Life and times of a river and its people

Life and times of a river and its people

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Experiences along the Yamuna

The Yamuna Katha members were in for three different experiences on day three: wrestling, boat ride and a traditional story telling session.

Destination one was Sanjay Pehelwan Akhara (akhara is the place where traditional wrestling is taught to youngsters). Stepping into the akhada premises was like stepping into an altogether different world. Surrounded by trees, the Spartan semi-kuchcha structures which housed the trainees and the main wrestling square, all pointed to the same thing.

The akhara is a residential training centre for twelve plus youngsters mostly from Haryana and a few from Bihar. The barely 20-feet X 20-feet ground is specially prepared with soft yellow soil mixed with turmeric, henna and sarso oil (mustard oil) is the ground zero for the budding wrestlers. The routine starts early morning and follows a strict regiment. The youngsters cover themselves profusely with mustard oil before starting their work outs.  
“After a rigourous training session, we take bath. Now-a-days, because the Yamuna is so polluted, we use tap water. But earlier, it used to be: jump into river directly.

Not just the Sanjay Pehelwan Akhada, almost all the akharas prefer the sylvan surroundings and locations slightly away from the hustle and bustle of the city life. So was this place long time ago, when it was started. Slowly, although the surroundings underwent drastic change, the just-insides of the akhara remain the same, well almost. “Inside the akhara, you do not feel like it is Delhi,” said Vidhu Narayanan, a core team member.       

The Yamuna Experience

Exploration of the Yamuna turned to the “experience” of Yamuna when team Yamuna Katha went for a boat ride. The starting point for the boat ride at the dusty Qudasia ghat, opposite the ISBT Kashmere Gate, was an eye-opener. The team members came face to face with the wide deep black stinking drain that we call as Yamuna.     

At the bank, with the ghat towering above the water level, it was hard to imagine that what we were looking at was indeed Yamuna. But to far north-east as the Yamuna curved its way downstream towards Qudasia ghat, it offered a beautiful vista.

Yamuna Katha yatri Dwijender Kalia led the tour with doling out relevant information about almost each point of the ghat and the surroundings and most important, about the sewage drains that empty into the Yamuna. For most of the team members, passing right in front of the Nigambodh Ghat, the traditional place where Hindus burn their deceased, was the first of its kind experience. Bodies burning, half lit pyres and the horde of relatives and friends of the persons whose bodies were being given the last rites ...

“After Varanasi, this Nigambodh Ghat is the most important in whole of north India. It is believed that once when Vedas had gone missing, the scripts were found floating at this ghat. So the place is associated with knowledge (bodh is knowledge) and hence the name,” chipped in Kaliaji.   

A constant throughout the journey was the garbage, plastic bags, flower and other pooja waste thrown recklessly and several other things, the very things that just went on to add to the pollution of Yamuna. The stretch between Qudasia ghat till the Park also has a number of bridges that connect the two banks, starting from the road bridge that takes traffic to and from ISBT Kashmere Gate to east Delhi, the Metro rail bridge and the Old Loha Pur (the old iron bridge).

Dumping puja material into the Yamuna is also a source of
pollution (photo: Alex Koecher)

Surprisingly, when in the boat right in the middle of the Yamuna, although we were surrounded by filthy dark black toxic water, there was no stink in the air.    

But somewhere in the cacophony of the various sounds, the railway train passing over the old Loha Pul, the metro rain chugging past on the recent concrete bridge, the honking of horns of the vehicles zooming past the newly built by-pass ... somewhere in all this, the sound of Yamuna a river was lost.

Dastangoi: Tales from Tilism-e-Hoshruba

The ramparts of the Purana Qila, a mid-16th century Mughal era structure protected by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), were aglow with different lights focused on the small stage at the entrance of the gate towards Yamuna. The mesmerizing moon rose slowly above the eastern wall. Dastangoi – the traditional art of storytelling – is being revived as an art form by Dastak theatre group. The session at the Purana Quila saw performances by Yojit Singh & Ankit Chadha followed by Mahmood Farooqui & Danish Husain.

The two main characters of the presentation are Amir Hamza and Amar Aiyyar, whose adventures are documented as oral anecdotes over the years. For further information on Dastangoi please see yesterdays post.

The team returned to the hotel, still talking about the different experiences.   

The grandmasters at stage: Danish Hussain and Mahmood Farooqui
are performing an age-old story at the ramparts of
Purana Quila (photo: Alex Koecher)

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