a different kind of horizon


Remembering Sanjoy

While in Nagaur district, our artist friend was taking me through many photo albums which was basically his bio-data over last thirty years. There was but one image that struck me instantly in one of the group photos. There was Sanjoy Gosh sitting in the middle of a field engaged in discussions with the villages of Rajasthan. Our otherwise eloquent artist friend became quiet and later said, If God comes in front of me an gives an option to have him back, I wouldn’t hesitate to give up my parivar (family) including the three kids I love the most in exchange of him. If Sanjoyji had lived, he would have touched more and more lives, he would have given confidence and courage to people, he would have changed the ‘mindscape’ of people so positively that our land would be synonym to sustainable development.

For those who don't know Sanjoy, he was kidnaped by ULFA while he was working amongst the local communties. Years after, he still lives through many thousands of peoples in many parts of North India.

No wonder ULFA didnt want him alive!
New Delhi GP ©2008

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There were two stark things that struck my mind during the last four days in Rajasthan. The dispassionate artists who were performing in front of ‘rich tourists’ and the passionate artists who were talking non-stop about how far they would go to protect their art forms and traditions.
In the first part of my travel here, I was invited to visit an imposing structure standing in the middle of an impoverished village that was visible even from a distance. Literally a fortress, there were many people hanging around in side the fort as if they were waiting to take orders. Another stark contrast were the vehicles outside the fort and those vehicles parked stylishly inside the fort. Flashy Ford Endeavours to Mitsubishi Pajeros to Toyotas were all inside and rustic but efficient bullock carts used by the villages outside.

The central courtyard was all decked up with colours and there was a beautiful, large fountain in the middle. If I had just woken up in that place not knowing where I was, the place would have occurred to me as some Mediterranean Bungalows that’s normally show cased in most Hollywood Mafia movies.

A group of eight performers had already gathered on the terrace. They sang, they danced, they performed Kalbeliya, and showed many tricks that needs years of practise. They stood on top of three glass tumblers carrying 6 litres of water in it and danced without spilling a drop out of it. Rolled out currency notes were thrust into their pockets, into their arms. They gave out such artificial smiles and bent their back even more to the front, now making sure that they made eye contacts to the beer sipping tourists. With the rhythm and tempo increasing, currency value went on from a mere hundred to finally a crisp note of thousand! The girls invited the tourist to dance with them, which some hesitatingly and some readily accepted. In an hour or so, the ‘performances’ were over and we were guided into our waiting vehicles.

I didn't know who these performers were. I didnt interact with them, they were showcased infront of us. It started there, it ended there!

Power went off many times during the performance but they were equipped with alternative spot lights probably sourced from an alternative generator. While stepping down from the terrace, I had a look at the beautiful horizon. The nearby village looked sleepy, calm and quiet. I couldn’t help notice that out of all those forty-fifty houses that were surrounding the fort , there were just couple of houses that had electricity.

One of the friends of the family, who bought the Kila, mentioned that they intend to make this fort into a luxury boutique hotel which will also be used by the owner as his home away home for vacations. The master bed room ( there were ten large beautifully done bed rooms), had bathtubs and running taps. That’s not unusual in a luxury fort, but when you look at the villagers walking many kilometres to get few pots of water for their survival, it hurts to be there.
Even for the few hours you spent there.

During the next days I stayed in Makrana with friends, I saw how they were living with their limited resources. Managing their limited resources and maintaining a life style that doesn’t damage their environment and ensuring that their life style was sustainable for the generations to come. Though I normally use very little water for my daily use compared to many people I know (I was born and brought in a region that was always green and never knew what water scarcity was), I realised that where I live in Bangalore, my individual consumption of water in a week was probably more than what a family of five might be using in the desert area in two weeks!
Jaipur GP © 2008

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Freezing in Makrana

Dayalji kept on piling one blanket after the other on me. 4,5,6 and then I was getting worried if his family had enough for them. 'You have no idea how cold it could get here these days". Even the walls were giving away cold and I could hear hissing sound of the wind from the desert slipping through the small holes in the windows. If not for seeing Dayalji worshipping next to the Aluminium trunk I was sleeping on, I would have just slept until noon. It was so difficult to wake up in the morning!

It’s been two days in Makrana (famous for its Marble that were used to build most of Taj Mahal) and once again I have been humbled to see the resilience of people living in remote parts of India. Winter here is so cold that it comes closer to one or two degree Celsius. Heating is not affordable for many and unheard of. All they have are some blankets. Most of them looked older than they really are. As for summer temperature, when I asked what could be the maximum temperature one villager smiled and responded. "There is nothing like minimum or maximum temperature for us during summer. Its just "full temperature' :) Irrespective of the harsh climate and the environment they live in, I couldn't escape observing that almost all of them were genuinely happy.

I came to this part of Rajasthan couple of days back to meet our activity partners, spend some time with them, understand their background and explore the synergy that our work could bring in. I was so tired by the time I reached Makrana as I had been standing for 3 hours in the train from Jaipur. Straight away I was taken to one of our partner’s network office and met a bunch of locals who were curious to figure out what I was doing there. It was amazing to see they could connect to the dying rivers of Kerala and its impacts on lifestyles, especially the culture and heritage that the river influenced for eons. Even my halting Hindi was of no barrier to them as they went on to narrate their stories on how artisans were finding it difficult to make a living out of what they knew.

We arrived at Dayalji's house (after a mini tour of the streets sipping "sugary dooth" ) and checking out local eateries that served mouth watering dishes. I was a bit scared to see the way Ghee was used in every meal we had. People over here literally are drowned in ghee. Whoever said that consumption of Ghee has something to do with obesity; they should come and see thin /lanky figures of Rajasthan. By the time we arrived at Dayalji's house, all I wanted was to crash in ASAP. But Dayalji went on with his stories and entertained me with local legends and folklores. Amongst them was a story of a fight between Amar Singh Rathore from the present Nagore district and a local Badshah. It seems the Badshah made a rule that any girl who marries a local should sleep with him first! On resisting this, Amar Singh was killed in a fight with the Badhsah. These stories until recently used to be part of the oral traditions of the folk musicians. Apparently there is hardly anyone who makes a living out of similar tradition in this region.

That makes sense to the understanding of the people over here when I showed them presentations on the dying river valley culture that we are dying to preserve. Language isn’t a barrier, culture isn't a barrier and it’s the same story all over the world. While Dayalji was passionately narrating the stories of Amar Singh, I was thinking about similar stories I had heard from Scottish friends, where the English brought in a rule in medieval time that any local girl who gets married should first sleep with the English magistrate! Wasn't that also a story sequence in the movie Brave Heart?
Makrana GP © 2008

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