that is not quite home
Baripada’s claim to fame
Gung-ho about golgappa
PM’s house that is not quite home
Manmohan Singh’s flat in Guwahati is neither owner’s pride nor neighbour’s envy
THE small flat, a part of an imposing, triple-storey building, nestled on a small hillock in Sarumataria, near Dispur, the seat of power in Guwahati, fails to arrest anyone’s attention. With its unkempt surroundings — dried up plants all around—it looks deserted.
Once one gets close enough to read the nameplate on the main door of the two-room set, the simple black and white plate reads "Dr Manmohan Singh", the Prime Minister of India. The house, number 3898 in ward 51, officially "belongs" to him.
Manmohan Singh may never have visited his house in Guwahati after becoming the Prime Minister but one has to go through heavy security cover before reaching the main house. Singh is the tenant of the late Hiteshwar Saikia, former Chief Minister, whose name evokes admiration in some and hatred in others. Though most of his family members have settled outside the state capital, his widow, Hemprabha Saikia, lives in the house.
Fortunately, his eldest son, Debabrata Saikia, holidaying in Guwahati, offered to give a guided tour of the house. "It is a two-room set comprising one bedroom with an attached bath and a sitting room," he explained as I tried to look through the closed windows but failed to see much because of the darkness inside. "It does have a small cooking area that has never been utilised so far," he said.
Unable to bridle my curiosity, I could not help asking whether Singh has ever stayed in the house or not. That portion of the house, a recent addition to the main building, never seemed to have been lived in.
"When he contested the Rajya Sabha from Assam on the Congress ticket, he stayed here a couple of times. Since the house was not furnished at that time so he stayed with us", said Saikia. Officially, this is his "permanent official address" since 1991. Manmohan Singh has kept only a couple of books and a suitcase in this house.
As the Saikia family took a rent of only Rs 1,000 for the two-room set, which included electricity and water bills, a deal any tenant would envy.
After all, this special tenant was also assured of hospitality, including meals, whenever he visited his "permanent residence". The landlord also took upon himself the responsibility of forwarding all the mail that he received there to his New Delhi address. "I have to send this lot soon," Saikia said pointing at the pile of letters for the Prime Minister.
Saikia’s immediate neighbour, N.C. Kakoti, a bank employee, was proud of narrating an incident when he helped the future Prime Minister.
"It was an early morning in 1991. Hiteshwar Saikia called me to his house immediately and introduced me to Dr Manmohan Singh, who was staying with him. There was no water in Saikia’s house. So he requested me to supply water from my house. As I have a well in my house, I pumped water to Saikia’s house and saved them from the sticky situation." Incidentally, he is also a signatory to the document that makes the Prime Minister a "resident" of Assam.
How does it feel to be the PM’s neighbour? A little survey showed a majority of the residents of the area indifferent or disappointed.
"We know the Prime Minister has a residential address in our locality," said Jeoti Baruah with an air of indifference. The elation after he became Prime Minister, has disappeared because of his failure to visit his "own locality". They would not have minded if he had not visited Assam—not once but twice—since becoming the Prime Minister.
"The day he took the oath, Hemmaprabha Saikia had organised a party for the neighbours. She also installed a giant television so that we all could see the event together. We all waited for him when he visited Assam for the first time but he went straight to the circuit house and never came here," she added.
"Perhaps, it is the protocol and the security aspect, which did not allow him to visit his own house but we all wish he would do it at least once", said another of his neighbours. After all, they see Singh as a PM, not a neighbour.
Himachal pradesh: Residential schools
The oldest military school in Asia has a formidable reputation to keep up. Rakesh Lohumi on the Military School, Chail
Discipline and reward
Nestling in the lap of nature atop the 7,000-ft-high Shimla Hills, the Military School, Chail, has come a long way in imparting quality education.
Spread over a sprawling campus of 148 acres, the oldest of the five military schools in the country, it has the distinction of being the oldest military school in Asia. It is an "A" category establishment of the Indian Army and is directly governed by the Ministry of Defence. The foundation stone of the school was laid by Prince of Wales in February, 1922. It started functioning at Jalandhar Cantt in 1925 as the King George Royal Indian Military College but was subsequently shifted to Nogong in Madhya Pradesh and renamed as King George’s School. It moved to the present location in 1960 as Military School, Chail.
The motto "Character is the greatest virtue" is followed in both letter and spirit. The students are subjected to a rigorous discipline throughout their stay in the school. The basic objective of the institution is to prepare boys for entry into the prestigious National Defence Academy and help them to join the Army as officers. On an average, about 60 per cent of the passouts manage to get admission into the prestigious academy.
NCC training is an essential and unique feature of the curriculum. Its junior division is equipped with all three wings of defence services—Army, Navy and Air Force—manned by teachers who are commissioned as NCC officers. The students get a first-hand experience of flying micro-light aircraft, parasailing, boating and various other related activities. Besides academics, focus on adventure sports such as mountaineering, rock climbing and trekking is also an integral part of the school curriculum.
"We are conscious of the fast changes that are taking place in the socio-economic, scientific and technological fronts. Appropriate measures have been taken by the school authorities to keep pace with these changes," says Lt Col Peter John, the Principal. "Information Technology is being used extensively for disseminating knowledge and the new technology is being integrated into the content and process of education. For this purpose, two well-equipped computer laboratories have been set up and lesson modules on various subjects are taught through computers," he adds.
