Monday, March 28, 2011

Dekha Ek Khwab To Yeh Silsile Hue

It is the start of a new week and true to form I am standing in front of Arhaan's school; mumbling excuses about how The Toddler will not be attending school. Again. I hope there is some truth to children learning more from the School of Life . And there are signs that he is picking up good habits. Case in Point, Exhibit A. 
It is important to be hydrated and sun wise when travelling
So it is, 6am, and I am still in bed. And The Toddler is running around screaming how I will be left behind, what with the driver at the door already. His father has trained him well, I groan to myself. My dragging my feet aside, we do make it out of the house on time, and proceed towards Kurigram (the place does exist as I keep on telling people, with its own Wikipedia page and all).
We pass the traffic cesspool that is Tangail, cross the Bangbandhu Bridge across the Jamuna (ah, this is part of the world which is truly magical. Bangladeshi nationals go to sleep one night and wake up as Indian citizens with ration cards and all the other side of the river; the very he-man Brahamputra crosses the border,  there is a costume change and voila! is now the comely Jamuna) and make a stop at a small village where  The Toddler was amongst the first to walk over a newly constructed bamboo bridge.

Dear Ma'am, I cannot attend school today as I have to inaugurate a bridge

We met weavers at work, all men, as you know it involves wheels and is such mechanized work. 
But it did make for a  beautiful Photo Is Our Motto opportunity. With the Tana Bana
 and the colorful threads put out to dry.

and the Dont Look Now but I think we are being photographed moments.

In Kurigram we were put up in the Circuit House which meant that it involved putting in three requisition forms to exchange Waste Paper Basket A for Waste Paper Basket B and moving bed from point C to point D. One night when our hot water was on the blink, and there were three men tinkering with the pipes I did suggest giving Arhaan a bath in one of the unoccupied rooms, but the manager just threw up his hands in protest and started weeping about all the paperwork involved.

Mornings while the man worked, the Toddler and I would walk around the neighbourhood .  Memories of the time in What Katy Did Next when Elsie and Joanna go to the "country" and are bored to tears with the lack of country. We tried watching a group of kids play a cricket match and it says something about the quality of the cricket played that day that the toddler was pinching me , hissing Pliss Get Up after one over. We then spied on school kids preparing for the March 26th march past, and the toddler was itching to participate (considering Katrina has been replaced at meal times by my screaming Parade, About Turn, Pa-raade Open Mouth, Parade Peechey Murr). I wanted to push the PT Master out of the way and teach the kids to salute properly, (we are OCD this way) but then thought about the politics of a Pakistani butting her head in and the kids looking at me all"ab yeh bhi you have to teach us, thankyou for the memories and independence,now ok tata thanks bye".

At the end of two days we could conclude that the local economy involves filling out forms in triplicate, slowing down time, and sweeping leaves. Oh they were positively meerkats this way, one taking a break for three to step in. Kurigram will go down in history books as the time Arhaan made it to the bathroom two times in a row and I begged them to include it in their guidebook but it didnt happen and the Toddler went back to pampers in a huff.

To give the local populace a break from picking up and sweeping leaves, the administration did get the good citizens to dig a 22 acre lake, the toddler took one look and went back to sleep in the car which gave The Man and me an opportunity to take a walk unaccompanied for the first time in 25 months, and the picnickers an excuse to crowd around the car and watch the child sleep. Pretty place and I wish we had discovered it a bit earlier.

The local community summoned up a scrawny cow to amuse the kid, a couple of sheep too. But after an hour The Toddler concluded that not only is it futile to bajao the been in front of a bhains, nothing much happens when you sing Old McDonald to it too.
We returned to the Circuit House to see it all lit up, and I realised how long it has been for me since I have stepped out of the city, if I could mistake the fireflies out that night for the light of a dozen mobiles recieving a sms.Yeh baahir lawn may kaun phone par bethey hain?


The fairy lights  were on all night and the next  for the Independence Day celebrations. Minister sahebs and their hangers on were on the horizon so we took off for a day trip to Dinajpur. On the way we were accosted by this adorable kid who asked for candies in lieu for posing for us, and once the in house (read car) "Liberator and Occupation Forces from 1971" two (and the Australian who is quick to recognize newly independent countries) had paid up, we were free to go.

