Dying a slow death
Pahari craftsmanship, a rare surviving symbol of devsanskriti, is slowly dying in the face of commercialisation . . .
Kuldeep Chauhan

Photo by Jai Kumar

Photo by Jai Kumar
Photos by Jai Kumar

Artisans, making traditional musical instruments, idols of devis, devtas, bamboo baskets and other handmade products enjoy no government support. They have no insurance cover. They face a bleak future in the state.

These poor artisans learn the arts from their forefathers and they have no government support. No training workshops are held for them to make value additions in the traditional handicrafts, so that they can compete with the modern tools and instruments flooding the markets.

The artisans complained that they had to pay exorbitant rent, while in the past they used to get stalls free of cost to sell their goods during mela time.

Worsening their plight is that that they have no lobby or organisation to voice their concern as they are scattered all over remote pockets in the state.

Take for example musical instruments used by the “bajantris”, who accompany devis and devtas during fairs and festivals like Shivratri of Mandi and Kullu Dusehra. The village silversmiths are engaged in the art of making these instruments made from brass. These include drums, karnals and shenais, which are inseparable part of the devta procession during fairs and festivals and during daily worship rituals at temple treasuries of the devtas.

Lok Singh, a village artisan from Thachi, who makes musical instruments for the devis and devtas, rued, “The survival has become difficult as few buyers turn up here and it is a seasonal business. There is no government support for us. I have learnt the art from my father”. He has displayed his instruments on the Shivratri Mela ground in Mandi

He said it took him a week to hammer out a pair of “karnals”, a musical instrument played to ward off evil spells on the course of the procession. “A pair of “karnals” costs Rs. 6,000, as metal prices have shot up 10 times over the decade. Similarly an ‘ashtdhatu’ idol of devta costs Rs 3,200 as it takes days to hew out the idol. Few shopkeepers do buy idols for their showrooms”, added Ramdas, another artisan from Khalwan village.

Blacksmiths face the same problems in the hills. Said Kehan Singh, a blacksmith from Malot village, Balichowki, who runs a stall of agricultural implements including “darat”, “kulhari”, sickles and the like at Shivratri fair, “The mobile Rajsthani blacksmiths have hit the traditional handicrafts in the state. They go in buses from village to village and sell substandard agricultural implements to villagers at cheaper prices. The iron prices have gone up. We do not get other raw materials like coal in the villages as the government has banned use of timber coal, which used to come from oak trees”.

The fate of bamboo basket makers is no different as plastic wares have sent their traditional crafts to the ruins. “We have to get the bamboo from “thekadars” at the rate of Rs 40 for each 12 ft-long bamboo stick. It takes a day to make a big basket and “soops”, grain pots and “kiltas”, used by farmers for carrying potatoes, fruits or other grains from farms to home stores. But now plastic wares have ruined our trade. We do not get bamboo from the forests as it has been banned. I can not afford to run the house leave alone educating children”, rued Jagdish, a bamboo basket maker from Jawalamukhi, Kangra. “Last year I earned Rs 1,500. This time I have sold goods worth Rs 250. But the The mela committee is charging Rs 1,200 as rent, more than last time”, he added.

The craftsmen said the government should devise some policy for them for their welfare. Most of the artisans engaged in the trade were poor, they added.

Their Plight

n No formal training
n Competition from modern tools flooding the market
n During melas, they pay exorbitant rent for stalls
n No organisation to back them
n Few buyers
n Seasonal business
n Prices of metals have shot up



Mini Tel Aviv
Shalom banners, Hebrew indications, yiddish chitter-chatter, kosher cuisine, reggae, pop, moonlight parties and Smoking Joes . . . the pattern repeats itself in this hamlet of Dharamsala.
Jagmeet Y. Ghuman

Two of its Israeli residents.
Two of its Israeli residents. — Photo by the writer

After landing in this village, one feels being on a foreign land. Israeli and continental cuisines are served here in the restaurants are and the clocks in the local PCO’s show the time in Tel Aviv. Solicitations in Hebrew script entice customers into shops selling statues of Tibetan Buddhist deities.

