March 25, 2015

Kutch nahi dekha toh kuch nahin dekha!

As we drive towards the Great Rann of Kutch, we see miles and miles of flat land, light brown, with either no plants or with a few acacia plants. 

The colours are essentially brown, dull green and the grey of the road, interrupted by mirages. 

Sitting here at the edge of the Rann, I am amazed at yet another wonder of nature. Vast and blazing white, it gives me an other-planetary feeling. The ground is hard salt. Waves and waves of it. I tasted it out of curiosity and yes, it is salt alright! 

We walk about just for the experience. Ragini and I could be the only two people in the whole world!

It is only when tourists come that there is noise. Otherwise it is as quiet as quiet itself. 
Surely at the other end, one will just drop off the earth? To think that this extends up to Pakistan! 7000 sq km odd. 

I need to find out why and how the Rann happened. 

Absorbed in our thoughts, we wait for the sunset... 

The ground is tough and hard salt. I looked around for a twig so I could dig and
see what's beneath! But there is nothing there.
A walk or a camel cart takes people on the 1.5 km road that marks the end of colour.
After that it is just a white stretch.
Sunset and full moon rise are what tourists wait to see.
The land is so flat that the sun seems to suddenly dip, and disappears.
Kutch is not like any other place I have seen before. It is vast - bigger than the state of Kerala and a little smaller than the state of Punjab. Yet, Kutch is only a district in Gujarat. We were told that they could not ask for statehood because of the low population. 

We saw only two major crops on our many drives from one village to another the three days we were there - cotton and castor. There were mango orchards that grow the kesar variety of mango. Flat open stretches of nothingness, sometimes dotted with acacia bushes. The land is extremely dry. It does not rain much, the villages are far from one another, and there is no such thing as outskirts with industries and engineering colleges as we see in other places. 

On our drive from Devpur to Mandvi, a seaside town, we suddenly came upon two huge herds of camels! And they were eating thorny acacias. Camel milk is in demand, said our driver Satu Bha. Camel tail braids are in fashion, said Ragini! 
And I wanted to bring back this cute little 5-day old.
Among the other fauna we saw were painted flamingoes, pelicans and cranes.
The flamingoes were lovely, but seemed shy and kept moving away if we went closer for a better shot. 
This was at Mandvi which is also known for its ship building yard. These ships are build by hand, and are apparently bought by Arab merchants.   

I simply loved the sight and sound of migratory cranes that fly home noisily at dusk, 
making interesting patterns in the sky, making the city dweller think it is smoke!
(Please view full size) 
Mandvi also has the Vijay Vilas Palace, which to me seemed like a smaller version of the Baroda palace that I visited some years back. I liked the acres of greenery all around it. Very unlike the normal landscape of those parts. 
Here you see one of the terraces with finely carved arches.

This palace has the typical Kutchi architecture, but lies in ruins. Perhaps after the 2001 earthquake.  This is opposite the Prag Mahal palace in Bhuj, which strangely, has Italian architecture, and you momentarily wonder if you are in Europe! 
As much as Kutch is not about colour, it is also about the brightest hues created by the artists who are there in every village. This is an intricate tie and dye from Bhadali. 
We also saw, for the first time, a tie and die called Shibori and 
another made using a process called Clamp dye.


A craftsman doing Ajrakh (block printing)
Kutch is also about skilled and beautiful tribal women.
If only they knew how special they were!
A rude but very real reminder of the 2001 earthquake. 
There were hundreds of sparrows everywhere we went (= happiness!). This family lived opposite the room we stayed in and kept flying in and out of our room, much to my delight, reminding me of my childhood! 
And finally, the haveli we stayed in - a home stay run by the gracious Jadeja royal family,
who also run The White Eagles School in their compound. 
What's more, one can also volunteer to work there on short term assignments.
A dream begins there...!

Kutch is also Lagaan land, and we could recognise the landscape and the palace scenes we saw in the movie! There were also many temples on hills with stairs leading up to them. On one drive we also saw three teams seriously playing cricket in blazing hot sun...after all, it is World Cup time!  

We spent just three days in Kutch and I now know how much more there is to see and experience. Somehow Kutch escaped all 'development' as defined by the 21st century, yet, or maybe because of this, there are plenty of friendly smiles, calm, acceptance and resilience.  

