Monday, July 15, 2013


The winter of 2010 was very harsh even by German standards. It was snowing knee deep even on the eve of Christmas, and it was all set for a Weisse weinnachten (white Christmas). I had planned to stay back and explore Stuttgart for the Christmas vacations rather than traveling behind touristy places which most of my friends did. 

On a gloomy winter morning, I decided to go to Birkenkopf which is not far from city center. It is a man-made mountain built out of the rubble of the Second World War. The war had reduced almost three-fourth of the industrial city to rubbles, from where it was rebuilt by industrious people. Facing the city below, I sat in one of those giant pieces of stone slabs which should been a pillar of a pre-war building. The City was pitch white but for the patches of rooftops and occasionally red regional trains leaving the main station. I took out my travel diary and started to continue my unfinished article on Swabian food culture, but found my fingers too numb in cold to write anything.
Eiskalt” smiled the old lady who was sitting in the slab next to mine. She should be in her late sixties, short and somewhat fat and her unkempt hair held together by a headband. She had a couple of plastic covers stuffed to its brim with clothes. It is interesting that I didn’t notice her when I came to sit in the slab. Her features are so sublime that it mingles into the canvas so inadvertently that hardly anyone notices her. “Ja! genau” I smiled back at her. Her smile carried a kind of faint luminescence which should have been a lightning glow attracting men during her Youth.

After the customary introductions and mutual questions about India and Germany, we decided to take the bus back to centre of city. Despite being so involved while talking about general topics, she hardly spoke anything about herself during long winding trip. When we ran out points to discuss about a topic, there was an oppressive silence, which was then followed by another general topic like ‘Climate change’. So, as we neared the city center I was expecting that she would bid adieu. But she asked me whether I can join her for coffee chat.

I got a double espresso for me. She had cappucino. For those who had not been to cold countries, you can never understand the importance of coffee on a cold day. We sat down indoors near the glass window overlooking the street. I looked outside the window and waited for the conversation to start. The city square was crowded, but there was some orderliness in the crowd. Lovers were giggling over a cup of gluhwein in the Christmas markets. An old man was buying a pack of Mandeln (Candied, roasted almonds) for his granddaughter.  Christmas is a special time to be in Germany, it’s a feel which can never be transcended into words.

I hardly thought this ‘old- plastic bag carrying-head band wearing’ woman might go down as one of the most engaging conversationalists I have met in my life. That despite the fact that I was never sure whether what she told me was truth or a figment of her imaginations.
She told me that she had never seen her father. The last that was heard of him was a long letter from the eastern front enquiring about his pregnant wife and how he wants the child to be named. Apparently, the child was named Volga. Volga spent her childhood in Gaislingen and later studied in Ulm. Fate took her finally to Stuttgart after drifting her through Duisburg, Halle and Jena. She decided to live alone in Stuttgart after a disagreement with her only daughter who had married  a Turkish businessman.
She narrated her story with the necessary ups and downs in her voice to express the various emotions connected with the story.
In return I offered her the short history of mine of how I was born in temple town in South of India and so on. She was equally excited with my narration. She can’t digest the fact that my German is better than my Hindi.
And as people came and left around our table, we sat there four hours straight. We parted exchanging our phone numbers.

The next time I saw her was during the Monday demonstrations against Stuttgart 21 near the main railway station. The people of Stuttgart staged a huge demonstration against the governments decision to tear down the old railway station and build a new hi-tech one.
Volga was behind a sea of green flags. She herself was waving a banner which said ‘Mappus weg!’ (Mappus – Name of mayor of Stuttgart; Weg – get away)
and as usual she had a rugged head band.
“What are you doing here in the demonstrations?” She asked me.
“I..” She did not wait for my answer, as she joined shouting the slogans which started just then.
“I invite you to my place. I live in Giebel” she shouted and wrote her address in my hand.

One Sunday morning I took a long walk from my apartment in Feuerbach and had reached near Giebel. I remembered Volga and decided to drop-in and say hi.
She lived in a single room flat in a huge complex mostly inhibited by old people.
I could see that she was not so happy that I had come without informing before. She was repenting that she didn’t even clean her house. Volga made coffee for me and offered some bretzels.