Welcome to the rough terrain of Dharamkot village near Mcleodganj, where one can see Israelis flocking around. shalom banners, Hebrew indications, yiddish chitter-chatter , kosher cuisine, reggae, pop, moonlight parties and smoking Joes   ...the pattern repeats itself in this hamlet of Dharamsala.

Young Israelis, after completing their mandatory service in the Army take off to India to enjoy a prolonged holiday. They love this hilly village. The Israeli circuit now extends from the beaches of Goa to silent woods of Rishikesh to the enchanting beauty of Dhauladhar mounts of Dharamsala.

Mcleodganj in Dharamsala is now a spiritual focus for fugitives, pilgrims and all those who want to visit the world’s new centre for Tibetan Buddhism.

After travelling for 2 km up hills from the hustle bustle of Mcleodganj, a picturesque village of Dharamkot offers over 40 guesthouses/inns offer rooms for less than 4 dollars a night. Interestingly, the villagers rent out accommodation to Israelis on a monthly basis. Israelis presently staying in and around McLeodganj is approximately more than 4,000.

Once a peasants’ abode has gradually turned into an Israeli enclave in recent years as thousands of them throngs this place during the peak season. Many stay for a short time, while some stick around even for years.

The tourists here are not interested in Indian food, traditions or languages but everything here is Israeli. All one can hear is Hebrew and everyone you meet is Israeli.

Even the rickshaws have signs posted in Hebrew, advertising their campaigns and parties. Many Indians or Nepalese serving in the local eating joints speak good Hebrew.

But what brings Israelis away from the homeland? “Home is tough while India is beautiful and cheap,” says Joyce and his group of friends. Her gang of five, has just been through the recruitment process and wants to break free. “Back home, the on-going political disturbance and its stress grips us, whereas, India provides uncontrolled, cheap living conditions,” she said.

Like Joyce, 27-year-old Jonep, along with his friend Sifar is staying in Dharamkot for the past two months. Many Israeli youths gets married to locals so that they extend their visit here. But for Jonep, it’s a visit of his lifetime, which he certainly would like to stretch.

There are a few Israelis, who came to India several years ago and have finally settled here for “more”.   Most of them have opened cafes and restaurants or tattoo and piercing parlours. Long haired sported with brown beard and attired in safforn inscribed with ‘Om Shanti Om’, Moaz sells precious stones and shells in the streets of Mcleodganj, and doesn’t seem to be interested in leaving this place. His interest in India dates back to his youth days. After spending over 12 years in Dharamsala, his affair continues with the charming beauty of Dhauladhar.

But the motive of their arrival has been changed with the changing intentions of tourists. Parties and drugs are two main reasons for differences between the Israelis and the locals.

The loud music played at late night parties that go on till the early hours, at guest houses situated in the middle of a village or residential neighborhood, disturbs the locals.

The Israelis’ excessive drug use makes their enclave a magnet for Indian drug dealers and other criminal elements. The locals are at a loss. If they turn to the police, they will lose their livelihood and even if they do complain there is no guarantee anything will be done about it.

Many locals points towards the discomfort with the growing Israeli presence in India. The problem is not their large number, who made India their base, but their behaviour, which the Indians are finding increasingly difficult to bear.



Threat to Saurabh Van Vihar
Ravinder Sood

Despite the ban imposed by the state government, the reckless and unscientific mining in Neugal river is going on unchecked. It has posed serious threat to the existence of famous tourist resort Saurabh Van Vihar, built on the right bank of Neugal river at Bundla, 3 km from Palampur. Besides, the newly constructed bridge is also in danger because of the reckless mining.

The water level in Neugal River has already gone down in the past five years because of the large-scale mining. If no early action is initiated the resort will be washed away in the coming rainy season. The state mining department is unconcerned about the present situation and is still issuing casual permits to influential persons to extract stones and sand from the river in gross violations of rules.

Till date, the state and the union governments had spent huge amount on this project. Former union rural development minister Shanta Kumar, who had given Rs 50 lakh from the MP local area development fund to this project, has expressed grave concern on illegal mining on the river, which were banned earlier.

