Monday, 20 July 2020

The faded photograph in the wallet.

Last year we had a visitor from Mumbai – one of Vivek’s childhood friend –AB.  He enjoyed his stay at the farm and kept reminiscing about a similar place which he had visited just once as a young kid - his father’s ancestral home near Sirsi. He had lost his father at a very young age after which he had lost all ties with his relatives in Sirsi.   He expressed a keen desire to visit his family temple to honour his fathers’ memory.  He carried a faded photo of an idol of Lord Ganesha in his wallet. This photograph used to be in his Dad’s wallet and presumably, it was a photo of the idol in the family temple. We offered to accompany him on his return journey upto Sirsi, visit the temple and then return back to the farm.

But this wasn’t as easy as we imagined it would be. For one, AB did not know the exact name of the temple or the village. And he knew no one whom he could ask. Out of the recesses of his memory, he said the name sounds like ‘Aksal –or Aksar or something like that” .

Now that was a very fine and precise way to hunt for a village with a tiny Ganapati temple in the vast hinterland of North Karnataka!.  Nevertheless I launched a Google search.  In a place where a single vowel can change the location of a village by a few hours of almost un-negotiable roads,  it was going to be a challenge. For example, Hudil and Hadil are two villages separated by 30 kms of dirt road through dense forests, Manaki and Manki are separated by 50 kms of a winding ghat road.  So how in the world was I going to find a village whose name itself we were not sure of?  

Bumpy mud roads

Winding Ghat roads

After a lot of searching I found one village called ‘Agsur’.  This was the closest to what he had pronounced.  He jumped at it and said – yeah yeah maybe it is that!!!  So I started describing the location and route – it was about 65 kms from Sirsi and down the ghat.  “Oh no!  then that is not the place - It couldn’t have been that far and I don’t think we went down a ghat” he said.
 By now I was beginning to doubt whether we would ever find the place.  Then he came up with another hint – I felt I was playing a treasure-hunt game – “I think it was on the road to Yellapur and it did not take us very long to get there from Sirsi” he said.

Ok! – So I marked  the 50 kms distance between the two towns of Sirsi and Yellapur and enlarged the Google map to its maximum so that all the smaller village names could be seen. Scanning the map inch by inch, I travelled about 10 kms when I spotted it ‘Agasal’  -  closer to his first pronunciation of ‘Aksal’!  Yes probably this is it he said but now his enthusiasm was a bit toned down.  He had realised the complexity caused by these similar sounding village names.  Nevertheless, it was the closest sounding name and the location  and distance from Sirsi held promise.
 So we decided to drive down. In the event that we don’t find his ancestral temple, we would just visit the famous Marikamba temple of Sirsi and also another place which has been on my ‘Want-to-see-in-this-lifetime’ list – the famous ‘Sahasralinga sculptures’  These are countless Shiv-lingas sculpted on the rocks in the Shalmala river, almost all the rocks in the rocky river bed have a Shiv-linga sculpted on them.  

So we set off  in two cars, AB following us.  A quick visit to the Marikamba temple, although there were very long queues,  and then we were on the Yellapur road. After the 9 kms mark we slowed down and started looking for any signs of a temple or any directions to the village.  There were none!  There was no mobile signal to enable us to check the location of the village. We travelled about 3 kms further - from my earlier checking of the map, we had already passed the village and missed it totally. Then we saw a temple on the right. It was a fairly large temple called “Batte Ganapati Devasthan”  We stopped the cars – and went into the temple.  As we offered our prayers to the beautiful idol of Ganapti, AB whispered to Vivek “This is not the one”.  Our search had not ended. Just then a couple of men walked in. We asked them about another Ganapati temple in the vicinity and also the location of Agasal village.  They weren’t too sure of a temple, but they knew about the village and gave us rough directions.  AB pulled out his wallet and showed them the photograph of the Ganapati idol, but they had no clue.

