24 December 2012

Beautiful Country: Stories from another India

I just finished reading "Beautiful Country: Stories from another India". The fairly large book is an output of the travels of two women from the Planning Commission in their quest to understand the efficacy of the centrally sponsored schemes like Mid day meal, National Rural Health Mission, NREGS, etc. Having access to the government wherewithals in the form of state choppers, servile beaurocracy in their travels they have penetrated into remotest corners of the country's fringes; from the Nicobari Islands in the south to Ladhakh and Kashmir in north; from Manipur, Nagaland in the north east to the deserts of Rajasthan in the west. An excellant book for anyone wanting to learn about India.

While reading the chapters, I made some questions. If one just reads these questions, it would suffice to give an overview of this magnificient book. Answers given at the end, in reverse order of the questions

1. The riverine islands, called as chars or chaporis found predominantly in Dibrugarh district of Assam, are formed when the silt in the Brahmaputra gets deposited leading to formation of sandbars which eventually get habited by weeds, grasses, animals and humans. The biggest char in the world, also a UNESCO world heritage site, has another notorious claim to fame. From this island Sanjoy Ghose, a young activist (and brother of noted TV news anchor Sagarika Ghose) was abducted and killed in 1997. Name this island.

2. Which state of India is called the Scotland of the East?

3. Khasi are an ethnic group who inhabit the Khasi and Jaintia hills of Meghalaya. According to Khasi legend, once a Bengali and Khasi were caught in a great flood and had to swim to save themselves. The Bengali tied his bundle of books on his head and started swimming. The Khasi, on the other hand, held his books in his mouth. Suddenly a huge wave swept over them and the Khasi accidentally swallowed his books. This ancient folklore is attributed as a reason to what present day linguistic characteristic of the Khasi?

4. In the remote interior hilly regions of Meghalaya, how do the Khasi measure distances?

5. Shah Jahan had given this town the title Dar-us-suroor (Door of Delight). His beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal was originally buried here before her remains where shifted to Taj Mahal in Agra. Which town?

6. The towns of ____ and Kukshi lie near the Gambhiri river flowing in the Dhar district of Madhya Pradesh. Kukshi used to be a renowned centre for hand printing and that the Gambhiri river was intrinsic to its fame. When the dyers used to wash their cloth in its waters, the copper sulphate in the river gave the cloth its characteristic black and red colors. The exact technique was kept a tight secret. As their fame grew, the neighboring town of ____ called the dyers from Kukshi to train local artisans. However, in an ironic twist of fate, today no one remembers Kukshi. The red and black distinctive print, born in Kukshi, has now become famous all over the world as the ____ print. Fill in the blank.

7. In which part of India would one come across the local deity Bon Bibi or lady of the forest and the man eating half tiger demon Dokkin Rai.

8. As per old Ladhakhi tradition, the first two boys of the family are married to the same woman. The fourth and subsequent boys became makpas, that is, they left their father's home to serve in the home of their wife. What typically used to be the fate of the third born boy in the family?

9. The ___ are an agricultural tribe found mainly in Orissa, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal. It is believed that the British brought them to West Bengal to work in the tea gardens. Who?

10. This place supposedly gets it name from the local word for olive. Some trace its origin to a Bhutanese term meaning a place where warm clothes are bought and sold. Devout Hindus however believe it is named after Lord Shiva, who is the region’s presiding deity. Which is this place?

11. The 130 km stretch between River Teesta on the west and River Sankosh on the east is more commonly known by what name?

12. The royal game Polo originated in this Indian state, earliest recorded citation is from 1300 AD. Sagol Kangjei as Polo is called locally is played with seven players on each side. Every man who can muster a pony plays, and every boy who cannot, plays on foot. Which state?

13. On 20 Nov 2004, the central government announced that Prime Minister would visit Imphal and return this to the people of Manipur. It is a place of great cultural, historical and emotional significance for the Meitei, local inhabitants of Manipur. For many centuries it was the seat of the Manipuri kings. The locals lost access to this place when the British captured it during the Anglo Manipuri war. After, Independence, it continued to be used by the army and the Assam Rifles. Its return had been a long standing demand of the people. Identify the place?

14. The Indian Air Force Base on Car Nicobar Island is spread over two hundred acres. It is said that when Jawaharlal Nehru visited this island, Edward Kutchal, a tribal leader, donated the land to the government. In return, what did he ask for as compensation?

Answers
14. Nehru's Coat
13. Kangla Fort
12. Manipur
11. Dooars
10. Jalpaiguri in West Bengal. ‘Jolpai’ is olive in Bengali, je-le-pe-go-ri is the Bhutanese term and Jalpesh is Shiva
9. Oraon
8. They are sent to monastery to become a lama
7. Sundarbans
6. Bagh
5. Burhanpur in MP
4. The number of betel nuts or supari chewed during the journey
3. Khasi language has no script, unlike Bengali
2. Meghalaya
1. Majauli

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