Saturday, March 24, 2012

Mumbai Mumbles : The Heir of the Hair Raiser - The Epilogue

 The Last Hair Cut

( The journey from Lattur to the Kandivili Nukkad where the boys lived under their father's guard was covered in Part 1.  The second part covered the evolution of these boys into entrepreneurs after their father's death.  The third part was the story of how they dealt with competition. This epilogue is the last meeting of the author with the three boys.)

(To be honest, the boys don't know that I was writing a story about them and that too of my own imagination.  But they have become a strong enough inspiration that they straddle the thin line between my imagination and reality. The boys are there in flesh and blood, but my characters don't exist.  This is neo-fiction. )

I went out for a short run today morning  - like the dust that has enveloped Mumbai these days, my mind was clouded through the done.  After the post-run chores, with a sweaty anatomy, I entered the 'Red Men's Saloon'.  
  
This was my bi-weekly habit.  To maintain a short hair, I have to visit the salon every fortnight.  In the Red, I became a familiar figure because I was a regular and also a talking point because of my different hair style.

This would be my last hair cut in Kandivili.   I was planning to move to Thane.  I intended to tell these guys that. 
The last hair cut in Red Men's
saloon

Today I could see Naser and Chota only.  Imran was not there in the shop. I discreetly enquired.  He had gone to buy  the shave-and-cut inventory Bandra.  Now they have an established supply chain - where they get a good deal.

Naser asked - aap ithna jaldi aa gaye? (you have come so early?)  I said, 'haan.  abhi run katham karke aarahaa hoon' . (yes, I just finished my running and came here).   He moved on to clean the glass mirrors. 

Chandeliers - looking opulent
Chota was all over me today.  He said he would do my hair cut.   He asked me ' regular kya? (regular, what?). I nodded my head.   He searched for the cropping machine - and discovered it in a wrong place.  He asked Nasser to set things right in Marathi.  

This was unusual.  Chota has seldom touched the scissors for many days now.  Why today?   Suddenly,  he said ' sirji, chai piyo.  Mangwatha hoon' (Sir, pl drink tea.  Will order).   An escalated hospitality.  I said yes.   He proceeded with my hair cut.  

He started telling about taking a loan of 1 lakh from his Aavaraa chacha, who now sits in the cigarette shop.  He said 'pehla aapkaa kaam kartha hoon, phir dikaoonga' ( let me finish your work first, and then I will show you around).
Awaara Chacha in the cigarette
paan -shop
My eyelids closed and the mind embraced a distant dream.  The hum of the cropping machine provided the right background score. 

Suddenly, the score stopped.   My hair cropping was done - and Nasser brought me my chai.(tea).   I paid the regular Rs 50 fee for the haircut and was about to tell him about this being the last hair cut -when Chota grabbed me by my shoulder.   'Sirji - aap ko kuch dekna hai' (Sir, you have to see something). 
 
The salon has expanded into
the next unit as well
And when he showed it to me, I was dumbfounded.  There was this new room adjacent to the old - a replica of the present one completely furnished with black-leather-holstered saloon chairs,  full wall mirrors, chandeliers.  It was mind blowing.   Was he expanding again?

And as we walked into the front portion of the new room, he showed me a mezzanine construct.   Work was still on.  He told me 'idhar seedhi aayegaa, aur massage parlor kolenge.  aap mera pehla customer bano' - ( Here will come the stairs, and we will open the massage parlor.  You will be my first customer).   Suddenly, there appeared a lump in my throat and my eyes shimmered with tears.   I could not let Chota see it.

The mezzanine floor where
the massage parlor is coming up
 Here was this boy, who made things happen and continues to, showing a stranger - at best a regular customer - me, his dreams.   I turned around and wiped my eyes, and smiled at him.  

He was looking at me expectantly.  I said - ' zaroor.   mujhe abhi jaana padega.  badiya lag rahaa hai, mein tere liye kush hoon' - (sure thing.  I have to go now.  It feels great and I am happy for you).

I left abruptly, but managed to click a few pictures.  I did not tell Chota that I would never be coming there again for a hair cut.   It would have broken his heart.  

-The One

( These pictures were taken today in the salon that I regularly visit in Kandivili, Mumbai.  The youngsters are a real inspiration- this 4 part story is dedicated to them)





Friday, March 23, 2012

North East Chronicles -10: Ronga Aloo - The Hero!

