GAJNER: Soul of the Thar Desert by Sandeep Silas

Travelling on the dusty road once you leave the Bikaner Highway towards Gajner Palace, meeting simple villagers, finding broken bullock carts, watching hand painted sign boards, you really don’t believe that you are actually on way to some oasis palace amidst the Thar Desert. The road is unassuming, till you come to see a bright red gate leading you inside to an impressive monumental building. This is the Gajner Palace, now a Hotel.

What was private is now public, what was hidden is now open, what was unapproachable is now yours for the taking!

Gajner Palace was built by the then Maharajah of Bikaner Ganga Singh as a personal hunting lodge. Those were the days when Maharajahs could afford such luxuries at the cost of the royal exchequer. He ruled Bikaner from 1887 to 1943 and it was during his reign that Gajner palace hunting lodge was built to be later converted in 1976 into a Hotel.

6000 acres of the once called Jangladesh is now a beautiful Palace ground and palace structure on the banks of Lake Gajner. The Britishers were known to enjoy a lavish lifestyle at the cost of the then Maharajahs, eventually passing on the cost to the subjects of these numerous Kingdoms. So, it was but natural that these Kings who had accepted the suzerainty of the British play gracious host to the Viceroys, Generals and other Officers of the Crown! It attracted several British dignitaries, including the Prince of Wales in 1905, Governor General Lord Elgin, Lord Erwin in 1927 and Lord Mountbatten when he was Viceroy of India.

After alighting at the steps I heard a peacock call and that reminded me that peacocks are a plenty in Bikaner and the call added immediate pleasantness to the environment. The reception was welcoming and displayed photographs of the Maharajahs and Maharanis of Bikaner, who have now passed into history and only rule from their adobe in framed photographs hung on the walls.

 

One black & white photograph of a Princess was particularly appealing.

 

Stepping inside was a treat for a fan of architecture and a student of history. The centre courtyard had ornamental buildings to its three sides, the one in front being the Dungar Niwas. You can inhale the mystifying fragrance of tiny, white flowers of the maulsari trees (mimusopse elongii), which stand at the four corners of the courtyard. The tree flowers in the night!

It was here, at Dungar Niwas, that the British rulers stayed, occupying the 13-suites overlooking the Lake Gajner, enjoying the rise of the Sun and its setting, though they believed that the Sun never sets in the British Empire!

The originality of the suites bears the stamp of royalty and of an era that is lost into oblivion. Not to worry, you won’t have to pee and poo the jungle style because all rooms are absolutely modern and air-conditioned.

The other wings of the Palace are Mandir Chowk to the right of the Courtyard where a temple is built on the banks of the Lake, Gulab Niwas and Champa Niwas.

The trunk of the Banyan tree at the Mandir Chowk is so huge that one wonders about the age of the tree. It is clear it existed much before the palace structure was even conceived. It is said that the 32 deluxe rooms in Gulab Niwas were used by the glamorous railway officers of times bygone as a railway line was connected to the Palace in 1922.

Champa Niwas is a new section, recently built with a beautiful garden courtyard surrounded by rooms.

The Imperial Sand Grouse shoot at Gajner Palace during the Christmas season was the most sought after invitation in the Indian social calendar.

(The two Sand Grouse photographs from the Internet)

The Maharajahs and the British colonists knew how to enjoy life and not waste their time into unnecessary things, save those that suited their interests.

You can peep into the life of those times, as you look at the photographs of the British lifestyle, displayed in the corridors and staircases of Gajner!

 

The food place is the Mirage restaurant serving all cuisines, but when in Rajasthan eat like a Rajasthani! In front of the Mirage restaurant is the Imperial Terrace, which serves as a open air cushioned arena for many a cultural concert, with drinks and snacks.

You can also request for food to be served in Rajasthani Thalis at the Imperial Terrace and eat watching the colours of the sky and the lake waters!

