Peace Won’t Break Out

Rape without mutilation doesn’t move us. Nor does the simple killing of an Indian soldier by Pakistani fire along the Line of Control (LoC). But, if he’s been decapitated, well, that’s quite another story.

It provides sufficient rage to fill up hours of television time, allowing speakers to hit record decibel levels inside studios at night. It is yet another opportunity for the growing television tribe of hate-mongers, quite like the honourable leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha, Sushma Swaraj, to demand the heads of 10 Pakistani soldiers as revenge for the missing Indian soldier’s head. Given that Swaraj, a six-time MP, regularly meets with visiting Pakistani leaders in her official capacity, one wonders whether she’ll demand they hand over the heads of 10 very dead Pakistani soldiers in her next meeting.

Each death of an Indian soldier and, if one can be brave enough to add, every death of a Pakistani soldier on the LoC, is a tragedy, especially after the two countries had so readily agreed to a ceasefire in November 2003. If civilian leaderships can’t control trigger- or knife-happy commanders on either side of the LoC, they are guilty of dereliction of duty. Nearly 10 years after that ceasefire, India and Pakistan have done nothing to add definitive protocols on how the two armies interact with each other.

Incremental confidence has to be built each time you meet. Constructing the future is critical to shedding the baggage of the past. If goods and people can cross the LoC, why can’t we have posts where soldiers don’t carry weapons in select areas? But if you agree to such measures, what will our respective militaries do? They might be rendered redundant. That’s the point. Anyway, the euphoria of the 2003 ceasefire is long over. The architecture of peace, ably crafted by the late Brajesh Mishra, with the blessings of his boss, Vajpayee, came after years of endless verbal and gunshot volleys across the frontier. Even after Mumbai 2008, talks had to resume.

No one cares that the lives of hundreds of Indian and Pakistani soldiers have been saved. No one cares if tens of thousands of civilians on either side of the LoC can go about their business as normal people like those living in non-border areas. No one cares what senior citizens of Pakistan and India, who were about to be granted the luxury of a visa-on-arrival for the first time ever, will do now. Revenge is all.

Tit-for-tat, head-for-head, body-for-body, limb-for-limb, weapon-for-weapon, ship-to-ship, Prithvi-to-Ghauri, hill-to-hill… this is the game that India and Pakistan have played for nearly 66 years. We’ve played Tests, one-dayers and T20s on the LoC and beyond. The rest of the world is bored by our infantile battles, only the importance of waning western powers comes to the surface in an India-Pakistan squabble.

As I sat in the reporter’s gallery of the Pakistani Senate in Islamabad some days after the Kargil war in 1999, the Pakistan People’s Party’s Aitizaz Ahsan tore into the perception that Pervez Musharraf’s men were well-fed and looked after as they fought an Indian army ferociously defending its territory. Ahsan revealed that grass had been found in the stomachs of Pakistani soldiers on whom post-mortems were conducted. My personal anger at the Pakistani army and Musharraf for ripping apart the Lahore peace process seemed to abate as I came to terms with the fact that inhumane Pakistani generals had sent hundreds of their own soldiers to their graves.

Carrying the burden of the poor and the illiterate is not enough for these two countries. The burden of hatred must be constantly recalled so that those who don’t want Pakistan to give India MFN status or move from a positive to a negative trade list can remain in business. It’s no coincidence that the Hafiz Saeed-led Lashkar-e-Toiba attacked helpless residents of Mumbai weeks after Asif Zardari was elected President of Pakistan in 2008. Their masters must have told them that Asif Zardari might actually begin moving towards making real peace, so spraying bullets on defenceless Indians would not just halt the peace process but could even provoke a war. A previous attempt, which claimed the lives of 68 persons travelling on the Pakistan-bound Samjhauta Express in February 2007, has been linked to a terror outfit called Abhinav Bharat—whose objective, too, was ending the peace process with Pakistan.

Given the internal developments in Pakistan, where a belligerent chief justice aided by a dual-national religious cleric has further destabilised a country grappling with the killings of hundreds of Shia Muslims, one might be tempted to link the LoC beheading to an opening up of the India front once again. Both Pakistanis and Indians deserve better than that from their governments. Even when we are in the middle of a peace process, peace seems to be an elusive goal.

