FIRE

Ember and ash, that is left of everything you knew,
Burning faster with anger, as the winds blew.

It burned up the tears, and the joy and the sorrows,
All emotions, even the deepest ones hidden in burrows.

The ego, and the grudges and the red book that held them,
It ate up all, including your pride and the little game.

It killed what is left of you, good and evil, and otherwise,
It is the genesis, and it seeds the phoenixes to rise.

And when everyone thought it was all but over,
A new life germinated, tearing up the ashened cover.

It left everything that was left behind, burning,
Beginning of the end, and a whole new beginning.

A new you, in new surroundings with new desire,
It kills, but facilitates new beginnings, the Fire.

Fire
Holy fire during a ritual.

The poem was penned by me, and looks at the end of things from the perspective of beginning of new things.

In frame: The holy fire during a ritual. I shot this frame using my 35mm Canon FTb QL manual film SLR on an Ilford HP5 Plus 400. This is the first frame from Project 35.

VERY IMPORTANT TO NOTE: Yes, you can share this work with proper attribution. But, please seek permission before using this work (not including the photo), partially or fully. YOU CAN NOT USE THE PHOTO. Believe me, asking is better than ending up in court or facing public shaming on social media. Thanks for understanding.

© Amrit Panigrahy. All rights reserved.

I was there…. Waiting for you!

I waited there, under our pine tree,
And I went there for many more days,
Hoping you would come one day.

It was futile, I was told,
And that you would never be back.
But, I wanted to give it a try.

I wanted to give it a try,
Just so when my time comes,
I won’t feel that I did not wait enough.

And when I realized many springs later,
That you would never come,
I left there the scarf you had given me.

The scarf, my only piece of memory of you,
For it had your scent, as fresh as dew,
It was the only thing that I had of you.

As I wanted to let you know,
Just in case you showed up..
….That…

I was there…. Waiting for you!

————————————————

DISCLAIMER: Penned by yours truly, this poem is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to any person living or dead is purely coincidental.

In frame: A ritualistic scarf tied to a pine tree in the Himalayas, on the way from Naitala to Guptakashi, in Uttarakhand, India. I found small temples dedicated to local Gods as well as such ritualistic things, common place in the Himalayas.

VERY IMPORTANT TO NOTE: Yes, you can share this work with proper attribution. But, please seek permission before using this work (not including the photo), partially or fully. YOU CAN NOT USE THE PHOTO. Believe me, asking is better than ending up in court or facing public shaming on social media. Thanks for understanding.

© Amrit Panigrahy. All rights reserved.

Why travel?

//राही बन//

आराम और सुविधाओं से भरी बेरंग ज़िन्दगी जिएगा कब तक?
निकल बाहर और राही बन, रास्ते को बना अपना घर,
भाग उस मंज़िल की तरफ, जिसका पता ना मुझे है, ना तुझे
जा.. जी अपनी जिंदगी, क्यूँ की उम्र बाकी है बहुत कम..
ऐसी बेरंग ज़िन्दगी जिएगा कब तक?

One for the road
An empty stretch of road between Ujjain and Mandav, in Madhya Pradesh, India after almost 25-30 kms of non-existent roads.

I will admit! For me, travel had always something very tempting about it. My father, who is an avid traveller himself, sowed the seeds of love for travel. And when I was a kid, my mother (who is a History major) would tell me bed time stories about Xuanzang, Faxian, Ibn Battuta and Captain James Cook, and I would lie on the bed imagining myself as an explorer/traveller. Though I have not come too far from those bed-time-stories days, I think it has been good start, although late.

I have been able to cover only a small fraction of this magnificent land. For a starter, I have been breathless on Khardung La in the Himalayas, and have been dwarfed by the majestic mountains in Kedarnath, and have almost frozen in the waters of Gangotri, and have been mesmerised by the Ganga Aarti in Rishikesh. I have criss-crossed central India hopping from heritage sites to religious places, and have been wowed by Kailash temple in Ellora and paintings of Padmapani and Vajrapani in Ajanta, and have been transcended into another dimension while watching Bhashmaarti in Ujjain. I have been lazy in a Goan monsoon, and also have been awed by the magnificence of Hampi. I have crawled up and down in the coffee estates in the Western Ghats, and have also seen the calmness of the sea in Rameshwaram, and have been on the Vivekananda rock to see the three seas meet.

Wait! That’s not all. I have driven my beat Maruti 800 to places. I have ridden my Pulsar 200NS for thousands of kilometres. I have taken my Scorpio on multiple multi-thousand kilometre road trips, and have been on the roads for days together.