Co-curricular activities, the bedrock of personality development, are organised through various clubs which take care of hobbies like nature and ecology, art and craft, photography and gardening. The hobbies not only give pleasure to students but also instruction, John explains.
Over the years, the school has become a legend among the public schools in India. True to its tradition, it has produced as many as four governors, 28 generals, four ministers and seven IAS officers.
An alumnus, Lt Col Gurbachan Singh Salaria, who fought for the UN forces, is the only Indian to have been awarded the Param Vir Chakra. Six others from the school were awarded Vir Chakra and Shaurya Chakra. The Everest hero, Lt Col Satish Sharma is also an alumnus of the school. The Ex-Georgians Association, headed by Lt Gen R. S. Dayal, has been constantly in touch with the school and takes an avid interest in its activities.
Started three decades ago, the practice of only women pulling Goddess Subhadra’s rath in Baripada is still going strong, reports Bibhuti Mishra
At the 430-year-old Car festival in Baripada, northern Orissa, only women are allowed to pull the chariot of Subhadra, the younger sister of Lord Jagannath. The event is considered second in importance to the original Puri Ratha Yatra. While the festival at Puri is for 10 days, at Baripada it is for 13 days.
Prior to 1975, women found it difficult to even come near the ropes of the chariot as they had to jostle with men but today women pulling goddess Subhadra’s chariot reflects the rich and distinct cultural heritage of Mayurbhanj. There is an interesting legend about the origin of Baripada Yatra. In the 16th century, Baidyanath Bhanja, the Maharaja of Mayurbhanj, had gone to Puri for a darshan of Lord Jagannath.
There are conflicting versions of why he was denied entry into Puri. The disappointed king went on a penance on the outskirts of Puri and Lord Jagannath came in his dream and ordered him to construct a temple at Baripada, where the Lord would appear for a darshan to his devotees. The king returned to his kingdom and built the temple for the Lord known as Haribaladev temple in 1575AD.
Hari, incidentally, is another name for Jagannath and Baladev or Balaram is his elder brother of Lord Jagannath. The temple is a symbol of the religious fervour of the Bhanja rulers of Mayurbhanj. All the rituals and religious services held here in the manner of those at Puri Jagannath temple. The car festival here thus dates back to 1575
Interestingly, the pulling of the chariots is done in two phases at Baripada, unlike Puri where the three chariots of Lord Jagannath, Lord Balaram and Subhadra are pulled on the day of the yatra and they reach the destination in the evening.
In Baripada, Subhadra is given priority over her brother Jagannath, is the Lord of the Universe. On the first day, the 14-wheel Taladhwaja chariot of Lord Balabhadra, the eldest of the siblings, moves first followed by the 12-wheel chariot Devidalana of goddess Subhadra. Lord Jagannath’s chariot, the 16-wheel Nandighosh is pulled only on the second day.
The return journey also follows the same pattern. Only women pull Subhadra’s chariot even on the way back. This practice was introduced 30 years back, thanks to effort of bureaucrat Bibekananda Patnaik, the then collector of Mayurbhanj. He had mooted this idea to celebrate the International Women’s Year in 1975, while Indira Gandhi was the Prime Minister, Orissa’s Chief Minister was Nandini Satpathy .
The women do it with great enthusiasm, amid rhythmic sound of songs and blowing of conchshells, the entire show is managed by women with volunteers from local colleges and schools pitching in to maintain discipline.
What is common to Sir Edmund Hillary, the Yeti and the humble golgappa, the spicy Indian snack of little puffed dough balls filled with mashed potato and dunked in tangy tamarind water? They have all reached Himalayan heights.
Nearly 52 years after the New Zealander along with Tenzing Norgay Sherpa became the first men to climb Mt Everest, the world’s highest peak, the golgappa has become the toast of those following in their august footsteps.
Like the tradition of having turkey on Thanksgiving, a practice sprung up three decades ago for all those who summit the 8,848 metres peak. After coming down, they head for a unique restaurant-cum-bar at Thamel, the tourist hub in Kathmandu where they celebrate by putting their signature on the walls and receiving a pass that entitles them to free meals all their lives.
At the Rumdoodle, "Golgappa shots" have been introduced this year. As part of the quirky innovation, at the beginning of the meal mountaineers are served two of the puffed balls dunked in vodka.
"I got the idea from an up market restaurant in New Delhi," says Ashok Pokharel, one of the owners. "Though it is more to attract local customers, we have foreigners who have read about it, asking for them." Talking about his restaurant, Pokharel says: began as a laugh and developed into a tradition."
"My father used to run two trekking agencies in the 1970s and his clients had problems finding a place to eat. Trekkers have hearty appetites. They want home cooking and big servings," he adds. So Tek Chandra Pokharel and his two partners, American Stan Armington and Japanese Hanji Okawa, decided to start a watering hole catering exclusively to trekkers and mountaineers.
An American friend suggested the name after reading W.E. Bowman’s The Ascent of Rum Doodle, a spoof on mountaineering and mountaineers.
Old boots hang on the walls, along with T-shirts, discarded camps and other memorabilia.
"Other people’s junk is our décor," Pokharel laughs.
Pride of place is given to the signatures of Everesters — from Sir Edmund and many others including Junko Tabei, the first woman to scale the peak.
Among the trekkers, there are names like Jimmy Carter and Rosalyn Carter and former Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto.
The food is mostly Indian, continental and, of course, the staple diet of trekkers: burgers and French fries. But Pokharel feels that the golgappas could prove a winner. — IANS