Lashing out, opening fire, making war—these are the easy options. Waging peace is the difficult one.

(Amit Baruah is author of Dateline Islamabad and has reported for The Hindu from Islamabad)



I was gang raped three years ago, when I was 17 years old.  My name and my photograph appear with this article.  in  1983, in Manushi.

I grew up in Bombay, and am at present studying in the USA. I am writing a thesis on rape and came home to do research a couple of weeks ago. Ever since that day three years ago, I have been intensely aware of the misconceptions people have about rape, about those who rape and those who survive rape. I have also been aware of the stigma that attaches to survivors. Time and again, people have hinted that perhaps death would have been better than the loss of that precious“virginity.” I refuse to accept this. My lifeis worth too much to me.

I feel that many women keep silent to avoid this stigma, but suffer tremendous agony because of their silence. Men blame the victim for many reasons, and,shockingly, women too blame the victim, perhaps because of internalized patriarchal values, perhaps as…

View original post 1,339 more words

A different kind of bus ride, on the GSRTC ticket


My Outlook piece

As the passengers settle down on the 8.30 am Gujarat State Road Transport Corporation (GSRTC) bus from Ahmedabad to Porbandar, the driver fiddles with his mobile. One prays it will be his last call on this journey. It is election season, and my bus yatra will sample what a random lot of people think about Gujarat, its controversial chief minister, Narendra Modi, and his brand of politics. “We’ll be reaching Porbandar at 6.15 pm,” the ageing conductor, Dikubhai Pathak, predicts, handing me a Rs 194 ticket as he reels off the places we will touch on our 438-km journey. He’s only 15 minutes off mark. When we reached Porbandar, it was 6 in the evening.

Getting out of Ahmedabad takes time. After all, Ahmedabad is a larger city than Chennai today. Traffic is heavy. As our bus crosses the Sabarmati, we can see fresh green vegetables being sold on the footpaths. We stop at various points in the city to pick up passengers before heading on to the highway. Usually, reporting an election means you hire a car (if the office is paying), and then select key areas and talk to the largest number of people possible about the widest range of issues. Reporters who come back with the best assessments are the ones who frequently stop to ask questions, drink endless cups of tea with people, keep an ear tuned to political gossip.

This time it’s the bus for me. Rather than you going to the electorate, the electorate is with you. It’s new and different. A camera around your neck, even in television times, is helpful; people know you might be a reporter. Sitting across me is a middle-aged gentleman, clutching a small, strappy bag. By way of an opener, I ask him where he’s going. Sanand, he tells me. “Tata Nano, you know?” Arvind Shah sells masalas for a living. He’s on the way for a market visit with his distributor. So, how has his life improved in the last five years? “Nothing negative has happened in the last five years.Zameen ka daam kitna barh gaya hai (The price of land has gone up so much). Poore vyapari Modi ko vote denge. Dus saal se shaanti hai. (Merchants and businesspeople will all vote for Modi. It’s been peaceful for the last 10 years.)” Has everyone forgotten about the massacre of Muslims that followed the Godhra train killings in 2002, just after Modi became chief minister? “Yes, they have forgotten. They have moved on.”

Outside, one can see impressive blobs of concrete bobbing up from what were once fields. Porsche, Renault, Maruti, Tata and Jaguar—all these and more appear to be an integral part of the landscape. The pace of construction appears to be scorching, the distinction between urban and rural is being erased. Flats, low and high, are coming up. They are everywhere: in and around Rajkot, in Gondal, in Jetpur, in Kutiyana. And not to forget mandirs—like malls and glass-fronted shops, they, too, are sprouting in many places.


  “Modi will first become CM. Then he can teach those Mohammedans in Delhi a lesson.” This is said matter-of-factly, without emotion.  

