The StepWells of Lakkundi and Other Places Under The Sun

Lost somewhere along the Tungabhadra, are the sleepy templetowns of Gadag. Although often ignored for their more famous cousins in Hampi, Badami and Pattadakal, the architectural marvels of the #GadagCircuit are no less breathtaking.

A tourist on the Gadag circuit is a rarity. A backpacker is almost an abomination. The temple towns aren’t well known enough. The roads aren’t well maintained enough. The Karnataka tourism hasn’t promoted them aggressively enough. But if you actually make the effort to embark upon this circuit, you would be rewarded with some wonderful memories.


I took the bus from Mumbai to Gadag ( Good old trusted VRL) and landed at around 730. I had booked a hotel via telephone earlier. This quaint little place called Durga Vihar, located on Mulgund Naka gave me shelter for two days.  Inexpensive with decent rooms with clean sheets and running water. Its restaurants served great Dosas. That’s all I could ask for.

Day 1.

Itagi: Emperor Among Temples

The first stop on day one was Itagi. All my trips on this circuit were from the Old Bus stand of Gadag.

Ask for Kuknoor Itagi. There is another Itagi towards Gajendragarh  which has a famous Bhimambika temple so the bus folk would be easily confused unless you are specific.

Itagi is a tough cookie. Very difficult to figure it out. The chap at the hotel counter kept on requesting (and almost begged me to take a cab) when i mentioned Itagi. But I refused. I decided to check out Itagi the way a backpacker would. I took the bus towards Kuknoor and since I had missed the Itagi bus, I got down at this village called Mandelgiri and took a six seater rickshaw ( known locally as Tom-Tom) to Itagi.  You can see the temple emerge from the shadows as the rickshaw stumbles into the village.

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Itagi Mahadeva Temple.

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The Bhuvaneshwari. Dancing Shiva on the ceiling.

The Mahadeva temple is a dream in stone. No other words for it. It’s the perfect temple. Well-proportioned with a shikhara that ascends gracefully and wide breezy mandapas, the temple is an immortal testimonial to the skill of the Kalyani Chalukyas.

The Shikhara and the Mahamandapa are the two features of this temple which endorse its position as the foremost example of Chalukyan grace. The Shikhara has “Kirtimukhas” on each of the horizontal tiers, exquisitely sculpted in schist.  As you walk around in the Mahamandapa, look at the ceiling. The art of the ceiling is called as “Bhuvaneshwari”. Here you could see Shiva with ten arms in a celestial dancing pose, surrounded by gods, musicians, dancers and floral patterns.  Don’t miss this view.

Mahadeva Temple of Itagi is known as “Devalaya Chakravarthin”, an Emperor among Temples and is considered to be the “finest in the Kannada country after Halebidu”.

Finding a bus from Itagi is equally difficult. I took a tom-tom towards Kuknoor and got onto a return bus towards Gadag. But got off at Lakkundi.

Lakkundi: Step down in History

This is the heart of the Gadag circuit. I had randomly stumbled upon a picture of the Stepwells of Lakkundi and that was the inspiration behind this trip.

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The Kashi Visweswara Temple.

A brisk walk from the bus stand will get you to the KashiVishweswara temple . You’ll need to walk through the dusty bylanes of Lakkundi to reach the temples. You will see that it is in reality a double temple. Two shrines share a single platform, one dedicated to Lord Shiva and the other to Surya. This “dvikuta” character of this temple would make it a photographer’s paradise.

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Scenes from Ramayana. Panel on Left shows Hanuman lifting the Sanjivani mountain and panel on right shows the RamaSetu construction.

I stumbled upon a local guide who graciously showed me around the temple. If you had to show all the features and characters of a Hindu temple to a student, this temple would be the perfect example.  He seemed quite impressed when I recognized the Makara patterns, the Gandabherunda bird and the Salabhanjikas. The doorjambs and lintels (especially of the Southern entrance) have exquisite carvings on them with the southern entrance having 9 rows of carvings, each a separate story in itself. This is not a living temple and no regular prayers are offered here. The outer walls of the temple has scenes from Mahabharata and Ramayana. Only a guide would be able to point them out to you.

Across the road from this temple is the Nanneswara Temple, another beautiful Chalukyan temple. This temple is much simpler when compared to the KashiVishweswara temple. Walk towards the Lakkundi museum which abuts the Jain temple of Lakkundi. The Museum is a simple 4 roomed affair but is a commendable effort by the ASI to preserve the treasures of Lakkundi.  Next to it, is the Jain Temple of Lakkundi.

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The Manikeswara Temple and The Muskina Bavi Stepwell.

