Saturday, August 8, 2015

Punitive Expansion

Growings older allows the registering of how personal lives criss-cross fault lines in history. A visit to Guntur led to the discovery that some of India's most fertile cropping lands around Guntur would make way for the new capital of Andhra Pradesh. Of course new states must have new capitals, but do they they have to be constructed over the irreplaceable arable land that feeds everyone? Clearly our leaders draw in strange ways from our antiquity. Indraprastha, the fabled home of the Pandavas, was built when Dhritrashtra allotted Khandavaprashtha to them and bid them to live and rule over it. A forest was burnt and subsequently levelled. The tribes and species of birds and animals inhabiting it were smoked out. Those who did not perish in the hostile environment were killed in active combat. To build themselves a magnificent palace, the Pandavas enlisted supernatural help. The architect of the gods came down and built it for them. Krishna, the avataar himself, did field duty with Arjuna and helped initiate the sacking of the forest. There were protests: in fact the extended generational war with the serpents is another story curled up at the edges of the Kurukshetra war narrative and Indra, to whom the forest belonged, hurled his thunderbolt at Arjuna. To propitiate him the new city was subsequently called Indraprastha. Honorary mentions effectively soothe the very gods. Modern India has less metaphysical happenings. Most of our gods now rest within stone temples or concrete edifices. What is visible now is the grabbing of land by land mafias and ambitious political satraps. We need able administrators and apparently the administrators ably take land away from those who need to feed us. The countryside around Guntur is also home to ancient sites of worship and memory. All of this is slated to disappear under the onrush of building, expanding new capitals. Meanwhile,I worked hard to persuade my reluctant son who being "higher educated" at a hostel in another new city capital Naya Raipur. Three years after wearing down continual resistance, we planned a trip to his hostel and to sections of Bastar. The touchdown at Raipur airport was unremarkable. Moving out of a fairly modern building flanked by Jindal's metallic men, we headed out to the Hidayatullah National Law University(HNLU) . Stretches of green land on either side, fenced and dotted with the occasional date palm greets the eye. The only people on the road are the two of us and Deepak who is driving us. After a long green silent interval. I see men and women working at some construction. One green stretch is scheduled to become a railway line. I am shown a large fenced in stretch of land where the station will be housed. Eventually we reach HNLU and head for the boys' hostel. we stand at the entrance of a nondescript building, having half circled the academic block.The eye meets green fields beyond. The courtyard of the hostel is unapologetic concrete bricks . There are buildings half finished on the campus. Three years ago these were to be blocks housing invitees visitors and parents at HNLU. Like every good idea, this one apparently has been taken off the list. After coaxing the guards on duty to allow him to leave his suitcases in his room, (three days before term ),I was allowed a hurried look at the facilities on the premises. Tiny rooms, almost cubicle sized that can be locked, with a table and a bed and a deep stone shelf in the wall. Add to this, functional common toilets and a shabby common room. The threadbare state of the hostel extends to the outside as well. The college is far away from any other habitation. To buy groceries, provisions, eat something different, watch a film, everyone at HNLY has to head for the town. A bus service is provided for students. Surely a residential university should be doing far more for its residents? We drove out soon in the direction of Dighapur. Small shanty towns dot the road. there are miles and miles of cultivated land with delicious green rice paddy and lots of water bodies. This is stunningly beautiful country. the land stretches out on either side of the road and there are green fields that touch the ends of the sky.

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