Swoosh goes the bird, slicing the sky open with streams of fuel smearing its gut. The ancestors gasp in awe or rather jealousy trying to cope up with the growing aspirations of millions of ‘up’ lookers, who dream of boarding the ride to paradise. This is how progress, or development is today. Skyrocketing across horizons of opportunities, lands and their ‘people’ have had a pleasant journey so far, littering all that they once associated with. It’s the values, the traditions, the ‘heritage’, that is being referred to here. As per Indian philosophy, the circle is life is all about ‘Jirnoddhaar’, where a new twig adds onto the old trunk, making all possible embellishments to augment and revitalise its core. However, the environs we exude into, often tend to haze out our chemistry with our past and blindfold us to breaking up in hopes of a picturesque future.
Currently the needs and numbers within the world have been on a steep rise with need for space. There are attempts to pacify the demands by proposing newer kinds of adaptive built forms. The places of historic importance, have currently become just mere sight seeing destinations. These precincts have been homes to some or the other community like tribals, or craftsmen or fishermen. India constitutes many such precincts that have seen decay over years and are currently at a stage where there is pure need for conservation. In many instances, there has not been an up gradation in the standards of living of the inhabitants. Recent trends show the rise in conservation activities. Why do we need conservation ( a western concept) in the first place? if we learn to appreciate and enhance our daily lives, that will soon be an item in the museums of tomorrow. Our apathy towards our artefacts, reflect on their state of bearing impositions of neglect and unmatched visuals of love. These are the only places that need to see how much Raja loves Rani. Probably the only island World Heritage Site awarded by UNESCO, Elephanta or Gharapuri island is a haven for some early rock cut caves and Shaiviite settlers living alongside rash monkeys. The island is utilised as a living museum and visited by tourists from all over the world for its sheer untouched serenity, its vegetal treasure and unique ancient sculptures and cave paintings.
Coming from a background in studies of built form, this would have never been my way of emphasising on issues I have observed. But, as they say, go with the flow, and so, my language orients its structure around coffee table news, just to be heard. A little kick under the belly is very necessary but ‘pyaar se’. So here we go!
A tourist spot and a weekend day trip to this island is all that it gets and apparently offers. The state of foreign tourism in India has become like this : “oh wow!! there goes a filthy Indian beggar”, “Look at that little girl walking the rope”, “so many broken statues amidst slums!!! this country does have so much of a ‘culture'”, these and many more such references from perky talks with some flash mobbed tourists reveal, that the image that draws the attention of the Westerners, is the image we all neglect and trash out of our homes. Why would we want a poor girl trying to work up some money to feed her family, be put across as an object of fascination? Why does photography in India mean clicking beggars holding their palms out, and the painful bits of our traditions come across as antiques for appreciation? Isn’t it a disgrace for us, who very conveniently escape, thanks to some foolish workplaces offering jobs, and brag about our homeland being so fancy, when we ourselves wish we weren’t born here. As Aamir Khan rightfully summarises in his ‘Incredible India!’ commercial, we are what we show. Kindly note fellow Indians!
Drifting back to Gharapuri, locals earn their livelihood by fishing, playing tourist guides, and from small scale agriculture, a life far more challenging than our air conditioned and ‘uber’ driven lives. Going by our regular or aspiring lives, just imagine waking up to a hot cup of ginger tea on an early Saturday morning (provided you have a day off!), your family prepping up to go out on a day trip, with gears of clothing and sunblock, glares and hats and munching. You arrive at the Gateway of India amidst a hoard of conductors yelling ‘ Alibag, Elefaanta! Elefaanta! Elefaanta!’. They do not even know its real name. You juggle your way and board a painted ferry with many more fellow passengers swearing at the sensual beauty of the early morning scene at Apollo Bunder. An hour into the ride, appear 2 hillocks and a sprawl of greenery floating over the incredibly brown waters of the Arabian Sea. Strutting like victors of some war,
We, the foolish people having solemnly resolved to embarrass ourselves with the Senseless, Selfish Sentimental Drama for our Repertoire and pledge to sell ourselves to all our patrons. You reach the island sighing about the struggles along the subtly comfortable journey.
