Itinerant idiolects - 1

(Autobiographically speaking, with poetic flashes)
By U Atreya Sarma

“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveller is unaware.”
– Martin Buber (1878-1965), Austrian-Israeli Philosopher

U Atreya Sarma
Perhaps there is none who is not fond of travel, for it refreshes you by taking you to new places, new environs, and new people. Especially when you feel you are caught in a grind, stuck in a rut. We should of course, plan our tour/travel well, lest it should turn into a hole of travail. It doesn’t matter whether you choose to visit a few or many places, but you should perform your itinerary at leisure – so as to enjoy every bit and moment of it, relax and get reinvigorated, with no tearing hurry that makes you naggingly edgy. A tour packed with too many places in a limited time would be weary and monotonous and defeats its very spirit and purpose. Real travel is a happy translocation of both body and mind in unison.

While the travels of adventurers is an entirely different game, those of lesser mortals including me is just for fun and some breezy change for the better.

The memories of life’s travel have their different identities. Some of them may have seen the light of day having been shared either orally or in published form. Some of them lie dormant layer upon layer, and continue so, unless a fortuitous chance to invoke and tap them comes up.

Over to my childhood at my home town Kaikalur – a Taluk headquarters, on the perimeter of the Kolleru Lake in the Krishna district of Andhra Pradesh. Once a relatively backward Taluk, it is now vibrant with its agriculture and aquaculture. During every vacation my cousins from different places used to visit us, and we had all the fun, frolic and mischief the lads or lasses at the formative age would have. However, I missed out on, and ardently longed for something. Though they would invite me for a return visit, it never happened until a very later date, and that too sparsely. My father – the de facto paterfamilias – with his customised package of discipline and values, wouldn’t let me go out even in the small laid-back town, not to speak of venturing to other towns my cousins hailed from. Of course, he took me on his classy bicycle for a much awaited long ride of 10 kms to a pilgrim hamlet – Bhogeswaram, on a Maha Shiva Ratri day. My eyes were filled with the wonder of everything around – people in hordes making it by every means of travel, the variety of stalls – of eats and playthings – and the amusement fixtures. The lake at the Bhogeswara temple would send out three big bubbles in succession whenever you chanted ‘Hara Hara’ aloud, in devotion. But at that time, only one bubble was active. Local history had it that the other two had disappeared because of some sacrilege at the spot some time ago.

However, a few years later, I was allowed the luxury of travelling to the city of Vijayawada, where some of my cousins lived. Though it was mid-summer, we the children would sneak out and wander about the roads even when the sun blazed over the top of our heads – in that city, at that time called Bezawada, and facetiously nicknamed ‘Blaze-wada’ because of its dauntingly hot weather. We would walk around miles and miles. It didn’t affect us; we carried no hat or umbrella; not even a bottle of water. Whenever we felt thirsty, we would draw water from the municipal taps or walk into a hotel and grab a glass of water from an unoccupied table.

The landscape of Vijayawada was fascinating with the Krishna River, the various canals that branched out of it and ran through the town, and on its soil stood proud and mighty hills – Mogalrajapuram Hill, Gandhi Hill and the Indra Kiladri. It is on the last that the famous temple of Kanaka Durga is located; and it’s atop this hill that the Mahabharata hero Arjuna is said to have performed his penance and obtained the Pasupata Astra from Lord Shiva. Every morning, the hills beckoned us, and we would decide to walk up to and climb to the summit of the Indra Kiladri. But daily, we were stopped by a wide and deep canal; we weren’t savvy enough yet how to cross it. The next day we would repeat the exercise, hoping credulously, that the canal wouldn’t be there to snigger at and stall us. It was only after a year or two, my cousin and I succeeded in reaching the top of the Indra Kiladri; and felt on cloud nine. Like Edmund Hillary and Tensing who trekked up and stepped onto Mt Everest and about whom we were perhaps yet to learn.  I was about ten years old at that time. The fascination for the hilly eminences has continued and remains as intense even now. As I grew up, it pained me to see that many a hill was indiscriminately ravaged and razed down for man’s greedy construction projects or was encroached upon by all and sundry – in most cases on political instigation or collusion. We can, with our ultra-modern technology, easily level down a majestic hill. But can a million of us, with the aid of the same technology, build a hill? The nostalgia for the hills made me pen a few poems, and here are is one of my unpublished ones, “The hill that beckoned” –

The hill that beckoned

There was that high hill yonder
At which I looked with wonder.
Hills are a thrill to climb;
So I started out to reach it.