The Western Chalukyan Empire underwent a period of Jain patronage and these temples, scattered across the Tungabhadra and Krishna basins are proof of it. The Brahma Jinalaya of Lakkundi is dedicated to Mahavira and follows the same pattern of architecture as the rest of Lakkundi temples.

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View from within the Stepwell.

Walk back towards the Bus stand and ask for the Kalyani. This is the highpoint of the trip. The Kalyani is the local name for a stepwell. The Muskina bavi (Veiled Well) is the one thing you cannot afford to miss. As you walk towards the Manikeswara Temple, the well just emerges out of nowhere in front of your eyes, stair after stair of sheer grandness. The well actually begins beneath the temple and extends outward. There is an entrance to the well just next to the temple. You could sit on the steps and spend an entire evening contemplating the universe. There are several minor shrines within the steps( although they contain no deities inside). The stepwell is the among the best in India.

The hot March sun ensured that the well was empty but I am sure it would be a wonderful sight in the Monsoons.

There are several other temples in Lakkundi, but most in them in disrepair and in dire need of preservation. They have been encroached upon and some, even form walls of houses in the village. ASI has not been successful in restoring them. Lakkundi is a very dirty village with garbage strewn all around and swine gallivanting happily across the thoroughfares. So be prepared for it.

I returned to Gadag from Lakkundi and decided to explore the local temples.

Gadag: Forgotten Temple Town

The Trikuteswara Temple.

This temple is a walkable distance from… literally anywhere in the city. Ask for directions and you could reach it within a few minutes. The Trikuteswara temple is thus known because of the three lingams inside the sanctum sanctorum . The long drooping eaves of the main shrine and of the subsidiary Saraswathi shrine are what separate this shrines from other Chalukyan temples.

The statue of Saraswathi in the smaller shrine is among the biggest sculptures of the Chalukyan period and is among rare temples dedicated to the Goddess of learning.

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Veera Narayana temple.

VeeraNarayana temple. A little ahead from the Trikuteswara temple is the VeeraNarayana Devasthanam. The Temple of Valiant Vishnu.  In the sanctum Vishnu stands, in a sublime pose wearing the VeeraKachcha (robes of a warrior) and ready to defend the Universe against the forces of dark.  The medieval Kannada poet, Kumara Vyasa is associated with this temple. (There is even a pillar inside the mandapa called the VyasaStambha)

Legend has it that an elderly Brahmin narrated the story of Mahabharata to Kumara Vyasa in this temple. The Brahmin later revealed himself to be Ashwathama, and thus could recount only the first 10 parvas of the Mahabharata. Thus Kumara Vyasa writes only these parvas.

Day 2.

Day started off with steaming Vadas and piping hot coffee before I set out following the Western Chalukyan footsteps.

Dambal: The Stars Shine Down

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Dambal Doddabasappa Temple

If Lakkundi is the heart of the Gadag circuit, Dambal is its soul. The Star-Shaped Doddabasappa temple is undoubtedly the most perfect temple north of the Tungabhadra.

Take a bus from the Old Bus stand towards Mundirgi and get down at the Dambal stop.Its only around 22 km away from Gadag. You can see the temple as you approach Dambal. The star shaped Shikhara dwarfing everything else in the vicinity is a magnificent sight for the eyes.  Through the cleanly manicured lawns, a single Neem tree will invite you into the temple premises.  A large stone Bull, covered in a peacock blue ceremonial cloak faces the eastern entrance of the temple. The interiors of the temple are plain but the exteriors are exquisitely carved.  The friezes portray decorative patterns and sculptures of elephants supporting the large wall reliefs above them.

The Star shaped contours of the Shikhara are unmatched in India.CAwbEy2UQAERfzY The temple immediately fills you with a sense of calm and solace, making it easy for you to forget the rest of the world when in Dambal. The supple finesse with which the starry Shikhara rises, gently narrowing as it approaches the sky personifies the term “Stairway to Heaven”. The outer walls of the shrine have small temples carved into them. I call it the “Blueprint Reliefs.

Don’t walk away. Sit in the lawns for a while. This is a perfect place for a quick picnic

Annegeri: Lord of Eternity

Around 20 km from Gadag is the small temple town of Annigeri. Its claim to fame is the fact that it is the hometown of the Kannada poet Adikavi Pampa.

As always, take a bus from the Old Bus Stand of Gadag. (Any bus towards Belgaum/Hubli would stop by at Annigeri). A brisk walk from across the bus stand is the Amruteswara Temple of  Annigeri.

