Friday, September 30, 2011


We embarked on the task of writing travelogues with some fanfare last month and with trepidation sought the views of our better-half on the first venture. She echoed what Queen Victoria famously said. Mince, yes, “we are not amused.” Flatttt said she, like a flat beer. There is no reportage of a journey, she objects. Touche!- but, but, dear, we are aware of that!

What’s IndrayaniKaathi about, we explain to missus. Well for one, it’s about taking an odd view of things. The joy of discovery. Being original. Being consciously unconventional. About seeking the real real explanation behind the seemingly inexplicable, debunking fake explanations. Getting to the root of roots. And that’s a habit with us, burden of our life’s song, even before we blogged.


You’ll find the genre at work in ‘Freakonomics’ by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner or ‘Tipping Point’ by Malcolm Gladwell. The Economist, in one of their book reviews, gives a flavour of Freakonomics, if you have not already sampled it:

Levitt traces the drop in violent crime rates (1980s New York) to a drop in violent criminals and, digging further, to the Roe v. Wade decision that ‘preempted the existence’ of some people who would be born to poverty and hardship ( in the Roe v. Wade judgement, the US Supreme Court had struck down many state laws that restricted abortions). Elsewhere, by analyzing data gathered ( incidentally, a Tamilian did the gathering) from inner-city Chicago drug-dealing gangs, Levitt outlines a corporate structure much like McDonald's, where the top bosses make great money while scores of underlings make something below minimum wage.

We also have some profoouunnd taiikes to our credit:

Scha•den•freu•de/ˈSHädənˌfroidə/ :Noun: Pleasure derived by someone from another person's misfortune. (It has an equivalent in sanskrit- ‘vighnasantosh’. )

The phenomenon is embarassing and difficult to explain. The ‘extant’ explanations are insuffucient. Everybody has it, in varying degree, though few may admit it. In our view, the explanation lies in good old ‘survival of the fittest’. Someone else’s misfortune is good tidings for the rest of us, for it places more resources at our disposal, and thus enhances the chances of our own survival, hence the other’s misfortune warms the cockles of our hearts. Of course the context and the setting is pre-historic, when there was that much more pressure on resources but the feeling perhaps got etched onto human genes, lasting to this day. That’s the freakonomic explanation based on results from the mental lab of YF.

So, man, that’s the spirit behind the blog. But now, for a conventional travelogue. With visual content. Starts on our first evening in the NE, that is in Guwahati, as we land safely. Dropped into the lap of nature, fortutiously.’s January and the outside temperature is 27 degrees, thanks for flying with us, and darkness is descending on the airfield like wafting snow-flakes.

Our first quest as we step out of the Lokopriya Bordolai International Airport is a placard with the Chabiwala mono, and on it, our name duly mis-spelt and mutilated. There it is, with a smiling, welcoming face behind it. Akshay or Okhkhoy is our introduction to the NE.The rehnuma. He’s the best driver we were blessed with in all these years. Takes his responsibilities as a friend and guide seriously. Protective, most of all, which impresses missus to no end. He’s mature and intelligent. In the NE you are identified by your tribe or non-tribe, there are so many of them, and they mean a lot. Akshay is an Ahom, that is the tribe which gave this name to Assam..

We ease ourselves into the back seat of Akshay's dapper, silver blue Accent. It’s 4.30 PM and it’s as dark as 7.00 PM in say, the Delhi winter. Missus, who is an old NE hand always wistfully told us how Guwahati, formerly Gauhati, felt, nestled in the middle of mountains. We don’t see any of the hills, and tease the lady for being so forgetful. Memory plays tricks, heyyyy...comm....onn yaaar. It turns out that the airport’s location which is outside of the valleys, has misled us, and not memory. The lady is a genius. The hills loom large before you once you are beyond the University. You discern the hills even in the dark, inhale the dense leafy verdure. No lights on those pristine hills, they’re uninhabited.

Akshay is expatiating on the Brahmaputra. He is talking basically in Hindi but you have to strain your ears and lip-read to recognise the words. Anyway our Bangla and ergo Assamese, Ohomese, is tolerably good. Sirrrrr, Brahmaputra is the only male river anywhere. The longest bridge spans the river sixteen kms wide. In the rains it spreads to 100 miles and gobbles up large territories. Majauli island is a protected eco-system in the middle of the river and is getting eroded fast, so we have to visit Majauli as soon as possible. Then he reels out the names of temples in and around the Brahmaputra. We’ll visit Dhaul Gobind this Sunday, he promises.

Akshay drops us at our Guest House which is tolerably good and says no to tips. We are quite excited and missus is dying to step out. It’s 6.00 PM and pitch dark outside. We cross the lane and then behold in the bushes a beaauutiful spectacle which we witnessed regularly as kids, aeons ago, in the woods behind Thakkar Bappa Sadan, Link Road, New Delhi-5, the venue of the annual Ganeshotsav, or in the thick vegetation in the Pusa Institute. Fireflies! A swarm of twinkling fireflies! We thought they had vanished from the face of earth! Fast-forward, and, we are greeted by them in Mizoram, in Manipur, in Itanagar, every-where! That vision becomes our motif for the NE, like the MGM lion. A surrogate for the North East, so to sayyy!

To us, fireflies are the touch-stone of the ideal man-nature balance. Who doesn’t remember collecting fireflies in match-boxes, plastic cases and capturing them in your shirt pockets by the night, the shiny, innocent little things! Here’s to nostalgia!

