As I wrote in my previous article, I grew-up in KhetriNagar, a residential township of the employees of Hindustan Copper Limited. I spent twenty-seven beautiful years of my life there. A trip to this region always makes me nostalgic.
The beauty of growing up in such PSU townships is their Pan-Indian culture. People of all states and religion live together like a family. When people live at such remote places they realize early that in the hour of need, it would be their neighbours who would be the first ones to come to their help.
India is a land of festivals and this realization became a part of me as we celebrated Sankranti, Chatpuja, Lohiri, Janamashtmi, Pongal, Durga-Puja, Holi, Deepawali, Teej, Gangaur, Mahaveer-Jayanti, Id and Christmas with equal enthusiasm. Apart from usual Holi, Deepawali, Navratri’s Kanya-Pujan was one of my favourite. Little girls, wearing beautiful dresses, full of enthusiasm moved from one house to another in groups, and their parents, especially when they themselves did not celebrate the festival, got surprised by the number of requests they had to fulfill.
Khetrinagar reminds me of my many friends (on whom I can trust even when it is years that we have met), my teachers(who along with my parents are responsible for my upbringing, my way of thinking, and molding me in what I am today), warm and generous neighbors, big playgrounds (going by the current standard of availability of such vast spaces in Metros, I feel that I lived a life of opulence), public libraries with a huge collection of good books and open-air cinema(that kept us updated about the entertainment world even before television invaded our drawing rooms).
Life was so safe that sometimes we discussed our joys, concerns and all that was important in those growing years with friends in playgrounds well past midnight. We were lucky to have many national level tournaments being organized there. Once we even had an opportunity to watch a Ranji Trophy Match between Rajasthan and Vidharba.
We had all the fun of growing up in an urban area with rural settings. I had my phases of struggle, failures and triumphs there. My dreams cooked up in the mild fire of this township’s laid back lifestyle. Everyone there had an identity. Even today bonding with someone from Khetri is easy and instant;after-all we share a common upbringing.
When I look back at that wonderful phase of my life, I feel that I could not have asked for anything better. I feel enriched to have friends belonging to different economical backgrounds. I feel proud that even with its remoteness most of us managed to make a promising career and live a decent life.
कुछ याद करके आँख से आँसू निकल पड़े
मुद्दत के बाद जो गुज़रे थे उस गली से हम|
The Ghumakkari bug also bit me there. Thanks to Government policies of LTA, I traveled a lot with my parents across India. I remember my mother talking about the havelis of Shekhawati and her desire to visit them. We could not visit them at that time and when I visited them in this trip, I realized that I lived near a treasure trove, yet totally unaware of its existence.
There were a few places that we usually travelled with relatives visiting us and sometimes just for picnics. Around ten kilometers from KhetriNagar is the fort of Khetri, also known as the Bhopalgarh Fort. The fort even at that time was neglected and apart from SheeshMahal most of it was in dilapidated state. There are so many heritage buildings that I guess, even ASI cannot take care of all. So we have to wait till somebody converts it into another Neemrana and then we will make the effort to go to this remote town.
This fort and the town is associated with Nehru family as well. Pt. Jawahar Lal Nehru’s father, Pt. Motilal Nehru, spent his childhood here. His elder brother Nandlal Nehru was Deewan (Prime minister) in the durbar of Khetri’s Maharaja. However Khetri’s leap to fame is due to the strong bond Maharaja Ajit Singh of Khetri shared with Swami Vivekananda. He was one of Vivekananda’s close friend, admirer and early devotee. It is widely believed that Maharaja Ajit Singh was among his few close friends who funded his trip to Chicago’s World Spiritual conference, and suggested him to wear his trade-mark turban. In-fact it was Maharaja Ajit Singh who started to call Narendra as Swami Vivekananda.