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Kirtimukhas of the Amruteshwara Temple

A giant slab of stone placed horizonatally across the main entrance seems to intimidate the devotee and the occasional visitor to the temple.  Once you enter, you are not ready for the spectacle that is the Amrusteshwara Temple. Among all the Gadag temples, this is one that has been preserved best. As you walk across the courtyard, you cannot but compare it with the Itagi Mahadeva Temple. Infact, Amruteshwara Temple served as the prototype for the later Chalukyan Temples. The concept of the Kirtimukhas (Victory symbols) adorning the shikharas seems to have been perfected in this temple.

This is a living temple. Go inside to pray to the Lord of Eternal Life, Amruteshwara.

Lakshmeshwara: Temple Walls

Take a bus towards Haveri/ Bangalore to get off at Lakshmeshwar, around 55 km from Gadag.

The Someswara Temple is the centrepiece of Lakshmeshwar but it was a total disappointment.

As we entire the temple complex, ringfenced like a fort, your heart sinks. Major renovation is taking place all over the temple. Funded by the Infosys foundation, this renovation appears more of a reconstruction. For me, this was no longer a Chalukyan temple.

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Miniature Temples on Lakshmeshwar Walls.

Except the Shikhara, the entire temple has lost all livery of Chalukyan inheritance and appears like a modern construction.  Large boulders and slabs lie strewn all around the courtyard, as masons and artisans chisel and power saw their way in a naïve attempt to replicate ancient wonder.

Only one thing to do here.  The walls of the Shikhara have several miniature temples carved on them.  Look out for them. They are enough to justify your trip to Lakshmeshwar. From here it was back to Gadag.


Youll need a pair of sunglasses, generous amounts of sunscreen and a big waterbottle. Mark these as essentials.  Hey.!You could avoid all my travails if you booked yourself a cab. You could even make better time. But your travelling would be a lot less exciting. The joy in hailing down a random bus is unmatched. Let your hair down a little.

Can you believe it? My total expenses were only around 4000rs (with 2600 out of them for bus tickets Mumbai-Gadag-Mumbai)

If time permits, you could visit the following places also.

  1.  Mahamaya Temple at Kuknoor
  2. Itagi Bhumambika Temple
  3. Gajendragad fort ( site of 1786 Tipu-Maratha seige)
  4.  Magati Bird Sanctuary.

Gadag may certainly be less known than the other sights and sounds of North Karnataka but certainly worth exploring. Give it a shot.!

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The God Who Stood On A Brick and Other Places Under the Sun

A Temple Circuit located in the heart of the Marathi land is not exactly the perfect place to plan a solo weekend. But as the wanderlust bug bit me, I decided to just take off. A long overdue demand was to visit the temple shrines of Solapur, partly for the divinity attached to these sacrosanct edifices and partly out of curiosity to see a Maharashtra outside Mumbai first hand.

Thus the weekend trip from Mumbai to Solapur was conceived.  Drawing inspiration from friends who have wandered alone, all I did was book a ticket in the Siddheshwar Express from Dadar to Solapur and ventured forth into the unknown.

The prerequisite of the trip was prudence and simplicity. Didn’t call up colleagues working there nor did I make any arrangements. Everything was to be impromptu and spur of the moment types.


 The Bare-chested Mendicant

Akkalkot is the shrine of Swami Samarth. Yes.He is the barechested half-naked elderly man sitting benevolently, whose portrait you see in several stores across Mumbai. He is a Guru in the Dattatreya Sampradaya and spent a majority of his life in this dusty and laidback village preaching the words of the almighty to tired and wandering souls. He would give his sermons under a Banyan tree ( now a part of the shrine) and thus shrine trust is also officially called the “VataVriksha Akkalkot Maharaj Trust”.

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The “Vata Vriksha” underwhich the Swami Samarth gave sermons.

As soon as I got out of Solapur railway station, I stepped into an ST bus going to Akkalkot. I had already decided to keep it real. So took the 45 Rs ticket to the temple town.

I reached there by 9AM and took a rickshaw to the shrine.  Here is the thing once you reach the temple premises. Do not look left or right. Just leave your shoes at the stand outside and walk into the shrine with all your bags. Go to the office and ask for a locker.  You get a locker to dump all your bags for the whole day for 20 Rs.  You get a bucket of hot water for 5Rs and can use the toilets for free. You get free food at lunch hour also (I didn’t partake of it though). You get to sleep in the Dharamshala at night for a nominal cost. All of this is within the temple complex.