*All photos copyright Sadhana Ramchander

March 10, 2015

A salute to men

It is my belief that there are good people and bad people everywhere in the world. There are kind people, there are cruel people; there are geniuses, there are murderers; there are intelligent  people, there are dumb people; there are compassionate people and there are rapists. Just shuffle them all up, sprinkle them on the Earth, and draw continents and countries.

I was born in India, and have now journeyed more than half a life time in this beautiful country. My mother has seen about 80 summers, and before her, my grandmother lived her life here. And then there are my aunts, cousins, friends from school, college and work places, and those I met later in life. And all of us have met many boys and men along our journey - fathers, brothers, uncles, friends, friends' husbands, our teachers, doctors, professors. Some have influenced our thinking, some we fell for and married, some we admire and hold in high esteem, some chauvinists we tolerate and some we wished we had never met - like anywhere in the world. And then there are others who helped make our lives easier -  the milkman, the watchman, the dhobhi, that respectful electrician, the autorickshaw and cab drivers, the vegetable sellers and the tailors and those simple men on the road who helped when the scooter wouldn't start...all have been wonderful human beings.

My father is the first person I adored, and who I thought (when I was very young) was taller than everyone else in the world! He spun wonderful tales, and showed me the good things life has to offer, at the same time, teaching me to be tolerant of imperfections. I distinctly remember my 13-year old brother standing between me and a stranger in the queue at Tirupati, trying to protect me from a suspected bad touch. I can never forget the compassionate nature of my maternal uncle who was my friend, philosopher and guide. I have been fortunate to find a husband who is kind and understanding. And I have cousins and friends - lawyers and doctors, writers and sportsmen, artists and activists, engineers and actors, bankers and teachers - all very honourable men.

As for strangers in big bad India - I remember the day I was trying to cross a very busy road at Lakdikapul. I was standing there, terrified to put one step forward when a stranger graciously helped me cross the road, telling me not to be afraid! Then there was the time when four of us girls went off on a trip by ourselves in a hired car. Yakub, the driver, took on the role of the protective big brother, and took care of us everywhere we went, even as we giggled and found it extremely funny that he should don this role! And then another friend and I, along with my daughter and cousin went to a palatial haveli of an ex-Prince in Gujarat, and had chai in the garden with the prince and a few other men, oblivious of how far out of the nearest town we were, and how lonely our surroundings were.

Today, I want to pause for a moment and salute all these wonderful men I know and have known in my life. Thank you, dear brothers, FB friends and fellow Indians, for being who you are, and for making me believe that the world is indeed a great place to be.

This too is India and I am also India's daughter. 

March 03, 2015

Thank you, Paruchuri Hanumantha Rao garu

Hyderabad and the world of printing owes a lot to Paruchuri Hanumantha Rao garu, who passed away yesterday evening. He was the person who started Pragati Offset in Lakdikapul more than 50 years back. The printing press grew from strength to strength over the years, and is now one of the best in the world.

We visit Pragati regularly because our publications are printed there, and have often seen the calm and dignified Hanumatha Rao garu there. He is a gentleman one wants to spontaneously respect.

A little background: Paruchuri Hanumantha Rao was born on 16 January 1924 in Krishna District. He joined Visalaandhra as a journalist and worked at Chennai.  He was a dedicated communist and activist. Later he joined Sarathi Cine Studios as a Manager and also played small roles in movies. He set up a small printing press in 1962 with a single treadle press and three workers. 

The first big order that came his way was the 1973 voters list. After this order, he bought his first offset press, a second hand single color OM-4 Russian Offset Press. Then with the help of his sons Narendra and Mahendra, Pragati became one of the best presses in Asia and the world. Now his grandchildren - Harsha, Hemant and Swati - also work there, and along with many other dedicated staff, Team Pragati is one busy, happy family, churning out high-quality products year after year.

For us, Pragati is a magical place and is a synonym for efficiency and  professionalism. We have been part of Pragati's growth and achievements over the years, and are happy to be associated with this family known for their humility and high values. 

We will miss you, Hanumantha Rao garu. Thank you for Pragati. 

Read the inspiring story of P Hanumantha Rao's life in his own words here.