From the Radio Station III

I never imagined myself building a radio station and I am certain the radio people never thought they would have a cranky architect working with them, sometimes shoulder to shoulder and sometimes almost nose to nose!

It is, indeed, a curious mix of professions and cultures that they have conjured up here! Also the very concept of a community radio station, broadcasting from a remote Himalayan village, attracts a range of visitors.

Sushila Bhandari from Raidu village, near agastyamuni is one such intriguing lady. This gadhwali woman of immense courage, is fighting for her “jal, jungle aur jameen”, against not just the corporate, but the very government of Uttarakhand. Two months of imprisonment, paid murder attacks or bribes have failed to muffle her voice. Instead, she has learned to write hindi, during her two months imprisonment! Now she also writes poetry and sings the songs of hills and rivers, in her high pitched, pahadi voice….

***

C P Joshi from dwarhat is another frequent visitor and a valued advisor for the MKA trust. A good looking kumaoni poet, he is also a sensitive social worker allied with “Axay”, a TB eradication initiative.

In the day time, he would quietly smile and walk towards me, while I stand surrounded by my construction gang. And he would very defensively, but with pure curiosity, ask questions about earth construction. For a while I wondered why the defensiveness… and I did admit it to myself that I must look like a daunting warrior on a construction site that resembles a bustling warzone!

But in fact, I do love to answer his questions about various forms of earth construction. At the same time I keep it clear that the views we express are our own inferences and learning, and none is a universal law to be enforced on another… He smiles his mild, enigmatic smile and jumps to another question!

Once, after dinner, we all grownups and kids plopped on Joshi ji’s bed, listening to his kumaoni poetry. An informal “mehfil” Somehow descended upon us!

With him, I have started recollecting old Marathi poetry, after quite awhile… on the other hand, Joshi ji, very soon plans to build a house in dwarhat, a rammed earth structure that he will design for himself!

***

My lovely brick maker team of women has been saving up their payments with Vincent. They plan to take the payment right in the end, and invest that into building a new house in stone. They are going to hire my team of masons for the job!

The masons thoroughly enjoy their work. There is significant change in their expressions and body language. The awkward stress and constant suspicion has evaporated long ago, replaced with natural easy grace and a hint of pride…

There is often a faint smile on Jeetpal ji’s face, as he chisels the stone, with his tongue held out, in utter concentration, so much like a small kid! He laughs and cracks jokes… hums along, old pahadi jungle geet (forest song) playing on the radio, and all the time I watch him with great respect and love… feeling like a mother, who has managed to evoke and protect the child within him…

***

Winter rains in the hills are indeed a special thing. There is a vague distinction between rain, sleet and snow as we climb up, but that entire downpour is essential for the forests, rivers, humans and beasts to thrive.

But for the adobe spread out in the field, drying in sun, this rain was very unfriendly. After a week or two of bright dazzling sunshine, suddenly one morning, we have an overcast sky, rumbling and threatening to wash away all our hard work. The whole team of workers rushes to the site early in the morning, moving dry bricks in shelter and covering the rest with massive plastic sheets. Then we all just sit sheltered by the tent, warming our bruised, frozen hands on an open fire of cheed pine twigs. Stories of man-eaters, bears and ghosts taste far better with rounds of chai.

It usually takes a couple of days for the weather to clear and for all of us to get back to the sunny outdoor work. But the chilly winter rains by then, have brought us all close together…. Bonded irreversibly now, we are a construction gang, driven by a special sense of comradeship.

***

The stone masonry in gadhwal, has such a robust and distinct character that we wish to expose it and flaunt it to the world! The crudeness of partially dressed stone and sleek lines of slate pieces, together create a rhythmic symphony of shapes and shades… no two stones in the masonry look alike and yet they all belong to the same astute composition.

Most people, who prefer the formal, strict masonry of fine dressed stone, fail to see the poetry in gadhwali masonry. I had a fair bit of problem, trying to see, what makes gadhwali masonry, so wrong in their perspective. Our visual senses are enslaved by now. We like all things to look alike… we want all kids to be dressed in uniforms and all women to look like movie stars. We want all roads to look the same and all places to become cities…. Just like that, we want all stones to look strictly alike. Every time someone asks why I refuse to use neat dressed stone, I ask them, why they want all the stone to look alike… and I am still waiting for an answer.