Khetri even taught Vivekananda a few lessons of life. One day Maharaja invited him to listen the singing by a courtesan. He probably also conveyed it to the girl to come prepared as the spiritual guru, Swami Vivekananda, would be among the audience. Vivekananda pondered over the proposal but later felt it improper to attend the nautch girl’s performance and decided to remain absent. When the girl realized his absence, her high spirits were broken. In that sad mood, she sang the melodious Bhajan of Surdas. “ प्रभुजी मेरे अवगुन चित्त ना धरो, समदर्शी है नाम तिहारो, चाहो तो पार करो (Lord, do not look upon my shortcomings because you are Samdarshi, one who looks upon good and evil, saint and sinner with an equal eye)”. Her wavering voice, dipped in spirituality forced Vivekananda to her attendance. He accepted his mistake and shared the realization that for the creator everyone is pious and precious. He accepted that it was his mistake to demean the girl due to her profession.
Recently, I learnt that a museum would be operational in 2014 to commemorate the special relationship Swami Vivekananda shared with Khetri.
Another place that we often visited with our guests and for picnics was the idyllic educational hub Pilani. The well-kept and maintained Birla Science Museum was the first in our sightseeing tour of pilani. Being a mechanical engineer, my father used to take special interest in telling us in details about the functioning of two-stroke and four-stroke engines. However, like all science museums, most liked was the fun section. I had my first hand-shake with a robot in this museum only.
There is a small replica of coal-mines. Coal-mines rekindles the memory of “Kala Pathar”, but much more than that it reminds me of captivating French epic “Germinal” based on Emile Zola’s novel of the same name. It portrays the harsh realities of coal-miners life and the aftermath of their strike.
After visiting the museum and the adjacent hall, proudly showing the great and affectionate relationship that G.D Birla shared with Mahatma Gandhi and other freedom fighters, the adjoining gardens of skylark were our picnic place. It was here I saw the Sun-dial for the first time, got surprised by the precision and learnt that even nature believes in orderly execution of its tasks.
From Birla Museum, we invariably moved to the Saraswati Temple on the BITS campus. If it was closed, we normally requested the priest to open it for the darshan. Generally, Birla Mandirs are looked down because of lack of devotional aspect and are normally used mainly for the shootings of songs and movies. This mandir was different and an aura of Maa Saraswati’s devotees and blessing seekers was always there.
After seeking Maa Saraswati’s blessings, we would spend time in Panchawati, another beautiful place to have picnic in Pilani. The journey in this theme park begins with a visit to Valmiki’s Ashram, following Ram in Shabri’s kutia, visiting Ahilya bai, meeting Bharat in exile, Sita being lured by golden deer, meeting with Hanuman, and Bali’s “Wadh”. It is a small park depicting the life of Ram in Panchavati with beautiful statues. Today, if I happen to visit it again, probably my ears would be tuned to the chirping of birds and eyes would be focussed on spotting a new species.
When I was a kid, I spotted a Kangaroo there. We were there on a school picnic and from the school bus, I got a glance of an animal hopping like Kangaroo in its garden. I remained wondering for long, did I really spot one or it was all my imagination. On my last visit, I learnt that that Kangaroo was gifted to Birlas by Australian government. It is my only sighting of a Kangaroo till date.
In the town, Birla Haveli can also be visited. It is a huge mansion built by Ghanshyam Das Birla. I would talk about the Marwaris and their business traditions in my next post, it was on the similar lines that the father of Sh. G.D Birla, Sh. S.N Birla, provided him a modest capital to start business in cotton dealership. It was his attempt to diversify from their traditional business of lending money. In money-matters, Marwaris are shrewd and they rarely fail. Visionary G.D Birla’s venture was also successful. He returned to build this mansion. Only outer courtyard of this Haveli is open for tourists. It’s a traditional Rajasthani Haveli with large doors, elephants painted on walls and statues of Chowkidars in sitting position at the entrance.
I would like to end this nostalgia with a salute to Sh. GD Birla, a nationalist and a great visionary, who gifted BITS Pilani, one of the leading technical institute, to the Nation. For him it was not an institute for minting money, but a flag-bearing institute contributing to the Nation’s progress. May this dream be the guiding mission of its current and future patrons.