(In my last article, we saw how Ronga Aloo had become a villain, but also became a teacher of some valuable insights in that thing called life. In this narrative, we will see how Ronga Aloo became a hero and a saviour for the same person!)

The power of context decides the impression of something in life.  The simple Ronga Aloo, which played Jekyll and Hyde with his mind, is one great example.

The second tryst with Ronga Aloo happened about 6 months later.   This time the situation both was different and the similar.   

****
It was a Thursday.   They were onto the usual inspection of the refinery in terms of how the fiber optic networking work was going on.  After couple of hours, he settled down in the server room to write the project report and plan for the next week - this was a routine exercise, discussed during the regular Friday morning review with his customer. 

The cold air from the conditioner did not expose in terms of what was going on outside the refinery.   When he came out of the room, he could see only empty halls - lights were switched off.  And the usual morning chaos was substituted by silence.

It was bemusing, but he still went inside to take the printouts for the next day's meeting.   When he came out of the building,  there were only few souls left around.   He set to the main building on foot, as he could not hitch a ride - no vehicle was around, either.  

As he neared the main building, few people were leaving.  And there was one guy who he had seen in the township.  He was not even an acquaintance. This guy, an administration officer (AO) at the refinery,  who was getting into the CISF jeep.  He offered a ride till the main gate.
The CISF jawans barricaded
the refinery gate with sandbags

When he got off the main gate, it was a different sight.  The CISF jawans were sand bagging the gate and mounting couple of LMG's.  One of the jawans waved at them and briefed them on the ongoing activity.

There seemed to be an escalation of violence in the vicinity - the Army, perhaps, had led a successful crack down against the militants.   The militants had responded by announcing a total bandh in the surrounding districts.  The security forces - the Army on the streets, and the CISF (Central Industrial Security Force) guarding vital installations, reciprocated with patrolling and ring-fencing respectively.

The CISF  allowed them to step out. The AO and he, had to reach the township.   The distance between township and the refinery was about 4 km.   In the burning sun, walking seemed to be a bad idea.

****
After half an hour, an army convoy was passing by.  He looked at the soldiers with little interest, but nevertheless waved at them.   One of the soldiers, said ' Oye, township jaana hai kya, chad jaa... drop kar denge!' (Hi, do you need to go the township, Get in, will drop you). 

The army truck carried
him to the safety of township
Heart and lips full of gratitude, the AO and he, got into the back of the truck.  The soldiers generally seemed to be in a relaxed and chirpy mood.   They belonged to the Assam Rifles, a premier regiment in the Indian Army.  They were heading towards Bokaghat junction.  Apparently, there was some commotion and firing on the police in that area.  

The army jawans (soldiers) asked what they were doing in the refinery.  The AO mumbled about doing some paper work.  He said that he was contributing in the making of the refinery, creating their network infrastructure. 

The loudest of the jawans said 'acha, aap log tho compooter kaa kaam karthe ho!  Ham log ko tho sirf bandook pehchaan hai'  (Good, you guys work on the computer.  We know only guns) and the entire group burst into laughter.

The jawan briefed that there was a 72 hour bandh called by the militants, and army platoons were stationed in areas expecting trouble and violence.   He advised both to stay at home till Saturday atleast.

After some 15 minutes, the convoy dropped them near the township approach road.  The weather seemed to improve, with the sun hiding behind the clouds.  The walk was comfortable and silent. Some time later, they said their byes, and reached their respective houses. 

****

As he opened the door of his house, a small white paper fell to the floor.  It had been deftly folded and inserted into the key hole.   He opened it and it read thus - ' Dada, I have just left for Bokaghat and going to Guwahati, as I have to go to Kolkata.   Understand that it is a 72 hour bandh.  Sorry and take care.'

This friend, a Bengali, had been really fidgety about staying for more than a week, and had requested him to go back to Kolkata.   He always sounded home sick - all through the day.

Laughing at the note, he nodded his head.   He changed clothes and stepped out for a nice walk towards the township canteen for lunch - the breeze was intense, but not so warm - reflecting the mood.   The sun had relented and was taking rest behind the few grey clouds.

The canteen was closed!!!  A board said - 'Closed.  Will open on Monday.'   Life just became difficult.   A screaming stomach - and again alone.   He walked towards the main road again - a long walk with a rumbling stomach.

