Saturday, March 24, 2007

my stint at taragram

I had some fabulous years at TARAgram. TARAgram- a rural technology demonstration unit, is 15 kms from Jhansi. Located at Madhya Pradesh, TARAgram is in this fantastic wilderness, where the dry summers drain you off all energy; so bright and hot in the summers that the rocks seem to reflect more heat and the dry leaves crackle as if it'll start a forest fire of its own. The rains so heavy that those very trees would sway in wet greeness and little riverlets would drain into the already swollen Betwa river.

We had our own power supply through DESI power (Decentralised Energy System of India), our own stationery of TARA handmade paper and our own sigdi-koyla in the cold cold winters. The koyla that I mention, is charcoal made out of biomass. My colleague would always corerct me and say 'invasive biomass' invasive biomass' not a waste! ok, bajpai, I give you that!

Us, Jharkhandi's and people from Bihar, Orissa, MP , Chhatisgarh would recognise the 'invasive biomass called 'lantana' as "putus", a thorny bush with rough dark green leaves and tiny bunches of orange or purple or red or white flowers. The DESI power that I mentioned above is electricity generated through another of Bajpai's "invasive biomesses', called 'Ipomea'. Again, us Jharkhandi's and people from Bihar, Orissa, MP , Chhatisgarh would recognise Ipomea as "theythur" or "besharam" or "behaya". Yeah, a plant actually called by
that name!

"Besharam" is a tall shrub with palm sized leaves and tall stalks. It has lavender coloured bell shaped flowers and 'besharam' can grow anywhere. Throw a stalk anywhere, be it muddy or dry, 'Besharam' grows. I call that 'survivor' or 'perseverant' not 'besharam'.
No wonder, Bajpai was so protective of his biomasses. We even had our own check dam. There were times when we would take our lunches by the dam and sit with our legs swinging over the water.

8 kms away from TARAgram is Orchha. Located at the banks of Betwa, Orchha's history dates back to the 17th century. The Ram Mandir, Jahangir Palace, Teen Deviyaan ka Mahal, Laxmi temple, Chaturbhuj temple and much more. Each has its own story to say (and all guides tell it differently as well). Ram Mandir used to be more beautiful, I'm told, until Uma Bharati painted it pink. As you face Ram Mandir, on the right side is a gate which leads to an enclosure which has two square 15 foot pillars, called "Saawan Bhaado". I was told by some wise women that at the onset of rains, Saawan and Bhaado like two lovers bend and seek each other. Well, I could not imagine two squares reaching out to each other but on a fading light, the pillars did look imposing.

Jahajir Palace is impressively imposing as well. Each window on every direction gives its own perspective and meaning to beauty. A damp afternoon thrown in, and the mood is purrfeckt!

Two sides of the Palace overlook Betwa. As the skies turn a deep purplish-orange, the views could be anything - be it the trucks on their way to Niwari or Tikamgarh or Bhopal passing through the metal bridge on swollen Betwa or a flash of branches being swept away while a boat paddles downstream home or 2 women washing clothes at the ghat which has a dozen broad steps while a man rushes through his bath in the water soon to turn dark, while children dip and frolic and swim and dive from the water-slick smoothly rounded rocks.

From yet another side you can see, a well-maintained garden with a Mahal called some Fulwadi or the other. Supposedly, the Bundela Raja's favourite mistress used to reside in this Mahal. The front side as always overlooks people rushing through their touristy-agenda.

Jahangir Palace was made to commemorate Jahangir since he had helped the contemporary Bundela Raja to usurp the throne, my so-called guide had told me. (I do not remember why I never took an official guide).

Well, Jahangir came to visit for 1 night only an dit took perhaps 17-18 years to build this palace. (Am I wrong or what?). The room where he slept is not grand. A small platform where his 'rajsi' bed would have been laid.

One of my colleagues would stuff his week-long dirty clothes in a rucksack and on a Sunday afternoon would wash them at Betwa, drink beer and sleep off on the warm rocks. What fun!

A 4 centuries old stone bridge which was quite low would year after year get submerged during the rains. It was also a source of rancor since only one heavy vehicle could pass at a single time. With the Bundelkhandi tempers virtually always on the rise, the drivers of nose to nose buses would hurl swear words left right and centre.

The drive from TARAgram to Orchha during the rains is not just a drive. It is an experience. Beyond the old Orchha bridge is a wild life sanctuary. I never saw any wild animals but the drive down is mind blowing on a dark night.

I only regret not using each and every moment to soak up all that the place had to offer.