Sunday, April 8, 2007

Devotion and Deceit

Excited voices and hum of activities made Dr. Mitra-the retired archeologist, to open his eyes and languidly enquire his surroundings. The train was now slowly negotiating the famous steep mountain curve, speed was slow and noisy effort made by engines was evident through vibrations and creaking of wheels. Most of the passengers were glued to the windows to watch and record on camera the famous spectacle of heaving noisy double engines and couples of cars at the end slowly entering a tunnel below. A breath taking view of Arawali mountains and deep gorges with scattered lush greenery made any one with a camera to take a picture. He got up and went to the washbasin to splash some water on face to freshen up and rinse hands. Pratibha, the young journalist was readying her camera to shoot the scenery through open doors. Cool blast of mountain air through open door was refreshing. The famed tourist town of Ajeetgarh was at about half an hour’s journey. Situated deep in Arawali ranges, like a powerful magnet it attracts tourists from India and abroad. Hindus come to offer their prayers for well being before lord Ganesha, the eighth century idol with three heads. The temple, situated in an old impregnable fort high in the mountain away from the town.
Ajeetgarh has become an important part of a foreigner’s journey in India. A bath in its holy lake is a must to wash way accumulated sins of a materialistic life and become a new person all together, making further materialistic pursuits easy and less troublesome. The uninhibited and intoxicated foreigners have some time have got carried away in their frantic attempts to wash away sins too fast and were prosecuted for violation of code of conduct. The thriving bazaars in the town and particularly around the holy lake offered every conceivable merchandise sought by Indians devotees and fair skinned visitors. The town has more than hundred temples frequented by Indian devotees and exotica driven, nirvana-seeking foreigners.
There were frequent media reports of rampant drug peddling and nudism practiced by foreigners, which seemed to make the place more attractive and sought after than before; resulting in more Indian and foreign tourists flocking to the town. Increasing cases of dreaded Aids were also reported amongst prostitutes, taxi drivers, small hotel owners and tourist guides who come in contact with numerous amorous foreigners and locals. Doctors at government hospital and private clinics were ill equipped to deal with such cases. Many European ladies had fallen in love with local men, married and applied for Indian citizenship. Some have established hotels and travel agencies catering to tourists from their countries.
Social workers and concerned citizens were worried of alien influences on the youth and their life style. However no religious organization commented harshly on such delicate issues, fearing a fall in devotees and lower temple collections of cash and other offerings. The trader’s too disliked any negative publicity leading to drop in tourists’ traffic and low business. They called for all parties to avoid the dreaded cultural conflict and behave in a reasonable, businesslike manner. The knowledgeable people whispered about a secrete plan backed by powerful commercial and religious interest groups to down play any wide negative publicity apart from few occasional and unexpected saucy media reports to keep the interest of tourists alive in the exotic town.
Many enterprising residents have converted their homes in to paying guest accommodations and motels catering only to well paying foreigners. While others opened hotels and offered various services sought by a thriving pilgrimage and tourist town. Ajeetgarh boasted of heritage hotels housed in large ancient mansions and modern hotels, some operated by famed international hotel chains. But the elementary infrastructure as in all Indian cities was crumbling and failed to take pace with its rapid growth.

The resident leftists were not amused by the market oriented development and they immediately termed growth of tourism as a Work Bank sponsored blatant commercialization of religion, corrupting of young people, endangering country’s sovereignty and independence. They some time gathered near railway station and hotels where Americans and Israelis stayed and demonstrated against American imperialism, Coke, MacDonald’s and other western business establishments. Yankees who never seen a real red in person, went on furious clicking spree to show and tell folks back home. Some people alleged that group of hotels sponsored these as diversion and entertainment shows when things were low. Nobody complained, leftist got publicity along with brand new red flags, free breakfasts or lunches and tourists have seen and recorded a live communist demonstration with bearded thin men shouting …”down with Bush. Long lives the revolution. …..Long lives comrade Castro.”
The leftist influence was little in the commercialized town but deep in jungles, few die-hard and motivated Maoist extremists have developed close bond with the impoverished tribal. They have lived with them for years, providing leadership and shielding them from corrupt forest officials, greedy moneylenders and ruthless contractors. They have control of most of the village councils in the vast hilly area and organize a sizable army of youths and controlled jungles produce, received arms and training from extremists groups based in Nepal, Kashmir, Bihar, Jharkhand, AP and Tamilnadu. Few dreaded terrorists from Kashmir have rumored to take shelter there, eluded the police for long time and later have escaped to Europe through Pakistan.
The police have always rejected the media reports of any extremist group operating in the jungles near Ajeetgarh. The local strong man Prabhati Lal, an old communist and the member of legislative assembly from the area has always vehemently denied presence of any terrorists and extremists in his constituency. He is rumored to have reached a tactical understanding with the extremists to keep police and bureaucracy away if they help him in his election by organizing mass voting for him and his associates with help of ultras.
The arrangement have suited both for years and extremists have now entrenched themselves strongly in the area and preparing for next phase of bloody struggle and annihilation of class enemies. They have carefully so far confined their actions towards greedy forest officials and moneylenders with in jungle and did not create any trouble in the temple town, which might lead to increased media focus and possible backlash from the police or central agencies fighting extremists. There have been no killings by them and have managed their core objectives with out much of violence, though reports of some angry tribal beating officials and small traders have been common for a long time. These developments were viewed by the learned social commentators as manifestations of empowerment of disposed and poor tribal people who have been exploited for thousands of years.
Prabhati Lal has prospered beyond his own wildest dreams and has lately become complacent making easy money and womanizing, loosing personal touch with his people. Other politicians eying the large tribal vote bank have tried to fill the void and established contact with angry extremists, who have been unhappy due to death of few comrades in police lockups. Prabhati was not available for help and get the men released.
He was now on a weak position due to growing opposition to his family’s vice like grip on politics for years. There were now many ambitious and moneyed contenders to successfully challenge him in next elections and battle lines were being drawn in fine details to unseat him. Every event, which happened in the temple town, was now viewed from political angle and disposed by decision makers looking on its effects on the political groupings and leanings. The town was now neatly divided in to pro, against and fence sitters who might align with any one at last moment depending on the cast affiliations or general mood of voters. The opposition party has planned a grand political rally for next Sunday. Few national leaders, including a former prime minister were expected to attend and make political speeches. The administrative machinery was neck deep in making security arrangements for Z category security covered leaders, leaving no resources for any other pressing eventualities.

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