Shakalaka Baby! In Xanadu!

By Sunil Kumar

Shakalaka Baby! Come and Shakalaka with me! A brighter bulb right out of the sun. Million stars in the sky. “Ek Baari Jo Hai Aaana”. So, today the blog’s going to be about the dreamland of Xanadu; in another book that yours truly will discuss. I’m speaking to me; and whoever’s listening.

A map indicating trading routes used around th...

A map indicating trading routes used around the 1st century CE centred on the Silk Road. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In an earlier post; I had mentioned the area of “Swat”; at some distance from the city of Abbotabad, home of the devious military command of our arch nemesis; land where a million conspiracies are hatched against the usual triumvirate of India, Israel and the United States.

A twenty-four year old travelogue; the author journeys on the old silk road from Lahore; the capital of the undivided Punjab to Swat, Mansehra on to Kashgir(Sinkiang, Now Xinjiang) onwards to Peking(Beijing) and then the fabled kingdom of Kubla Khan in Inner Mongolia. To the historically uninitiated; the Mongols under Genghis(Hindustani: Changez) had ruined the ancient caliphate of Baghdad, much of present-day Afghanistan and the current day border. So, in passing; we have a large part of the subcontinent’s population inheriting the name of “Khan”.

Some of the remarks made here are very perceptive; although they obviously come from a Western perspective. He observes the self-demeaning humility that Indians extend to a typical foreigner; something that persists even now. Don’t know how far that extends to other Indians. He also realizes why the Islamic conception of heaven is green. Originating in a land where deserts dot the landscape; the imagination of most people veers towards a place full of greenery.

Punjab village scene!

Punjab village scene! (Photo credit: EcoSikh)

He certainly encounters that in the plains of the Punjab(the land of the five rivers). Beneath every facade; there is the obvious nod to the past; the Hindu-Buddhist-Greek antecedents of a country now replete with beards. A fact, if he noticed correctly; is now across the world; from India(especially Kashmir) to England. Lahore; a city named after Lord Rama’s sons retains some of its old-world charm in the narrative. But, the real action comes when the author strays into the badlands of the Pathans and the Nuristanis.

The Punjabi Muslim warns him about the maddening Pathans. He is also well-informed about the treacherous ways of the Nuristanis. Flashing back nearly two thousand years; we are told about the interaction between Shaivites; the present-day Nuristanis and the armies of the Macedonian Alexander.

But, temptation gets the better of him as he strays into a ceremony; that incenses the rifle-toting Nuristanis. Initially followers of the Vedic religion of Kalash; the Nuristanis believed in a deity closely related to Yama(the God of Death).They are also closely related to the Gurjaras; in North India, who gave their name to the present-day state of Gujarat .Now Muslims for some time; the Nuristanis initially regard the author with skepticism; but when he expresses admiration for their weapons; the tide turns.

The history of ancient Bharat(India) is fascinating; due to the complex layers surrounding the real facts. In recent years; we have had Indian historians talking about a local Vedic origin of things; which spread westwards. This is believable.

On the other hand; the subject was often at the mercy of the evangelical British; who were justified pioneers, but had a more vicious self-interest in enslaving people around the world. A country which historically more often than not associates with the Greeks or the Romans(fellow Europeans) for obvious reasons was bound to have vested interests; and derive vicarious pleasure in distorting true facts. Also; the typical ambivalence of the nation when it comes to dealing with cultures outside their usual domain; the Anglo-Saxon Protestant world.

I remember an old man who met me in South Mumbai; getting animated over ancient Parsi(Zoroastrian) history; and he had many valid points about the past. The Vedic river Saraswati is now invisible; but it was at the core of the Indus valley civilization nearly five thousand years back.

Map of northern India in the late Vedic period...

Map of northern India in the late Vedic period. The location of Vedic shakhas is labelled in green. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Cut to the present day; most of the world would be looking at now and the future ahead. The past is a wonderland and treasure trove of interesting facts and arcane mysteries; things that impinge and impact the present in more ways than one.

Religion is fundamentally irrational; but the world still believes in it as a binding factor. Large-scale destruction has continued to occur all throughout time due to beliefs that cannot be scientifically explained.

Back to the author’s journey onwards to Kashgar; a city in Chinese Turkestan over the Karokaram highway.

The description of the city is interesting; largely due to its “Lonely Planet” characteristics. As the author kindly informs us; the hotel he lives in is atrocious. His interactions with a hippie formerly in Goa; and the people within the city are revealing.

Fed on a communist-Islamic view of history; the people there are curious about the rest of the world; but are not very aware.

It would be interesting if this were written today; with the Internet and cable television making its way into the remotest corners of earth. The old Silk Road conjures up images of mystery, the surreal and the paranormal. An interesting anecdote worth mentioning is something noticed by a Hindu trader, Marco Polo and Hieun Tsang; the old traveller to the land of Dhamma(India).

All of these people have one thing in common; a vision of a caravan of people on horses traveling together on the Silk Road; a flash into the past that disappears mysteriously into thin air.

Other mystical descriptions in another book hint at belief in a world beyond this one; albeit fleetingly. Kind of like the Scottish author Conan Doyle’s obsession with fairies, but not exactly. Closer home; back in India; we have implicitly believed in the shadow world; due to a more systemic obsession with religion. Writers and sages from the Punjab to Gujarat, Bengal to the South have always included this without a great deal of questioning; as somehow “we believe”.

In the concluding portion; the author describes a train journey from the western extremity of China right into the heart of the country, Beijing. Finally he makes his way to the legendary capital of Kubla Khan; the Mongol emperor who lorded over most of the present day country.

Romantic descriptions of the past are alluring; but what facts do they really conceal? For all we know; the kingdoms could have been but a pale reflection of what they are supposed to be. The kings were mostly despots; this is a fact beyond deniability. Glancing back into their lives is like a perfume from a dilapidated bottle. The analogy may not be totally precise; but the point is it goes away in some time. But gliding in the island of dreams surely has its charms; for an instant.






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