Fireflies belong to the Lampyridae family of insects in the beetle order Coleoptera. poignantly tells you all about the tragic, gradual, disappearance of many of their species from the human canvas. The culprits are the destruction of their habitat, which is the moist and dense vegetation, supplying organic decaying food to them, and the city lights, which inhibit their reproduction. Jugnu, thay are called in National Language. Kaajwe in marathi.

Rewind. We decide pay obesiance to the deity of the bismillah, Lord Ganesa and the temple is right accross the street. Temples, though not architecturally remarkable, are a delightful sight adorning the Assam night. Devotees, after doing the offering, will invariably light earthenware diyas outside the temple and you can imagine how beautiful the sight is, with hundreds of lamps shimmering and fluttering, creating a soft yellow ambience, scattering the light in a halo around the temple! The two of us follow suit and lighting diyas in collaboration gives a great feeling of togetherness.

Next we decide to take a stroll along the GS Road- Guwahati-Shillong Road. We spot the Assam Secretariat buildings, with their authentic Assamese architecture. How graceful! the two of us exclaim in rare unison. And then from the walk in the clouds, we descend to the earth with a thud. We are startled to see the ungainly under-belly of the North East. The threatened peace. The ubiquitous para military commandos. Just look at their heavy armoury. No weapon below the calibre of an SLR! Later we learn the security forces are the last resort of the unemployed in the NE-- and the mainstay as well as bane of Chabiwala Bank, a loan scheme formulated for Govt. employees. Missus being missus leads the Maratha army unto a hasty retreat.

Boss next day suggets we take a trip to Shillong, for the 5 smaller states are likely to be our beat. Meghalaya, Nagaland, Mizoram, Manipur, Tripura. As we plan for next day’s departure, Akshay somehow smells our laziness and cautiously magnifies the estimated journey time to Shillong. You have to start by 6.00 AM so as to reach the branches by opening time, 10.00. Hmmm....Akshay seems to be blossoming into a Jeeves. Madam, eternal fixer, fixes 5.30 for bed-tea. By 8.00, a sleepy YF crawls into the back seat of the purring Accent. Mam has packed baggage for three days. Time for Akshay uwaach.

Sirrrr, first there was only Assam. Then various tribal aspirations materialised, and Assam spawned Arunachal, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura, not necessarily in that order, but in alpabhetical order nevertheless.

Sirrrr, Meghalaya where we are going today consists of three hills, the Khasi Hills, the Garo Hills, and the Jaintia Hills, names derived from the indigenous tribes. After we take a turn southwards along Jorabat-Shillong Road, one side of the road is Assam, and the other, Meghalaya. You’ll find rows of liquor shops and petrol bunks on the Meghalaya side, for there are no commercial taxes in the 5 tribal states. Half of Guwahati shops for liquor at those vends. A right turn and you are suddenly in the middle of the stunning sub-Himalayan ranges. The mountains here are covered with thick thick vegetation, which is mainly teak in these regions. “Iddur aapko koi cheeriya deekta hai? Naiiii...kyunkeee- o kha gaya, ha,ha,ha..!” As we earlier mused, humans are integrated into the food chain in the North East. Not at the receiving end, obviously.

Shillong, Pine city, Scotland of the East, laced northwards by the huge blue shimmering body of water called the Umiam Lake, and southwards by Cherrapunji hills, is another romantic story to be told some other day and we wrap up with a delightful glimpse of our man Okhkhoy.

In Shillong we are put up at the ‘OTC’ or ‘Officers’ Transit Camp’ which is a charming 5-storeyed wooden heritage affair. We retire around 8 PM, which is 11 PM by sub-continent standards. It’s bitterly cold and there is not a soul in sight on the winding streets. Suddenly the pang of being stranded without a bottle of liquor near stabs us in the heart. Sears it. Stuppidd we mutter and start scheming the procurement of a bottle. Deja vu, our plight is identical with the plight of that boss in the delightful old marathi movie called ‘Brandy chi baatli’, where boss has to send out a simpleton of a subordinate on a nocturnal mission to get a bottle of brandy.

We missed-call Akshay. He appears in a jiffy. Well, well, how to thrust such a coarse task on a subordinate on the very first day of your acquaintance, we wonder. Baaad...But we are helpless. Ahemmm....we tell him...yaaaar... it’s very very cold and as a precaution we must have a bottle of brandy with us, here is a five hundred rupee note. Akshay nods in sympathy and takes off. Fifteen minutes, and there’s a tap on the door. Akshay’s grave face appears between the panels of the door, and he thrusts a bottle of McDowells’ Signature whiskey and a lagre pack of potato wafers into our hands, and bemused and delighted to no end, we ask him to keep the change. Yeyyyy...! Jeeves reincarnated!

Another take on the use of the first person plural in place of the first person singular. Here is what an authoritative commentator has to say referring to what Maggie Thatcher reputedly said in 1989 when she got her first grandson, of course courtesy her son. “We have become a grandmother.”

“The use of the 'royal we' (the 'pluralis majestatis' or 'majestic plural') had previously been restricted, as one might expect, to royalty. For example, Queen Victoria's celebrated 'we are not amused'. Its use by a mere prime minister and Thatcher's imperious personal manner were the source of considerable disdain at the time. Thatcher's apparent conceit led to her being described as 'a legend in her own imagination'.”

Well, let us assure you that we do not do the due out of megalomania, but we just find the use of the FPS egotistic and obnoxious. That's our Ishtyle!

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