abdul rahiman and the mutilated breasts

the day was warm.  not sultry, just warm.  a maybe-a-little-too bright sun beat down on the cliff side.  the day was late january: the winter chill still in the water, while the fickle earth baked in the day.

we had been to daulatabad fort the previous day, ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daulatabad ) and were a bit overwhelmed at the sight of formidable mughal power.  there is nothing like the sight of a conqueror’s fortress marked by his pillar to evoke ancient feelings of nervousness and disquiet.  daulatabad fort, much coveted and fought for, is set into the rock at deogiri.  and thrusting upwards with macho self assuredness is the chand minar, rising like a phallus of the foothills to survey the landscape around.

chand minar, looking out over the foothills of deogiri

chand minar, looking out over the foothills of deogiri

the view from the top was majestic, and the sheer ingenuity of the custodians of the fort, not to mention their capacity for savagery was what we marvelled at.  this here was the fortress of a people fiercely victorious in a hobbesian hell, an age where caution was perennial, and nervous.

the labyrinth is excitedly pointed out to everyone, called “andheri” and reeking of bat shit and paraffin fumes.  then there are also the ruined halls, and the chini mahal, where the last king of golconda was held captive, and eventually died.

distant view of a minaret

distant view of a minaret

the grandeur was hard to not get affected by, as also not to shudder at what might have passed here, in these lawns, what sordid tales of palace intrigue and foiled plans would they tell?  when enemy armies were cut down mercilessly, their numbers slaughtered, their ranks scattered, their few surviving members greeted with boiling oil and scalding water, what might have been the feeling in the denizens of the fort?  where might the head waiter have directed his concerns first?  supplies?  sustenance?  safety?  or self?

it was an exercise in harsh realities, reminding us of the mindless slaughter preceding our age, and remembering, with gladness, our own lives.

…………………… xxxx

so the day was warm. not sultry.  we were in ellora,  in verul, further down from deogiri, on the road to dhulia.  ellora is a UNESCO world heritage site, (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ellora_Caves ), and is a spectacular structure, its 34 caves dotting the hillside, set into the cool rock, and looking down on the land for 1300 years.  the structure was built by the rashtrakutas and possibly the chalukyas from the 5th to the 11th century AD, and has buddhist, hindu and jain caves built more or less in that order, as allegiances to the gods slipped and shifted and slipped some more.

the hindu caves show shaivites and vaishnavites in collaboration in the gigantic friezes on the walls, half of one hall given over to shiva, and the other half to vishnu.

the caves are spectacular because they are built out of a single rock, essentially.  that is, teams of workers sat in quiet perserverance on this cliffside for centuries to carve out, one by one, each of these caves.  the caves, in turn, house large temples, statues of elephants, stupas, intricately carved panels and pillars within them.  there are “living bridges”, namely bridges fashioned out of the rock as they were, the passages fashioned out of the rock, thus creating the bridge.  this in cotrast to the usual way when passages dictate the bridge.  the entire structure is one single rock, and voluptuous women smile at you from the ends of corridors, their presence witnessed by lissome caryatids on the side,supporting the smooth black rock.  churned out of the granite rock is an entire fantasyland of figures, dancing, preening, fighting, supplicating, copulating, frozen forever in mythological tableaux, locked in timeless urgency.

cave 21

cave 21

the pinnacle of the caves, of course, is the much photographed cave no. 16, called “kailasa”. it is a spectacular cave, with an extensively carved temple complex in the centre flanked by massive halls, ostensibly for dance performances.  then there is much-photographed elephant with the broken trunk, a mutilation that nevertheless makes it as arresting as, if not more than, the elephant in cave 32.

the elephant with the broken trunk, kailasa.

the elephant with the broken trunk, kailasa.

the body is chipped, and the broken face is no longer the beautiful, kind yet haughty visage it must once have been, as young girls with lamps in their hands passed under its smooth belly, reaching out to touch its legs, and place their hands on their lidded eyes.  the temple, beautiful and old, is cracked in places, torn down with a vengeance and ferocity that seems almost insane.

elephant, indrasabha

elephant, indrasabha

cave 32, (also known as indra sabha – a historic misnomer) is a jain cave at the end of the road, about 3-4 kms to the north.  there are still many well-preserved pieces of sculpture here, with exquisitely carved inner sanctums, and the only other proudly standing elephant.  for a sense of size, think kailasa’s elephant the size of an african pachyderm, and the one in the indra sabha the size of an indian cow elephant.