She was busy arranging her unkempt bookshelf. I saw this book on the table whose title was something like ‘Die Einsamkeit der Primzahlen’. I took this book and sat in the balcony with the coffee to flip through the book till she finishes her rearrangement of shelves.
 The balcony was overlooking a garden. In it couple of young guys trying to fix a hookah. As time passed, many more guys joined the hookah party and there was lot of noise. I came back to the living room. She was still rearranging and I understood that I could not speak a word until she finishes.

After sometime, I planned to break the silence.

‘Can I lend this from you?’ I asked.

‘No. Leider. I plan to read it on the Weinachten’ She said.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The unbearable heaviness of banality

Every creator goes into this period of lull. Suddenly the creative juices stop flowing and he enters a zone of mundane blankness. You hear the crawling of crows and not the cuckoos. You step into your garden thinking that some fresh air can bring some new ideas, but you end up noticing the weed that has propped up in the corner. I feel that this ebbing of thoughts from the shores of creation is a quintessential part of creators life. You fail to get impressed by any form of beauty and you spiral down and venture into one of those stale, moth-eaten creations. Big popular creators handle this ebb by playing sophomore to some old school of thought, but as a wandering tramp in the streets of creativity I preferred to stay quite and let this dark clouds pass by.

To say that I was in one of those thoughtless droughts for the last two months would not be an understatement. 
Firstly, I shifted to a new house and was preoccupied with the nuances of shifting houses. Packing of my books ended up a week long activity, credit to the distractions then-and-there by the variety of themes that books offered from zen philosophy to the mughal history. The variegated themes left me in the middle of nowhere. Also I had to deal with the house-owners to get my advance money back. This mental tension leaves a footprint on creation. I wrote at least four posts and trashed them without publishing as I myself was stuck by the banality of those writings. 

Secondly it is the creators nightmare - Power cuts. Though one might think of a romantic backdrop of candlelight kindling the creator to the heights of creation, I was only left with mosquito bites. Once of my trashed posts was a story of a artist who gives up painting because of the continuous power cut situation in Tamil Nadu (14hours a day). But then in Tamil Nadu, one cannot speak out as you might be labelled as hurting sentiments. Here one has to 'adjust' and everyone does so with a  panache. So I didn't post it. On one of those power cut nights I felt like a primeval man left only on the mercy of his own hands and legs to survive with the harsh reality of nature. Surely. mosquitoes are above homo-sapiens in the food chain.  

Third and most important contributor to the creative constipation was my lack of travel in these two months. The sequel of 'Our Bangalore' lies still in my drafts because I did not travel much these two months and it meant my horizon stayed where it was without any scope for expansion. Also, my unpublished travelogues about my 'Himalayas trip' might still need a lot of refinement in the highs of Ooty before I can publish it. 
Staying continuously in one place brings staleness and as always a wandering bee gathers more honey.
How I miss those travels in the window seat of those cramped second class compartments in Indian trains with the aroma of 'railway-tea' and a book to quench the intellectual appetite.

I might end up in endless rhetoric here justifying my absence in blogging. But i can seek solace in the fact that this gap might be a crouch before the jump to better literary spheres. 

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Our Bangalore - A day in namma Silicon valley

Mani wakes up at five in the morning on Sundays. He never minds the morning chillness of Bangalore and takes bath in ice cold water. He then wears his trousers with suspenders which gives him a mid-nineteenth century look. Sharp at six in the morning, he steps out of the house and walks through the Mahatma Gandhi road (MG road) which remains uncharacteristically quiet on Sunday mornings (but for the omnipresent auto rickshaws). He reaches the fag end of the MG road, the trinity circle, at 6.45 sharp. He then climbs the spire of the Trinity church and waits till his watch ticks to 7AM and then strikes the huge brass bell.

