March 27, 2016

The Silence of the Stones

It was mid day and the sun was bright, directly throwing his warm winter light on us. We were halfway through our journey and yet it felt we had seen nothing, observed nothing. High above the mountains of Ajanta, we stood looking at some of the best examples of art in Indian history. Ajanta is magnificent. And there is no other word that better describes the rock cut temples of Aurangabad.

Often you will find people telling you that travelling to Ajanta and Ellora is a day’s journey. They could not be more wrong. Every cave temple has wonders that you can stare at for hours. The paintings that you see in front of you are one of the greatest treasures of art in India. Year after year, craftsmen made these caves come alive with the most primitive of equipment, fuelled only by their passion to create.

Start your trip with Ajanta walk up the hills, the tourist guides and guidebooks will tell you that the best displays are in the first few caves. Do not believe them, rather take the entire journey and explore every cave. Understand the frustrations of the carvers of stone as they kept making the stones come alive. Listen in to their hushed silences still trapped in the stones. Listen to their dying footsteps as the royal patronage trickled to a close forcing them to leave the caves unfinished. Hear the faint noise of the religious chants as three religions coexisted for centuries. Look for the intricacies of the carvings; the brightness of the colours still remaining and try to imagine the interlinkages between the religions. Forget the babble of tourists and feel yourself transcend into a world of quiet scholarly studies and self-imposed mendicancy of monkhood.

Next day travel to Ellora. Start at Kailasa; for nothing else matters. Imagine a giant boulder. Men and women such as us will look at it in wonder and even if an inspiration seizes us, we will start chiselling away starting from the front. But imagine cutting through the rock from above and creating the abode of Lord Shiva on earth. Kailasa tells us of our own perfection; of the grandeur we were once capable of; of human triumph in pursuit of God or ungodly vanity of kings. Look at how Shivaism and Vaishnavism coexists under the same canopy. Once you have made your peace with the feeling of insignificance make your way to the left or right. The ancient rocks will tell you untold stories of Jainism and Buddhism. Look up at the Tirthankaras and the Bodhisatwas. They will smile down upon you and show you how their facial features changed with centuries.

As you walk away, tired but fulfilled, remember to leave the places clean. You owe it to your own future generations for Ajanta and Ellora need to remind us for our triumphs and our impermanence.

March 20, 2016

The Brotherhood of the Waiting Men

We wait; silently. We nod at each other at times. We know we do not have anything against each other but we also do know that at a moment’s notice we would be our fiercest adversaries. We are soldiers, following orders, ready to plunge into the chaos at the slightest nod from the overlords but we respect each other as we all have been there.

We know the young eager ones from the old time tested ones. We know the ones like me who have been bloodied in the battles and have laboured on. We relish the moments when we see someone mess it up so badly that there will be hell for the poor lad when he reaches the trenches at night. It’s a complex manoeuvre that takes years to hone skills in and the young ferrets never seem to get that. We respectfully step aside when the generals march in; their eyes full of contempt at the mere sight of enemy soldiers standing near the common grounds.

The gadgets in our hands give us some respite. It tells us about the world outside. A world full of red bulls, footballs and cricket bats. A world where one day we will return after the call of duty has been answered. But the gadgets often fail when raw muscle power is required to snatch another soldier’s hopes before his own eyes; my downcast gaze silently apologizing before returning with the trophy.

Handing it over to the general; I wait slowly taking in the silent admirations of the enemy soldiers around who have failed to find their exact shades of pink, purple or lilac.

We all wait praying for each other so that this visit to the trial room is the last in this outlet.