
The boy sticks his head out of the bush and looks ahead, careful not to make any noise. The British troops are standing at the bottom of the hill showing no sign or eagerness to move up into the dense forests. Well, why would they? Having suffered numerous losses in the unknown interior the cowards now want to stick back and wait for us to attack first. Slowly creeping backwards he rushes back to the rebel army’s gathering point.

There is a stillness in the air, Chand notices watching the warriors around him sharpening their arrows, tightening bow strings, the nervous ones twitching their heads at the slightest sound.”He watches as the last messenger boy runs in to tell them that the Goras were waiting at the foothills. Chand watches as his brother’s face erupts with delight. The gentle, caring face transformed into a mask for passion, and vengeance. Lifting his bow, the massive frame rises and bellows their war chant with enough power to cause the birds on the trees to take flight. His army of santhal warriors responds with equal vigour.

“Kanho!Chand! Bhairon!Mimai!”

The three brothers shouted back in unison. Chand looked around trying to find Mimai Manjhi’s face in the crowd. He could have sworn they had started off from the village together.

The British officer in charge of the war station at the foot of the hill barely looked up as he heard the war cry. Carefully placing his tea cup back on the table, He rose dusting himself before he got out of the tent. The commander and the captains of the forces had made themselves available to him at the entrance.
“I want no soldier to load bullets for the first rounds of fire. Fire blanks at them .Wait for the rebels to come to the foothill. Once they’re within our sights, it should be easy picking. Use the cannons, the elephants, all that we can. No quarter to be given to any survivors.”

They descend down the slope, raining arrows on the company’s soldiers. Known for their accuracy and power the arrows rip through bodies leaving them mutilated, scarred or dead. In retaliation the troops fire their cannons and their guns, weapons the Santhals have never encountered before. They suffer no injuries. Its as if a shield is thrown between them and their oppressors. Siddho stops in his tracks, stunned by this development. He waits and watches the troops aim and fire again. Nothing. Not one rebel falls.
“Thakur is watching over us today. Nothing will stop us from driving these dogs back to their kennels.”

Chand watches in disbelief at the British troops falling at their arrows. He never blindly believed in God’s will and his mission, but watching this miracle he couldn’t conceal his admiration for the almighty. With a loud yell he raced down towards the enemy soldiers.

Siddho raced down shooting all the while, but kept his eyes wide open for any suspicious movement from the British. They were cunning, he had admitted to himself a while ago. He watched as they went through the routine again. Dropping their guns, pulling a lever on the side, lift it up and fire. Wait a minute. They had done something different this time. They hadn’t been firing bullets all this while. Suddenly Siddho realised what had transpired. It was too late now. They were going to be butchered, massacred. Every last one of them.

Chand was one of the first to reach the bottom of the hill. Pumped by the adrenaline that war generates in soldiers he had failed to notice the warriors falling all around him. And then the first bullet struck him. He had never experienced such a sensation. It was as if the wind had been knocked out of his body and yet somehow managed to pass through him. He was close enough to a British soldier to use his spear now, a few more paces. He felt the bullet go through him again and again. Three times before he fell to the ground.

Two days later after the soldiers had pillaged, burnt and destroyed all the villages in the area, they gave up their search for Siddho. A scout was sent with a message for the Governor in Calcutta telling him of their triumph. The Governor’s secretary filed the letters away, dispatching orders for the capture and execution of the leader.


