There's been so much activity around the house of late that I just had to get away from it all. Mind you, I am not the sort that sees travel as an escape from reality but the way things were headed, I needed to step away for a bit to sort out my lists of the lists in my head, which happens only when the magic of travel lights my soul. Poetic licence aside, I believe there's a certain of calm that only happens when you are sitting next to an open window of a speeding vehicle on a highway, one that helps you see another perspective. And that is exactly what I needed. A friend recommended visiting a Harappan site in Haryana and so, off we set.
By the time I had completed the first lot of sifting through my mind, my co-passengers - my husband and his friend - were rattling away about some long lost legacy with frequent pointers to the government's lapses. It took me a while before I could tune into the conversation. Rakhigarhi, our destination, was discovered in 1960s but no real work has happened for the restoration of the artefacts discovered here. Meanwhile, the neighbouring village has spread itself and its impact on the site. The site itself, is among the oldest Harappan sites discovered. The artefacts discovered cover all three stages of Harappan civilisation - early, medieval as well as late. The finding suggests that Rakhigarhi has the longest period of civilised settlement in all the sites discovered. Yet, the government has not been able to do justice to it.
The view from my window was a promising one, quite in contrast to the flow of conversation. I was, how should I say it, surprised by the green farms and little quaint homes in Haryana. In most of the conversations I have had about the residents of the state, the common image was that of a rugged, loud and rather unpleasant sort. The residents of a few urban villages had endorsed the image. A passing billboard caught my eye, we were on NH10! A released recently movie had a pretty grim story to tell of the state of Haryana. I could see that my fellow travellers had not yet paid much heed to this and I hoped that nothing would go wrong. But reel takes much inspiration from reality. It was a matter for just half an hour after the thought had crossed my mind that our car seemed to have a breakdown.
Just as it was in the film, the mood abruptly went from cheery and enthusiastic to a serious shade of grim. Thankfully, we were able to pull up by a roadside mechanic shop (a list of horror films was now running through my mind) where we were informed that the car needed a new clutch plate. A gruesome three hours later, the car had been fixed but even as we test-drove the car with the mechanic, a tyre deflated. I have not been in as ominous a situation in quite a while. The stepney was used to replace the deflated tyre. We were hours behind our schedule by now and decided to hasten our journey on. It was not before 3 in the afternoon that the rains and I finally reached Rakhigarhi. Having been through a series of miscalculated turns and the twist of fate which required me to trust politicians (of all forms of men) to lead the way, I was quite numb to the fear that was getting the better of me. Thankfully, my fellow passengers were oblivious to every fear and continued their chattering.
To me, the first impression of Rakhigarhi was that of kingdom of heaven. The bells were tolling at a temple that stood across a pond at the entrance of Rakhigarhi village. I almost jumped out of the car, at the sight of civilsation, and asked a bunch of young children on a bullock cart if I had reached Rakhigarhi, in Hindi of course (I mean, I was aware that I was in Haryana). "Take a left and head straight till the end of the road," replied a young girl in fluent English. I was able to say "thanks" and waved back to her, hiding my embarrasment.
We were not sure where to stop to start exploring on foot and the rain wasn't helping. Finally, I spotted an interesting surface, rising up on one side of the village like a wall and with a iron fence running around it. It seemed like a good place to start and I shot out again. Smiling at people and hiding my surprise when they all smiled back.
We chanced upon two young boys, residents of the village, who took us up a mound littered with garbage and dung cake piles to their new found reason of celebration. The wall had several holes in them and in one such hole on the slope, a bitch had laid its litter. The boys were quick to pull out the pups and show them off to us.
The view of Rakhigarhi from the top of the mound was impressive, except the dung cake pile.
The locals guided us to the one man who has safeguarded the interest of Rakhigarhi for the past fifty year or more. Wazir Chand was born in Rakhigarhi and had taken an interest in collecting artefacts from the area even as a boy.
Much older and much wiser today, he does not care much for the people who call on him anymore. He feels that nothing will change for the betterment of his village. "Our village does not have safe drinking water, the electricity supply is very poor, there are very few sources of income and the only school here offers classes till Class 10. You have seen the condition of the roads. Nothing has been done for us despite the visits of many diplomats and bureaucrats," he says. Names from YM Qureshi, the former Chief Election Commissioner to visiting diplomats from other countries, top names from leading political parties to NGI workers and RTI activists as well. Yet, not much has been done.
He then takes us through the pages of his discoveries with the ASI representatives and by himself from the grounds around Rakhigarhi. He had his own collection of rare and valuable items excavated from the remains... and I was amazed! Wazir Chand lives in a modest house in the village and he could have sold any or all his collections for a princely sum, he has instead several sheets of receipts from state and Central government of India against the pieces he contributed to the museums. Despite everything that has been written about him, he feels pained that he will not be able to live to see any significant changes for his village or to the heritage he has protected for decades.
Before we took our leave, he was kind enough to take us for a walk (after cups of tea prepared by his wife) through the now covered ruins of Rakhigarhi. "Rakhigarhi means home built on ashes," he said. As we raced against the downpour to the car, I wondered if this little village that had completely shattered my illusions about NH10 and Haryana would ever recover from the ashes of disappointment piled for decades.
P.S. - A private college from Pune will be excavating in Rakhigarhi in December this year. The remains of one of the most evolved civilisation known to India will be on display again. You might consider a visit at the time. Better still, join us for a guided tour with Wazir Chand and discover Rakhigarhi through his experienced eyes.