Julie Elaine Hughes, a researcher has done a wonderful dissertation, presented to the Faculty of the Graduate School of The University of Texas at Austin, about the animal shoots in Princely India— Animal Kingdoms: Princely Power, the Environment, and the Hunt in Colonial India; 2009. She writes (quote):

“Ganga Singh greatly admired his state’s wildfowl and, because his status as a sportsman was linked to the perceived quality of his primary game, he wanted outsiders to do so as well. According to the maharaja, the imperial sandgrouse was a superior game bird capable of giving “capital shots and sport.”12 He insisted that a great deal of skill and steady aim were required to down the birds because sportsmen had to shoot them precisely in the head or breast.13 In addition, the flight of the imperial sandgrouse was vigorous and “much faster” than it appeared.14 Apparently enamored of aeronautical references, Britain’s Secretary of State for Air in the 1920s likened the speed of Bikaner’s sandgrouse to “torpedo-carrying bombers.”15 Even Lord Curzon opined that their movement was “quite unlike that of any other bird, and…not in the least [like] that of a grouse.”16 Some of Bikaner’s other wildfowl were similarly challenging. Like imperial sandgrouse, Ganga Singh described demoiselle crane (kūñj) as strong, fast, and hard to bring down.17

(Animal Kingdoms: Princely Power, the Environment, and the Hunt in Colonial India; Julie Elaine Hughes 2009; pg 126)

Further, Julie mentions an anecdote about Maharajah Ganga Singh’s shooting style, as described by Viceroy Lord Linlithgow:

“Such vehicular sport gratified British VIPs who shot in Bikaner by giving them a flattering story to relate about their personal triumphs in the field. The experience often left them impressed with their host’s prowess too. Describing the blackbuck hunting that he enjoyed in 1937 along with Ganga Singh in the prince’s “high-powered car,” the Viceroy Lord Linlithgow wrote that [w]hen a blackbuck appears [the maharaja] stamps on the accelerator, takes both hands off the steering wheel and opens fire at the animal with his rifle. It is interesting to speculate as to whether or not he will resume control of the vehicle before it disappears into a thorn thicket at 40 m.p.h. [miles per hour].45 Even as Lord Linlithgow expressed admiration for the sport, he framed the interludes he experienced as comic amusements.46

(Animal Kingdoms: Princely Power, the Environment, and the Hunt in Colonial India; Julie Elaine Hughes 2009; Page 133)

I would like to quote from Mahesh Rangarajan’s book, which mentions about the shooting skills of one of the Maharajah’s of Bikaner:

“THE Big Game Diary of Sadul Singh, Maharajkumar of Bikaner, privately printed in 1936, catalogued his bags over a quarter of a century. In this time, he had ranged far beyond the confines of his desert kingdom in western Rajasthan to shoot tigers in the forested hills of central India, lions in the dry teak jungle of Saurashtra, leopards in Bharatpur and wild buffalo in the Nepal tarai. The rarer a creature, the greater the sense of exultation of the big game hunter.

Thus it was that on a March morning in 1920, Sadul Singh’s father grew taut with excitement when trackers brought news of a male wild buffalo that they had seen mingling with a tame herd. The party of hunters had travelled all the way to Babia-Bankuwala in Nepal to get a fine head of the great arna, a creature already so rare across north India that the British had restricted its killing for sport. As they waited in a macchan, a platform on a tree at the edge of a plain, Sadul Singh recalled how, “Father got very excited as it was his first experience of this kind, even though he is an experienced sportsman. He said his heart was thumping as in his early sporting days.” Five years later, the same hunters gave the coup de grace to a group of three cheetahs in Rewa, a princely kingdom in central India. The cheetahs, shot from a motor vehicle, were so rare that their shooting was described as “a great piece of luck”.

