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


the ninth chiranjeevin

Hindu scripture talks of eight chiranjeevins, sprinkled across the olden times, when the average age span of men far exceeded that of this time, when ancient giants roamed the earth, cursed to terrorise a hapless populace by ageless hermits, nestled in some deep craggy crook of the himalayas, living on berries and meditation in the summer, and a berry-free diet in the winter….

the conditions were harsh, yet these men would prevail.

if u think that that is disturbingly patronising and is written in an attempt to invoke in the reader a sense of the frailty of himself, u are probably right, and the doctrine has succeded, so hallelujah!  so i suppose its always good t trust ure instincts.

yet these men also came with a date of expiry, a leaf on the calendar when a weather beaten and toughened hand would no longer reach out to tear away from the page in front.

criers would still be many, they would have joined the man in the 60th or seventieth decade.

but there was an end, nevertheless…

all? nay, not all.

one small band of men: indomitable? – doubtless, potioned? perhaps not.

so there they are: all eight of them: in order: parasuram, ashwatthama, kripacharya, vibheeshan, vyasa, hanuman, mahabali, markandaya. all immortal men, held aloft from the ebb and tide of death and the clutches of demise. calmly watching as humanity marched past, aloof in the surety of their indestructibility…..

well, not really destructibility, is it? just mortality. but to confuse that with the situation of being is presumptuous and characteristically self-obsessed. with the self-centerdness of mortals, and the arrogance of a long-lived thinking animal, we equate existence to living, of course.

yet, mythology seems to have something to say, rather gently, in this diresction, too.

in addition to the eight extraordinary gentlemen, there are the seven eternals: vishnu,shiva,the sheshnaag, and the four vedas. arreseted forever in time by their virtual indestructibility, their effortless fluidity beyond the limits of space.

neil gaiman also talks of the seven endless : siblings all: destiny,death,dream,destruction,desire and despair(twins) and delirium(formerly delight) 

Perhaps, it all began with the number seven.

eight chiranjeevins, seven eternals,

and seven of the endless.not gods, but lords of their realms, anthropomorphic personifications of the eventuality they represent.

will an age throw up a ninth? does she already walk among us, unnoticed, biding her time, waiting for the appropriate number of years before application forms can be filled? does she sigh impatiently, and wait for, wat is it? six, maybe eight hundred years to pass before turning in her papers, coming out of hiding and apply to be a chiranjeevin?

is she cher? or kylie? or the queen? or lata mangeshkar?

or is she mrs shukla/chawla/thompson/aseem/batliwala/smith/singh who sits in the office down the corridor, seemingly sprighty even at this age?

(what age is that?

oh, i don’t know, very old i’m sure. she’s the oldest person around here. i’ve heard they keep her around because she’s the only one who knows to type!



vikram and betaal

(this post has appeared before in my previous blog titled icarusunstuck.)

ok this is the story as far as i know….

there’s this couple, theyre childless, not for want of trying, thoi. theyve tried it every which way, doggie, froggie, maggie(who was a very nice lady who was secretary to the malkin at the big house, and tho they did have a very exciting menage a quatre together, nothing really came out of it).

so deep dudgeon. despondency, despair, and gloom.
fertility is universal, and in india, women are so fertile, u pass them on the street , they get pregnant(actual quote from my gynaec boss, and he shud know!)

so major backbiting by the nighbours. ladies saying mean stuff at parties, husband chided at the local pub, wife shamed at village tap, the works.someone says something abt how she was less of a woman because her womb was barren.
and she’s depressed, of course. as hell. this is india, and everyone has babies, or is on their way! and the gender equations in it ensure that she gets the brunt the poor lady.he’s taken to golf,she’s started playing cards, and losing quite a bit. the sex is not as inventivce, but is still quite fun. (YAY!)

then wandering mendicant. comes to village.matted hair. ash smeared body.genitals on public display. chillum in hand. year worth of malana cream in rucksack. red eyes, no clearine. says he can help them.just get wife naked, get her to come to his room. major prevarication.husband wants a menage a trios, wife says that might dilute the issue, and in turn, dilute their own issue.finally, they consent. she comes to his bedchamber in true mahabharata style, and they roll in the sack. also true mahabharata style??? i wonder…. hmmmmm….. the sex is great. all that tantric sex guides that they distributed at the chai shop in kanchenjunga, they helped. the man goes on and on. the woman’s screams keep the whole village up, most of the night. and i mean that they cud not sleep, u naughty person!

the lady who made the nasty statemnt looks over at the sleeping form of her hubby, snoring gently, blowing small spit bubbles in his sleep.overweight and gross, his pajama flutters briefly, alive in the breeze of his dal-fuelled flatulence.well, sadhu smokes a fag, rolls over and goes to sleep, while woman is expectant,(not expecting tho). and the dogs finally settle down from their furious barking. the sadhu finally wakes up in morning, has a little pillow talk, coffee, and tells her to wait in nine months, leaves.nothing happens.

ok that last para, not how the story went. but was just there to spice things up a bit.

childless couple, sadhu came, wily, cunning looking guy. talks abt curing their problem. u want a kid, i can help u! etc etc. so he gives her a fruit/berry/nut/mantra/position/pill that she must eat/chant/try out/swallow.she will become pregnant, but there’s the rider(sin’t there always?). when the kid is 14, the sage wants him back.the couple is ok, we’ll cross the bridge when we , etc etc. now just give us the kid. and begone,. odious wasp, unless u wanna stay and make it a menage a canq tonite, the malkin is coming over, with the luscious ms maggie.

