The battered State Transport bus,
its tarpaulin blinds flapping,
grinds to a halt in a cloud of dust.
The anonymous passengers quickly disperse,
clutching meagre belongings in cloth bundles--
essentials for the rare trip to the big city.
A pair of flashy terrylene trousers,
a trendy haircut like the reigning cine idol's,
a bright blue rexene suitcase, proudly wielded--
familiar sights of affluence in other villages
are absent here.
Only the rubble of decayed monuments
in a scarred expanse of dust and squalor
greets the eye.
You are the only "tourist."
Descending, you survey the bus-depot.
When the air clears,
a solitary tonga comes into view.
The wizened tongawalla,
in soiled white kurta-pyjamas,
furrowed face spiked with a greying beard,
eyes you cynically.
You walk towards him,
but before you can speak
he declares, "Four rupees for a round trip."
Cowed, you step in.
The old coach creaks, tilts backwards;
the horse shifts a foot or two,
tosses his faded plumes.
The tongawalla takes up the reins
and the tour begins.
They called him Tiger of Mysore:
inveterate enemy of the British,
the first to divine their designs,
our first nationalist.
He died, sword in hand,
fighting to the last.
At the sack of Srirangapatnam
a huge booty fell into British hands:
thirty crores of rupees in coins,
and jewels, gold, ammunition, supplies.
Wellesley, the Governor-General,
jumped up when he received the news,
ecstatic. He proposed a toast:
"To the Empire of Hindoostan
which now lies at our feet."
There was rejoicing in London
where Tippu was the popular hobgoblin
to scare naughty children with.
The golden tiger-head of his throne,
his curved sword, Shamsheer,
his dagger, turban, shirt-of-mail,
custom made pistols with mother of pearl handles,
personal jewels and rings--
all became curios for the conquerors,
shared among the officers or
exchanged, gifted, sold, displayed, vaunted,
and eventually taken back to England.
Now they lie in glass cases
amidst the loot of the world
in their famous museums.
Tippu's lavish summer palace
East of the ruined fort.
The lawns and gardens are unkempt.
You see the familiar blue and white notice
of the Archaeological Department,
proclaiming this to be a protected monument.
But the palace is decrepit and forlorn.
The paint has faded,
the wooden colonnades are worn and blackened.
Inside, the walls,
once magnificently tapestried,
or hand-painted with murals of famous battles,
are now faded and filthy.
An occasional Redcoat
impaled by a Mysore cavalryman,
The famous chambers seem cramped and haunted.
The low ceiling oppresses;
the stairway creaks under your weight,
its wooden posts greasy with constant handling.
Up in the hill fort--
The very place where the Tiger of Mysore fell:
this is the spot,
where he died,
like the defeated kings of our country,
betrayed by his own confidants,
his ambitious and desperate efforts
all in vain; his correspondence with Napoleon,
his appeals to the Ottoman Khalifa,
their replies and assurances of help--
all ultimately proved empty and fruitless.
Compatriot Princes leagued against him,
he was overcome by the wily British.
interned in Vellore,
already taken hostage in a previous war,
were exiled to Calcutta
following a minor uprising.
There, severed from their native Mysore,
they, and their descendants,
led obscure lives,
perishing in oblivion.
A graveyard still exists in Calcutta
claimed to be the burial ground
of the House of Tippu.
Four hours later
you return to the depot,
humiliated and suffused with pathos.
This grey dust
this dark, fertile earth,
drenched with the sweat of bare feet,
and the toil and tears of half-naked peasants,
cries of Tippu and the fall of Hindustan.
You pay the old tongawalla five rupees
instead of four.
A smile cracks his leathery, sunburnt face.
Perhaps he has descended from a noble in Tippu's court--
"There is nothing here, sahib;
it's just another backward place
visited by an occasional tourist like you,"
you wait for the first bus out of Srirangapatnam,
once Tippu Sultan's capital.
|Copyright © 2005 - Makarand Paranjape|