The sound of the bell gets dampened in the cosmopolitan buzz of the city. But in those pre-independence days when Bangalore remained as a military outpost for the Brits, the sound of the bell would be the wake-up call for soldiers to attend the sunday morning mass.
Mani is one of those few remaining traces of the erstwhile British Bangalore. It is quite interesting that the name 'Mani' translates to 'Bell' in Tamil, which happens to be the mother tongue of Mani. His father was one among thousands of migrant laborers that the British deported from Madras presidency to work in Bangalore. He grew up in Benson town which is on the periphery of the Bangalore cantonment railway station. He had seen a dozen of Victorian buildings torn down for some fancy software buildings or for the more fancier Metro-rail project. He never complains how the Mayo hall which until late 1990s can be viewed from anywhere in MG road, is currently just another building crunched between shopping malls and high-end pubs. He never registers his grief about  the 'Bible society of India' renting their building to the 'Hard rock cafe'. For Victor Mani Anburaj, Trinity church is all what mattered.

Later that sunday, I catch up with Arun in an urban coffee-shop in Indira Nagar. He is (of course!) an engineer by profession and whenever he is not travelling on official assignments to USA, he researches about the history of Bangalore. He tells me that much of history of Bangalore is unwritten and hence he has to meet many of second or third generation Bangalorians (there are not many) and collect information from them. He is an alumini of St.Josephs (these native Bangalorians take pride in their school). For example, every time I meet Arun he never forgets to tell that Rahul Dravid is also an alumini of St.Joseph's and how he had seen him practice cover drives in the school grounds with white flannels. 
Out of curiosity, I ask Arun "who were this Benson's, Cox's and Fraser's? who had lent their names to the old Bangalore districts of Benson-town, Cox-town and Fraser-town" . His answer surprises me. They were just another Englishmen. He sips the last drops of his Irish coffee on the sides of the mug, and says "They were neither battle-heroes nor martyrs. They were just common British soldiers" and with a tinge of laugh adds "That's what Bangalore is all about isnt it? You can come here as anybody, the city will make you somebody". I should agree to him. 
Later we take the metro to MG road again, and walk the entire time through Brigade road doing some shop-hopping. I ask him about the continuous affiliation to English names for Bangalorian streets and roads which is quite uncommon in India, for its a general trend nowadays to rename them to Indian names. He shows me the plaque in the corner of MG road announcing 'Field Marshall B M Cariappa road', and adds "if you tell an auto-rickshaw driver he wont understand it". 
Bangalore has long forgotten the Indian names which the government tried to push. Still Cavalry road, Commissariat road, Infantry road, Lavelle Road exists in their old names. The only person who had broken this tradition is Bangalore's own local boy - 'Anil Kumble' who after his 10 wicket haul against Pakistan in Cricket, has a circle named after him.

Bangalore is pseudo-western slams Nabanita Sen. She had spent her young days in Kolkata before migrating to Bangalore for work. She never feels Bangalore beyond the steel and concrete buildings of multinational companies in Electronic city. She stays in a 'Womens PG' (paying guest accomodation) in Madiwala, which is for practical reasons is a tower of Babel. 
That Sunday evening, We had decided to meet in one Bangaliana restaurant in Koramangala for dinner. "Try Rohu fish or Katla , it is authetic Bengali cuisine here", "I had never thought life would become so mechanical",  "I got an onsite offer to Canada, may be next year I will spend there" , "Aamir Khan had signed for Dhoom3".. To follow her conversation is just like driving a motorbike in peak hour in Bannerghatta road. 
After dinner and an ice-cream in corner house, we take a lazy Sunday evening walk. I casually ask her if she has any plans to move back to Kolkata. "No way! What will I do there" is the reply with a smile.
Nabanita wants to shop for some shawls, I take an excuse of recharging my mobile and stay outside the shop looking at my fellow bangalorians with Wordsworth'ian patience - Thousands of software engineers  thronging the shops in Koramangala in their late Sunday shopping spree with same frenzy and zeal as late Christmas shopping, People in neatly pressed formals offering credit cards of multinational banks, The sodium vapor lamp emitting a yellowy haze adding some more charm to the cosmopolitan crowd. Time and again a trendy motorbike whizzes past with thin girls in the pillion almost clinging to the fat machine and not-so-fat rider. 
Nabanita comes after half an hour buying nothing. We decide to walk down to Madiwala. We cross the road  at Madiwala checkpost , where a speeding BMTC bus almost runs both of us down. In Madiwala after dropping her in her PG, I look for the omnipresent auto-rickshaw to get back home. "1 1/2 meter sir" smiles the auto-driver.