Siddho and Kanno managed to escape the battle commonly known as the Santhal Hul. Chand and Bhairon were killed. Betrayed by Mimai Manjhi Siddho was finally captured and publicly hanged in Panchkathia on the 7th of December 1855. Kanho managed to avoid capture and was influential in spreading the revolt towards Bihar and Bengal. Eventually though he was located and executed in February of 1856.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Siddho-Kano (the promised episode)

For Siddho Murmu, revolt and violence was the last form of resistance. Born to a Santhal family in the earlier half of the nineteenth century, he was the first child of the family. Three more were to follow him. In a time when the zaminadari act was working like a well oiled machine, the four brothers Siddho, Kanno, Chand and Bhairon were born of lineage that were the sufferers of the system.
Santhals naturally attached to their land, were inhabitants of the area of Northern Jharkhand which falls outside of the infertile land of the Chotanagpur plateau. Christened the Santhal Pargana, northern Jharkhand has been the agricultural haven of the region for centuries. During the British rule, due to the introduction of the zamindari act and permanent settlement in the area the indigenous population were driven from being autonomous owners and farmers to mere labourers, heavily in debt most of the time.
The archives present us with enough material to believe that the revolt didn’t start off abruptly, but was in fact caused by the indifference shown by the colonials towards the Santhal protests. Petitions and letters to several members of the bureaucracy passed back and forth with no result.
Such was the background Siddho and Kano found themselves growing up in. Religion has always been a old method of uniting people towards a revolt in our country and Siddho – Kanno were no different. The extermination of the British from India was preached as a mission of god. Leads us to wonder how different god’s missions are nowadays. The big fellow has lost his way in today’s mesmerising and complex world.

Picture of The Jharkhand Telegraph 12 May 2009

Briefly Jharkand

Most of you probably don’t know what Jharkhand looks like let alone the places in it so let me get on with the history- geography a bit. Situated below Bihar and West of Bengal (funny eh!), Jharkhand includes the region commonly known as the Chotanagpur plateau, famous for its mineral wealth, majorly in the form of coal and iron ore deposits. Common sense tells us that agriculture is difficult to practice in the area. Northern Jharkhand though has no such worries. The area referred to as the Santhal Pargana is the food belt of the state. Pre-independence Jharkhand existed as Chotanagpur and Palamu, both independent in territory required to pay tribute to the Mughal Emperor. They held their own courts, maintained an independent army and administered their own form of justice. When the ‘Diwani’ of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa was handed to the East India Company, they comfortably assumed Chotanagpur and Palamu were liable to pay revenue to the company. A society lost its identity and a state was completely obliterated off the map. It’s all been downhill since.

Monday, July 13, 2009

....king ducks

It was a hot, humid afternoon typical of most places in Jharkhand and I’ve been sitting in the veranda for a while now coaxing a cup of tea down my throat. Extremely still and lazy, the afternoon lull has hit everything around. The place I sit overlooks an open area that is home to cows, ducks, chickens and dogs, most of them using the afternoon lull as an excuse for their lethargy. As I sat watching, a pair of ducks start racing around in front of me, one chasing the other. The chaser is the bigger of the two, and eventually succeeds in catching the other and pins it to the floor with its beak. It hoists itself on top, raises one leg and then it happens, its penis appears, a bright, wet pink thing as long as a thumbnail. The chap flaps his tail feathers for a while and then tumbles off, a baffled look on its face. I had had no idea ducks had penises and vaginas.
I happen to look up and see Siraj standing in the doorway watching me. He starts laughing.
“Tum toh film jaise dekh rahe ho yaar vaibhav. Pehle kabhi nahin dekha hai kya.”
“No!” I shake my head.
The laughter grew louder and I try shrugging my embarrassment and join in. He takes my cup and leaves still laughing his head off.
When I’m leaving every worker in the house has a smirk on their face as they cross me.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