sure enuff, nine months , and bonny baby boy.smart, fast learner, and curious dark eyes. recites the vedas soon, speaks in sanskrit to his teacher, no big deal, everyone does that, but starts to talk to him in arabic, and in russian, afterward. the culprit, they find is the back issues of misha that they had stashed under the cupboard. parents majorly proud. dad at cocktail parties starts to take his sone along, shows off his prowess at math(so akaash, wat was 37 times 167 again, beta??).kid’s an insufferable prick, starts doing partial differentials when he’s 11 and all that.

mom is adoring, takes him down to the tap, and shows him off there. and how is ure son, lalita?(bitchy woman). is he writing his inter again this year? don’t they have a ceiling on age??? and how is ure husband(the snorer)? does he still have that problem with his hemmorhoids? and wat of those papoaverine shots that he’s getting?must be beastly painful, having to take an injection THERE, (giggles).

in short, all happy and khush. then the sage comes back. its been 14 years, they passed in a blink, where does the time go??he asks for the kid. the parents demur. then they say kid’s dead, when that fails, they produce another kid: impersonation. sage is not impressed, he wants the same kid. then they bluster, then cajole, then bribe. all to no avail. u promised, says the sage, and u know wat? he’s got a point really. very rumpelstiltskin-esque and all that.

anyway, parents are finally forced to give the kid away.lots of heartbreak, and moving violin music, mother is prostrate at the threshold of the house, dad is already hitting the bottle, but we have no time to look at that now.

the child is with the sage, who, strangely enuff is treating him rather well.takes him to an old house, a haveli, and says that he wanted an apprentice to learn from him; so i shall be ure guru, little boy, and u will receive boarding and food here. in return, do ure duties like cleaning the house,and learn from me….

pretty good deal, the kid reasons, and so he sets to work with a diligence. soon is very good at his work, and at his lessons. the magician is happy. there seems to have been no instance of homosexual overtures mnade to the kid or of any physical contact with sexual intent. the sage/magician gives him the keys to all the rooms.says u start cleaning everything everyday, that is ure job.except this one room, see? that is out of bounds. and u have run of the whole old house….and its an old house, and HUGE….. rooms after rooms… there’s plenty to keep an inquistive young mind occupied.lots of neat stuff the sage had collected on his travels, and loads of other stuff too. not quite green stuff bubbling in glass retorts and a grey monster with two nails in his neck, but close.

but the rider’s always a point innit? so the kid wants to know wats in the room. THE room, more accurate.the keys are with the magician, he wears it in a key arnd his neck. no way of getting that.

so major plotting. and scheming, and all that. and one day, when he’s asleep, the boy goes over and takes the key from the magician’s neck. maybe the man was on alprax or smthng, anyway, he manages quite easily.and he greases the lock, so that it won’t creak as it turns, and he opens the door.

the room is HUGE…. and filled, from floor to ceiling, with young boys’ bones.here and there some clavicles form pretty lil culicues on the floor. there’s a femur with the definite sign of gnawing arnd the edges.here’s some old scapulae with the wings practically paper thin and decaying. some tibiae at the far corner.fresh. but not overdone.

the boy pisses in his pants.this is not wat he had expoected. the story is clear in a blinding flash, but he realises that he must leave, at the same time, he is probably in an enchanted house with a spell to prevent him from leaving.so he bides his time. very hansel-like, and continues to be nice to the mendicant. the guy is not suspicious(the key is right back arnd his neck).

so sometime, when the sage goes to the city or smthng, the boy makes good his escape,with the help of some magic tricks of his own. the sage comes back home and sees him gone. then examines the key, and sees the grease.roars in rage. chases. but the boy has made himself a corpse, and is in a cemetery, hanging from a tree. the brahmin sage cannot touch it and lose his caste.or there’s some other story to it, some curse like baali and the curse of dhundhubi’s corpse in the ashram of the sage.

but anyway, so the sage goes to king vikramaditya and gives him an apple. everyday. and V. politely keeps it aside. one time a monkey stea;ls the fruit, then breaks it open, and the king sees that its got a ruby inside.checks the other ones. all have rubies. calls the mendicant. so he says i have no need for the rubies. was hoping u’de help me.
wat’s the deal, asks V.

so he’s finally in the cemetery on the amaavas night; jackals howling, hounds baying, the works. he gets the corpse, but its possessed by the betaal.then starts the long trek back.

so the vetaal decides to tell the king stories to pass away the time.the condition is that the king must hear him out, and then must answer. if he knows the answer and stays mum, then head=million smithereens. if he talks, however, then the betaal returns to the tree.

and thus began the vikram betaal series. or vikram – vetaal, if ure alliterative.

i have no idea wat the rest of the stry is, but it sounds pretty trippy. the whole construction, u know, and the moral judgements in the stories. very fascinating. traveller, if u have stopped to read this blog, do u think that u may be able to add something more to the story?there’;s a book by penguin, some Ms Sengupta, but i dunno if that is complete. i remember vikram and vetaal from arun govil’s performance on DD in the 80’s and also from chandamama, every fortnight, but that was loooong time back….

seems a pity that soemthing so psychedelic wud be hidden from us, the english speaking prodigals of an ancient land.
in sha allah.