Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Kanpur-Dehradun: Story/truth

It was on this visit that I came across a great many of my childhood stories now come alive. This is similar to making the discovery, while weeding, that fairies and evil gnomes do really battle it out in one’s garden. What were these stories? Well, I have already written about the coin collectors. Here are more:

The Grand Trunk Road: such a wonderfully evocative name! And in my childhood, I read and re-read the lovely description of the road in Kipling’s Kim. And then of course, there were other books, other references. I came close to it a couple of times (in Calcutta, and Kanpur), but never actually set foot on it. And this time, I did! I only travelled an infinitesimal fraction of that lovely length, of course. But I walked along it, drove on it, and ate by its side. How was it? well, at times it definitely was the ‘river of life’ that dazed Kim. And at times, it was this tiny road meandering through fields that made us wonder if it really is a National Highway. Surprising? Yes. Disappointing? No!

Gangetic floodplains: As a child I was extremely impressed when I learnt the extent and depth of the alluvial deposits in the flood plains. And I had imagined it- a vast flat, fertile expanse with rich fields and the smell of good earth. And no, I couldn’t smell it. Not in the summer. But the soil looked just like I had imagined it.

The middle reaches of the Ganga: I looked at the river and thought to myself, “Diminished flows? Where?” because you see, I am from a place where most of the streams are ephemeral, and the ones that are not are called large if they are 50 metres across. Over here, they measure width in kilometres. It is huge and totally overwhelms my provincial sense of scale. And then of course, i wanted more. I wished with all my heart that I could go back and see the river before the first barrage was built, before the first pump was installed.

Dacoits: Excuse my naïveté. But I did seriously believe that dacoits were the stuff of sensationalist reports and hindi films. I mean, I did know that they once existed, but not now! And then I travelled in an area where dacoits are a part of everyday life. Yes, today. Where there are gun and ammo shops in the tiniest villages, and people rear pet crocodiles on the corpses of their enemies.

Strange, na?

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