****
The usually busy
booth was also shut
The result was a disappointment.   The shops were closed.   The usually busy telephone booth was shut.  Not a soul was to be seen.   His heart sank, and a hot, heavy sigh came out of his nostrils.   The stomach responded by screaming louder.  

Reluctant and confused, he walked back towards his house.   As he entered the house, in his friend's room - he could see ronga aloos.  His friend, before leaving abruptly, had bought these from the neighbouring farm.  This was his friend's staple food and turn to cook.

****
As he boiled rice, he reflected on his situation.   Now he was stuck for 3 full days in the same place.   Waves of panic washed up his mind-shore, but the screams of hungry stomach killed the din.

He opened the bag of ronga aloos.  Peeling the skin of three of them, he cut them into small pieces and fried them in a pan.   Some masala was added, and then some salt.

With boiled potato and fried-and-mashed ronga aloo going into his stomach, the scream became silence.   The anxious wait began.   He read old newspapers ( papers came two days late to the township), watched Doordarshan's monotonous broadcast and even tried to sleep.   He waited, killing time.  

After three full hours, nothing happened.  Things were normal.  

****

He made ronga aloo mash
-and ate!
His digestive system had accepted the Ronga Aloos without a protest.   The stomach was happy and he was relieved.   Now he could survive the 72 hours easily.   An alternate plan which crossed his mind more than few times - going to Guwahati somehow disappeared.

He would try mashing, frying, baking - the ronga aloos, like a kid - trying different things with a single toy.   The three days passed.   The mundane survival - reading old news papers, watching Doordarshan and sleeping continued but was acceptable, even enjoyable.
Ronga aloo - the hero

Never was the insipid so inspiring.  This was inexplicable.   His fears around the ronga aloos vanished. Most important of all, the ronga aloos had became his friend, saviour and his hero.

****


Monday morning, his friend rang the door bell.   He was looking at a smiling and triumphant face behind the opened door.

-The One

( Pics Courtesy Internet)








Wednesday, March 21, 2012

North East Chronicles - 9: Ronga Aloo - The villain!

(Ronga Aloos - or sweet potatoes are eaten and are favorite side dish of Assamese.  This root vegetable plays  a center-stage in the special dishes that Assamese prepare for Bihu)

****

In life there are some incidents that would throw insights that are lot deeper than any spiritual discourse.   These are incidents that make you think deeper, change your perspective of life.   If you think life is boring, then, better expect surprises from it.   It could be a financial, physical, mental or a metaphorical surprise.   It could be that the event is over, but the experience stays on.

This event could be a simple event and many of us could have seen commonly across.  But this happened, when no one was around.  And the profundity of the event had to be experienced, and experienced to comment.

****

Prima facie, if you think,  the raison d'affaire is exposed ahead of the story, the answer is yes.  That makes the story more contextual.

Between the later half of his second decade and the first half of his third decade on this 3rd planet from the sun, he suffered from allergic bronchi.   He has always been allergic to dust.   There are some other allergens that he kept track usually in his mental diary.    The reason for this event was some allergen.  What allergen, he still did not know.   But the good doctor told him that at the end of this event.

He can still remember that day vividly. That day was off in Numaligarh.   His second-in-command, who oversaw the cabling work at the refinery had left for Guwahati.   The outhouse of our cottage was empty.

It was a quiet, sunny day.  It was a day to relax and recoup from a hard week under the baking sun.  He could remember waking up late when the sun rays singed his skin through the netted window.  It was going to be a lazy start.

He could see the odd bus going from Bokaghat to Dimapur.   People going on their dailychores - walking, cycling and an occasional tractor would provide the occasional titilation to the midday tranquility.

For the next two hours, it was slow movement of a reluctant being that dominated the wake up chores to what was called breakfast.   The breakfast had some sort of a rice mix with coriander paste.  Then, his laborers in the outhouse had cooked some potato-type root vegetable- was ronga aloo?  The smell still sickened him.  Somehow, those guys liked it.  It was the only cooked item in the house.



The 500m walk was like
running a marathon -
laborious and painful
  The lazy bugger boiled some rice in a cooker and mixed the coriander paste and cooking oil.  He needed something of a side dish.   He turned over all the vessels upside and down and scrapped the bottom of many - desparate to find a achaar bottle or the likes.  