A wide and deep brook came in the way
With no bridge or barge in sight;
So I walked back home
With a feeling of emptiness.

The next morning when I got up
With renewed hope; I sojourned afresh
Wishing that the stream wouldn’t block.
But lo! It still was there and with greater force.

This hill drill went on day by day
With a naughty nought
And an unravelling knot… …

Then years after, when I was back –
Having grown up from childhood,
And my studies far away elsewhere – 
The hill view was found eclipsed
By a close maze of high-rise buildings.

Nostalgic gusto charged into me;
And on a dawn I began my hill-ward journey.
I walked along the roads,
With an eerie frisson.
The stream grew still wider;
However it was kinder
With a bridge over
As its waistband.

Eureka!
First time cross I did
Successfully
And felt as if I’d won an Olympic medal.

I continued on…and on…
Did I lose my way?
No hill in sight…

At a landmark, on my enquiry
This fell into my deafened ears:
“The hill was long ago razed to the ground
To make room for skyscrapers to abound.”

Thus was how my nostalgic hill thrill
Came to be filled with a spiny chill.

In course of time, I joined the State Bank of India as a clerk-typist. My first posting was at Addanki, a historical town nestling on the banks of a rivulet – Gundlakamma. Geographically, it was located in the Prakasam District of Andhra Pradesh, and bank jurisdiction-wise in Hyderabad Circle. The sleepy town and its surroundings were fertile, irrigated by the right canal of Nagarjuna Sagar. Every two years the branches were subjected to a rigorous internal audit which rated their overall performance. The auditor was a senior official from within the bank but from another administrative Circle. He was held in much awe; the branch manager and staff knew that he could either make or mar the image of the branch. Rather crucially positioned in the branch functioning by the respective managers, I had opportunities of interacting with the auditor who came from a different background, from a different state, from a different language, and visited a maze of places as part of his duties. It sparked off a kind of wanderlust in me and an interest to think of ways of getting transferred to another Circle. But transfers, especially inter-Circle ones, were extremely difficult and very rare at that time. This was when I was at my hometown, on a request transfer from Addanki. Around that time, we received a circular from the bank’s Central Office calling for options to work as audit assistant in Sikkim on deputation. It was a godsend, and I applied for it, and began to float on air, lost in waves of euphoric dreams. …

And here is how I eventually recorded my Sikkim experiences:
 “I glide along into the land of magic
To conjure up memories nostalgic.
Refreshed with clean scenes and golden waters
I play the administrative trotter.
I do my bit to nourish the baby
And sing aright ditty after ditty
Witnessed by the Kanchenjunga ridges
As much water flows under its bridges.”

This was written, let me say, without ever visiting Sikkim; I have never visited that idyllic cradle of Himalayan land. I wasn’t selected for the Sikkim deputation; obviously the competition was much too stiff; maybe those from West Bengal or Bihar were selected.  In fact, I didn’t receive any yes or no from the bank.

But then why did I pen the above poem at all? Well, I have edited quite a few books, and one of them is Memoirs & Musings of an IAS Officer (Menaka Prakashan, Pune, 2013) by KV Natarajan, IAS (Retd) who served as Chief Secretary (1991-1992) and Vigilance Commissioner (1993-1998) of Andhra Pradesh.

While editing the book, I suggested to Natarajan that I would preface each chapter with an evocative quotation that would foreground the context of the chapter. The 360 + xiv pages book has nine chapters and I was able to identify an apt quotation for all the chapters except the longest one, that is Chapter VI. That chapter deals with his experience as Development Commissioner and with the beauties and culture of Sikkim, then an Indian protectorate – and it was merged into India as a full-fledged state during his tenure there. Thus the “I” in the poem is Natarajan himself. I said the poetic lines could be shown as his own creation, but, being a man of integrity, he insisted that my own authorship should be acknowledged.

I had applied for deputation to Sikkim in early 1970s, and it is about the same time that Natarajan happened to have his tenure there. Though I never visited Sikkim, at least I had spent months of time with someone, that too a senior IAS officer, who worked there. Isn’t it a rather epiphanic or serendipitous intersection? I had one more “connection” with Sikkim. I happened to know a Sikkim governor well enough – V Rama Rao, who had been earlier a long-time elected MLC from the Hyderabad graduates constituency. The well-respected leader and his well-respected physician father Dr V Appa Rao were friends of my father; for they had happened to live near Kaikalur, our native town, before they migrated to and settled down in Hyderabad. So can anyone deny that I was a visitor of Sikkim, though vicariously, of course?

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