Sitting a little distance away from me is a young woman, alternately taking calls on her mobile and listening to music. She seems to be a regular, making use of her time as only those who have a routine do. The seat next to her is vacant. After settling down next to her, I introduce myself as a reporter from Delhi, who would like to ask her a few questions. She is cool, confident. Go ahead, she says. Turns out she’s a primary school-teacher, and she is a regular. Her name is Prakruti. She is dressed in a salwar-kameez, her face is wrapped up in a dupatta. Prakruti believes that Modi will be the next chief minister. “Usne road banaya. Is road ko four-lane kiya. Modi hi jeetega (He has laid roads, made this road a four-laner. He alone will win),” she says. So, are you voting for Modi or the BJP? “Normally, I would say party, but in the case of Gujarat, Modi is the party. That’s what has happened here.” So, what has changed in the last five years, personally, for her? “I got a government job as a primary school-teacher two and a half years ago. My life changed for the better.” She has an MA and a BEd and earns Rs 5,200 a month. Can’t she earn more in Ahmedabad, where her husband works for a bank? “Yes, I can. But this is a government job, after all,” she says. A secure job in uncertain times. Her salary has been fixed for five years—no increments—and Prakruti is not happy about that. “Teachers have taken the government to the high court on the salary issue. But the Gujarat government has gone in appeal to the Supreme Court.” On the riots of 2002, she doesn’t have much to say. “I was in Std XII then. I don’t really remember what happened.”


Identity hog A Modi poster fuses Gujarat’s identity with him and the BJP

At the bus stations which, by the way, could win any Indian smelly loo contest, there are a couple of hoardings displaying figures of Modi, the Congress hand and the new Gujarat Parivartan Party of Keshbubhai Patel. Other than the few hoardings, and a lone Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) cycle rally we see along the way, you could forget there’s an election happening in Gujarat. My conversation with Chhote Lal Gupta, an Ahmadabad-based businessman who deals in ball-bearings, turns into a seminar about the rotten (what else?) state of politics in the country, with Madubhai Pathak, who retired from the National Textile Corporation, intervening off and on.

Jhooth bolo or aage badho (Lie and move ahead in life),” Gupta, who hails from a village in Gorakhpur but has been living in Gujarat for the past 28 years, declares. That’s the way ahead in politics. Both Gupta (from Ahmedabad) and Pathak (who lives in Rajkot) believe that Modi and the BJP are on a weaker wicket today than at the time of the 2007 elections. Former chief minister Keshubhai Patel, they say, with a couple of others nodding in agreement, will cut into the votes of the BJP. Not of the Congress? No, no, they reply. The new Gujarat Parivartan Party will only cut the votes of the ruling party. And, this is their opinion, could help the Congress. I turn the subject to the 2002 killings. Has everyone forgotten? Can you really forget if a brother or a sister, father or a daughter, wife or a husband has been killed? Pathak, bespectacled and wearing a yellow khadi shirt and brown trousers, believes that people don’t forget such things. Gupta articulates a similar sentiment. We move on to other subjects. Pathak asks me how Sheila Dikshit is doing in Delhi and why she keeps winning election after election. Is it because the BJP doesn’t have any leaders in Delhi? Corruption is clearly on their minds and Pathak wants to know whether Arvind Kejriwal’s party will cut into the Congress vote in Delhi. He also believes that Anna Hazare did a good job and pushed the central government on to the backfoot.

After bidding goodbye to Pathak and Gupta, I turn to a young man wearing a diamond ring in his left ear. Gorakhbhai, who is in “service”, tells me that it’s only a matter of time before Modi moves to national politics. Will he move immediately if the BJP returns to power? “No, after a while—he will first become chief minister. Then he can teach those Mohammedans a lesson in Delhi.” It’s said in a very matter of fact way, without any anger or emotion. A simple, chilling statement of fact, which makes me sit up in my seat. We talk a little more about the state of the roads, and how money is made in their repair, and then Gorakhbhai, too, gets off the bus.

Our genial conductor, Dikubhai, joins me. He’s from Porbandar and used to do the night runs until health reasons forced him to stick to day trips. “In Porbandar and Kutiyana seats, it’s a close battle with the Congress, but Modi and his party will get around 100 seats (in a house of 182).” My mind returns to what Gorakhbhai said about his “expectations” from Modi in Delhi. It also meanders to an Ahmedabad journalist friend’s remark that Gujarat hasn’t had a single Muslim minister since the BJP took power in 1998—a long, 14-year period. But, my journey has come to an end. One can see the colourful, newish Porbandar airport from the highway. Am entering a big town, where once Mahatma Gandhi was born and is now sprinkled liberally with glitzy shops selling mobile phones. From behind his trademark glasses, Gandhi would have seen a very different Porbandar, Gujarat and India.