Finally, he saw this ronga aloo, fried and kept besides the stove.   Was it cooked?  To test, he brought the bowl closer to hiss nostrils.   Odourless a feet away, there was a pungent smell from the aloo bowl. The skinned aloos were consumed by yeast - the color all reddish.  

It almost hit him like a tsunami.   The smell was nauseating to start with - his head started swimming, and suddenly he could feel it coming.   It usually came to him only when he faced dust pollens.   Clang! fell the bowl and the plate of coriander-rice, and the contents splattered all over.

Ronga Aloo - a sweet potato turned
villain
 The air that he inhaled had to get through reduced path of swollen bronchi - and his chest heaved.  

He started palpitating.  His chest became tighter by the minute, and he was sweating.  He rummaged his suit case to get the inhaler.  It was not there.  A faint blip in his brain said that he never got the inhaler to Assam.  He thought it would be only pollution-triggered.   And now this, out of the blue!   With difficult he moved towards his wardrobe.

Somehow, he managed to get dressed and put on his slippers.   Holding the rails of the stairs, he climbed down to the ground - somehow, managing to close the door again.   The palpitation has doubled.  He was sweating like a drenched fowl.   And out, in the blazing sun, he stepped out. 

****
The sun welcomed him with a shower of heat and bright light.  It would make his ordeal more difficult.  Walking was like mountain climbing.  Slowly, inch by inch, step by step, the arduous journey went on.   There was not a soul in sight.   The only company was the relentless sun.  

Only couple of dogs looked curiously as they went past him.  The air became warmer, the skin was burning.   The heaviness that set across his chest spread to his palms and toes.  Suddenly the only objective in his life, was to reach the hospital gate. 

After almost an hour, nearly dead,  he touched the hot iron rails of the gate.  It did not matter.  He just collapsed against the rails.   The gate was half-open.  The purpose was achieved.   Only if some good samaritan could see him.

The VK-NRL hospital which
saved him

****
Some 5 minutes went by.   It was almost like a full day.  The breathing was laborious and shallow.  Froth was flowing from his mouth.  He did not even attempt to speak.  

Suddenly, two chirpy nurses who had finished their duty came out and saw this soul lying against the gate-rails.  One went for him and another rushed inside to get help.   A stretcher came out, and he was put by two men.    A smile appeared in his face and after that, it was all black.

****
Suddenly the blackness lifted - the sun of life appeared before his eyes.   His breath was shallow -  his face was covered with a glass cup.  He was breathing OXYGEN! -  pure oxygen!  His brain was sucking in all the oxygen - like a ravenous mongrel.   He could feel the purity of the fluid that flowed through his lungs.   Free of the smell of the ronga aloos.

Oxygen - life's elixir!
His mind now tired screamed in relief.   Oxygen was pure, and it is life.   The most important thing - than food, than water.  Breathing was life!  And oxygen was the elixir!

His skin was brittle and chilled because of the cool air from the air conditioner.   He could see a dull light room across.   The hum of the air conditioner was soothing.   A small hand touched his forehead.   The nurse said - 'tho hosh aa gayaa' in a Malayalam accent.  

They had run an intravenous shot of Deriphyllin to bring his breath to normal and then put him on the ventilator - the nurse told him.

****

He was absolutely conscious by now.  Almost three hours since he smelt the ronga aloos, he was alive again.  The ordeal to reach the hospital had taken everything out of him.   Suddenly he felt hungry.

The doctor walked in.  He read the chart and touched his hand - 'kaise feel kar rahaa hai?  OK?'   (' how are you feeling, OK?).   He smiled and nodded at the doctor.   The doctor told him that he can leave in another 30 minutes, and he was pretty lucky to make it to the hospital gate.  The doc wrote a prescription and enquired why he was alone.

He replied that his friend has gone to Kolkata and others had went to the town - and this was a long weekend.   The doctor patted his hand, and asked him to be careful about allergens.   He nodded - that was all he could do.

****
The hospital ambulance dropped him back at his house an hour later.  They did not take any money!  God bless them!

His mind was blank still - but clear.   He just wanted to embrace them all - he felt they had given him rebirth.

The ronga aloo plants seemed to smile at him!
He was alone again.  The splattered food now was being visited by house flies and ants.   There was literal competition over the spilt food.