Large number of tractors trailers can be seen extracting sand, stone and Bajri from the river without hesitation. Official sources confirmed that no one has legal rights to extract the sand stone from this portion of river, since this was a notified prohibited area for mining. The state government had also issued notification to this effect three years ago but it was yet to be implemented by the Mining Department and the local administration. The first phase of this project has already been commissioned. The state forest department who had taken up this project three years ago, has spent over Rs one-and-half -crore so far.

The project is being executed in the memory of martyr Captain Sorabh Kalia, who sacrificed his life in Kargil conflict. 



Modern voice of India’s genius
by Shriniwas Joshi

Nirmal Verma, the Hindi author having amazing understanding of the cultural roots of India, was the acclaimed modern voice of its genius. He was born in Shimla on April 3, 1929 to Nand Kumar Verma and Chakko Devi in the first floor of Bhajji House at Kaithu (see photograph). The colour of its tin-roof is green now but was red during Nirmal Verma’s stay here, so his popular novel laal teen ki chat. His brother, the renowned artist Ram Kumar, elder to him by five years, said theirs was a middle class family of three brothers and five sisters, their father was a government employee posted in the general headquarters at Shimla and that the tight financial position denied creative environment at home, still Nirmal and I got interested in writing. Inspired by Chekhov, Virginia Woolf, Gorky and Tolstoy, the two brothers began writing short stories but Ram Kumar later switched over to art and painting, while Nirmal remained stuck to writing.

Nirmal had his schooling in Harcourt Butler (present Central School) at Jakhu. From Kaithu to Jakhu, it is a climb of about 2 km with a plain walk of a kilometer on the Mall. Nirmal, as child, liked the walk on the Mall because there he got an opportunity of setting eyes on what he was fond of — the white skin of memsahibs and awe-inspiring uniformed Army officers. He wrote his first story for a students’ magazine in the early 1950s, little realising that writing was going to be his lifelong vocation. He ultimately squared up writing five novels, eight collections of short stories, nine collections of essays and travelogues, and nine translations of books from the Czech and other European languages.

Fluent in both spoken and written English, Nirmalji, so called lovingly, chose to do his creative writing in Hindi, largely initiated in to the language and its literature by his mother and elder sister.

He was honoured with the Sahitya Academy, Bharatiya Jnanpith awards and the Padma Vibhushan. As fulcrum of the Nai Kahani (new story) movement of the 1950s that captured the angst of the growing urban-middle class, he was indisputably a fine writer of Hindi prose but also a great translator, journalist, social activist and critic.

When he was in Czechoslovakia (1959-66), his dispatches in the editorial pages of The Times of India earned him the title ‘an Indian writer exiled in Europe’. He got married to UK-based Bangla lady Bakul in Europe; the wedlock gave the couple a daughter, Putul.

He returned to India alone while Bakul with her daughter stayed back in UK. A man of few words, he loved solitude or solitude loved him. A passage from his diary reads,” I came to Fagu this afternoon. I am staying in a rest house. All suites in it are vacant. I am alone. Perhaps it is my fate. I have forgotten that how I feel when I am in solitude. Accepting it as part of my life, I have stopped thinking about it. The solitude is like a shadow, a hopeless shadow that is clung to my soul.” Shimla and surroundings are amply reflected in his writings. It was his love for Shimla that he accepted to be the first chairperson of the Yashpal Creative Writing Chair in 1988 established in a building in the East-end Estate and stayed there for two years.

He married Gagan Gill, a poet of standing and 30 years younger to him, in 1989. She tended him till his last on October 25, 2005. The duo had many common traits, even their writings, at places, smelled death in life. She writes,

“In her longing, in her selfishness
She doesn’t remember that
The one she desires
Is just one fistful of bones.
Bones that come out of the crematorium
In just five minutes”

He writes, “To die whilst still living - that has been my greatest ambition. And because I could never realise it, the ghost of this unfulfilled aspiration forever hovers between me and my writing.”