the complexity is vast and gargantuan; the audacity of the work has to be seen to be believed.  there are passageways, chaitya halls, viharas, friezes of tirthankaras, stone benches for disciples and ribbed vaulted ceilings which were painstakingly conceived as wooden-ceiling mimics.  the scale and scope of the undertaking is staggering.  the entire structure lies before you, in splendidly detailed ruin, marred by deliberate vandalism and petty destruction, pages of poetry in stone torn apart by a petulant and spoilt child.  at corners, i stopped to wonder – who would order such a thing? which general would instruct his troops to deliberately destroy this extraordinary work of art, who could have done it with such careless nonchalance?  the thoroughness of the demolition is frightening.  the faces are almost all mutilated, beautiful lips and graceful cheekbones all broken off by rough swipes at the stone with blunt hand held instruments.  would the general have ordered that all statues be destroyed by the morning, and extra rations offered to those who broke off the most?  would he have set targets per regiment, punishing those that came back to camp with less mortar and booty?  the savagery of the marauders shocked me.  some had driven iron nails into the statues’ eyes and body, in a spiteful and desperate attempt to disfigure and mutilate.

why would they do so?  would any one of them have felt a remorse, a sadness, a sense of the immense consequence of their actions?  would at least some of them have stopped to admire the carvings, stopping to caress the stone’s rough hewn edges and smooth surfaces?  would they have felt heavy in the heart, for having destroyed such beauty?

the breasts are the most important.  across the caves, the female figures, blessed at birth with deliciously globular breasts and smooth bodies stare out at the world with almond-shaped eyes.  their sexy come-hither looks are marred, however, by the disconcerting effect of their breast-less visages.  their cleavages, once deep walleys of dark granite, are now craggy rocks of forlorn two-dimensionality.  it is the odd sculpture scattered across the caves that gives us a glimpse of the grandeur of those mammaries, 1500 years back, when they were hewn out of the rock.  systematically, someone has attacked the sculptures, and hacked off the breasts of the women.

the discomfort of these invaders with female sexuality is evident.  in the indra sabha, a jain cave of the digambar sect, naked tirthankaras stare at you from every wall. some of themhave their heads chopped off, their genitals still preserved, intact and forlornly southward-pointing.

the headless tirthankara

the headless tirthankara

there has been very little concerted efforts to mutilate those genitals, the humiliation heaped upon the statues limited to the beheading and the occassional severance of torso from lower limb.

its almost as if these invaders wanted to prove a point, by their excessive savagery towards the female statues.

i exited the cave, musing.  kailasa is cave 16. lesser known, but no less fascinating is cave 15, with a long flight of steps leading up to it.  we walked up, and being the only people in the cave, engaged the man who was there for a short guided tour.  he took us around, and we were charmed by his poetic and skilful explanations of the sculpted frescoes.  he explained the shaivite and the vaishnavite parts of the wall, pointing out the different incarnations from the dasa avatar: there is matsya, here’s varaha, etc etc.  he explained in detail the popular ellora motif: ravan, in the arrogance of new-found power, tries to shake the mount kailasa.  shiva puts him in his place by flexing his great toe, meanwhile reassuring parvathy that the situation is under control.  it is a moment of infinity, pregnant with the possibility of action, and drama.  he took us all round, and showed us the ananthapadmanabhan, ie, the infinite vishnu with the lotus from his navel, and with brahma seated on the lotus.

we were done with the cave, and had caressed the smooth sensuous back of the enormous humped bull nandi in the middle of the hall with longing.  we were leaving, and turned to ask the man if he were a guide.  no, he said, he was a class 4 employee, there to sweep the floor of the cave, much less frequented than other caves because of the flight of steps and its proximity to more famous kailasa.

we asked him his name, and abdul rahiman was his name, as he told us.  as we left, having slipped a fifty into his pocket for his expertise and time, we looked back one last time and saw abdul standing in his courtyard, the two storeys of the cave rising behind him, the monkeys his only company as the sun beat down upon the granite around him, the sheer walls splashed with mutilated bodies and headless torsos.

abdul rahiman, the class 4 employee, archaeological survey of india.

cave 15, ellora

vanars watching varaha : cave 15, ellora


january 5th, zero-nine : the lo-to-pha-gi :

They were not greek.  No, altho there was much insinuation made of that brand of love in the house. The dark, slightly damp corner of the room forever redolent of soft sighs, or (more often) of frantic urgings, would join in the discussions, often offering surprisingly imaginative suggestions for buggery.

There was a large game board in the middle of the room. This was the front room, the one that greeted every weary traveller who set foot in the house, greeted him before the inevitably empty bottle of water and the massively rolled joint.

The bottle was to be filled from the tap, the bong was to keep him company on his journey.

It does not matter what the game board was. Depending on which particular racial reality was being eked out in the room, or even, whichever reality was being played out that day in that common living space, the boards would change. Four heads in shared concentration would pore over the central table, their hair tousled, the skin over their foreheads thrown into deep furrows of intense thought. Sometimes it would be carrom, sometimes battleships, often a pack of cards and a flat surface

There would be assorted debris around the room, the flotsam and jetsam of the forever-itinerant-always-static life: assorted mobile chargers, crust-filled boxes of pizza, sandals, reed mats spread out against the far wall, newspapers folded neat and knife-like, pressing finely powdered cannabis in between their grimy leaves, two books by kafka, one assorted dvd of the x-men series and daredevil, and a fine sprinkling of ash coating the entire room, mingling with the dust and entering their lungs, to be wracked out a hours later, trapped in large globs of phlegm.