Diwali according to Nelson Mandela

I should have put this out on Diwali Day. But what the hell. Better late than never.

Nelson Mandela’s views on Diwali are the BEST EVER. They are timeless.

Here they are (in edited form):

“At this time of Diwali and as I light this sacred lamp I am aware of how this lamp symbolises the triumph of:

Enlightenment over blind faith

prosperity over poverty

knowledge of ignorance

good health and well being over disease and ill health

Freedom over bondage

In our struggle we will be celebrating this triumph together. But we have a difficult road to walk before we can claim that victory for us all in this country. The Indian community has always supported the cause of freedom.

Now more than ever before it will have to become more visible and in that way recognised and acknowledged.

I am told by learned Hindu scholars that as we light the lamp and also pray to the Goddess Laxmi, we need to remember that from our position of well being and prosperity that there are many who are less fortunate and deprived and that we will have to work together to formulate ways of helping to respond to the grinding poverty and desperation in the country.

At this time we also remember leaders and persons who gave their lives for the cause of freedom. Now a we remember Swami Dayanand who was poisoned for his convictions for a free and independent India and who died on Diwali day we remember the many brave persons in our struggle who gave their lives for the cause of freedom. We remember Krish Rabillal, Ahmed Timol, Solomon Mahlangu and thousands of others. Those lamps went out and in their place thousands more lamps were lit for there to be freedom and peace in our land.

Friends, I feel deeply honoured to be with you at this time of Diwali. I will always remember this festival which we religiously marked for many years on Robben Island. In our struggle in this country there are many lessons that can be drawn from the festival and the Epic The Ramayana which is closely associated with the festival. We are on the verge of entering a new era in this country. We have to light lamps of thanks giving the enlightenment as we go forward into the future in peace and hope and prosperity.


For those who want to read the whole thing, here is the text:

A taste to remember, foreign but subtle

My Dawn Blog. Here’s the link.

 | 4 hours ago

The Whiteboard impression – what my daughters and their friends felt after meeting George and Gary. -Photo by author.

26/10/12. Gr8 Day. The day we met George and Gary.

That’s what my teenaged daughters and two of their friends wrote on a whiteboard after encountering George Calombaris and Gary Mehigan, chefs and judges of the Masterchef Australia competitive cooking show.

It’s a television cooking competition that’s taken teenaged and other bits of well-heeled, English-speaking India, by storm.

Food, it seems, doesn’t respect national and territorial boundaries, it crosses sees, oceans and minds easily.

A web checkout would indicate that this show can be seen from Sweden to Vietnam – it’s either dubbed or subtitled – further evidence of its universal appeal and versatility.

To my daughters and their friends, George and Gary are ultimate heroes – “seeing” them on the lawns of the Australian High Commission in Delhi was a moment to be treasured.

They may be different kinds of heroes than mine, but George and Gary are not divisive figures, they are inclusive.

I must admit that I don’t really watch Masterchef Australia and have often asked my girls (and their mother) about why they must hog the TV at prime time for a cooking show.

The girls have just sort of ignored me and gone about their business of watching Masterchef.

On 26/10, I realised that this show is mega, mega big. Children from different schools in Delhi had shown up to cook and compete and their expressions (and those of my daughters) said it all.

I asked George why this show had become popular across cultures and countries.

At a time of economic downturn, in 2009, this was a show the whole family could sit down and watch, he said, adding that food interested everyone.

Also, George believed that the timing of the show was right because Australians were willing to try out new tastes and cuisines. The numbers-in-millions would confirm that the show remains a big hit.

As I watched their show and interaction with young kids, it was clear that both of them – as chefs and judges – were great communicators.

They pointed out that all was not smooth sailing in the making of a TV show – it was a lot of hard work.

The kids hung on to every word. They loved their celluloid heroes in person.

The Masterchefs in action surrounded by schoolchildren at the Australian High Commission lawns in New Delhi on October 26. -Photo by author

George and Gary heard the young cooks’ proposals, added or subtracted a point or two, but gave them confidence in whatever they were trying to do.