Nirmalji and hospitability were synonyms. Nobody could refuse his at-homeliness. Once poet Kunwar Narayan visited him and was proposed to be offered tea, coffee or rum. He said he wanted none of the three. Nirmalji himself prepared a mixture of the three and offering it to Kunwar Narain said, “Drink this, this is neither tea, nor coffee, nor rum”. 



shimla diary
Vidhan Sabha losing sheen
Rakesh Lohumi

With another Vidhan Sabha complex coming up at Dharamsala, the historic state assembly building of the British era here has lost some of its importance.

It was for the first time in the history of the state that the first session of the new assembly was held outside the state capital at Dharamsala. The newly elected legislators took oath and the customary Governor’s address was also delivered at Dharamsala.

Thus, unlike past the Budget session of the Vidhan Sabha, which commenced on March 4, was the first of the new assembly. The government has been for the past couple of year holding a brief winter session at Dharamsala in December.

However, the advancement of assembly poll by three months upset the schedule and the winter session could not be held.

As it has been a major political issue in the state, which had been divided on regional lines into upper and lower Himachal Pradesh, the new BJP government decided to hold the first session of the new assembly at Dharamsala.

Green cover depleting

The plethora of rules and laws to protect forests notwithstanding, construction activity on the hill slopes invariably hurts the green cover. The latest instance of debris imaging the trees has come to light in Kacchi Ghati, in the slope, opposite hotel Asia the Dawn, where an approach road for the proposed new district court complex is being built.

The rolling boulders have not only damaged the tress and other vegetation but also the housing colony of journalists located down the hill.

Divisional forest officer Kehar Singh said that permission had been obtained from the Forest Department for the project. However, it was found that the contractor was violating the terms of permission and that serious damage was being caused to trees. Action would be taken against him. If required, penalty will be imposed for the damage.

He said the department had planned to identify dumping sties for the outer Shimla areas on the pattern of the Shimla Municipal Corporation.

The Forest Department has obtained permission for three major dumping sites from the Government of India, while the corporation has identified 32 minor sites in various localities.

Shanta in RS soon

The state will be sending an elder in the true sense of the word to the House of elders. BJP veteran Shanta Kumar will enter the Rajya Sabha later this month. He will be the first ex-Chief Minister from the state to enter the Upper House and the third leader after Chandresh Kumari and Maheshwar Singh to have the distinction of being a member of both Houses of Parliament and the state assembly.

Having remained a cabinet minister in the Vajpayee government, he is the tallest leader from the state. Two other leaders, Virbhadra Singh and Vikram Mahajan, also had brief stints in the union ministry, but enjoyed the status of minister of state.

A visionary and a man of firm conviction, Shanta Kumar, always stuck to his principles and never succumbed to populism. 



Mumbai is open to everyone
Himachali writer yet to come to terms with Raj’s campaign
Kuldeep Chauhan

Supreme Court’s recent verdict pulling up Raj Thakre and his goons of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena came as a big relief for the migrants from the cowbelt and others from North India.

But small-time film script and screenplay writers, who have made a beeline for the mad bad world of Mumbai dreaming to make it big on the silver screen of Bollywood have yet to come to terms with Thakre’s “anti-migrants hate campaign”.

They assert that Mumbai, more particularly Bollywood, has already sailed safely out of Raj Thakre’s megalomaniac campaign that witnessed a large-scale violence on the streets of Mumbai and Pune recently.

Meet Nagesh Bhardwaj, a Mandi-based film scriptwriter and a novelist, who came back from Mumbai to Mandi to look after his family. The rumblings of Thakre’s anti-migrant campaign in Maharashtra’s mega-polis-Mumbai- is still fresh in his mind.

Talking to The Tribune in Mandi Nagesh said, “The campaign is nothing but another attempt at gaining vote banks for his sena. It is a product of a divisive mindset, which the common man in Mumbai has refused to accept.

Raj Thakre’s campaign has affected mostly migrants from north India, who have come to Mumbai in recent time. But those who have been there for over a decade or so have not fled from Mumbai. Common man has rejected his campaign”.

