Not our 'Fort'e
Reading a lot about our country’s prosperous heritage, foreigners tread India with high expectations. What greets them in this land may be as strange as its people, if not more…
Turn the pages of any history book glorifying historical places. The description is enchanting enough to make you proud. Visit them and see if you can still maintain the same pride. What we experienced at Murud Janjira fort, located on a tiny island in the Arabian Sea, was no different. Haling from Konkan, seaside forts weren’t a novelty for me. However, this visit opened my eyes to the facts I was oblivious of.
It was a daylong excursion with my colleagues, who had hardly seen Konkan and I was happy to give them a glimpse of the Western Cost of Maharashtra. We headed for Murud Janjira but what unfolded wasn’t all that impressive. “How’s the fort?” I was asked assuming I had been there before and I said it was worth visiting. We went to catch a boat. The place that lacked good tourist facilities, of course, didn’t have a motorboat. The boat was terribly overcrowded and everyone was sitting almost into other’s lap! Our ‘guide’— who was apparently living a struggling present — was briefing us in broken Hindi about the glorious past. In the end, he requested (read threatened) to pay Rs 30 per head. “Guide at the fort may misguide you. It’s to good to take a sailor as a guide by people on one boat. That keeps you united,” was his logic.
As soon as we reached the fort, a heap of bricks and dilapidated parts welcomed us. It wasn’t actually a fort but its remains. I had to do the cover-up telling my colleagues that it was in good shape when I had visited it five years ago. As we roamed around, things were so unnerving that I stopped the cover-up exercise. We were shown a pond full of hyacinth. Its water might have been potable once but today, one wouldn’t like even to touch it with feet. Visitors had not spared the well in the island fort. The water was dirty to say the least. Garbage was littered all over and the 950-year-old fort was in shambles. What the Archeological Survey of India (ASI’s) authorities are doing is anybody’s guess.
On way back, the boat was still more overcrowded. Around 150 people were ‘sailing in the same boat’ meant barely for 50. What if it capsizes? The thought crossed my mind. Knowing the mob mentality once the panic syndrome sets in, who knows what will happen? And safety measures were absent. How matter of factly we Indians take all this! I bet no westerner would dare stop on to the boat sans a lifejacket. Again, you have to put up with high-handed sailors since you are at their mercy. The port is devoid of any government control.
It reminded me of a piece by Sean Paul Kelley, travel writer of international repute. Requesting Indians not to take an offence, he puts facts about India bare, calling it ‘a mess’. He says how a pile of trash right next to the Taj Mahal ruined his Taj experience. No wonder he was aghast at “toilets in the middle of the road, men urinating and defecating anywhere, in broad daylight.” He goes on to describing filth, dingy areas, plastic-bag wastelands, noncompliance to traffic rules, transportation where people are treated like cattle, rickety buses, tiring trains et al. Finding India too conservative, he wonders if things will ever change.
Before blaming Kelley of Western Imperialism, as he requests us, let’s look at the reality. Our indifference to it is more shocking… It happens perhaps because we don’t take enough pride in ourselves.