Friday, July 22, 2011

Ilkal reverie

When your eyes wake up to grey skies sifting a melancholic whiff in the air, and the air smells of familiar strangers, is that how journeys begin?

A watercolor landscape greets me. The painter must have left his wet brushes on the fields. I’m in the land of black soil, where trees are rare and sharp like unshaven bristles. As my morning begins in company of these bearded fields, I sense the air of a masculine landscape.

A land which amuses you pleasantly with the sight of men, and not the women, carting pots of water home from the nearest water hole; plastic , fluorescent green yellow orange pots. The infusion of colour by these pots is electric. The Ilkal woman tinges the masculinity of the land with her robust frame. Her gait is sturdy, her saree pallu drawn confidently over her head and the deep vermillion borders of the drape defining the energetic feminine in the rural landscape.

Not far behind though are the bulls. The bulls with their colourfully decorated horns, seem like an integral life force of the homes. Desi bred and lean in frame , they strut their stuff with pencil points of horns adorned with delicately pointed bronze caps and flashy ribbons flying from their tips, just like the flying scarf of the typical Bollywood heroine of the 60’s ,as she rides her bicycle. Their eyes are wise, deep and intent on talking. Every village I pass by, I learn a new secret from these bulls. A bull from the last town just told me how bad the lady of his house cooks. The bull beside the town’s temple square is eaves dropping on the old men who sit under the peepal tree to discuss their domestic woes. Quite distinctly, the Aihole bulls have an archaic gait, their eyes scanning the tourists in a been-there-done-that manner.

The houses resembling the Maharashtrian vernacular style , complete the idyllic setting of the Indian rural landscape . With front pillared porticoes where tired farmers rest on sultry afternoons, the squarish frames of these houses, punctured with miniature windows ( so small that they seem elusive as if not letting through untold secrets)make for an elevational landscape. The barren dark North Karnataka land comes to life through little spurts of intense lively colours , in turbans, baskets , pots and decorated bullocks. Beautiful little exotic birds of assorted shades, light up the electric lines along the road to Aihole. Perched on electric lines, these birds seem to have embraced the lines of industry into the countryside with nonchalance. Makes me wonder how these electric lines have been naturalized into the green by the birds.

The soil changes shades and hues as the road takes new turns and bends. I wonder what is that point on land when the soil decides that it’s time to change its nature? Why do I always never find that line of transition? From black to grey to brown to red to black again, the soil has quite some mood swings in this part of the country.

Shor in the city has turned into melody outside of it. The landscape makes music change colours too. The road turns into a dreamline, where songs move in and out of the reveries one is lost in as one sees his/her own reflections in the window pane, mingle with the world passing by.

The highway has trucks , many form Himachal Pradesh and Haryana. Colorful and confused they seem to be in a hurry to run away from this setup. Each truck , a capsule of the what the middle class stands, carrying , pots and pans, fridges and washing machines, microwaves and double beds, almirahs with full lengths mirrors and little teacups wrapped in the previous month’s Times of India. Like closed chapters of the middle class , they move away from sight, like missiles sent into oblivion by their families; an attempt at erasure from present, an attempt to write a new future.

The aging stones of Aihole and Pattadkallu glisten in the first rains of a rare monsoon. The wet stone glistens gleefully as Chalukyan damsels bend forth to set right their hairpins in the mirrors of the rain water puddles on the sills of the rock temples.

Badami has caves , monkeys and unassuming majesty. That evening spent at Agasthyateertha is a moment paused and captured in my mind frame. The large pond edged with the mass of caved rocky outcrop is overlooked by a temple named Bhootnath and receding steps edging the other side.

The heavy skies finally spill over. The onset of rain begins with the rich green water of the lake shivering in goosepimples as it is caressed by the drizzle. Rippling seductively in the breeze , the lake flirts amorously with the rain. Looming large , watching over , are solitary sturdy boulders.

The space enshrines vast expanses and sudden silences. It embraces and lets go in one breath. To get to this vastness , however , I have to wind through small lanes of the town where homes huddle close to each other as if to re-assure each other of their presence ; each home with a door , each door like a frame, framing the lady of the house in her Ilkal saree pulled over her head and gazing out at the outside world from within her secure shelter. There is a direct connect between the lane and the home . Badami has the warmth of a heartfelt conversation.

Sheltered under the aging stones of the Bhootnath temple, it is an eternal moment watching the rain fall on the water around me . My thoughts are adrift , caught in the winds, sheltered under rocky shadows , gazing at the water dripping from the wet rocky ledges into the pool that has formed on the stone sill. In the distance, monkeys chatter. Little umbrellas are no match for this symphonic romance between sky and earth.

And out of this magical evening, emerges a small cotton wisp, floating down along the edge of the high overlooking cliff. The sky has decided to take the leap, to plunge forth , only to be lifted up by an unbearable lightness of the free fall. It is the birth of the waterfall. Slow and steady it trickles down, soon, growing into a robust fall. The ‘MeN basadi’ ( wax town) is finally melting in the monsoon mélange.

As it rains , the mithuna couples up in the caves are lost in each others’ eyes . Huddled in the assurance of the stone around them , they shiver as the rain water seeps up into their embrace, infusing a renewed romance into their eternal moment.

Aihole, Pattadakallu, Badami , Bijapura

june 27th , 2011.