After a stint in Hindi journalism in Himachal, Nagesh went to Mumbai as he nursed a passion for writing stories, screenplay, scripts and dialogue for films in Bollywood, about 15 years ago.

He has written a story for the film on Devdasi system, “Habas Ki Raat”, produced by Mayura films, which was released in 1997. He wrote the film, ‘Yeh Lamhein Judai Ke’ produced by G.P. Nayyar that starred Shah Rukh Khan, Raveena Tandon in 2004 as well, he said.

Currently Nagesh is writing a story for the film on call centres in India. He has also written a story for the “Lili-Mili”, produced by S.S.Rana. Nagesh has also penned more than four Hindi novels. These include “Peele Phool Kunair Ke, ‘Prabhat Bhairav’, ‘Nandan Van Ki Plash’ and “Bikhre Beej Ki Ibatad”. Nagesh has also written scripts for screenplays and dialogues.

Like him the small-time writers have to rough it out in the odd shanties of Mumbai for decades together, before they get the right opportunity to work somewhere. Most migrants come to Mumbai for work.

“The small-time writers do not get a bigger platform to work for the reputed directors or producers in the film industry as it needs the right contacts”, Nagesh said.

Taking about people working in Mumbai from Himachal, Nagesh said they have formed, the Himachal Mitra Mandal, which runs it taxis and provides assistance to people in need of help as and when they come there.

Mumbai’s film industry is an island that promises something to everybody as it cuts across caste, creed, religious and regional lines, said Nagesh. “It is a matter of passion. If you have it you go for it. I believe some big opportunity will come my way in the near future. I like others will go back as things are normal out there”, he asserted.



Mehar Singh has left a legacy that lives on
Dharam Prakash Gupta

Mehar Singh, who represented Dehra constituency in the Assembly three times during 50s and 60s, had such a great passion for wrestling. He not only popularised this sport during his lifetime but also has left a strong tradition of wrestling in the area.

Even today Mehar Singh Akhara provides opportunities to famous wrestlers from this region to show their skill at Rail, in Hamirpur district, in the fair organised every year in his memory where wrestling bouts are the main attraction.

Popularly known as Mal in the area, Mehar Singh was born in 1903 at Chaumukha village. He combined politics and wrestling with such a great expertise that while he was elected as MLA from Dehra constituency in 1952, 1957 and 1962 consecutively he was never defeated in a wrestling bout till his retirement from this sport.

Talking about Mehar Singh’s wrestling legacy the president of Peer Fair Committee Kishori Lal says, "We have named the akhara in the name of Mehar Singh and organise wrestling competitions every year to keep the wrestling tradition of Mehar Singh going."

All famous wrestlers from this region like Punjab Kesari Sonu, Himachal Kesari Jagdish, Bhura from Amritsar and wrestlers from the BSF and the police have been participating in these competitions all these years.

Singh was so devoted to wrestling and had announced in the public that if he gets defeated ever in any wrestling bout he would not enter the arena again and retired at his own and remained invincible.

In politics he was not that lucky and was defeated in 1967 Assembly election at the hands of Babu Ram Mandial after which he quitted the politics.

Mehar Singh was not only a famous wrestler in the region but went to Punjab, Calcutta, Delhi and Lahore to prove his might and had won more than 100 important contests.

Old timers tell that Singh use to get walkover in early bouts and use to fight in the final bout only.

Mehar Singh died at the age of 90 in 1990 but left behind such a strong passion for the wrestling in the area that people converge in large number in annual Peer Mela to witness wrestling bouts. This year the fair was organized on the February 8 in which more than 150 wrestlers participated.



Monkey woes

Be it six in the morning or six in the evening the story just seems to be the same for the people of Shimla. Whenever, one goes for a walk, one is not alone. Yes, I am talking about monkeys and somehow after the drive that was started by the government to reduce their number, they seem to have out numbered themselves. These days they are visible in armies everywhere. Their presence is disturbing. Something must be done soon before the situation goes out of hand.

Isha Katoch, Shimla

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