The winners of the smoothie contest on 26/10 were also announced deftly; the effort at showing participation was evident.

Australia has a clear soft power winner in its Masterchef version.

The cooking competition organised for Delhi schoolchildren will leave long, lingering memories for the participants and their parents.

The “connect” was direct; there was no need for explanations and long speeches. Both the cast and the audience knew what they were in for.

Diplomats have long struggled to overcome traditional approaches to influence people. In a world where communication is easy, but content remains a challenge, shows like Masterchef are obviously a boon for diplomats.

Influence in this day and age must necessarily be subtle and unobtrusive. And, food (cooking and recipes) is, clearly, quite underrated in making friends and influencing people.

To reach out to a country like India which has 225 million people aged between 10 and 19 in such a refreshing manner must be a moment to be savoured.

Just remember that my daughters and their friends were the ones who got themselves invited to the Masterchef show in Delhi. The Australian High Commission didn’t have to make any efforts to get them in.

For me, that’s diplomacy at its best.


Amit Baruah is an independent, Delhi-based journalist. He is the author of Dateline Islamabad and reported for The Hindu newspaper from Pakistan.


The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Of Missed Calls and the Resurrection of Manmohan Singh

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh couldn’t reach political ally Mamata Banerjee in Kolkata, West Bengal, on the phone; and, in turn, Mamata reportedly didn’t get a response from Congress President Sonia Gandhi to an SMS she sent.

As Delhi, Kolkata and the rest of India argued about the merits and demerits of a hike in diesel prices, a cap on the number of subsidised cooking gas cylinders, foreign direct investment in the retail sector, Mamata’s Trinamool Congress and the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) finally parted ways. This left the Manmohan Singh government in a minority.

In the breaking TV drama last week, firebrand Mamata, chief minister of West Bengal, claimed she had sent a text to Sonia Gandhi that the recent increases were unacceptable, to which she didn’t get a response.

Finance Minister P. Chidambaram, on his part, said Manmohan Singh called Mamata twice, but her calls were not returned. Mamata, on her Facebook page, said Chidamabaram’s claims were “concocted”.

In this modern age of communications, where mobile phones, both smart and stupid, Twitter and Facebook, have made it so, so easy to reach people, the lines between Delhi and Kolkata seemed to have been down.

Forget Ministers and Prime Ministers, legislators and parliamentarians, even ordinary you and me have now the privilege of keeping in touch with the world while stationary and roaming.

Even Indians and Pakistanis can Skpye each other, not to talk about calling each other on mobile. It’s possible for a Lahori to speak to a Lucknowite.

But, top UPA and Trinamool leaders, with all the resources at their command, just couldn’t reach each other. It appeared that address books had been wiped out, text messages weren’t getting through and aides didn’t know the importance of a call made on behalf of the Prime Minister.

Truth, be told, it just wasn’t about dead batteries and address books.

It was about the absence of will – both the UPA and the Trinamool seemed to have given up on their political marriage, but wanted to lay the blame for the divorce on the other.

And, at such sour moments, the easiest thing to do is to blame the absence of response by one party or the other rather than engage in the serious business of dialogue to salvage a bad situation.

Though officially an ally, the Trinamool Congress had effectively been playing the role of an opposition party from within the ruling fold. Just about everything the central government suggested or proposed was being opposed by the West Bengal party.

There was a sense of paralysis as far as decision-making was concerned – no decisions could be taken by the Prime Minister unless approved by Mamata Banerjee.

Under attack in Parliament on corruption charges following the publication of a report by the country’s Comptroller and Auditor-General for the allocation of coal blocks, the ruling party watched as parliament adjourned without conducting any major business on September 7.

The foreign media, too, picked on the government for its inability to deliver on key measures to reform the economy, lending to the overall sense of non-performance of the Congress-led UPA government.

“Under Singh, economic reforms have stalled, growth has slowed sharply and the rupee has collapsed. But just as damaging to his reputation is the accusation that he looked the other way and remained silent as his cabinet colleagues filled their own pockets,” the Washington Post wrote on September 5.