Now we set out on the road they had described. We were to travel some distance back and then return to this same spot for our onward journey to Sahasralinga, so we left AB’s car outside the temple and decided to carry on the search in just our vehicle.  I was getting intermittent signal on my mobile, but could not see a road to the village.  We spotted the turn mentioned by the men in the temple and as we turned in, we spotted a motorcycle approaching us from a distance. We stopped the car and decided to ask the rider for further directions.  The area was desolate and probably we would not meet another soul until we reached the village (if we could find it).  We got out of the car and waved down the bike.  They were two of them on the bike, we asked them whether they knew about the village. the temple and AB showed them the photograph too. After a lot of discussion between themselves (in rapid fire Kannada), they explained a route to us. I had difficulty following their dialect of Kannada, but I gathered that the tar road would end at some point and then we would have to follow a mud road that went downhill.  We set off. The tar road ended, the mud road was as bumpy and dusty as you can imagine. Not  a soul in sight, not a house or shop. The forest was dense and silent.  And then the road bifurcated into two!  Which one now?  Both went downhill, but one of them appeared to go at a sharper gradient.     So we took the steeper one.  But after about a kilometre or so, the road kept getting worse and the shrubs and trees seemed to close in on either sides.  And then a sharp bend, sounds of an approaching vehicle....and what arrives in front?  A huge JCB –an earth moving machine, blocking our entire path. We got out and asked the driver about the village.  He said there was no village down that road, only denser forests. So we had a unique experience of travelling reverse for almost a kilometre in the dense Sirsi forest with a huge JCB bearing down on us the entire path.  Our 4x wheel drive sure came in handy here and AB was glad that he had left his car behind.  We reached the bifurcation and then took the other path. Barely 100 meters away we spotted a faded weather beaten milestone. I could decipher the alphabets ‘A’ and ‘G’ in Kannada!  Yes we were finally on the right track to Agasal.

We entered the sleepy village  There were just 3 or 4 houses and the road ended abruptly.  Vivek noticed the temple just beyond where the road ended.  We parked the car and walked to the temple.  It was in fairly good condition, but locked and the interiors were pitch dark.  There was a record of  melodious shlokas playing softly from within.  We peered in through the grill, but could not see anything at all.  AB had a lost look around him as he said “I cannot remember whether this was the temple,  I wish the door was open, I wish there was a light inside” there was a break in his voice and he looked away to hide his unshed tears.   We stood in silence for a few minutes and offered our prayers and then started walking towards the car. 

Just as we neared the car, we spotted a man dressed in a traditional attire, holding a platter laden with coconuts, bananas and flowers walking in the direction of the temple.  We spoke to him and tried to explain about our search.  He was going in to perform the Puja.  He did not seem too friendly, but we  followed him as he opened the temple door and switched on the lights.  The idol was indeed of  Lord Ganesha, but not the one in the photograph.  A little while later, the man’s wife walked in with a bowl of ‘Payasam’ or kheer.  She placed it inside the Sanctum as her husband continued with the Puja.  She then turned to us to enquire about where we came from.  On hearing my broken kannada, she switched to Hindi.  That was a relief and  we could explain better as to why we came to this village in search of the temple.  AB pulled out his wallet and showed her the photo.  “Oh!  This is the photo of the idol in our ancestral home!” She exclaimed!  And then she asked AB his full name and it turned out that they shared the same surname.  Her husband had by then finished the Puja and joined us, she explained to him in Kannada and he looked at AB with surprise.  They were actually long lost cousins!!!

They invited us to their home and offered us  Prasad of the delicious Payasam.  The man pulled out some old books and looking through them  told us that years back AB’s father had deposited some money with the temple requesting that a Puja be performed every year on AB’s name.  They used to perform the Puja but they had no address to which they could send the Prasad.  AB was overcome with emotion.  He wrote down his address for them  and soon it was time for us to leave.  We thanked them immensely for their hospitality and left.

We drove on to Sahasralinga and marvelled at the sculptures on the rocks on the river bed.

Then AB drove on to Mumbai – a happy man and we returned back to the farm.