The Diary is a priceless document because it totals all that Sadul Singh shot over a quarter century. Nearly 50,000 head of animals and a further 46,000 game birds fell to his gun. Among these were 33 tigers, 30 Great Indian Bustards, over 21,000 sand grouse and a lone Asiatic lion. To cap it all, over a thousand of the game animals had been bagged outside India. The Cape buffalo and the black rhino were among the 33 varieties of herbivores of the savannah and jungle of Africa that ended up as trophies in the Bikaner palace”.

(India’s Wildlife History: An Introduction, Mahesh Rangarajan, Permanent Black, p.160.)

Sounding a little weird but, nevertheless to mention is a recipe from Rajasthan, of the Kings of those days. I quote:

“Take a whole camel, put a goat inside it and inside the goat, a peacock, inside which put a chicken. Inside the chicken put a sand grouse, inside the sand grouse put a quail and finally, a sparrow. Then put the camel in a hole in the ground and steam it…”

(http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/a-kings-feast/1/139409.html)

(The Hunt)

This is all what was done by the Maharajahs! The question arises what you can do now? Well, well, you can take Nature walks, do yoga in the morning by the Lake, watch enamouring sunrise and sunsets, go for camel safari, walk hand in hand with your loved one in the palace grounds, kiss her at the Billiards Table, host a lavish Rajasthani dinner along with a cultural performance at the Imperial Terrace, in front of the Mirage restaurant.

And if you are not married as yet, why don’t you decide to tie the nuptial knot at the Gajner Palace, truly Rajasthani royal style and discover each other under the shadow of history in the splendor of Gajner.

Gajner not only surprised me, giving me a royal dip in its past, but also a lesson that past times can still beautify the present times!

Distances from major cities:

Jaipur 331 km; New Delhi 448 km; Jodhpur 251 km; Mumbai 1255 km

From Bikaner city it is 30 minutes by car

Airport: Currently Jaipur, but small planes are likly to commence flying to Bikaner in the coming months.

 

 

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This is the state of mind of many people. They go #forward in #reverse…till you realise they are being towed by #negativity!

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Clear #communication and shared #vision is the key to #success!

#Management lesson from the avian world!

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Music Divine by Sandeep Silas

(The Pioneer Jan 12, 2002)

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Usta Kaam…gold finger on camel back ! by Sandeep Silas

 

Bikaner, had been successful in evoking may images in the past in my mind; the temple where rats run like devotees, the grandeur of the Junagadh Fort Palace; Lalgarh palace splendor; Gajner palace and the serenity of its lake; the sharp shooter Karni Singh, erstwhile royal of Bikaner, and a somewhat blurred image of gold work on camel leather.

I enquired and set off to search for this Usta Kaam, name I learned later, and stopped by at some small dusty, clumsy shops, where creativity was at its best in humble surroundings. The flawlessness of the work stood out in sharp contrast to the scratches on multi-purpose work cum display tables.

Behind the counter stood a thin young man carrying the burden of legacy despite its odds. He was born in the community of Usta’s, who were originally from Multan, now in Pakistan, and had migrated to Mughal Court. The then Raja of Bikaner, Rai Singh invited them to Bikaner to work on the Junagadh Fort and Anup Mahal walls and ceilings. Naqqashi, is also known as gesso painting and what the craftsmen did to the Raja’s Fort and Palace is nothing short of being miraculous. Delicate floral and animal forms in resplendent gold have left the palace still looking like a decorated bride about to be wed.

Later on, the Usta’s shifted their work to be executed on camel leather as in declining kingdoms and later Independent India there were no royal courts to patronize their work and provide sustenance. The process though appearing simple is very painstaking. First the camel hide is softened and stretched and then placed on clay moulds. To remind you of the strength of camel hide, it was used to make saddles for horseback warriors and shields in war! The mould is removed after drying it for two days in the sun. Then the craftsman draws lines of the design he is going to make on the piece. The items can be in different shapes, like wine flasks, with long or short stem as the case might be; goblets; vases; perfume containers; water-bottles; jewellery boxes, lamp shades, picture-frames; wall hangings; and mirror-frames!