We had a late afternoon picnic at Ram Sagar. Archaeological survey records might tell their own tale, but local legend tells us about a drought and a princess who has a dream that there will be a big lake. The king orders one, the people dig for weeks to no end, but  not a drop of water to be found. And here they are with a big, fat hole in the ground. Then the king receives another vision that the lake COULD happen, all he has to do is sacrifice his son Prince Ram, who may or may not at that juncture muttered "Abba ji aap kahey tau Bisleri na mangwa doo" But alas, alack! Nestle has not started a drinking water plant yet and the Prince has to die. Voila! there is water, and now it is a lovely place for people to have a picnic. And the Toddler asked Driverji to check whether he could walk on water.
He cannot.

And ta da we are at our destination, the beautiful beautiful Kantanagar temple. Terracotta. With the Ramayan and the Mahabharata retold on it's walls, and friendly appearances by local Gods, Demons and as R K Narayan would put it the Others in the panels and pillars.

When I downloaded the pictures this morning I realised most of them were taken in 8MB format and somehow when I insert them in the post they overshoot the margin, so if anyone wants to see some closeups of the pillar please drop me a line and I can email them to you. The temple was  one more of the mannat projects particular to South Asia. A king without -hee hee-issue. A vision of a temple. True to the area, it meant sending a requisition form in triplicate, covering letter, permission certificate, and estimated budget to the court of Emperor Akbar, who responded with two requests.
1)Build a mosque as well, (and a hundred PWD contractors rubbed their hands in glee. Smart guy this Akbar, I am guessing that is one reason why they didnt do a Babri to the temple in recent times) and 
2)include me in the story ! (which is an occupational hazard with the Great Emperor as he continues to pop his head and crowns three in all stories hence.Film scripts too). 
And what serendipity I was reading The Enchantress of Florence on the roadtrip, so Akbar hi Akbar all around.

The king complied and Akbar features in the terracotta panels. Here he is doing two of his fav things, going to a rave and smoking his happy pipe.

The Ramayan on one side of the temple walls, the Mahabahart retold on another.

The bit in the Ramayan where the princes are asked to do some skills training on trees.

Some more capacity building exercises

another closeup of the panels. Hopefully, next month I might have a better camera. Suggestions for one that goes well with our other arm candy, the Toddler, will be welcome. 

We could only walk around the temple, entry to the inner sanctum is restricted to the annual Krishna festival  only. The guide did say there is a big well inside teeming with snakes but I suspect it is to keep the enthu public away. 

On the way back and even two days later when I continued to rave about the temple and the details and how it would take us a week if not more to go through them all, The Man did turn around and ask me 
So you think its up there with the Taj Mahal (a place I always refer to as taking you by surprise on first jhalak even though you have seen a thousand replicas in real and reel life. Kitschy postcards not being counted here). 

And I thought some and replied Yes, perhaps. Because the Taj is the Touch-Me-Not kind of beauty, She Walks in Beauty Byron ki Lady types. And it celebrates death, let us not forget that, the Kantanagar came about with a wish , a yearning on its lips for a new life on this earth. And it does so with so much joy,  in such a cheerful, unsophisticated manner, so for all this and more it is a winner in my books. 

You dear Reader will have to go visit and decide for yourself.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Yaari Hai Imaan Mera Yaar Meri Zindagi

This post has been inspired by a series of tweets on "Good Muslims" I initiated a while ago in response to something the International Man of Mystery @polgrim had tweeted. He was of course discussing something entirely different and tre tre serious. I cannot remember how I jumped in with my "Good Muslim". Anyways as Sur Notes has reminded me, it has been a while since I posted. And lest people thing this is only a travel blog , I should get  on with the work of educating the Toddler about my world. So here are some of my tweets in dot points (lest Twitter Deck loses all of them). Now bear in mind the Good Muslim is a mythical creature that supposedly lived in celluloid once upon a time but in recent times let us say "Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life".

Good Muslims like Good Fences make for very good friends and neighbours. Bear in mind, you have to have this amount of hennaed hair before you can sing any yaarana songs with the Other. I will not get into the semantics of Hum Saath Saath Hain and the recreation of Ramayana and what that means for the Good Muslim as the Good Friend.. Ram's loyal friend and sevak? Geddit? Good. Hanuman's Bajrang Dal fanboys dont, so let us keep quiet about it.