Just over a week later came a clutch of decisions, which pleased Indian and foreign big business immensely. Other than allowing 51 per cent foreign holding in multi-brand retail and 100 per cent foreign investment in single-brand retail, 49 per cent overseas investment in the civil aviation sector was also permitted.

Suddenly, a weak and indecisive Prime Minister was hailed by big business – Indian and foreign as reformer once again. The turnaround was sudden and the praise was lavish.

With the media, too, awaiting the crumbs of advertisement from these decisions, it appeared that Manmohan Singh was suddenly the same man who had led India to economic liberalisation as finance minister back in 1991.

The uncertainty whether the Prime Minister would go down fighting, as reportedly mentioned by him at a meeting to decide on the new reform measures, appears to have ended for the moment with Mulayam Singh’s Samajwadi Party saying that their support for the government was not in doubt.

The question that lingers is a simple one: what’s the political price Mulayam will extract for his support to Manmohan Singh?

Watch this space.


Amit Baruah is an independent, Delhi-based journalist. He is the author of Dateline Islamabad and reported for The Hindu newspaper from Pakistan.


Heritage in a Shambles

My piece in The Telegraph

Hampi, the spectacular ruins of the kingdom of Vijayanagara, is a World Heritage site. Yet the museum there is a picture of neglect and disrepair, writes Amit Baruah
Pics: Amit Baruah

The City of Bidjanagar [Vijaynagara] is such that the pupil of the eye has never seen a place like, and the ear of intelligence has never been informed that there existed anything equal to it in the world.

— Abdur Razak, envoy from Herat to the court of Devaraya II in 1443

A world heritage site deserves a world-class museum. So, after wandering around the city of Hampi in modern Karnataka, which the United Nations says bears “exceptional testimony” to the vanquished civilisation of the Kingdom of Vijaynagara (1336-1565), one would expect to see an exceptional museum.

In parts, the Kamalapur museum of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) is certainly exceptional. You will see headless replica statues of Krishna Deva Raya and his wife, an exceptional model of the ruins of Vijaynagara and some fantastic works of art that adorn the museum.

Sculptures of Virabhadra, Bhairava, Bhikshatanamurti, Mahishasuramardini, Shakti, Ganesha, Kartikeya with his consorts, and Durga are also on display.

Another gallery displays assorted antiquities such as arms and armoury, copper plate grants, gold and copper coins of the Vijayanagara dynasty in different denominations, as well as some manuscripts, the ASI website says.

You might be excused for not knowing what is what in the Kamalapur museum because the labels on many of the sculptures have simply fallen off. There is no description of what a manuscript might contain.

But that’s just the beginning. Outside, in the garden of the Kamalapur museum, hundreds of statues lie unattended. Some of them find pride of place in the main lawn while others are placed closer together for lack of space at the rear of the museum building.

Monumental mess: Stains on priceless artefacts. Pictures by the author

Again, many of these are without labels. When this writer walked around the lawns, he could see piles of wooden rubbish. Whitewash marks — side effects of cleaning done at some point of time — can be seen on the priceless statues. One statue, possibly of Ganesha (and one can’t tell, because there is no label), had a stream of water flowing underneath.

“It is a fact that the museum does not have sufficient space… to store all these fragmentary specimens because it is also used for storing other stores,” says the ASI’s director of museums, Urmila Sant, in an email response to specific queries.

The state that the exhibits are in is not new to the ASI. In a note to Sant, the assistant superintending archaeologist P.S. Sriraman says as much. “…the [museum] building is in a dilapidated condition owing to bulging reinforcements and chunks of plaster concrete falling frequently. This office had informed the superintending archaeologist Bangalore Circle for appropriate action,” he says in a note which was forwarded to this writer.

The presence of the marks, however, surprises Sriraman. To the best of “our knowledge none of the sculptures has been whitewashed”, he says.

He, however, admits that some drops may inadvertently have fallen on sculptures when adjacent walls and masonry pedestals for the sculptures were being whitewashed.

“The [whitewash] marks are unrelenting to normal and simple cleaning. However, they will be removed immediately… in consultation with the science branch,” the email continues.

The ASI also claims that no sculpture is lying in the middle of rubbish. “A few of them, broken and fragmentary pieces, are randomly stacked around the reserve collection building. These will be restacked in a proper manner very soon,” Sriraman adds.

