Sunday, May 29, 2011

Excavations at Sanjan 2002-2004: Part I

This post and it's subsequent parts are both a personal and professional story - a story of my first archaeological excavations as Field Director and Director at the ancient site of Sanjan, Tal Umargam, Dist Valsad, Gujarat.

In the latter half of 2001 two of the most important events in my life took place and they took place within days of one another. On the 4th of November 2001 I finally finished my Ph D dissertation, thanks in no small part due to the support, determination and dedication of my wife - Rhea, but that's a story for another day and another post. I returned to Mumbai thinking my tryst with archaeology had finally come to an end when I received a call from Prof. Mani Kamerkar telling me that there was a plan to conduct excavations at the site of Sanjan and asking me whether I'd like to be the Field Director of the excavation - to say that I was shocked and elated would be an understatement. I asked for a meeting and when we met two days later she informed me that the excavation permission forms had already been dispatched. I asked if they had identified a locus to excavate and was met with surprised blank stares by her and her colleague Dr Homi Dhalla. 

Dr Dhalla was the President of an organisation called the World Zarathushti Cultural Foundation (WZCF), an organisation started by him to preserve Zoroastrian culture. He had visited the Bahrot Caves (near Gholvad on the Mah-Guj border) and was interested in their preservation and conservation as they are one of the few Zoroastrian pilgrimage locations in India and play an important part in the almost mythic history of the Zoroastrians in India as told in the 'Kisse-i-Sanjan' - a quasi historical poem written in 1600 AD. He had come to Prof Kamerker with this proposal as she was a historian. She in turn contacted Dr S P Gupta of the Indian Archaeological Society (IAS), New Delhi. Dr Gupta  readily agreed and was willing to be the Director and to use his contacts with the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to get the required permissions,

The only hiccup, and a major one at that, was that no one had bothered to verify the existence of any archaeological mound upon which to conduct said excavations!

After a quick confab with Ms Meher Kelavala (Prof Kamerkar's Ph D student who was working on the history of the Parsis in India) I took off for the Deccan College to collect toposheets and to make a very hurried and desperate exploration. My years at Deccan College and the experiences shared by my teachers were my only other weapons, armed with the toposheets and experience I made my way to the modern town of Sanjan with my father riding shotgun in our Sumo. What made me very worried was the fact that the only archaeological field researcher to venture into this area (Dr Roxana Irani) had clearly mentioned in her dissertation that the modern cement buildings of Sanjan made it impossible to find any traces of previous settlements. My brief reading on the topic had though contrary data. The modern town of Sanjan was (then) just under 150 yrs old and was built after the British got the Gaikwad of Baroda's permission to build the BB&CI railways in 1855. This town was essentially built as a railway station town which in those days was built on a railway line at specific intervals and then named after the nearest village. Perusal of the toposheet revealed a village called Sanjan Bandar roughly two km to the north of the station. The village was situated opposite an old Portuguese Fort and led to the machchhivaad  (fisherfolk village) and bandar (anchorage) roughly another kilometer to the north and on eastern bank of the Varoli River/Creek. 

We stopped the car on a road that was built along  the very bank of the Varoli and parked under a vad (banyan tree) to start our journey up the machchivaad village mound. We were stopped short, in our tracks,  by the tree. The tree was growing along the bank and its exposed roots were holding a mass of medieval burnt brick and brickbats. We had found the ancient mound. We conducted a brief exploration and headed back to Mumbai safe in the knowledge that there actually was a site and that we could start conducting a detailed exploration to designate the actual site of our excavations. 

Map showing the Location of Sanjan

The site and it's environs (click on picture to enlarge)

The Vad tree and the Machchhi boats parked on the shore opposite the site.

To be continued ....

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Jaipur (22-24 Jan 2011): Part II

We drove back at a leisurely pace to the Rajputana all the while building up an appetite for lunch. We'd decided to eat at the Jal Mahal in the Rajputana ... a restaurant recommended to us for its Rajasthani food. But when we got there we were in for a rude shock. The place was large airy, very nicely laid out and a very pleasant off white colour with very nice staff and a 'Buffet' made up of the usual Punjabi/Moghlai/Continental dishes. We took a deep breath and decided to analyse the situation. This typical 5 Star Buffet we could eat anywhere but the Rajasthani fare we thought should be had in Rajasthan. Just as we were about to make an undignified exit we saw the matre'd coming up. We screwed up our courage and asked him 'wtf' was happening. He immediately informed us that there actually was a Special Set Thali with Rajasthani meals and that it was available on request. We immediately requested! He also informed us that this lunch spread was mainly for the package tourist crowd and they required this 'typical' spread.