***

While I am pouring my blood, brain and sweat into the construction work, instead of making me feeble and desensitized, it is making me, more alive, lot more sensitive and aware…. In spite of all the brain boggling problems and surprising solutions… yet, there are moments that allow me to trace a beautiful Himalayan vulture soaring over my head, in graceful, lazy circles…. At times I stay back at the construction site, just to witness the sky that looks blue fading into orange, so much like a flycatcher’s belly, preceded by a sunset bathed in gold and copper glitter of stone dust around me….
Sometimes, long after those dramatic sunsets, I sit there, planning the next phases of construction. Hungry and tired, I step out from the studio, to find my construction site, drenched in melting silver moonlight…  Fresh, wet adobe glisten softly, and the stone masonry glows as if lit from within … It is irresistible to keep my hands off the rhythmic rough and smooth texture of the stone wall…. On a biting cold winter night, I let my fingertips trace the crevices of ice-like stones… like some magical self-lit objects!

At any time of the day or night, these hills never fail to take my breath away…

***

Although I am sure, my mum never planned it deliberately, I wonder sometimes, if she hoped, growing up in a house with Sanskrit plays and poetry scattered around, along with Hemmingway, will leave its imprint on me…. Before arriving in gadhwal, I carried a strange image of this land… for me it was the land of Kalidas’ poetry… the land where I presumed, Kumarsambhavam must have taken a verbal form. And with that bias, I keep stumbling upon places that, in my mind, match exactly to the setting of various events in the Shiva-Parvati story. It feels as if the gods and goddesses would simply drift in front of me, from behind that ancient banjh (oak) tree, if I truly willed them to appear…

But they do not, nor does the famous man-eater of gadhwal. I hear stories of men and women right from our neighboring villages, mauled by wild bears and snatched away by the panthers… but those beautiful beasts somehow never cross my paths. Although I know these wise ones must be prowling in the dark, quite too close by, camouflaged more by my absence of mind than their stealth… So I keep my curiosity reigned in and usually abide by the rules of village life, that forbid me to walk home, after dark, unaccompanied by a man. I religiously believe that a hungry beast would definitely be distracted by the more flavorsome option of devouring a man, and would spare this inconsequential woman to go home!

One day I will also write about the ghosts of gadhwal, but right now, it is indeed too late at night to think of bodiless voices following us along treacherous forest paths! But I promise, if someday the said feminine forest spirit truly chooses to confront me, I will sincerely ask her forgiveness on behalf of the mankind and promise to protect her beautiful green veil, for as long as I live…. I think she will be a smart forest spirit who will bless me genially.

***

There is something about half done earth masonry that looks like a warm promise of future… For some reason or the other, I keep walking and leaping over its dusty ledges, watching the walls risen and complete in my mind.

My gang once warned me not to do that too often, for it might offend the spirit of this building. They were anyway certain that just like the masons, who work too closely with the masonry, I too am possessed by the “devtaa”. There is indeed a tiny “deoli” temple, topped with brightly colored flags, next to the construction site. Every time we start a fresh phase of construction, our masons offer flowers, sweets and some incense to the deity staying in there….

I think the “devtaa” knows that I totally love being possessed by him! He is not a scary one, who gets offended so easily. I wonder if he laughs at me, if he likes me too…

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Divine Abode of Ambadi…

Thekkady is famous for its pretty location on the fringe of Periyar tiger Reserve. Gigantic bamboo clumps forming an intricately towering canopy over roads will welcome you to Thekkady. An occasional Malabar giant squirrel scampering overhead can be spotted here if you prefer gazing into the thickets than in tourist shops!

Our next stop was Ambadi resort in Thekkady. Ambadi literally means the home of Lord Krishna. (ref: our headmaster tour guide) Though I don’t see any historical trace to it, I can gladly accept this beautifully designed hotel as Krishna’s own home!! He’d love the stone pathways, fine-carved, polished wood paneling, and excellent designs of timber-joints in sloping roofs! Warm earthy brown terracotta flooring and heavy wooden furniture with witty lights twinkling through bamboo lamp shades!

What a divine home it was!

The headmaster had whisked away every other tourist to boating and some spice garden cum shop. I bunked to stay in this divine Ambadi and took a long luxurious Abhyanga bath! My little cottage was silent… allowing only the squirrels to chirp relentlessly! There was a cozy sit-out in the front facing a wild cluster of bamboo… Lounging with a hot cup of “kaapi” I watched the sun showering its last flecks of gold for today from behind the dark silhouettes of arching bamboo….wrote notes for the blog, feeling like I was already sharing the happiness of being alive with you all, my loved ones!