At the corner lay the spilt ronga aloos.  He covered his nostrils and then threw them out the window.  He stared at the thrown items. 

How suddenly smell, breath and oxygen - so mandane and things-he-took-for-granted gave a new perspective of life!   How important such things become - and change the meaning of life. 

And how a simple ronga aloo can become a villain!

And as he was closing the door, beyond the fence,  from a neighbouring farm, the ronga aloo plants swayed merrily in the wind - it seemed they were waving at him!

- The One

(Pic courtesy the Internet)


Sunday, March 18, 2012

North East Chronicles - 8-B : Jorhat and Golaghat - land of 4 surprises - (contd)

(This is the second and final article about the major areas in the Jorhat - Golaghat belt.  The first part covered Jorhat and Majuli.)

...From Jorhat - the jewel of Assam, we move to the neighbouring district of Golaghat. 

Golaghat is complete opposite to Jorhat.  When you back-pack for a trip here, you will see that life is simple and unsophisticated.  This is one of the most backward districts of Assam- a laid back, non-industrialized belt. It borders Nagaland.   The main occupation is working in the tea plantation and agriculture. 

The home of Kaziranga
Golaghat literally means a market and a small river port.  The Dhansiri  is the main river that flows through this district originating from Nagaland.   The district predominantly contains tea gardens.    The major tourist attraction is the Kazianga National Park, a world heritage site.

The only major industry in this district is the Numaligarh refinery Limited.  Numaligarh, where the refinery is built also houses a small fort built by an Ahom prince. 


Surprise 3: Numaligarh - the sophisticated refinery

The background story makes the story of the origin of this refinery interesting.

There was an inflex of Bangladesh refugees during the 1970's and the early 1980's into Assam - since the liberation of Bangladesh in 1971.   This inflex created a social imbalance in the lower Assam area.   From 1979-1985, a group of youngsters under the leadership of Prafulla Kumar Mahanta and the banner of All-Assam Student Union agitated to bring justice to the people of Assam.

On the independence day of 1985,  Rajiv Gandhi and Prafulla signed a treaty which has come to be known as Assam Accord.  This Accord facilitated the creation of educational and industrial institutions for the development of Assam.

Out of this was born the Numaligarh Refinery Limited or the Assam Accord refinery.  This is mainly owned by BPCL.  The construction started in 1993 and was inaugurated in 2000, when Atal Bihari Vajpayee dedicated this master piece to the nation.   I led the team that created the network backbone of this refinery.  

NRL- a dream come true for Assam
I can still remember the glowing lights from a distance.   There is a sprawling township which houses the staff, officer and partners.   

The first time, in this lap of nature, night life was on - for the people and not for the nocturnal animals!  Out of the pitch black of the Kaziranga is this ethereal creation, that represents the dream of the local people.  

I met some wonderful people during my one year stay.   My next couple of chronicles are dedicated to these beautiful minds that created a state-of-art refinery which contributed to the local peoples.  

 Surprise 4: Kaziranga- the home of the one horned rhino

It is the most temperamental animal in the world.  Also it will stamp out small bush fires - hence called the local fire fighter.  Both the male and the female of the species possess one horn.   The female is generally more aggressive.  Males fight for mating and dominance.  But females fight for protecting the kids - and hence are always are on the alert.   They can run at 55 kmph, and swim easily.   Hence, if you are smart, don't walk into one!
The one-horned rhino
in Kaziranga

The one horned rhino, the largest of the Asian rhinos has its final habitat in Kaziranga.  Kaziranga has three etymological origins.  One is the story of a Kazi  (a boy) and Ranga ( a girl) who fell in love and were not socially acceptable.  Another story is about a couple (Kazi-ranga) being blessed by Swami Sankar Deva.   Couple of other origins are - Kajir ( a girl) ruled these parts.  Another origin indicates it to be the land of red(rangai) goats ( Kaji).  

Lady Curzon contributed
to the birth of Kaziranga
Kaziranga was created way back in 1904.  Lady Curzon visited this place to see the Rhino that year, but could not sight one.  She asked Lord Curzon to make this place a protected entity.  From then on, it has been protected in different forms and shapes. 

The Assam Government declared this park as a National Park in 1974 - the year I was born.   United Nations declared this as a world heritage site in 1985 considering the fragile nature of this unique ecosystem.  