My thoughts were on the seemingly strange obstacles that came our way, that delayed us more than we expected –-  the long queues at the Marikamba temple, missing the left turn from the highway because we lost the mobile signal,  the wait at the Batte Ganapati Devasthan, the wrong turn down the mud road until we came face to face with the JCB, and then finally  waiting outside the locked temple for a long time before walking back to the car.  If none of these delays had happened, we would have not met the couple and we would have not been able to unravel the mystery of the faded photograph in AB’s wallet.

All was well and that ended well!

Tuesday, 7 July 2020

Trink ....trink....trink.....trinket snake!

Perfectly  Camouflaged

I always seem to be running late.  And I have the most far-fetched excuses .....believe me if you will.

During the rains, we cannot bring our Alto near the house due to the gushing stream that flows past.  So we park the car beyond it – about 100  mts away.  

I have walked all the way from the house past the neighbours farm, crossed the stream, reached the car thinking to myself well at least today I am on time, only to realise that I have left the car keys on the table at home!

Then the other day, I did all of the above - in time,  with my car keys safely clutched in my hand, started the car and barely went 2 metres ahead when a huge tractor-trailor lumbered up on the tiny dirt road bang in front of me.  There is no way that I can get past.  The guy is carrying compost for one of the fields  which has a road access only through the stream.  The stream is at a very low ebb today and the perfect day for them.  But the path is blocked by a stone barricade that some other villagers have erected to chanel the flowing water to their fields.  So two men jump off the tractor and proceed to remove the stone barricade at a leisurely pace.  Then  the tractor eases down the path, finally allowing me to proceed.  I was late again - but wasn't really my fault, was it?

Just the other day, I was rushing out to meet some one.  Normally the last thing that I do after locking the back door and the side door, is let the dogs out onto the porch and then lock the house. Sometimes I have to entice them out of the house with chew-sticks,  so they know the routine. The minute I pick the keys and the chewsticks, they race out of the front door.  I did my final check -– mobile, car keys, etc and was just about to call the dogs out when I noticed Zuki behaving rather strangely. She was just 2 feet away from the  cane chair on which she normally sits, and looking very alert and  barking in a very strange soft way -  not the normal BOW WOW cacophony that greets guests or monkeys (not in any particular order) .  This was just a ‘whurrff’...   ‘long pause’ ..... ‘whurrf’.   She was gazing intently at the Cane chair.  I looked too, but couldn’t see anything amiss.

 Then suddenly it moved.

 It was a beauty of a snake, just as slender as the cane and perfectly camouflaged.  Now this one, I had to get out of the house. But before anything else, I had to get the dogs out of the way.  I pulled some chewsticks out of the packet and as usual they ran out onto the porch.  But today I wanted to lock them in the inner room so that I could  send the snake out without their interference.  It took some cajoling  to bring them back into the house and into the inner room. I locked them up there and then turned my attention to the snake.  It was a real beauty and unlike any I had seen before. We looked at each other for some time.  I clicked a photo, a small video as well.  

Now to get it out of the house.  It was perfectly coiled around the cane of the chair and all I had to do was slide the chair out without alarming it and then it could go out in peace.  But it wasn’t as easy.  I waited until it was facing away from me and slowly tried to move the chair.  But the minute it sensed the movement, it turned towards me and actually appeared to swell up!  I stood still waiting till it relaxed again and started exploring the other parts of the chair. Slow gentle push......all the way till the door....Yes! managed it!  Now one step below –I had to lift the chair.  That movement caused the snake to panic, and seeing the door quite close made a lunge towards it. The last thing I wanted was it to  climb onto the door and escape to some unreachable place.  I managed to lift the chair and place it out on the porch.  Now with better light, I could go around the chair and admire it more closely and click some better pics.  

And then suddenly I remembered my appointment.  Well no more time to dawdle, I pushed the chair to the edge of the porch and tipped it over gently. The snake – back on familiar ground, raced out to the safety of the bushes.  I waited a while before releasing the dogs.  

Later on looking up the book of 'Snakes in the Indian Subcontinent', I recognised it as a ‘Trinket Snake’  A pretty name for a pretty snake!

Needless to say, I was late again.      

Visit to discover Indian blogs