Slowly the sky went dark and lights from the pathway started to illuminate the bamboo upward… Rested and “coffeed” comfortably I set out to stroll around the tiny settlement. I just walked on roads, met strangers, and made friends with little girls selling heaps of jasmine….

There were little shacks of art studios and local restaurants with excellent appam-sambaram menu! Beautiful pieces of wooden artwork lined the roadsides of a bustling market. I watched a wood artist at work, wearing a traditional white mundu wrap, his face austere with tense, intent thought behind is sharp sparkling eyes…. It was like walking into some timeless world where the artists chiseled gods into existence… I swayed back to my cottage feeling like an audience of some enchanted magnanimous movie that was being set on the world stage….. The glimpses of thekkady will always jump at me at the mere mention of kerala…. Surging like a living element inside me, never letting me succumb to a lifeless life.

Sarang of The Water Lily A night on a lagoon

Munnaring Tourist A Stroll through the hills of Munnar

Fulfilled…

Again I stand at the ground zero

Unable to know which way to go…

Again I’m here with my bleeding heart

My wings are cut, I’m fallen apart…

Again I watch the blazing sun

far beyond my reach of run….

Again I wish in sullen melancholy…

Does my dream have a chance really?

May be something’s wrong with the dream itself…

I jumped to own the God himself!

My two tiny hands can’t hold his glory….

But my heart hides a long secret story…

Since it learnt to sing its pulse…

It sang thy name in very verse…

I can’t console my weeping heart…

Unable to give up, again I start…

Now I am robbed of everything I had…

My body is sore…my weather is bad…

My two tiny hands folded into prayer…

I close my eyes and my song aquiver…

I can’t reach thee, my feet so fickle…

I am robbed of the world; I own not a nickel…

But since when thy glory is confined?

Since when thy love cares for the defined?

I heard thee loveth all the same…

Thy glory lives longer than fame…

I tried my best, I toiled till I broke…

Still you deny me, still you forsook…

I wasn’t a saint, I wasn’t a king…

An insignificant one in thy fling…

I could be crushed under mighty feet…

Happily walked to the death I’d meet…

But you make me exist, survive and live….

You make me dream, smile and believe…

Now I give up….thy dreams, thy visions…

I care for nothing, neither for thy mission…

I want thee, only thy face to see…

I want thy love deeper than the sea…

Come to me if thee ever loved me…

Hold me close, never leave me…

Then I will be drowned in thy sweet rose….

I will say yes, to everything you propose….

I will live for thee, and die for thee…

My every heartbeat will sing for thee…

Thy gaze will heal when I am fallen apart…

Thy love will blossom, spread from my heart….

I will be your hand in everything you perform

I will be your sword, in the wars of reform….

My mind my soul was lost in the dream again…

In that moment no tears remain!

Glow of thousand suns fell over me….

Great Joy of love burst within….

In that moment I found your secret…

Not in the skies, you hid in my heart!

My prayer was answered…

And my love was fulfilled…

Crisp Winter…

It is crisp winter in the Indian subcontinent. And the Deccan plateau is covered as usual in its multicolored drape of deciduous forests. Here we do not have a single fall season. Every tree sheds its leaves at different time in winter. And the mountains always look covered in different colors all through the winter.

The air is crusty and cool. Though the sun heats up open meadows, there is pleasant cold shade under most of the trees. If you are tired hiking through the sunny countryside, the shady ovals marked under the trees call you to rest, occasionally dropping a solitary dried leaf in your lap….

Winter-scape of Sahyadri

The mornings and evenings stretch till mid day in winters… Except few hours of afternoon the weather is calling you out to run wild in sharp dry streaks of wintry air… You feel like running miles through solid curtains of morning fog hung in valleys, fighting with the chill. As sky grows brighter, sunlight comes to your help. The fogs scamper away and you can locate chirping bird far in the valley….

Then you wish to fly, to chirp, to sway on the treetops, just like the bird…

There is laughter in the air and inside you…. If you look down at yourself you see icy bright light in your body… The winter air lights you from within…. Like a bonfire night….under the deciduous tree, occasionally dropping a solitary dried leaf in your lap….

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