(I wish to thank Mr.Arun, who made me understand history of Bangalore. He conducts Victorian Bangalore walk tours on sunday mornings

Monday, August 20, 2012

Three Fingers - A short story

He was wearing a light grey sweater and had a hand-kerchief tied to his right hand. On further observation, I found that three fingers were missing in his right hand. The hand-kerchief is an attempt to veil his hand from sympathies or feared looks of mankind. Ramakant no longer feels the ghost fingers, which haunted him for the first few days since he lost them in a heavy machine.
He has learnt writing in left hand from then on. Inline with the rigorous traditional practice, Ramakant grew as a right-handed person since his childhood. But necessity overtook superstitions as he even started to offer flower to his favorite god, Ganesha, in left hand. Now he is left, but that is limited only with respect to dexterity.

Though not connected to this narration, it would be interesting to know how Ramakant lost three fingers in his right hand. It all begins with wit the dream of building a socialistic society by our first prime minister, Mr.Jawaharlal Nehru and his idea of experimenting with five-year plans copied from Soviet. It was after concentrating on agriculture and irrigation in the first 'five-year plan' in 1951 that Mr.Nehru shifted his attention towards 'Industrial sector'. He decided that industries are important proponents in a planned economy and spent a whooping amount erecting factories, importing machinery and building power plants. Naturally Soviets took interest in us, in the world infested in cold war fever. That particular machine, which had cut the fingers in Ramakant's right hand, was imported from Soviet in the 50's. The machine cuts papers of various sizes as per its calibration. 

All the machinery even to this day needs an inevitable human support. And those humans, after years of operating a machine, become a part of machine itself. They work like clockwork, pressing green and red buttons, feeding the machine one side with raw material, checking the oil level and all those things which engineering had considered human being as part of the design. These people work in shifts and always feel the person in the other shift operates that machine shabbily. 
Ramakant used to be very loyal employee, but just had his name enrolled in a trade-union. He never thought of being someone else other than that cutting machine operator. For an untrained eye, it may look even that Ramakant was born operating that machine. Ramakant would always smelt like a grease tin in those days, and his fingers would always be greasy-black even when not in work. 
It happened on a fateful day in a cold November morning, Ramakant was feeding sheets of paper from one side of the machine and it got in at a slightly tapered angle. The machine made a loud sound as the paper got jammed in one of those complex joints of the machine. As a reflex action, Ramakant tried to clear the jam with his hand. The giant shredder suddenly started to move down with all its weight. Ramakant was quick enough as he moved his hand out in a swift action, but cannot save his fingers. There the red fluid of life mixed with grey fluid of machinery and got splashed into the paper roll which got jammed. There was ambulance, there were doctors, the union leaders and then the factory manager, but all this remained like a piece of choir to Ramakant who were not singing to their tune. 
It was not the pain or grief which caught his thoughts in those initial days, but it was the fear of living without three fingers for the rest of his life. For those were the fingers which his mom held as he learnt walking, and those were the fingers which his wife entwined when they made love, those were the fingers which writes his half-baked poems, and more importantly for him, those were fingers which operates the cutting machine.

Ramakant was back from hospital after some days and spent time at home fighting against the ghost of his fingers. One day the union leader came with a box of sweets and a good news that Ramakant was offered a post as receptionist in factory guest house on compassionate grounds. Ramakant accepted the offer and showed monochromatic honesty and perfectionism in his job. 
As the vistitors checked-in to the guesthouse in holiday season, he would hand-over the heavy registration ledger with his shaky left hand (which sometimes offends some traditional right handed visitors) and ask them to enter their address, in-time,.. etc. Then shows them to their room with right hand firmly stuck inside pant pockets which throws an air of casualness around him. He warns them smoking is an offence inside the guest house and preempts them that the main gate will be locked at ten in the night. In off-season, the management had decided nowadays to leave the guest-house on rent even for those who were not employed in the firm. 