Akbara, is the technique of the design process, wherein a paste of powdered bricks, animal fat, jaggery and fenugreek seeds is embossed on the surface. The coloured portions are first painted and then outlined with fine black lines. Then the glamorous green and red colours are applied on the item and finally a coat of chandras, local varnish seals the fate of the beauty!

Kamladevi Chattopadhyay elaborates the process thus, “The portion to be ornamented is raised by repeatedly applying a special preparation of shell powder, mixed with glue and a kind of wood apple. Alternatively, sand from a ground earthen pot is mixed with glue and jaggery to create the required paste. The embossed surface is then painted upon. Usually a colour called paveri is applied first. Then a colour made from sindur and rogan is applied. Rogan is prepared by mixing chandras and linseed oil. Bat is applied to area where gold is to be patched.

Mohammad Haneef Usta distinguishes between different kinds of Naqqashi:

  • Golden lacquered Naqqashi, in which flowers and leaves are golden
  • Golden lacquered Naqqashi with mina, in which colour is applied to flowers and leaves
  • Golden lacquered Zangali, in which the work surface is emerald green and rest in different colours
  • Golden lacquered Tantla, in which surface is golden while flowers and leaves are in colour, and details are in white
  • Ranga Baijee in which the work surface remains white, flowers and leaves are painted in transparent colour and partly shaded

He further clarifies on motifs:

  • Turanj, in which identical patterns are transcribed at the base and the top
  • Chande, in which a small and intricate design is repeated all over the decorated area
  • Bharat, in which the entire surface is filled with motifs and patterns leaving little visible “

The most popular patterns are called Tarabandi; star-studded sky and, Naqqashi; floral and animal patterns!

Before the families practicing and nourishing this art are forced to abandon it for want of poor network and appreciation in international markets, the society or a start-up should think of ingenious ways to reach this rare art to markets and museums of the world! It is a gift of God!

Unable to curb my urge to possess one such piece I requested Javed, an artisan to make me a wall hanging with the profile of a famous Rajasthani princess in the centre portion…like she is sitting in a chhatri and waiting for her lover with longing in her mystic eyes!

Note: All photographs have been shot in the natural environment of an artist’s workshop !

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I Found You… by Sandeep Silas

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Crooked as Crows by Sandeep Silas

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Book Cafe, run by prisoners, at Shimla, India- a reform step; article by Sandeep Silas

In a country of 1.311 billion, 1401 prisons with 4,19,623 prisoners, divided into convicts and under-trials, only one officer has had the courage and sensitivity to recognize that prisoners too are fellow human beings.

True, some Court has sat in Judgment upon them for committing some crime or the other, but do we ever come to know of their real life stories, the actual circumstance, which compelled their impulse to do an act, which was adjudged as crime under a code of law. True, crime needs punishment and the latter is necessary to maintain a discipline in a civil society, but reform is also a possibility.

This opportunity has been realized by a distinguished Police officer posted in Shimla, (Himachal Pradesh) as Director-General (Prisons), Mr. Somesh Goyal, who incidentally is also a dear friend and a batchmate.

One officer Pankaj Raj conceived the idea of a Book Café, and Somesh Goyal executed it to be located at Takka Bench, just above the famous Ridge of Shimla, which is being run by prisoners, all serving a life sentence. Here, they serve pizzas, burgers, biscuits, tea, coffee and the usual stuff inside a Café, which has wall cabinets all around stuffed with books.