Apart from the unihorned rhino, the place is also famous for having the highest density of tiger population in the world.   The Indian elephant also is a key part of the ecosystem.   It also is the home for the only ape found in India, the Hoolock Gibbon.  Kaziranga has the largest population of the wild water buffalo anywhere accounting for about 57% of the world population.


Kaziranga - a delicate eco system
Kaziranga supports a diverse animal population.   Reptiles, birds, carnivores and other herbivores form part of the ecosystem.   The list is endless and comprises of many endangered species. The flora and fauna of Kaziranga is a nature, animal and bird watcher's dream.   A heady cocktail of interdependent species, this.  

The place is made rich by the fertile alluvial soil.  There are wetlands surrounded by long grass tracts.  The elephant grass is a common feed for the herbivores. The frequent flooding, and controlled burning of dry grass help the ecosystem recycle the greenery.  


Rise in Rhino and
Elephant population
in Kaziranga
The single most factor that governs the topography of the land is the way Brahmaputra flows.  There have been significant losses in wild life population due to unpredicable floods of the mighty river.   The second biggest problem is manmade.  

Poaching, tourism and traffic have resulted in death and stress of the inhabitant fauna.  The NH-37 traffic has accounted for more than a few elephant and rhino deaths.   Flooding drives the animals to the higher fringes of the park occasionally, where they become susceptible to human intervention.

However, the authority of Kaziranga, has done a good job is saving the three main inhabitants - the one horned rhino, the tiger and the Indian elephants.   The populations of the elephants and rhinos are increasing, and the project tiger implementation has been successful.   

Personally, I had a close encounter with an elephant in the year 2000.   Couple of times, I have sighted the tiger of Kaziranga.   The best part - the majestic and temperamental one-horned rhino is the one, I always wanted to see, and I could see them many a time during my tenure here.  

Some stories to follow, in this laid-back land!

-The One

(Pics courtesy Wickepedia, and other sources acknowledged)








Monday, March 12, 2012

North East Chronicles 8a: Jorhat and Golaghat - silently surprising!

There are beautiful surprises as one reaches Jorhat which is about 200 km from Guwahati ( 5 hours by road, and 1 hour by flight from Kolkata).  

I  still remember my first flight in.  It was a beautiful view from the aircraft's window.  The Brahmaputra and its tributaries run like blue veins on Nature's green body - the canopy of green leaves.   The thatches which are brown in color give the typical human touch to this nature's palatte.  
Jorhat - Night sky

I believe that every place, when assimilated with eye lens or delicated captured by the camera, or converted into adjectives - is beautiful.   Only somebody had the time to stand and stare at this beauty forever!

SURPRISE 1: JORHAT - THE JEWEL OF ASSAM

Jorhat district
 Below those canopies, lie the serpentine roads of Jorhat - the first surprise is the town itself.

Jorhat is the second largest city in Assam, after Guwahati.  One can feel the bustle of human life here - especially the busy trading life.  After all, the name ' Jor' means joining and 'hat' means market.   The city is not different from any others, but you can feel the vibrant life of the locals.   It is a more than  the usual trading post.   It has its share of history by virtue of being part of the Ahom folklore.

The city is the last capital of the Ahom rulers.   Its bit of history which is relegated to the foot note because of the neighbouring Sibsagar.

Post the Ahom's rule, the neighbourhood was ravaged under successive Burmese assaults.  Finally it became a quiet distant town in the ever-expanding British empire in the 1820's.  The present administrative district was carved out of the erstwhile Sibsagar district in 1983.

The city has its unique cultural identity.   The population is predominantly Assamese speaking people, but Majuli River Island population is made of Misings, tribals who form more than 70% of the population.

Jorhat has been a thriving bed of religion. Especially, Majuli, the unpredictable river island, became the principal place of pilgrimage of Vaishnavites since the ages of the Ahom rules. There are several Satras resembling medieval monasteries headed by Satradhikars preaching the Vaishnavism ( following Lord Vishnu) which was initiated by Sankardeva (1449–1568).  Each Satra has unknown wealth of Vaishnav Scriptures and extensive revenue free lands being cultivated by the “Bhakats” of the Satras

Jorhat has produced many creative writers, historians, journalists. Birendra Kumar Bhattacharya, the first Assamese to win India's highest literature award, the Jnanpith Award, was from Jorhat. 