I met Ramakant today morning. He told me smoking is not allowed inside the guest-house and that the gate closes at ten in the night and handed me the registration ledger in his left hand. The portrait of Mr.Nehru was smiling at me from behind.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Travelogue: 'What's behind a cup of Tea?' or 'The Munnar Motorcycle diary'

Two days is a minuscule part considering the span of life, One can either attain the highest state of philosophical enlightenment or long for a bowl of soup - totally depending on his/her hunger level. But if one decides to let loose the prejudices and hit the road, they will encounter one such experience like this. One would be capturing images in their eyes rather than on a camera. One would prefer strangers over i-pods, and nature over material possession.

Two of such kind of people set out for the trip on a brisk April day and came back with indelible memories. Of sights of rolling tea-plantation covered slopes, of sounds of chirping of distant bird, of aroma of thin mountain air.
The destination was Munnar, the amazing tea county in South Indian state of Kerala. The mode of travel would be the "La Poderosa" 220cc Bajaj Avenger motorcycle, a class apart when it comes to mountain climbing.

To get into Munnar from Coimbatore one has to pass through couple of virgin Nature parks (Chinnar wildlife sanctuary and Indira Gandhi nature park). We were reduced to a mere speck in the dense forest cover. The nature was at its sprawling best with its trees, rocks and the distant streams. The road-signs warned us of elephant crossings and informed us the elephants have the right of the way. Once near Maraiyur (a tribal village deep inside the forest), a thin man with protruding cheek-bones stopped us and warned that an elephant is standing on the middle of the road on the next turn. I slowed the speed of 'La Poderosa' to a near crawl and took the turn. A giant Indian elephant was standing on the roadside. With it flapping ears and a fixed gaze, it was indeed a sight. Without intimidating the giant beast with the sound of the motorbike engine, We whizzed past it in one of those 'Man vs wild' moments.

Maraiyur presented us with the first sights of a Keral'ite lifestyle. The coconut trees, the toddy shops, the men clad in mundu (a regional dress) and women in their white sarees and oiled hair, the communist flags and occasional portraits of Stalin and Karl Marx, the shoddy roads and above all else the Slanting rays of sun.

After Maraiyur starts the ascent which for the first few miles is similar to the ascent we had in Chinnar wildlife sanctuary except that the road here is worse. But once we enter the leeward side of the mountain the sight suddenly changes. The beautiful tea plantations starts to appear and we were soon transformed into the fairy-tale land. The greens were everywhere, rolling like a carpet spread over the landscape. There were more greens with every turn that we took and each sight was more pleasing than the previous. We stopped a couple of times for taking photographs, but soon realized that landscape is getting more picturesque and continued to ride. This particular part of the stretch of trip towards Munnar will go down as the most beautiful and aesthetic drive I have ever had in my motorcycle. At some places we walked down a few meters down into the sloping tea plantations and brushed with the greens of tea leaves.

Munnar is sleepy little town (but for its tourists) hammocked by Western ghats on all sides. One can make out that people of this town make their living out of two T's - Tourism and Tea.
The Tea industry here is mainly run two major corporate firms ,with boards announcing the boundary of each in what a few centuries before was a vast Shola grassland (before the British came) . We took a while to get into one of the tea plantations near Mattupatty dam in Munnar. We stopped there to view the magnificient lake formed by the dam in the bowl of mountains, but were soon to the point of attention among the tea plantation workers owing mainly due to my foreigner friend and partly due to my 'la Poderosa' motorcycle.

On talking with the workers, we understood that most of them are migrants from Tamil Nadu (which made the communication all the more easier since I know and speak Tamil) and they have been working in tea-plantations in Munnar for generations. They told us on how so many companies were existing before and how it is now reduced to only two main corporate firms doing tea-business now in Munnar. They told how the welfare measures got cut and was reduced to near zero with emergence of corporate bi-poly.

