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.