Gibbons - protected!
It also is the home of the Hoollongapur Gibbon National park, dedicated to protecting Gibbons, a type of primates.  The sanctuary is landlocked by tea gardens.  Earlier this used to be part of a large migration path of Indian elephants.

With such rich cultural and natural heritage, Jorhat is the 'cultural capital' and also the 'jewel' of Assam.

SURPRISE 2:  MAJULI  - The largest riverine island in the world?

Majoli was once an island that was 1250 sq km in area.  Now it is almost 1/3rd of its size.  Reason: Erosion.  This island is the the largest riverine island in South Asia.  Sometimes, it is called - especially in its tourist websites as the largest riverine island in the world.

Brahmaputra is considered to be the only MALE river in the world.   The island is seen as a representation of male on one side and the female on the other ( Arthanari form).   Mythology says Krishna used to play here with his friends.  This is in harmony with the earlier myth about this area being part of Narakasura's kingdom.

One side of Majuli Island
Originally, the island was a narrow and long piece of land called Majuli (land in the middle of two parallel rivers) that had Brahmaputra flowing in the north and the Burhidihing flowing in the south, till they met at Lakhu.

Frequent earthquakes in the period 1661–1696 set the stage for a catastrophic flood in 1750 that continued for 15 days, which is mentioned in historical texts and reflected in folklore. As a result of this flood, the Brahmaputra split into two anabranches—one flowing along the original channel and the other flowing along the Burhidihing channel and the Mājuli island was formed.( Verbatim: Wickipedia)

The area is now a thriving Vaishnative centre.  In the 16th century, Sankar Deva, a collossal figure helped build the cultural fabric of the region and  acted as the peace bridge between the Ahom and the Koch kingdoms. He preached strongly a new form of the Hindu religion - that there is one god - as seen as Krishna.   The absence of Radha or any form of Sakthi ( as practiced earlier) was due to the strong influence of this brand of neo-Vaishnavism.

Sankar Deva - A collossal
influence on Assam's culture
Sankar Deva created a cultural hegemony of sorts.  His works in literature, culture and dance have left an ever-lasting influence in the history of Jorhat - Majuli.   His followers set up Satra's or Monastaries to continue his form of religion.  There are still about 26 thriving Satras in Majuli.    These are definitely worth exploring both as a tourist and pilgrim.

Virtually every single person on the island is involved in the three-day long raas festival, depicting the life of Krishna. People from hundreds of kilometers away come to celebrate this festival including a number of expatriate members of community.


Rasleela Performance in Majuli
Erosion has made life in Majuli unpredictable.  The island and its inhabitants have had to endure Brahmaputra's monsoon fury year after year.  Like a terminal cancer, erosion has been eating Majuli's body slowly.  About 2/3rd of the island has vanished.

The main occupation is Agriculture, while tourism is also offers the additional monies.   Each of the Satra's have honed the respective skills of trade - Natun Samuguri Satra for example, one can still find the craft of mask-making; and in the Kamalabari Satra the finest boats are made

A wetland, Mājuli is a hotspot for flora and fauna.  Lot of migratory birds like the Pelican and the Siberian crane visit this place.   The island is unspoilt by industry and is a great example of culture, nature and humanity living side by side.

I could not visit Majuli during my stay in this area in 1999-2000.   Never did I realize, that there was so much of undercurrent of culture in the place I spent about a year and a half.   As I share these as the backdrop, my anecdotes to follow become more interesting.  

- The One

(Pics courtesy respective owners.  The author acknowledges the original contributions in Wickipedia and other tourist websites for supply of location information)




Saturday, March 3, 2012

Mumbai Mumbles: Heir of the Hair Raiser - 3

( In the first part, after the Latur Earthquake, Chota with his father and friends, moves to Mumbai and lives off his father's feed.   In the second part, his father's untimely demise forces him to get into the same business as his - and he becomes the Heir of the Hair Raiser.  This is the third and concluding part... read on...)

... They were thinking of a name.   Finally they concluded something like -  ' Red Saloon for Men' - Estd.,  2010.

No customers, empty chairs!
 Aslam Bhai was pleased.    The boys started work.   They moved in with the rickety chairs and  the antique barber kit.   They were all set.  But they were in for a shock.