What we really  liked were the classic lines of the restaurant no unnecessary  faux Rajasthani tent ceiling or an excessively kitschy decor.

The Thali took atleast 20 minutes to put together and we whiled our time taking pictures and reminiscing about the last trip where we ate at dhabas and sqeezed into small damp rooms in the State Dept. of Archaeology's under restoration guest house, sleeping on sleeping bags and travelling on foot! This trip on the other hand meandered down the highway of luxury.

They started off our meal with a couple of glasses of chhanchh (buttermilk) ......

...... and a small bowl of papad cones. 

Exactly five minutes later they brought in the Special Rajasthani Thalis, and believe me they were special. There was (from right to left in a anti-clockwise manner) a sliced salad, a raita, some amazing red chilli and garlic chutney, the very famous and much talked about - Laal Maas (Red Mutton - nice but it didn't live up to the hype), an incredibly awesome Marwari Chicken (yes, yes I said incredible and chicken in the same breath), a very nice bowl of winter fresh peas in a subtle garam masala and pureed caremelised onion paste, Rajasthani Dal, semi-dry mashed Masala Aloo (potatoes) and an amazing, superb, fabulous, palate pleasuring dessert made of reduced milk, crushed pistachios, ground cardamom and sugar. This simple dessert which they called kheer was the highlight of the meal and it was light, perfectly sweetened and the pistachios added just the right texture change with bursts of nuttiness and the powdered cardamom hit just those specific high notes in the pleasure sensors of the mouth and exploded gently into the olfactory processes. I can say with absolute certitude that I have never had a better kheer.

The meal was accompanied by steamed basmati rice and a basket of Indian breads made of makka (maize), wheat and bajra. I was hoping to see some jou (barley - which was the staple till it was replaced  by maize 75 years ago) rotis  but that was sadly not to be. All in all this was one of the finest meals I have ever eaten in a 5 Star Hotel Restaurant.


After that beautiful meal we went back to our room for some much needed shut-eye and woke up, got dolled up and went of for Malvika and Rohit's wedding ..... but that is someone else's story to tell. Suffice to say, it was a grand function in the truest sense of the 'Great Indian Wedding', her parents had pulled out all the stops and left no stone unturned. Here's wishing them all the happiness in the world. Take care guys. Thanks for having us there. We wouldn't have missed it for the world

The morning after was a quite morning of introspection and I felt as though it was one of my girls who had been married off, especially since she was the first of my students to do so. We wanted to buy some camel leather juttis (embroidered slippers) so we checked out of the Rajputana and our designated driver took us to the motherlode near the Jal Mahal Palace on the outskirts of Jaipur. The Jal Mahal rests in an artificial lake/reservoir with a beautiful promenade.

The Jal Mahal (Water Palace) was built on the Man Sagar lake by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II. The Palace is beautifully lit up at night but alas we had no time to see that. The lake is a major waterfowl watching location with birds right from the Common Moorhen to the exotic Flamingo using these waters.

Opposite the lake are the Royal Cenotaphs of the ruling Kachwaha Dynasty of Jaipur.

On our way back we also visited a Jaipur mainstay - A Blue Pottery Centre, but were disappointed as this ceramic is now ubiquitous all over the Indian landscape and there were no new shapes or designs.

We finished our trip with a visit to a cotton cloth manufacturing centre to buy some typical vegetable dyed dabu bedsheets and ended up at our new hotel - the Suryaa Villa (which we had booked online via Make my behind the Moti Dungri Fort. It was a nice small, very economical, friendly and clean hotel. In fact it is more of a B&B than a hotel and the rooms are all named after various birds! I think we were in the Oriole.

Our room - spacious, clean, crisp linen, well aired with all the amenities and a nice view of the front lawn.

The most important thing about the room was the Bathroom - it was large (much larger than I expected), bright, well ventilated, with fresh towels and absolutely spotlessly clean and odour free!

Tucked behind the front building of the hotel  was a small courtyard with a sit-out coffee shop and 'pool' .... the coffee was standard but took 45 minutes to make an appearance (not that I or my book were complaining) and it drove Rhea almost to distraction.