Ok so the mythical 

  • "Good Muslims" should be ready to die an hour into movie.Preferably fighting Pakistanis.Should also know poetry and love biryani
  • Good Muslims say Laley Ki Jan and have their whiskey neat, their best friend is a Colonel. Rishi Kapoor's the 'goodest' of em all.
  • Good Muslims make sure there is azaan in the background when they enter the frame. Elope. Take a bullet for friend and country. Azaan tape not playing today .OK I die another day
  • The Good Muslim Tawaif. We will dance at lover's wedding, children's naamkaran, dance offs. We have no branches
  • Good Muslim women wear ghararas to bed,are borderline asthmatic & suffer unrequited love.They never forget feed the pigeon.
  • The last time a "Good Muslim" woman participated in Maa Exchange was oolie
  • Rooh Afza. Official drink of "Good Muslims" since 1906
  • Good Muslims name their children Kabir and Kamal
  • Last night when Pakistan played Australia.Good Muslims in India were damned no matter which team they supported  Pakistan? Desh Drohi. Australia? India Basher
  • By now Good Muslims should have perfected an answer to the query " You dont know the M's, but they are you know Muslim?"

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Mujhey Dil Se Na Bhulana

Well there was still a week to go for The Toddler's school to resume after term break. And I was getting nervous that the construction workers working on the roof next door were going to scream that the Toddler could sing Bob the Builder only so many times (and even a Aye Bob! sounds cute only the first fifteen times). Before they could declare that they were jumping off the roof ; as well as hearing news that the Man had some cyclone shelters to check out,  I did what I usually do in a situation like this, pack my bags. One of these days I have to learn how to entertain a small child, but seriously travelling seems so much easier.

Perhaps the drivers read this blog. Or maybe word of my discontent travels fast. Driverji this time around turned to us with a triumphant smile and put a cassette for Alamgir on for us. So the Toddler was introduced to Golden Oldies like

which I always thought was one of the party songs where only the protagonists two are allowed to be in on the lurve in the air, and everyone else has to sit all stiff on high back chairs under duress (of not being given any dinner or birthday cake if they make any inference Hey Do You Think that Guy on the Piano is Singing The Song To That Girl There?)..there are times when Evil Honcho One or Daddy Dearest is allowed in on the  lurve, but even then they have to stew in their juices, turn around that walking stick in their hands, chomp on that cigar and wait till the song is over dammit! It is only when the final chords are played that you can announce an engagement, cue for the Taj Mahal replica as birthday present slipping from hands into a million shattered pieces, ufffff. Imagine my surprise when I youtube for the link and find out this lovely video. Its 1977. We were wearing saris. And there were bindis. And blue water! Also Pakistani wives looked out for  husbands returning from work with binoculars!

The other song played that day 
was THE rebels r us song for school trips of yore. Imagine a bus load of ten year olds building up towards Duniya Ki Rasmo Ko Tor Tor Chaley and you get the picture. Though it was a pretty lukewarm rebellion as ten minutes into arriving at the picnic spot the teachers asked us to look straight and NOT LOOK TOWARDS THAT LOt as a group of boys were there with their stereos. Oh the music, and the sun shining down, and the one lone figure stamping it out on the rocks (which years afterwards was replicated by Hrithik tandav dance Roshan in Fiza). Eyes averted we meekly made a line and walked up the river bank.

Anyways, where was I? Yes, in a car enroute to Cox Bazaar and St. Martins. Alamgir is playing on the car stereo (with the driver discretely lowering the volume when the songs get over and the Pakistan word is mentioned in the promotional material--Pakistan kay top hit, Pakistani geet volume et al). I also identified how one of the duty drivers is pretty fond of the Highway Inn chain for tea and pee breaks while the other one patronizes the Time Out chain (my vote? well Highway Inn can be quite the squeaky wheel of asking you to sit upstairs Nili biri sir nili biri, what a view, what a view and we will add 20% extra as you are sitting upstairs but they happen to be quite OK and have very decent bathrooms. Time Out are called Time Out as their staff frequently needs to take one. Squabbling lot all of them).

We pass Chittagong, make a mental note to stop on our way back to rummage around in their "marine antique"/junk shops...and by late evening arrive in Cox Bazaar. Alamgir had very successfully put the Toddler to sleep so we congratulate each other for a road trip well done.

The next couple of days are spent relaxing on the beach for The Toddler and me one day, and being the attachment file for two days as we tag along with Gman and explore some of the coastal communities. 

Our day on the beach proved that if you carry your own water, you can spend a day out with a kid on 100 taka alone. The Toddler and me spent 50 on renting a beach chair with umbrella (which is very useful as we spent the day alternating between running out to the water and  my lying down while The Toddler messed around with the sand), 10 taka on a dried out starfish (which was full paisa vasool as he spent quite some time holding it out to the sky singing Twinkle Twinkle while I could catch up on newspapers) and the rest of the 100 taka on a whole lot of coconuts. The beach? yes it does seem to be the longest unbroken beach, coastal line what have you. It is also a very Muslim beach, which can be quite nice at times when you are on your own with a kid. It might also mean watching a bevy of burkhas going into water and then slip-slopping back to the shore. You will also witness auntyjis in flashy embroidered saris going waist deep into the water getting surprised haw there are waves here and they will take us down? and walking out all composed not even a sari pleat out of place.
There were lovely sunsets and once again I hummed Main Aur Meri Tanhai to THE camera that I need to buy. Tum hoti to kaisa hota indeed.