These workers are given a target of plucking a minimum of 25kgs of tea per day and for that they are paid a paltry wage of Rs.150 per day. This meager sum of wage amounts to as little as 3USD a day. and this is their only source of income.

The other phenomenon we understood is that most of the laborers in tea-plantation are women, while most of their husbands were engaged in tourism industry. The corporate firms prefer women workers over men due to the absence of trade-unionism over women working class in this parts of India. The family income totals to as little as 5-10USD a day.
As one of the worker was telling this situation to us, we were surrounded by more workers who shared the same plight. They told us that a deal exists between the two firms on keeping the labor wages to minimum.

Since tea is a labor-intensive industry, it takes a lot to retain a laborer. The reason why many small firms of the past were reduced to bankruptcy is due to the dearth of labor availability. The two big firms, in those days, had wooed all the laborers towards their stable by giving big pay in the beginning. Soon, there were only two players in tea-industry in Munnar and all the others were wiped out.
After setting their ground firm, the two majors stared pitching against each other which ended in a major loss of profits to both the firms (by increasing the wages to laborers), then both the firms decided to keep a minimum wage as standard across the industry which is barely minimum to sustain a meaningful life. They face no competition, as they have already wiped all the other firms out of the race.

The son and daughters of these workers cannot get meaningful education. They were sent to work as child labors in tea-shops or souvenir sellers. Life is not easy in beautiful places.

The real pain behind a cup of tea, I understood in the most picturesque of places. In the drive downhill and through the rest of my journey, its the face of the tea-plantation workers which flashed again and again in my memory.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Travelogue: The Hampi Café

Hampi is one of those surprises that travel had brought me. Last November I visited this magnificent landscape dotted with ruins of Krishnadevaraya era. Those giant temples and complexes set in the background of stony mountains is indeed a sight. Perhaps, the river Tungabhadra brings in the additional glamour and it is always an enthralling experience to sit in the banks of it in a local coffee-shop sipping simmering hot Indian Espresso and engaging in a conversation with backpackers from all over the world.
Indeed Hampi is one of those places where the corporate-tourism had not yet set its foot, so there wont me much of advertising pamphlets announcing walk-tours or Hampi-in-2hours kind of things.

The nearest railhead is a sleepy town called Hospet. We reached there early in the morning after an overnight train-travel from Bangalore and then took an auto-rickshaw from Hospet to Hampi. We then took the state-run ferry to cross the Tungabhadra river to reach the Hippie island of Viruppur gadde. This small island formed by Tungabhadra is believed to be the nerve center of kingdom of Hanuman in the Hindu epic Ramayana. In the contemporary sense, this island is more of a ‘Hippie hideout’. The diehard backpackers choose this quite haven to abate their hangovers of rave partying in Goa. The fact that, we visited this place in lunar-eclipse night had also meant that there were bearded god-men roaming with their saffrons and unfixed glares.

The next day, we rented a two-wheeler to visit the Hampi ruins. The Virupaksha temple, The Vittala temple, the queens bath, etc and then the rocks. The rocks here are quite different and these boulders give a feel of lunar-surface. We climbed up the Matanga hill to see the sun sink into the horizons which means we were quite late for the last ferry to Viruppur Gadde. So, we took a coracle to cross Tungabhadra at exorbitant cost.

In my stay there, I felt that the beauty of Hampi is more enhanced by the interaction between the locals and the foreigners and the resulting cultural exchange.  Owing to the absence of packaged programs or conducted tours, most of the tourists set to explore Hampi on their own meeting the locals. The diary of such backpackers gets filled with experiences from People rather than that of the place itself. The true sense of travelling, which is not just clicking photographs, comes to the fore.
Perhaps, it reminded me of my encounters in Europe during my backpacking days, where I met scores of interesting peoples in various picturesque places.
Hampi, I noted down in my journal, is a place where one can easily understand different strata of Indian society without getting bothered by the hawkers selling souvenirs. The tea shops (try ginger lemon honey tea) run by locals gets visitors from Manhattan to Mannheim, from Sydney to Stockholm. This confluence is indeed the beauty of Hampi.