The pool was really just a 12 foot by 12 foot tiled water tank! But nonetheless it was clean, full of water and a challenge only the criminally insane would have considered in the Rajasthan winter. The windowed room behind the pool was the restaurant where we had  a really nice dinner (simple food made hot on the spot) and a superb breakfast buffet (inclusive and unlimited) of toast, butter, jam, poha, scrambled eggs, bananas and cereal with milk, followed by tea/coffee. I'd recommend this place any day!

We spent the morning lazing in bed and then packed up and left for the airport and our flight back to (Navi) Mumbai.

Mumbai - which we were just as anxious to get to as we were loth to finish our holiday .... and the weather in Navi Mumbai a balmy 30 degrees C in winter as opposed to a high of 16 degrees in Jaipur!

Thank you Malvika and a big thank you to your parents.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Jaipur (22-24 Jan 2011): Part I

Jaipur is one of the prettiest and busiest cities in India and when my student Malvika told me she was getting married there and that I had to come - I agreed in a jiffy. Rhea and I had spent a couple of days in Jaipur, enroute to a Rock Art Society of India's Conference at Kotputli in the late 90's (during the early days of our courtship) and we were delighted to be going back. 

Malvika's dad had absolutely laid out the red carpet and we were whisked to Jaipur in a completely booked AI flight and put up at the ITC Sheraton Rajputana. It was the very lap of luxury and to top it off we were informed that the evenings function, the Sangeet. was in our very hotel. So we had a quick and amazing lunch at a Rajasthani Heritage Restaurant (I think it was the Ratan Haveli) where the Mehendi was in progress and  where we had such an amazing Rajasthani meal that we forgot to take a single picture! Anyhow we dressed up for the vening function and I just had to take a picture of Rhea. 

The next morning we had half the day to ourselves and a chauffeur driven car to drive us around so we set off for a Jaipur darshan tour to take in the sites and see the City Palace which we had missed the last time around. As we were walking the corridors of the Rajputana we looked outside the windows and saw a host of wild  peacocks and peahens busily strutting on the outer wall of the property.

From that memorable sight we moved on to take in the city. Our first destination on the way to the City Palace were the Moti Dungri and the Birla Mandir. The Moti Dungri is a small fortified palace modeled on a Scottish castle by Sawai Man Singh. It was later the abode of Maharani Gayatridevi and her son. 

The Birla Mandir also called the Laxmi Narayana Temple is one of three almost identical temples (the others are at Delhi and Calcutta) built by the Birla family.

It was a gorgeous winter morning and the blue skies were filled with small puffs of cloud.

We then swept through the bazaars of Jaipur on our way to the Hawa Mahal and the City Palace.

The Hawa Mahal (Palace of Winds) is the most famous icon of Jaipur. It is not really a palace but a set of multi-tiered verandas/jharokhas (windows) that were used by the palace ladies to look upon the bazaars and which were very well ventilated, especially in the Rajasthani summers. It is a unique building and we were happy to see it extremely well maintained. The last time we were here the paint was flaking and the insides smelled like a urinal.

The City Palace, which lies in a majestic large quarter behind the Hawa Mahal, was and is the abode of the erstwhile ruling family of Jaipur and was built by Maharana Sawai Jai Singh II who ruled from 1699–1744. The palace proudly flies the flag of the erstwhile state of Jaipur with a smaller pennant that flies above it whenever the royal family is in residence (see below - if you can). I was impressed with the Palace and was further impressed to find that the tour had small electric golfcarts available and that they were free for handicapped persons. 

We had an unforgettable tour and we visited the beautiful inner palace (clad in marble with exquisite carvings) which housed a collection of garments worn by the Jaipur Royalty of yesteryear. Sadly photography was banned everywhere within the City Palace museums. 

Details of the Balcony.

Details of the verandah.

More details!!

We had barely finished exclaiming when our golfcart driver took us to the next building where we saw the most comprehensive collection of arms both blades/projectiles and guns handheld and otherwise.

The entire complex is run by the royal family and their liveried retainers like the gent in the picture below. 

Two happy but gobsmacked tourists!

As we exited we saw a small doorway with a sign saying, 'The Palace Cafe', as you may have guessed we had to go. It was a beautifully laid out coffee shop with an extensive menu (but we had other plans for lunch) and we quickly ordered a coffee for Rhea and a Cold Coffee for me .... they were both very good. 