idle talk

I still haven’t been able to figure why Chandra Bhan Singh calls me ‘babu’. Towering over me at 6 and a half feet, with bulk to match, he is affectionately called Saral by everyone. Saral directly translates into nimble, and I can promise you he is anything but nimble. For no fault of his whatsoever. Saral bhaiya is complaining about a sudden loss in his appetite. He’s been eating 12 mangoes in one sitting but doesn’t feel hungry for ‘food’. Whatever that means.
We pass a black Mahindra classic. Everyone in the car turns to look at it till it disappears.
“Babu! Jharkhandi log ghoda bandook pata nahin kahe nahin rakte hai. Bihar mein aadmi ke paas paisa aane se bandook, ghoda dhain dhain aata hain. Jharkhand mein aisa nahin hai.”
I forgot to mention. Three guys at the back of the jeeps were carrying guns. One was definitely as ancient as a scottish blunderbuss.
“Saral! jharkhandi log shant swabhav ke hain. Kahan saala jharkhandi bandook kharidne jaaega, khana milna mushkil hain.”
“Shaant swabhav! Naxalwadi toh har jungle mein ghusa hua hai appa!”
“Oho! Naxals are a different people altogether.”
“Maloom hain babu? Burhi ke paas kuch saal pehle, force gaya tha gaon mein, nikaal ne. Tabri sarson ka kheti chal raha tha aur sab log fasal nikal rahe the.”
“sarson ka kheti! Jharkhand mein.”
“Haan! Burhi to lagbhag Bihar hi maan lijiye naa! Hajipur chapra se jada door nahi hai.”
“Toh inlog sab kya kiya ki sarson ka fasal utha liya aur force ke naak ke niche se hi nikal gaya. Sab bhaag giya.”
A roaring laughter follows the tale
“Haan! Us samay they didn’t trouble the villagers. Tab unlog sach mein people’s movement tha.”
“Hmmm... now ?”
“Now what? Now they’re terrorists.”

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Statues, Neighbours and heroic struggles.

There’s been a lot of talk about mishandling of government funds, corruption and some statues creating trouble in our neighbouring state’s public parks. Recent reports suggest that the SC has washed their hands off this citing that if the assembly had passed such orders there was no question of there being any interference from them. Need I point out that the statues are of Mayawati herself. In all this hullabaloo surrounding the statues people wonder why Kanshi Ram hasn’t been honoured with the same.
Jharkhand isn’t short of heroes to make statues of, I noticed today(contrary to ignorant opinion). Most of them are recognized for their contribution to the freedom struggle. Hazaribag pays tribute to two of the first ones to revolt against the British, Siddho and Kano. I remember Jug Suraiya writing for the Times of India in the Subverse section about how statues are more derogatory than respectful to the people they are erected in the memory of. Something on those lines anyway.
I’m sure Siddho-Kano will be happy to know they are still revered if not remembered today. More about them in the next episode.

Friday, July 10, 2009

conversations in the car


We’re driving down to Ranchi thorugh an alternate less used route. The road is full of potholes (a reason why no one uses it) and the climb is steep. A faint drizzle has started. There are fields on both sides. Beautiful green, lush fields, small hamlets (very british!) and small hills. I try sticking my head out of the window expecting a nice breeze to greet me and encounter thewindow glass on the way. Everyone in the car suddenly notices my presence. I massage my forehead embarrassed.
“Haan Appa!”
“Dekho! Jharkhand dekh rahe ho.”
“Tab se toh dekh rahe hain appa! Suddenly aap ko yaad aaya.”
“Arrey! Tab se toh tum aur jharkhand dono so rahey the.”
“Kahan Raghavan babu! Bangalore toh aurho sundar hain.”
My father and me smile wryly at each other.
Remind me why I’m doing this project again.


“Tell me. Why have I heard of Daltanganj.”
“Manne ki! What do you mean ‘why have I heard of it?’ You just saw a signboard.”
“Arrey! What is it famous for?”
A chorus of voices reply back
“Poverty, injustice, feudalism, tribal exploitation. Aur kya !”
The chorus is followed by laughter.
I am in a car with a couple of my dad’s friends driving back home after a nostalgic ‘bachelor’ dinner. It’s been an interesting evening, where the theme of discussion has been my sudden interest in Jharkhand, frequently punctuated by all things 70s.
“Feudalism! Matlab. Still existent?”
“Ummm..... not anymore I think.”
“Ek Mahuar jaat tha. They used to whip the indigineous tribes and treat them as slaves.