But the happy part of the story ends here. The tea-shops and Guest houses of Hampi are seen as encroachments, and the giant bull-dozers have already started smashing these structures. The people of Hampi, who earned their living working in such places, are now relocated (the new word for ‘Deported’) to the villages around Hampi like Kamalapuram.
Those beautiful riverside cafes where the travelers from all over the world converged will soon be a heap of dust. Those guest houses where one can stay close to ruins will now vanish.
The project, when completed, would leave Hampi only with the ruins. There would be no overnight stay possible in Hampi. One has to stay in one of those posh hotels in Hospet, and should make a day trip to Hampi.

Perhaps, I felt lucky that I had visited Hampi when its streets were teeming with life, and its ruins were a stone throw away. But with this drive, Hampi will become desolate again

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Travelogue: In search of Razia Sultan's grave

Ever since I started my backpacking, I always met some interesting people and end up in interesting places. My travel journals are filled with many such incidents.
Well it is a Sunday morning, and I got up early and decided to browse my old travel journals. Here is one from my 'Great historical north Indian trip' of 2009.

I met him near Kalan Masjid in Old Delhi and he is quite indelible in my canvas of travel portraits. I was lost in the maze of old Delhi streets which is always a sweet thing to happen and my destination was to find out the mausoleum of Sultan Razia Begum. Being the only women Sultan to have ruled over Delhi (the next women to rule Delhi would be Indira Gandhi, some 750years later), I always wanted to visit the grave of her. This place is not in any regular touristic trails which is what I wanted.

My map told that 'Razia mausoleum' is not far away from Turkman gate in Old Delhi. The rickshaw-walah dropped me near the Kalan Masjid area from where I started walking asking directions to Razia's grave. Razia is so forgotten in contemporary India that one suggested me to find the whereabouts of Razia's son first, so that he can help me in finding the grave. I was quite unprepared for this and my laxity of Hindi vocabulary prevented me from explaining him about Razia Sultan's skill and valor.
Probably my backpack would have added the noble hump on my back, an old man approached me with a profound care towards the lost wanderer. The scar in his forehead and the beard showed his piety, the pale skin and crackling voice his senility. I told him about my quest to see Razia's grave and he readily agreed to take me there (You meet such helpful people rarely in Delhi).
What followed was a walk through the history. He was perplexed by the cruelity of nobles conspiring and in the end murdering the first female Sultan. And how instability prevailed in Delhi following the murder of Razia sultan until order was established by Balban. For a few minutes, I forgot that I was living in 21st century and was taken 700years back . The Slave dynasty (and also Mughal empire) had always been my favorite topic in my sessions in Library before I undertook the trip. The stories of Qutb-ud-din Aibak, Illtutmish, Balban (each of whom were slaves who later rose to become emperors) are so interesting that I had burnt nights of midnight oil reading about them. Now, I am discussing all this like current affairs with this Muslim nobleman. It is one of the marvels of travel.
Some of the streets that he took me through were so narrow that only a goat can walk through it. The windows were blaring Hindi songs and the balconies smelled of wet clothes. The narrow street gave way for open squares (where men were smoking and talking politics) only to be followed by another narrow street. I didn't mind getting lost.

Finally, the noble man opened a large iron gate of what seemed to be a unkempt garden. 'Yahi hai. Razia ki Samadhi' told the old man scratching his beard.
There were two small mounds separted by a few inches. A goat was sleeping on top of one of the grave, which the noble man didnt like. He told one of the grave is of Razia and the other one is that of her sister Shazia, but didn't tell me which is what. He cursed the ASI (Archaeological Survey of India) for neglecting this historic place and Muslims of Old-Delhi for forgetting Islam.

The neglected state of Razia's grave gives a harsh reality check. The fact that none of the women rights organisations is taking measures to fight for its proper attention is quite surprising. The Razia sultan whom I portrayed in library sessions through the books definitely deserves a better honour than this neglected grave.

The old Noble man who took me to this place quietly retired to prepare for the next prayer as I stood in what should be historically important landmark in India.