The richness of the sculptures is undisputed — both in the museum and atop the many temples that dot the ruins of Hampi in Karnataka. Whether these sculptures have survived in full or fragment, they need to be protected and kept away from the elements.

The ASI, however, argues that displaying sculptures on the lawns of the museum is considered a safe practice and these are “likely to withstand the vagaries of nature”.

For the thousands of tourists — Indian and foreign — who throng Hampi, a visit to the Kamalapur museum is often part of their itinerary.

They certainly deserve better — better management of the museum as well as protection and conservation of the existing riches that once adorned the palaces and temples of the Vijaynagara Empire.

Instead, what they see is a sheer assault of a treasured heritages.

Rewind to Hampi: My diary in Outlook Magazine

An Affordable Microcosm

I was born in Trivandrum, worked for a Madras-headquartered daily for 19 years, travelled a reasonable distance as a foreign correspondent and my mother’s family is from Hyderabad, but have still seen very little of south India. So, in my current free bird status, I set out to realise my childhood dream of visiting Hampi—a lens through which to look at the great south of India. In my mind, Hampi, or the site of the mighty Vijayanagara empire, is akin to Machu Picchu. Google tells me that Hampi and Machu Picchu have one thing in common—both were thriving in the 15th century, but that’s an aside. The route I took from Delhi to Hampi was not a classical one. After spending some time in Pachmarhi and taking the beautiful ride on the Khandwa-Mhow section of the Akola-Ratlam Fast Passenger, I travelled by three-tier AC from Bhopal to Hubli on the Yeshwantpur Sampark Kranti Express. For a journey of 1,453 km lasting a little over 24 hours, I paid Rs 1,173; less than a rupee a km. After spending the night at the Ananth Residency hotel in Hubli, I took the Hubli-Tirupati passenger to Hospet—a journey of 144 km that cost Rs 90. But Saeed, my auto driver from Hospet to Hampi, charged Rs 200 for a 12-km ride.

Pompeii Of The Tropics

The Portuguese traveller Domingo Paes wrote around 1520 that the capital of the Vijayanagara empire seemed “as large as Rome” to him and that in one broad and beautiful street “live many merchants, and there you will find all sorts of rubies, and diamonds, and emeralds, and pearls, and seed-pearls, and cloths, and every other sort of thing there is on earth and that you may wish to buy”. Nearly 500 years on, modern Hampi is a mish-mash of demolished guesthouses, functional cyber cafes, travel agencies and currency exchangers. But the ruins of Vijayanagara are spectacular. On my first day, I went to the not-so-touristy Achyut Raya temple, built in the reign of Achyut Raya (1530-42) and found I was the only person there. It was peaceful and serene. No one else to disturb the carefully sculpted gods and goddesses; it was a communion to be enjoyed as a light monsoon rain fell from the skies. Most visitors make a beeline for the superb Vitthala and Virupaksha temples and tend to avoid the lesser known ones, such as the Gangitti Jaina temple on the Hampi-Kamalapur-Kampili road.

Distempered Hanuman

Trying to get information about Hampi in Hampi is a tall order. The tourism office in the Virupaksha temple has info on the rest of Karnataka and its rich heritage sites, but nothing on Hampi. When I entered the office, a little after noon, the gentleman in charge said I should try at the Archaeological Survey of India museum in Kamalapur, a Rs 6 bus ride away. Bang opposite the tourism office, a hawker had a little informative booklet called, simply, Hampi, published by the ASI. This was to be my guide as I walked around the spectacular Hazara Rama temple, the many-domed Elephant Stables and the Lotus Mahal. The ASI museum was another story. The display of riches, including headless statues of Raja Krishna Deva Raya and his wife, and scores of statues of gods and goddesses are out of this world. However, many have no descriptive labels, blank spaces indicating that the museum once did possess them. There are precious manuscripts, but not even a one-liner on what they contain. Outside on the lawns were many more statues of India’s heritage. Some with generous quantities of whitewash, a few were lying in piles of waste wood and there was a Hanuman statue with water washing its underside. Interestingly, there were no officials around, but I did write about my concerns in the visitors’ book giving my e-mail address and went to the ASI’s office in Kamalapur.