Shimla Ridge

Book Cafe, Takka Bench

Montaigne says, “Ordinate conduct, moderation, constancy apart, I believe that anything at all can be done, even by a man who, taken overall, is lacking and deficient. That is why the wise men say that to judge a man properly we must principally look at his routine activities and surprise him in his everyday dress”.[1]

The atmosphere created is of a library café, where one can sit head down immersed deep in the world being unveiled by the book and occasionally look up through the windows far into valleys and beyond, into the realms of the mind…

The Book Café was inaugurated this April 11th by the Hon’ble Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh, who also must be given credit for approving such a pioneering venture as a first in any State of India. The Café seats 40, and has free Wi-Fi. I liked the indoor décor of deodar wood, which gives a warm feeling in a hill city. A lot of books, available to a reader, narrate the history of the evolution of Shimla, which became the capital of the British Raj, with evocative photo prints. Apart from that you have historical philosophies, detective thrillers and travel & tourism books.

I saw many young couples and the recently married ones come to the café and for want of space inside sit in conversation upon the seating area around the majestic tree outside. Having completed my walk of 7.5 km for the day, I thought I could afford a pizza and had one. The courtesy with which I was served is worth mentioning.

Look into the faces and eyes of Yograj and Jai Chand and you will wonder why life made them captives of a criminal impulse and why their life is not like other men. Just for a second of indiscretion they got punished with a life sentence, live in jail as condemned persons, devoid of fresh air, freedom to go anywhere or to eat their heart’s desire. I don’t know the facilities inside the jails in Himachal, but from what I have seen they will be definitely sub-human. I do not have those X-ray eyes, which spiritual Masters possess, blessed with the ability to look deep into your soul, but, definitely I have a feeling heart and a thinking mind. So I don’t know for sure what thoughts a prisoner of fate like Yograj has as he serves the public here, but I saw he was thoughtful.

“I disclaim those incidental reformations based on pain. ‘God must touch our hearts’. I Samuel 10:26. Our conscience must emend itself by itself, by the strengthening of our reason not by the enfeebling of our appetites. [2]

I think that if other States of India could adopt this reformatory idea as ‘sharing of best practices’ a window of reform shall open quietly, inside hearts and our society.
Prison Statistics, India

Country India

 

Ministry responsible Ministry of Home Affairs
Prison administration Governments of States and Union Territories
Prison population total (including pre-trial detainees / remand prisoners) 419 623

at 31.12.2015 (National Crime Records Bureau)

Prison population rate (per 100,000 of national population) 33

based on an estimated national population of 1,289.7 million at end of 2015 (from United Nations figures)

Pre-trial detainees / remand prisoners (percentage of prison population) 67.2%

(31.12.2015)

Further Information

Female prisoners (percentage of prison population) 4.3%

(31.12.2015)

Further Information

Juveniles / minors / young prisoners incl. definition (percentage of prison population) 0.0%

(31.12.2015 – under 18)

Foreign prisoners (percentage of prison population) 1.5%

(31.12.2015)

Number of establishments / institutions 1 401

(31.12.2015 – comprising 134 central jails, 379 district jails, 741 sub jails, 18 women’s jails, 63 open jails, 20 Borstal schools, 43 special jails, 3 other jails)

Official capacity of prison system 366 781

(31.12.2015)

Occupancy level (based on official capacity) 114.4%

(31.12.2015)

Courtesy: World Prison Brief; http://www.prisonstudies.org/country/india

[1] Michel De Montaigne; The Complete Essays; On virtue; page 799; Penguin.

[2] Michel De Montaigne; The Complete Essays; On repenting; page 920; Penguin.

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The #Shaping of a #Thought by #Sandeep #Silas

The Shaping of a Thought by Sandeep Silas in Borough in the Mist (2007)

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Review of #Sandeep #Silas’ poetry book published by #Sahitya #Akademi

Found in my archives a #Review of my poetry book in #Indian #Literature published by #Sahitya #Akademi
Review: Borough in the Mist by Sandeep Silas
Reviewed Work: Borough in the Mist by Sandeep Silas
Review by: J. Bhagyalakshmi
Indian Literature
Vol. 51, No. 4 (240) (July-August 2007), pp. 211-213
Published by: Sahitya Akademi
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/23346142
Page Count: 3

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