Did I tell you about the time I went a-vacationing with kids and wife to Aurangabad? It's not much of a story, because
(a) I came back alive
(b) I came back sane
(c) Aurangabad is still where it is.
But as I always say, if Karan Johar can write a story, so can I. Moreover, mine doesn't have songs.
Aurangabad is one of those grimy, industrialized towns that one finds all over the country these days. You can tell from the cockiness of the autorickshaw drivers that this is one burg where the economy is rocking. He has no time to waste and finds it impossible to conduct conversations without spitting out of the side of his mouth, as I found out when I was trying to elicit directions to our hotel. In a sleepy town, on the other hand, the typical citizen on the street has the aggressiveness of William Wordsworth.
We were booked into a nice, sprawling but slightly musty hotel called the Ambassador Ajanta which must have had its interior designed around the time when the three wise kings were following the star.
I was looking forward to this vacation because the kids were booked into a separate room which meant I would have a big window for romance unlike at home where its always crisis time.
I don't know if you've had that experience where you take time out from your busy schedule, smile winningly at the old spouse, get to the point where holding of hands is imminent and in barges your younger son, brimming with complaints of persecution and demanding immediate arrest and sentencing of the guilty party, namely the older one. Who has a good "not guilty" defense lined up and by the time you pass the final order ("faults on both sides"), all thats left of the fire of love is ashes.
We thought that the romantic environs of Aurangabad, coupled with hours of blissful solitude would re-kindle the romance to a quality that would inspire sonnet writers. It turned out quite agreeably. The old helpmeet actually smiled a couple of times at yours truly, an event comparable, in its rarity, to the sighting of Haley's comet . The rest will have to be silence lest an enterprising Subhash Ghai convert this into a multi-crore blockbuster with mega dance sequences.
Coming back to the vacationing, we started chilling soon, the mustiness and griminess forgotten. Being true Bombay wallahs, unable to sit in one place and soak in the atmosphere, plans were hatched of going sight seeing.
We went to see the Bibi ka Makbara, a sort of mini Taj Mahal built by Aurangzeb's son in memory of his mother. We hired a guide who was enthusiastically bustling around and we did not regret our decision. He pitched into his speech with gusto and told us a lot of interesting details which, sadly, could not be understood since he had no front teeth. I'm not a dentally prejudiced person -not all of us can have front teeth, is how I look at it- but front teeth are important for effective public speaking. Our raconteur's performance only made the kids giggle and the grown ups struggle to keep a straight face. And later, out of motives best known only to him, he started spouting "shayaris" or Urdu couplets. We abandoned all attempts at keeping straight faces - the kids were rolling on the floor long ago - but our large grins only kept him going.
It was with the greatest of difficulty that we extricated ourselves from the poet's grasp. Taking advantage of a lull in the monologue, we crossed his palms with silver and vanished post haste to the next place on our list, the Aurangabad Caves.
I had no idea these caves existed. I had heard of the Ajanta caves and the Ellora caves. Aurangabad caves? Well, had they been anywhere else, I tell you, they would have been super heritage monuments. Here they were quietly collecting dust. Their average age is 1800 years which makes them older than even Parmeshwar Godrej. Curiously (and this I found in the other cave groups at Ajanta and Ellora too) they had equal numbers of Hindu, Buddhist and Jain caves. I read up later that this was the main trade route from the Hindukush to the Deccan Plateau and these caves catered to merchants tramping to and fro uninsured and with daughters of marriageable age in tow. Resting posts such as these must have been most welcome and the said merchants must have dished out generously to help fund the monks. Needless to say, the scale and quality of the sculpture in the caves was amazing. I couldn't help but wonder if the people who built this were racially and genetically related to the chaps, for instance, who built our local ward office of the Municipal Corporation. Where has all that aesthetic sense gone?
Ajanta, which we saw the next day, was even more impressive. I won't wax eloquent on the artistic merits - there are enough web pages and more on that - but I will say that its a very well appointed monument of national heritage as monuments of national heritage go, because the Japanese government spent some 500 crore rupees (100 million US!) on doing it up. Unlike poor ol' Aurangabad caves, which commands as much attention as a public housing project.
Ajanta was full of high pressure salesmen, though, selling everything from stones to water to trinkets with the intensity of insurance agents. Extremely irritating and ironically, the biggest victims were the Japanese tourists who swarmed the place. I don't know any Japanese intimately, but the one's I've seen in India have always had this air about them of being sorry to be alive and try to make up for it by being excessively polite and bowing to almost every animate object and quite a few inanimate ones. It was sad to see them harried like this. There ought to be a law.
Ditto too, Ellora. An awesome place, inspite of being substantially defaced by the Emperor Aurangzeb and his goons. The piece de resistance is one Kailas Temple. Hewn out of a solid rock and full of intricate sculpture. Two thousand years old. It took my breath away. I wondered idly what the motivation for such huge public enterprises could be. It is said to have taken a 100 years to complete. Would have spanned at least three generation of sculptors and patrons, if not four. No blue prints or sketches even. How did they ensure the continuity of design? Here, in my factory, it is apocalypse when a designer does not turn up even for one day! Though in all fairness one must admit that there are a few road excavation projects like that in Bombay (100 years, no plans) but certainly not so beautiful........ (To be continued....)