A toy train awaits, but a stroll could just rekindle the jammed spines of the spineless creatures. As you alight the steps towards the caves, another hoard of vendors creep in from both the sides. The tarpaulin sheets appear like extensions of our in-sensitivities towards the beauty of such an indigenous volcanic island, where every rock is worth preserving and examination. Finally, a plateau of entrances and distractions appear with a sad effort for an interpretation centre. People enter in no time and leave in no time. Spread out like a miniature museum, the centre is nothing more than a bit of an out of control punk kid, who knows nothing about why he is even there in the first place. Conservationists say, accentuate value, do not diminish it. Point taken, then how come does it not serve a purpose at educating the ways of living as per the critical Shaiviite culture that once was prevalent amongst the settlers of this island! By Shaiviite, reference is made to the followers of Shiva. Simple and meaningful living with responses to nature for its sources of energy, is all that this tradition preached about a thousand or more years ago.
Now, reduced to 3 Gaothans – Shet bunder, Mora bunder & Rajbunder, the villagers have been finding it extremely difficult to sustain themselves in order to preserve their ancestral belongings. With barely any infrastructure reaching the island, these are an odd 250 families left to fend for themselves. Shocking! isn’t it? an hour away from the financial capital of the country, 3 villages merely turn to migration as their only means to survive. The people have started to move into the mainland for their livelihoods and even for their sustenance. It won’t be astonishing to see if the island is left totally deserted in the coming decades. A friendly gesture by an Australian company SOLARGEM helped revive the village of Morabunder in 2009, by donating solar powered bulbs and panels to the houses of the village. Taking this as a learning, the state government or MTDC at least should have taken the initiative to formalize it and install many more. Instead, they watch the match munching on their popcorns. Ignorance is a bliss they say, but our roots are what we stand on. Ignorance here can be catastrophic. Its our time to realize that we are self sufficient, and do not require pittance. Where does ‘ab ki sarkaar’ go this time round? Time will tell, hope our dying treasures.
The environment has been another concern for the villagers with repeated pollution from the city and the JNPT port on either sides of the island. The recent oil spill has been disastrous to the mangroves and aquatic life around the island, forcing some of the fishermen to quit their crafts and move to serving IT companies as peons instead.
Inspite of all this, the state and its people sit still as spectators to another show.
Home to some of the oldest caves, this pristine island also plays host to one of the premier cultural festivals of Maharashtra, the Elephanta festival. For two consecutive days, this is where the intellectual elites flock to, to experience the same old Ragas rendered in the same old manner. Not that its wrong, but where is the development in this case? Where is the Jirnoddhar? Here comes another tale of cultural hypocrisy that our country very proudly follows. The festival takes place every February, with guest artists belonging to some of the highest ranks like Padmashris and Padmavibhushans. These chair hungry bunch of businessmen who call themselves musicians are the biggest frauds the country has ever produced. Isn’t there a scope for newcomers in the field of art and music in India? For work, there are thousands of aspiring and really talented musicians who either walk their soles off or have hungry and sleepless nights fearing for their every tomorrow. Being a cultural dynasty and followers of community living and understanding, where does our culture prescribe the denomination of talent by name, fame and the lame? How come is it that sucking up and spending nights in hotel rooms have become the only resorts to get some work, to earn the bread that a bunch of chain hugging, kurta clad ‘shemales’ for men snatch! why? because they are known. Where does tradition and culture stand in this made up post modern realm? Having said so much, a bunch of ‘artistes’ and ‘social freaks’ would run my home down.
I pay a last salutation to all the double faced people of modern India. Wake up!! it’s time to pack your bags, find a place for yourself. Kindly refrain from imitating! Monkeys are better in the jungles. It’s high time we rise from our hibernation, appreciate the authentic, regard the soulful than the booty-full. Wake Up ! or witness the dark ages.