But what had us rivetted .....

... was a little tyke in traditional Rajasthani gear singing and dancing among the tables to entertain the guests.

More on Jaipur in Part II.
(The Sheraton Lunch, The Wedding and The Day After)

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Infamous 'DC Punch' recipe and a bit of it's history.

Back in late 1991 ... Johnny, Tim, Jubal and I decided to convince the folks at DC to have a party ... we collected bout Rs 30/- each from all the party goers and decided to get an amp, speakers and some alcohol.

We got the amplifier and speakers and then realised we didn't really have much money left over .... so we decide to make a cheap punch ... just something to loosen up the party goers .... surprisingly the punch was a hit and we made it regularly and it became a permanent fixture at all DC parties for the next few years and I became the punch maker.

The only alcohol readily available (ie cheap) was army canteen Rum ... either Old Monk or Golden Bell, we bought it either from one of the watchmen or from the Sardar tailor next to Chandrama, we all drank this at the boys hostel with tap water .... but figured the ladies wouldn't quite appreciate this so we decided to buy some Rasna ... for variety we bought one Lemon and one Orange, 'borrowed' sugar from the Mess along with a large patila (vessel). We soon realised we had too many people, too little rum and almost no money ...... so we decided to improvise ... Jubal and I got on to the old Lambretta and headed to Ahura Wines at Yeravada and picked up what came to be known henceforth as the secret ingredient - a bottle of Narangi/Santra (Orange flavoured Government Country Liquor) .... a dash of lime juice and some mint leaves later the DC Punch was born .... the rest was history.

19 years later (for the DC Alumni Reunion) by popular demand I recreated the Punch ... only this time the recipe was tweaked a bit and substituted Blue Riband Gin instead of the Narangi.

Here's what went into the Punch that nite:

4 Bottles of Rum
1 Bottle of Gin
2 Bottles of Orange Squash
2 Bottles of Lemon Squash
Juice of 12 Limes
2 Bundles of chopped Mint
5 Kg of Ice (in one large block)
15 litres of Cold Water
..... and lots of TLC.

The Rum going in ...

 The Gin joining the Rum

The Punch Maker in action.

Uday hesitatingly pouring in the water under Dam's watchful gaze.

Tejbir and Menaka .... in anticipation.

Stirring it all together

The Final ingredient ... The Pudina

My No1 Fan (at left) and chief taster with Aditi

Hostelites .... checking out the punch

The Punch being consumed.

The Effect of Punch ..... :)

Why the blog? And why now?

As all of my friends know i'm probably the laziest person around. I've been enamoured with the idea of starting a blog for quite a few years and have serious contemplated the same for the last three. But somehow something or the other made me put it off for - later.

Three people and one event are directly responsible for this blog happening and happening now. My wife Rhea, who has probably been after me to 'get my ass off the ground and get started' for the last couple of years; my friend Gia who just flat out told me 'You've gotta blog, you'll be superb; my old school friend and buddy Nauzer Bharucha  ... who wanted me to blog for the TOI; and finally the last weekend - the Deccan College Alumni Meet.

Whilst, Rhea and Gia were good for my ego, Nauzer gave me a really serious reason ... alas the accompanying disclaimer/contract that the TOI sent me scared my pants off, essentially they were making it clear that I had to toe a line, and if I stepped over it I was on my own. So as usual I gave it a miss. Sorry Nauzer, I owe you a serious apology. The aweful and kinda joyous finality came about thanks to the absoloutely fabulous weekend that I spent with my friend, colleagues, staff and teachers at the Deccan College, Pune where I caught up with old friends, some of which I hadny seen in 19 years and I realised I just had to have a platorm where I could share with them and share them with all my other friends.

The name of the blog is essentially a respectfull reip-off of the book title 'Eats, Shoots and Leaves' and is close to my heart cause me and the missus love this kinda wordplay. The specific words though are descriptive of my three great passions. Eats - because I love doing so, experimenting with food from different cuisines, cultures and economic strata; Feeds - because I run a small catering business (Dalal Enterprises) that came out of my mother's and my family's love of feeding folk; and Digs - because my great love, passion, hobby and part-time vocation is Archaeology and all things connected with it.

So folks here I am.