In an inside room, in a dank and furtive corner, someone wrapped in an oversize blanket would wave distractedly, his eyes intent on the foreign language film flickering on the screen in front of him, its eastern european heroines restricted to limited english lines of ‘yes’ and ‘harder’.  The dialogues would seem to be terse, and pithy, and the urgency of the actors evident in their insistent utterings.

Sometimes, there would be a tv in the corner, the channel forever tuned to Ftv, the cute gluteal folds of some brazilian ramp model ignored in the general interest over the evolving game.

The kitchen would be filthy, and largely unused, grease encrusted plates congealing near the sink while water dripped over the chipped white tile surface. Empty bottles would line the wall, and the fridge would be empty, save a half-empty bottle of flat pepsi and mouldy bread against the far corner.

On the counter, the cool earthern pot would store water, dark and refreshing.

The loo would be small, and often serviced by the only perrenial tap in the house, its lowly status as toilet-water-supply (kindly note the second hyphen) forgotten often when it is the only source of water in the house when the sun was high.

These are the lotus eaters, the carrom players, eternal drifters testing newton’s first law and proving it right every time, stopping only for a smoke or a roll, or reaching out for crumpled newspaper to wipe away the mess.

These are the Lotophagi.

“….How sweet it were, hearing the downward stream,
With half-shut eyes ever to seem
Falling asleep in a half-dream
To dream and dream, like yonder amber light,
Which will not leave the myrrh-bush on the height;
To hear each other’s whisper’d speech;
Eating the Lotos day by day,
To watch the crisping ripples on the beach,
And tender curving lines of creamy spray;
To lend our hearts and spirits wholly
To the influence of mild-minded melancholy;
To muse and brood and live again in memory,
With those old faces of our infancy
Heap’d over with a mound of grass,
Two handfuls of white dust, shut in an urn of brass!”

—                               From “The Lotos Eaters” Lord Alfred Tennyson, 1809-1892

3-01-09 : Australia :

the movie is baz luhrman’s and has been officially declared a flop before it got here to india. which is a pity, beacaus ein a way, luhrman is the most bollywood of the english directors that i have seen. his movies have it all: pathos, melodrama, grand sweeping stage, songs, obvious motifs, larger-than-life canvas, and more money spent on a single spectacular sequence than on the scriptwriter’s part of the spoils ( i think:)

its always a pleasure to watch one of these sweeping historicals, especially if its abt something that u have only a little bit of knowledge about, so ure not nitpicking abt the details. am sure that there’s junta in australia and darwin who’re smarting , or seething, depending on wat their deal is, seeing the liberties he’s taken with the narrative and with reality.

i loved the period settings, the scenes in the outback, the grimy and dusty land stretching in front, the two thousands head of cattle, and the genteel english society in darwin.

the casting is impeccable, and this is a pair that i find especially handsome. as was probably the attempt. the idea, i think, was to make the couple seem as statuesque as possible. have words like “elegant”, “classic”, “striking” to be written about them in the reviews (which they have). it was irritiating how jackman looked forever like he had freshly emerged from his makeup van (he probably had) when the gringos arnd him looked dirty, swarthy, grimy and sweaty.

kidman looks gorgeous, stunnning, elegant, beautiful, basically just being kidman. and does a great role of going from prissy englishwoman to daughter-of-the-outback.

the movie’s other actors are passable. the dogged villain, set upon revenge and recrimination even as his wife was mowed down by enemy fire, his stock razed and his fortune destroyed, does strike this ludicrous note,  but its overlook-able.

there are some great sequences depicting the herding of the catle, and an eerie sidetrack involving a shaman, who coalesces into the movie’s convenient “lets’- not-disturb-indigenous-cultures” form of white apologism. the caucasian guilt at having colonized the land stretches down to the trite two messages at the end describing the prime minsiter of australia “apologising/ admitting” to the process of “assimilation” of native australian people (alternately described as savages or aborigines in the movie). i don’t want to make a political point; indeed i know too little to try and make insinuations, but to me, wat was more important was the land itself, and the depiction of the follies of the early 20th century english settlements in australia.

coming fresh as i am  from diamond’s labour of love on “why societies choose to fail or succeed”,  in his 2005 book : “collapse”, i am intrigued by the decsions made by the early settlers on the land in  australia, decsions that were uniformly disastrous for the environment, the indigenous people and animals, and ultimately(which is one of diamond’s points) for  the settlers themselves.

(but of course, by this stage they’re not settlers really, they’re australians really aren’t they?)

read abt the book at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Collapse_(book)

meanwhile, very happy nicole-watching to the rest of u.

: second of january, 2009 :

.  December’s face is turned away;

.                january’s

.  smiling at me.


.                              Nirvana Demon (2009)


.                                                good morning, 2009!