Ahaa… Wait! That’s not all, either. I have been stuck on the highway with a cyclone approaching. And as I spent my night in the car and the eye of the cylcone came really close, the howling gale almost blew the car away. And at least on two occasions I have been stranded on the road, surrounded by flood waters, and water levels slowly rising all around me. In such situations the natural choice boils down to either survival (an animal instinct) or humanity (that differentiates us from animals). In the small village I was stuck in on one occasion during the floods, there were at least two hundred more people stranded. And all of us were fed well by the villagers, without being charged a single penny. Without any idea how long the floods will last, wasn’t it brave of those villagers?

Had I been confined, I will not be having these wonderful experiences to share, correct? The travel experiences have shaped me into the kind of human I am at present.

Why I travel, explained in 3 P’s:

Places: Only words and pictures will not do justice to the places I have been to and the stories behind them. The befitting tribute to those places can only be paid by visiting and experiencing them first hand. How on earth can someone tell how it feels to be starved of oxygen at five and a half kilometres above mean sea level? Or, how it feels when water at sub-zero temperatures hits the calvaria? Or, how it feels being stranded in the eye of a cyclone and the gales are about to blow away your car?

People: The great explorers of the past were not dumb to have travelled the world and learn nothing. Humans learn best from experiences of other human beings. And what better way to meet new people other than travel? I have never seen more honest people than the Laddakhis. Being fed by villagers during the floods and for free was the best gesture any human to have ever showed me. I have had instances of total strangers coming and talking to me when I was on a ride to Odisha on my Pulsar 200NS and in the course of the conversation, telling me about places of interest nearby, or about the road that lay ahead. And, people are not always pleasant. I have also been conned many times during my travels. I call them “learning experiences”.

Passion: I am the happiest when I am on the roads, away from my desk, away from my flat. Only someone with love for travelling will understand this. Good news is, there is no way you will not fall in love with it after you start travelling. I mean, I wasn’t born with this love either. And those selfies at beautiful places are a bonus!

Few points of wisdom:

Something always goes wrong when one travels. It is the risks that make travelling even more enticing. Here are a few things that I keep in mind when I am travelling:

Time: When travelling, I always keep time in hand, and utilize it to the fullest extent. I divide my travelling days and set realistic targets for the same. Seeing places is a serious business, you see!

Lights (while self-driving): I have done a fair bit of driving/riding under the lights and have come to a conclusion that it is not worth it. It is a proven fact that human reflexes while driving are much less effective under artificial light. Then there is always the risk of unsocial elements, ghosts and unsocial-elements-dressed-as-ghosts at night. I hate ghosts and hence I try my best to avoid night driving. Pun intended!

Money: Not all places have ATMs. And post demonetisation, not all the ATMs dispense cash. I carry just enough to survive and overcome an eventuality and much less than an amount that will tempt someone to kill me. As a rule of thumb, I would start my day with Rs 5000, and replenish it back to that level at start of each day.

Maps and research: I carry a road atlas as a back up to the map on my phone. Most of the times, I do my route and stoppage planning beforehand. The most fun part of travel preparation is setting up an itinerary. I call it research!

When in doubt, I lie: If it is a self-driven road-trip, when asking for directions I always ask directions to the next big town on my route, and not to my destination. When the stranger I am speaking to does not seem right, or is too inquisitive, or both, I just cook up a story. Believe me, it is not a sin to lie when it comes down to safety. And I have a thing against serial killers!

Have fun: When something goes wrong, and something always goes wrong, I don’t get bogged down by the incident and look at the brighter side, instead. Remember, if you have no control on the outcome of a crisis, have a good time while having the crisis.

I also admit that I am yet to see the world, and have experienced just a fraction of what so many other people might have. Although late, I am glad to have started travelling. And travel I will!

Finally, let me repeat the wise words from John A. Shedd for you – “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.”

So, what are you waiting for? Pack your bags, and get out of the house. Go Now!

Credits: Poem at the top penned by your’s truly!

Note: Please get in touch if you have difficulty in reading Hindi, and would prefer an English translation of the poem instead.

In frame: A stretch of good road between Ujjain and Mandav. We stopped here to straighten our backs after 25-30kms on non-existent roads. Yes, that happens in a Scorpio too!

VERY IMPORTANT TO NOTE: Yes, you can share this work with proper attribution. But, please seek permission before using this work (not including the photo), partially or fully. YOU CAN NOT USE THE PHOTO. Believe me, asking is better than ending up in court or facing public shaming on social media. Thanks for understanding.

© Amrit Panigrahy. All rights reserved.