Drive-In Nirvana

People come by all modes of transport to Hampi. By bicycle and tractor, by bus and car—I saw vehicles bearing the number plates of AP, MH and KA of course. The vehicles are allowed to drive in close to the Hazara Rama temple through to what is called the Royal Citadel. My observations: Indian tourists and Indians in general hate walking. They will see what can be accessed easily by driving. Foreign tourists, on the other hand, can be seen walking or on bicycle even in places that are a little difficult to access. I asked a bunch of French girls how they had reached a place where I saw almost no north Indians around. “Our friends told us about Hampi. It’s a real special place,” one of them said. Some locals, however, are making good use of the temples. I found one young man, comfortably ensconced with his books, a bottle of water and a mobile phone, studying for his B.Ed exam inside the Sarasvati Mandir. Hope the Goddess of Learning helped him through.

On My Travels,

I saw many brilliant signboards. One in the Virupaksha temple read, ‘Please Respect Temple Customar and Tradition. Please Wear Fully Respectable Dress.’ But my favourite was: ‘Garden Paradise. Guest House. Multi Cousin Restaurant. Art Gallery.’

Journalist Amit Baruah is South Asia Studies fellow at Gateway House, a Mumbai-based think tank; E-mail your diarist: abaruah AT

Minding the Gap between Goa and Gurgaon

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It’s not easy to write about Goa from Gurgaon. Your worldview tends to be different when you’re out of Goa. But, anyway, I’m being brave and am doing it.

There’s little doubt in my mind that its one of the most restful places that you can go to. Even in Goa, there are grades. Cavala, a boutique hotel in Baga, is one of those where I have found more rest than in other places.

So, returning to Cavala was like returning to my second home. But this is not about Cavala (a theme about which I will write about), it’s about the roaming that I did around Cavala.

The gearless Honda scooter took me to Morjim and Aswem beaches and places about which I did not keep notes. I think its Goa’s fault that I didn’t keep those notes.

On many occasions, holidays have meant looking after young children or having no fursat from drinking, eating, lying on the beach or just hanging around.

So, this time there was none of that in my Cavala stay. I roamed around to my heart’s content, stopping, talking, eating and hanging around at any place that caught my fancy.

Apart from the revelation that Morjim and Aswem beaches are quietly stunning, I came to know that there are many, many old lovely, bungalows in the bylanes, which tend to elude tourists. (They are probably well known to property dealers and land sharks though!).

Just to drive around and look at them from the outside was good enough for me. There weren’t too many people around though so I could not really ask anyone for a peek inside these splendid houses.

But, the old houses are disappearing.

So, next time you are in Goa, do look up the old houses because they are going, going, gone…

Agar office ho to aisa; if you have an office it must be this

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If you must work in an office or hold meetings, it must be at Rafael’s, bar-cum-cafe-cum-resting place and much more on the Benaulim beach in South Goa.

For starters, it’s got the best (BSNL) wifi ever. Second, the coffee’s great, the omelette (egg white almost without oil) is perfect and the boss, Darryl, has no compunctions in making it himself.

So, when I landed at Rafael’s – after settling down in our old haunt of the La’mour Beach Resort close by – it was a treat. All that you wanted to do was to just sit, do nothing, gaze into the sea and drink.

And, to top it all, you can have excellent conversation with Darryl, the man from Sydney and Goa, who calls Rafael’s a labour of love. Darryl was reluctant to be photographed.

From the beautiful Malaysian tables (cost him a bomb, Darryl said) in the cafe, to the tasteful bar, and the fantastic-looking kitchen, everything has been done with care and attention.

The attention to detail, so lacking in many establishments, was apparent – the heavy, transparent plastic sheets ensuring that no rain got in but the view to the beach and the sea remained uninterrupted.

Sitting and smoking at the back of Rafael’s, Darryl told me that he had been working with a leading tech company in Sydney and his family was still there. And, at some point, he was likely to go back to Australia.

“My brother will run the place when I return to Sydney,” he told me as and when he returned.

Darryl also told me that he had no experience in running a cafe or a bar. But here was this super place.

Having seen Rafael’s, I can say with some confidence that people who don’t know the first thing about something should first learn and then just do it!