25
Jul
11

Pa katè vanotā?

 “And in the middle of them, with filthy body, matted hair and unwiped nose, Ralph wept for the end of innocence, the darkness of man’s heart, and the fall through the air of the true wise friend called Piggy” – William Golding, Lord of the Flies, Chapter 12

It was late afternoon and the khānchās (lanes) were fairly deserted. However, saw people attempting to peer out discreetly. The thug-faced man supervising the demise of a part of Kachchh’s history looked at me with suspicion and nervously shifted his buttocks that were resting on a mobike. Trying to control the anguish mounting inside me, I pointed the camera towards the blatant ruin of the heritage building in Mandvi.

“Aey!” Voiced the man threateningly, “Photo lena manā hai.”

“Kyon?” I asked, and continued to click.

The workers paused and lowered their implements as the man moved and caught hold of my right arm.

Wrong thing to do – especially when I am on a short fuse.

Reaching out with my other arm I grabbed his left ear and jerked the earlobe up. Startled and yelping with pain, he let go and stumbled back. A few residents had come out and thinking I was a journalist scoffed as to where I was when the building was sold.

“I don’t live here,” I said, “But where were you when this was being planned? How come nobody raised a voice and stopped this then?” I was also agitated because this was the first time ever that I had to be aggressive with anybody in Kachchh.

There were no answers and as I walked away the sound of sledge hammers proclaimed the advent of a mall/shopping complex in Mandvi – 56 km south of Bhuj; quaint old port town established 1581; population approximately 50,000. I didn’t even want to think what was going to happen to the old building nearby. Not too difficult to get another permission from the Archaeological Survey of India.

The ashes of freedom fighter Shyam Krishna Verma and his wife, specially brought to Mandvi from Geneva by chief minister Narendra Modi, are kept in the ancestral house – not too far away from this locality.  Khushboo Gujarat Ki!

 *

My association with Kachchh goes back nearly 15 years and I have been a frequent visitor …… not only because I am a survivor of the 2001 earthquake, but also because I care for the land and its people. Post-earthquake winds of change have been disturbing and each visit is filled with trepidation.  I am almost scared to find something else gone – and the erosion of the Kachchhiyat – the asmitā of the land, is disheartening.

By 2005, the earthquake had become an industry – a vast commercial venture. The face of Kachchh was changing drastically as the land was raped by uncaring developmental passion and the sensibilities of the people contaminated with promises laced with vested interests.

Same year, I was sitting with an elderly Kachchhi, watching the construction of a Bentonite factory just outside their village. Prime agricultural and grazing land had been taken away.

I can now sadly comprehend the question asked by this old man, who after witnessing the invasion of the ‘no-good-organisations and other friendly hands’ had dolefully commented, “Pa katè vanotā, Arunbha? Pa katè vanotā?”

The forlorn voice asking me, Where are we going?” still rings like the sledge hammers being heaved in Mandvi and many other places.

 *

This trip was after a mere gap of 8 months. A delightful group of people accompanied me and I am glad they were unable to infiltrate my demeanour.

There were places I didn’t take them because nothing is left anymore. There has been a decline or an end to the traditional way of living and the craft typical to that area.  Many have been swept-away by trendy design houses and become totally euro-centric. Their work is only for the foreign market and accordingly the colours, designs and patterns have lost the fundamental nature of its origin. Innovation is required and an essential part of artistic growth but not at the cost of its identity – its roots.

I am so privileged to know those exceptional few who have maintained their integrity and are continuously evolving their work and designs; remaining faithful to their ancestral distinctiveness.

Chapter 10, Lord of Flies floods my mind  – “We was on the outside. We never done nothing, we never seen nothing.”

The overall saffronization of Kachchh is more-or-less total. Along with the sprouting of innumerable, grotesquely painted temples, has come the abject neglect of Muslim shrines and localities. My dear friend, Musabhai’s house near Dayapar remains deserted. I have no idea about his family’s welfare.

Plastic and other garbage has taken over the Banni and even the sea has not been spared. Stuff lying around Pragmahal and there seems to be no money for the maintenance, upkeep or reconstruction of heritage sites.

No money to clean the lakes; no money for schools and health care centres in remote areas. Of course, there is money for tourism extravaganzas and charging a fee to see the ‘whaite rann’; money for the new Swaminarayan temple built at a cost of 1 billion Indian Rupees on 5 acres of  land; money galore for lignite mining; chemical factories; cement factories; excavations for sampling; outright sale of agricultural land for housing colonies where if you ‘buy a plot you get a Nano free’!

Were these the ‘colours’ and ‘khushboos’ Mr. Amitabh Bachchan couldn’t find? As for, ‘where else can you leave your fingerprints on the past?’ How about, Lakhpat – to start with?

Sometimes I wonder if the Kachchhies really know or care what they are slowly losing.  

 Kitè vanotā? Going where?

 This image ought to represent everything!


6 Responses to “Pa katè vanotā?”


  1. July 25, 2011 at 4:14 pm

    Loved your post as always. What beautiful architecture and landscape. I can get the “khushboo” here. Not so sure about the other one.
    Our politicians can do what the earthquake couldn’t, to this beautiful land.

  2. 2 meghana
    July 27, 2011 at 4:43 am

    i better do my Kuchchh trip soon…
    …we are developing…god knows towards what…

  3. 3 sacredfig
    July 30, 2011 at 9:21 am

    Kate vanota doesn’t seem to matter – as long as Modi baba ke peechhe peechhe vanota….

  4. 4 Amishi Gandhi
    August 4, 2011 at 7:59 am

    Fantastic photographs, Arun. What a pity with what is happening there now. I remember my trip to Kutch several years ago – fantastic people, fabulous handicrafts, they have such talent. What stands out vividly in my memory is a trip to one village, where we arrived unexpectedly. I have not met people with warmer hearts – they opened up their homes to us, insisted we stay for lunch, people whom we did not know and who did not know us at all. I’d love to go back there sometime soon – before it all changes beyond recognition.

    • 5 bichhubooti
      August 4, 2011 at 8:25 am

      Do you remember the name of the village or any landmark….how far from Bhuj? And, as I keep saying – plan a trip to Kachchh with or without your friends – and I’ll tell you a story!

      • 6 Amishi Gandhi
        August 29, 2011 at 6:54 am

        Cant remember details at all – must look for my diary and the photographs. Next time I’m in India, lets plan a trip to Kachchh , cant wait to hear the story.


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