वैशाली की आम्रपाली

/*

/
मैं एक साधारण सी कन्या, एक सामान्य सा जीवन चाहती थी,
परंतु वैशालीनरेश मनुदेव के वासना की वेदी पर मेरे प्रेम की बली चढ़ाई गई।
मनुदेव की वासना पूरी करती, मैं बनी नगरवधु,
नगरवधु समझते हैं? वैशाली के प्रत्येक पुरुष की वधु।
कारण? वैशाली गणतंत्र था – जो वैशालीनरेश की, वह वैशाली की, एवं प्रत्येक वैशालीवासी की।
मैं आम्रपाली, साधारण सी कन्या, वैशाली की आम्रपाली बन गयी…
/
यहाँ के पुरुष जाति में मुझे पाने की एक भयानक सी विक्षिप्तता थी,
पौरुष का उन्माद कुछ ऐसा था, की ना पुरुष बचते, ना वैशाली।
मेरे वैशाली की अखंडता को सुरक्षित रखने के लिए मैं जनपद कल्याणी बनायी गयी,
काम वही था, बस एक सान्त्वना थी की मैं अपना साथी खुद चुनती।
/
आए मगधनरेश बिम्बिसार, एक संगीतकार के भेष में,
मैं उनके प्रेम की वश में आई ही थी कि मुझे उनका असल स्वरुप ज्ञात हुआ।
वे मुझे बनाना चाहते थे मगध की महारानी…
विडम्बना यह थी कि वैशाली एवं मगध के युद्ध में कोई ना बचता, यदि वैशाली की आम्रपाली मान जाती,
वैशाली को सुरक्षित रखने के लिए, आम्रपाली को अपने प्रेम की बली चढ़ानी पड़ी।
/
फिर आए अजातशत्रु, बिम्बिसार के पुत्र एवं उनके पश्चात मगधनरेश,
मेरे सौन्दर्य की आसक्ति उन्हें वैशाली की ओर खींच लाई,
वैशाली ने अपने आम्रपाली को बाँटने से मना कर दिया,
एवं अजातशत्रु की कामाग्नि में जल कर राख हो गया।
जिस वैशाली के लिए मैंने अपने शरीर को तपा दिया था,
वह वैशाली ना रहा… आम्रपाली का वैशाली ना रहा…
/
दुखी और असहाय मैं, लगा मुझे कहीं से एक सहारा मिल गया,
जब मैंने एक बौद्ध भिक्षु से प्रेम का निवेदन किया।
जिस आम्रपाली का सौन्दर्य किसी भी पुरुष को मोहित कर देता,
वह सौन्दर्य एक भिक्षु के आगे हार गया…
मैं वैशाली की आम्रपाली उस भिक्षु के पीछे चली व चलती गई,
उस भिक्षु को मैं अपने प्रेम में बाँध ना पाई,
मैं वैशाली की आम्रपाली स्वयं भिक्षुणी बन गई।
/
मैं वैशाली की आम्रपाली…
/
*/
/

Well, this is the story of Amrapali! An infant Amrapali was found under a mango tree and hence the name (Amra in Sanskrit means mango). Thanks to the twists and turns of fate, Amrapali, a simple girl, was made the “Nagarvadhu” (bride of the whole city) of Vaishali, and then went on to become the “Janapada Kalyani” (most talented woman of the realm), and at the end became a nun and one of the most prominent women disciples of Buddha himself. While she lived in opulence, she became sick and tired of being pursued for her enchanting beauty, and realised that worldly desires bring only sorrow. She renounced all desires at the end.

I had heard of Amrapali, but it was only after seeing her figurine on the eastern gate of Sanchi (see photo), that I began my research on her. This figurine of Amrapali challenges our current social beliefs, and appears to be nude. Not so soon! If you notice closely, she is shown wearing a body hugging garment made of satin. Even I didn’t believe it, till my guide took me to the back side of the figurine and pointed out the folds in the garment, which were more prominent at the back. Such were the master sculptors. No wonder, Sanchi proudly bears the tag of a “World Heritage Site” for its exquisitely carved gates on all four sides.

Wait! How am I convinced that she is Amrapali, apart from my guide telling me so? Internet tells us that she is Shalabhanjika, a Yakshi. But no! If she was indeed Shalabhanjika, as the name suggests she would be seen with a shal tree and not with a mango tree, as is in this case. Mango means Amra, and hence Amrapali. Simple!

Coming back to the story of Amrapali before she became a nun, as it turns out, Bimbisara, the then Emperor of Magadh (present day Bihar) and later his son Ajaatshatru (who went on to arrest his father and capture the throne of Magadh for himself), were among many suitors of Amrapali. Both Bimbisara and Ajaatshatru were unquestionably amongst the most powerful men of India of that time. Not undermining the trauma she must have gone through earlier as the bride of Vaishali, in due course Amrapali had garnered enough audacity, power and voice to say no to even Emperors. Talk of women empowerment!