For the first two months,  they seldom had a customer.   There would be curious passers by - but not a single soul would turn up to lessen his overhead burden.  The idea seemed to fail.  For every night fall, hope started receding and despair took its rightful place.

Munna started to fidget everyday and Naser increasingly started mumbling.  The din of the uneasy, waiting mind grow into a small mutiny.  It started to get to Chota, the entrepreneur's nerves.   The wait seemed endless.

I never thought it would be so difficult.   With the show on, I took it for granted that somebody would turn up.   The idea seemed brilliant.  I have everything - customers, infrastructure, labor and place.  Even the name is done.   Why? What is missing?

I decided to talk it out with somebody.  I went across to the Amul Dairy shop across the road.   Avaara Chacha -  the owner of the dairy and our place, our only sounding board -  suggested something weird, or so I thought at that time.   But what a master stroke it was!

I asked Munna to start a paan -beedi dukaan just in front of our Red Saloon. 

****

The masterstroke -
a typical paan shop
Munna did not bother - he was used to sitting idle. All he had to do was sit in the paan-beedi dukaan ( cigaratte shop), as Chota told.

Voila!  Like bees to the nectar, like the wasp diving into the shining light,  the men folk - rich and poor turned up.   Gold flakes, Marlboro's and Wills started selling like hot cakes.  One thing Munna was good at, was making paan jarda!

These customers started enquiring on the new saloon and started lending their heads for a good hair cut.  From trickle, it became a stream.  

Weekends were busy, and it became busy in the evenings too.   Chota and Naser were busy doing hair raising.   Munna handed over the reigns to a small neighbour urchin, and that guy took the paan business to the next level.

****
I have always wondered, how at each stage, a brilliant stroke has appeared out of the blue at the time of despair.   Now, Naser is happy running the salon and Munna straddling both - the paan business and the hair raising business.  

I often remember the loss of my family in Latur and then my father in Mumbai.  Now I am left only with my brother and Naser, and of course Avaara Chacha.    They are now my family. 

Time is a great healer.   The pains of the losses are distant.    They have made me harder, like a rock - exactly, how my father used to be.  I always search for the answer, and  always found it.   I am a content man.   Should I be?

Competition was brewing.  Few other enterprising youngsters had started another saloon and spa.  Chota has seen them visit his salon as customers before.    Something had to be done to prevent attrition.   He had built the business brick by brick and he would not allow it die.

****

He decided to do two things.   The idea came from one customer. He along with his son were regulars.   His son was a replica of him, and a restless one.   Everybody liked the kid.   Naser was very fond of the kid.   Since the kid was comfortable, the customer did not want to go anywhere else.
Going by this customer's suggestion, firstly, Chota decided to paint the saloon red.   Chota, Naser, Munna and the other couple of employees all started wearing red T shirts.  


The revamped Red Saloon for men
 Secondly, a TV was mounted in the pedestal, high near the ceiling and a split A/C appeared.    6 new chairs came in - black holstered, swivel, adjustable-pedastal chairs.   Mirrors appeared on the walls.  

Additionally, Chota started offering massage services - head massage, dandruff treatment and facials.   New cosmetics and curatives appeared - ideas borrowed from Jamal Habib and Shenaaz Hussain.

Finally,on that Republic day in 2011, the new version of the 'Red Saloon for Men' was launched.   New customers and regulars thronged the saloon for a good hair cut and a relaxing massage.

****

If I were to retire, I would do now. It has been more than 18 years in Amchi Mumbai. Naser can run the show.   I am 29, but I feel emancipated, and full of content.   Munna is as stagnant as he always has been.   These days,  I talk to my customers and ensure things just go right.   I manage the cosmetics inventory and float around the shop, small talking with my customers.
Naser with the short haired
 customer - ( the author)
who asked for my story

One of these days,  I meet this guy - now regular customer.   He came into the shop one day, and it seemed like a regular cut.  Suddenly he said ' machine lagaao, bahooth chota karnaa hai'.   I asked Naser to use Number 1 machine.   His look changed - he looked like some villain.  We all suppressed our laughter.  

Next weekend he appears.  And next.  And next.  The same hair cut - short one.  We are used to his appearance now - we in fact await his arrival. 

One of these days, he asks - 'how did you guys start?'  I start telling my story of 'the heir of the hair raiser'.

-The One

Pics courtesy Internet, The One