The coastal villages were beautiful. And once more I will allow the pictures to do the thousand word ode to their beauty.

There were also butterflies galore which proves that perhaps the pesticides have not got to all of them here.

And then onwards ho to St Martin's Island. The view from the car, Dont Jalous as they say.

On to a ferry and yonder is Panchi Badal...Koi Sarhad Hamey Na Rokey the Bangladesh-Myanmar version.

Sharing the ferry with us were day trippers, tourists, and students from a local madrassah on a Doing Good trip, they all disappeared once we touched land never to be seen again so apparently the island is big enough for all of us.

The place we were put up in was basic; it had a generator that runs between sunset and 11 pm but  as I keep on saying there is so much of Friends one can watch, eh? Not when you have a view like this.
And no electricity after dark means that you have beautiful lanterns all in a row.

Later in the day we took a speed boat to Chera Dweep, and lets say on our way back to the jetty  I was hoping each and every one of the madrassah students was praying for my soul. The Toddler looked up and whispered why? But before we get to that we got off our speed boat at Chera Dweep, found there were none of the narrow canoes that  take you ashore, and had to paincha up to wade our way through, walking up to the most desolate beach ever. It was beautiful, it was surreal, it probably meant a boat load of tourists and islanders respected the tide and wind, but it will be as they say in the books an afternoon that will stay with me forever.

 Somewhere between the abandoned shacks, there was a wizened old man who cut us up some coconuts and pointed out the fruits of the sea. We walked around, took pics of coral and the pillars erected by the British as they conducted their great surveys, efficient lot all of them. 

Then it was back to the boat, I asked GMan whether we should just hike back to the other end of the island, he went Eh, lets take the boat. Note to the Wise: I now think he might have probably muttered Its Just A Wave when the tsunami came roaring. We did make it to the other end of the island after one roller coaster of a boat ride, collected our Bad Parents certificate, and decided from now on we respect the sea.

The next day was spent visiting the people, and I discovered a beautiful hospital that was waiting for medical staff since forever (and I replug my plea that we should encourage medical students to have some outside interests than academics. Surely they could spend the long evenings-there is nothing to do-here reading at least?) . We also encountered stern men in checked shirts who were condemned to be teachers in government primary schools at birth or perhaps when they first  hissed And What Is Thees?
The Toddler participated in a friendly Bangladesh vs I Who Am Rest of the World cricket match with school kids he encountered.

St. Martin's? well what else can I tell you. The island loves Saudis and Pakistanis. There are Myanmar refugees a plenty who have married here and work in Saudi Arabia. The elderly are let out to stand at the corner come afternoon to beg for funds for the mosque. There are no cats but dogs aplenty and a hundred stories which have to just wait for now.

One more night at Cox Bazaar and we were on our way back to Dhaka. Some notes on our 15 hours car ride back.
1) They say that at one point Lord Krishna opened his mouth wide and showed the whole universe to his mother.Well lets say that is the Chittagong Highway for you, minus a four wheeler and the odd buffalo or so. On our way back we passed wandering sadhus, dying rickshaw pullers, animals, road accidents, jubilant students, trucks, trawlers, picnickers, wedding processions, road accidents and junk yards. A mighty truck that taunted us and would force us off the road put on the breaks to avoid a mommy hen with its chicks crossing the road (severe case of Baby Brain I tell you Mother Hen). Dont worry the story ended well and there was no KFC that night.
2) We were stuck in traffic jams and had to listen to the match commentary for Pakistan-Canada on the radio. I can safely say the commentator was fresh back from handing in his immigration papers at the Canadian High Commission. Welcome Boundary, Welcome Boundary! and when Pakistan turned the match around his monotone resembled a funeral dirge.
3) The Toddler did OK but he did tear up most of our newspapers. The Dad said it was OK, it is all part of anger management.

And now I should sign off and press publish. The Toddler wont get picked up from school himself. You look at these pics until I return.

It Aint All St Tropez I tell ya!

Edited to Add: Did I give you as I did dear Surabish the impression that I was sans The Man? No, no when it comes to the Toddler we NEVER leave home without him. In fact Baba is packed in before the bags, him being the Baby Whisperer and all that!