In course of my research, I found out that the timeline was 6th-5th century BC. I learned, as hard as it is to believe, Vajji Mahajanapada, of which Vaishali was the capital, was a democratic republic of sorts. That was more than 2,500 years ago. Point to be noted here is, Alexander the Great and other Greeks would arrive in India only two centuries later. So, a democratic republic of sorts not only existed, but also flourished in India, even before the Greeks arrived. However, Greece is considered as the origin of democracy. Interesting, isn’t it?

Will you agree, it is enough of history lessons for one post? I bet you will! And I promise to cover Sanchi in detail, in one of my later posts.

Until then!

Credits: Hindi “Bonds”, who also happen to be my good friends, helped me in proof reading the Hindi poem “Vaishali ki Amrapali”. Not formally trained in Hindi, I had committed many mistakes in the first draft and they helped me fix them – Tulika Poddar, Sonam Chamaria, Aradhana Singh and Pallavi Jain.

In frame: Eastern gate, Stupa no. 1, Sanchi, Madhya Pradesh, India

Note: Please get in touch if you have difficulty in reading Hindi, and would prefer an English translation of the poem instead.

VERY IMPORTANT TO NOTE: Yes, you can share this work with proper attribution. But, please seek permission before using this work (not including the photo), partially or fully. YOU CAN NOT USE THE PHOTO. Believe me, asking is better than ending up in court or facing public shaming on social media. Thanks for understanding.

© Amrit Panigrahy. All rights reserved.

जौहर

/*
नज़दीक आती हुई क़दमों की आवाज़, ये आधम खान के सिपाही हैं,
लगता है उसने मेरी पेशगी का हुक्म दिया है।
लेकिन उसको क्या पता, की आपकी रूपमती..
आपकी रूपमती किसी गैर मर्द की ना हो पाएगी।

सुलतान, मेरी एक आखरी ख़्वाहिश थी आपको देखने की… अगर आप होते..
लेकिन, सारंगपुर की जंग में आप शायद शहीद हो गए।
और मुझे यकीन है…
मुझे यकीन है, मेरे साथ ये ना होता, अगर आप होते…

फिर भी कहीं एक छोटी सी उम्मीद थी..
उम्मीद थी की मालवा के सुलतान अपने रूपमती को बचाने आएंगे…

अब नहीं, और नहीं..
रूपमती अपने प्यार को…

थोड़ा सा दर्द, और थोड़ा सिसकना..
फिर आँखोँ के सामने धीरे धीरे गिरता हुआ अँधेरे का पर्दा…
अब ज्यादा देर नहीं है… मैं क़यामत तक अपने सुलतान की।

मैं रूपमती, और ये मेरा जौहर…..
*/

Mandu, or Mandav was capital of erstwhile kingdom of Malwa. Mandu is dotted with love tales of Sultan Baz Bahadur of Malwa, and his queen consort Roopmati.

Kingdom of Malwa used to be a vassal of the Mughals, and had declared indepedence taking advantage of the instability that ensued just after Akbar had taken control.

Akbar then sent his foster brother Adham Khan and a large contingent of the Mughal army to subdue Malwa. Adham Khan, who had by then heard of Roopmati’s enchanting beauty, had resolved to defeat Malwa and take her as a prized possession of his harem.

Baz Bahadur faced Adham Khan and the Mughals in Sarangpur with a small contingent. Baz Bahadur’s contingent was no match for the mighty Mughals and he escaped after being defeated.

Adham Khan then marched on to Mandav. Thinking that Baz Bahadur was slained in the battle, Roopmati poisoned herself, as she could not have seen another man in her life. Such was her love.

In due time, Adham Khan was executed by Akbar. Baz Bahadur surrendered to Akbar and was in return made the mansabdar of Malwa.

And for Roopmati, her love and loyalty for Baz Bahadur still fascinates imagination of the new generation of tourists to Mandu.

Credits:
The short piece in Hindi at the top is an original by yours truly. Take it as an ode to Roopmati’s love and loyalty.

Technical help in proof-reading the Hindi poem and text – Sonam Chamaria

In frame – Hindola Mahal in Mandu, Madhya Pradesh, India

Note: Please get in touch for the English translation of the poem, if you have difficulty reading Hindi.

VERY IMPORTANT TO NOTE: Yes, you can share this work with proper attribution. But, please seek permission before using this work (not including the photo), partially or fully. YOU CAN NOT USE THE PHOTO. Believe me, asking is better than ending up in court or facing public shaming on social media. Thanks for understanding.

© Amrit Panigrahy. All rights reserved.