The Shrine itself is small, housing a statue encased in silver of the saint. Look around the ceiling inside the shrine and the mandap. You will see loads of paintings and portraits donated by benefactors over the years.  A totally old world feel. The banyan tree under which Swami Samarth gave his sermons stands regally in the middle of the shrine, like a constant reminder of the Swami’s teachings and his path of simplicity. It would be like Swami Samarth himself was standing in the courtyard gently directing devotees. Devotees try to keep touching this tree, now ring-fenced in iron.  There is a hall with a large statue of Swami Samarth just opposite the main shrine. People come here to sit and meditate. I spent close to 4 hours just looking around and observing people, as they prayed, counted the rudraksh or read out from religious books.

The temple has a very prominent anti-commercial image which the trust seems, quite rightly, insistent on protecting. A commendable achievement. The care which the Akkalkot shrine extends to its devotees really warmed my heart. All the employees were calm, helpful and sweet to a fault ( Perhaps my visage presented the proverbial fish out of water scene for them).  For nominal costs, you can technically live forever in Akkalkot.B-WBdc3CMAA9Ek9

The Temple is a must visit shrine if you are a devotee of the Dattatreya Sampradaya. And even otherwise, young folks should make the trip once to rough it out. An ideal location to pick up the pieces and collect your thoughts. I was done by 3pm and left back for Solapur to take the bus to Tuljapur.

 

The Matriarch of the Marathas.

The Tuljapur Tuljabhavani temple is located in Osmanabad district and is an hour by bus from Solapur.  Goddess Tuljabhavani is the preceptor of the Maratha clan and is worshipped as the matron diety of Maharashtra.

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TuljaBhavani blesses Shivaji with a Sword.

Legend has it that when Chatrapathi Shivaji worshipped her, the divine goddess appeared before him and blessed him with a sword which guaranteed victory in the battlefield (This could be metaphorical for Shivaji getting a morale boost after praying here)

At around 430pm on Saturday, I walked out of the Tuljapur Busstand searching for the MTDC Resort that I had decided on.  Noone in the busstand had any idea where it was. It was off a kuchcha road in a narrow gully next to the Shivaji statue. This is where my mind was blown by the surprises that the Indian establishment can throw your way. Squeaky clean rooms for a pittance. All that the Spartan MTDC charged for a double bed room was only 600 Rs. Best decision ever.

Tuljabhavani Temple lies on the edge of the Yamunacharya Hill in Tuljapur and at a level lower than the rest of  the town. The Main tower as you enter the temple premises looks more like the Entrance to a fort than a temple.  So you get a nice view of the rolling plains of Osmanabad from the ramparts of the temple walls.

Walk down the stone flight of stairs towards the Sanctum  and you would walk through the Gomukh Teerth or a 7 foot high water fountain whose nozzle has been duly converted into a Gomukh by using a cement Cow’s head.  The Kallol Tirth and the Vishnu Tirth are essentially temple tanks. But are in states of varying negligence and squalor.

The shrine is located in the middle of the a shady courtyard. Youll need to pass a shrine to Lord Ganesh before you enter the main courtyard. You could buy some lamps, dipped in thick ghee to be offered to the Goddess.

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View of the Osmanabad Plains from MTDC Tuljapur.

Ask for no priests. Ask for no flowers. Just walk into the line ( there was a line since it was a weekend) and go pray to Goddess Tuljabhavani.  Behind the main temple is the stone “Chintamani” which miraculously tells devotees whether their wishes would get fulfilled or not.  ( I got a very confusing answer).  You could wander about the courtyard and look at all the devotees sitting. It can get very colourful. The temple has an air of stern benevolence. Perhaps tough love is what the Goddess teaches us all.

Night halt at Tuljapur. And the next day, after a late breakfast i set out. Found a direct bus between Tuljapur and Pandharpur.


The God who Stood on a Brick

Pandharpur is a part of Telugu folklore just as much as Marathi. I grew up with a great grandmother who would recite “Vithala Vithala Panduranga” all day.

The story of the saint Sakkubai and the “MayaSakkubai” who comes to take her place in the middle of the night so that she could go visit the shrine of Vithala has been immotalised.

To cut the  long story short, Pundalika is a rogue son who has a change of heart after a trip to Varanasi. He transforms into a perfect son and starts caring for his aged parents. One day, Lord Krishna pays him a visit. But Pundalika who is immersed in caring for his parents (a bit of an overkill, I think) throws him a brick and asks him to wait. And when he walks out, that’s how he finds Krishna; a stone image standing on a brick and his hands by his side. Thus Vithala, the Lord of Pandharpur was born.

Once you land at the Pandharpur Bus stand, it is just a twenty rupees drive by rickshaw to the Main Temple.

The Temple is around 20Rs from the Central Pandharpur Busstand.

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A painting on the Walls of the Pandharpur Shrine.

The main entrance is called the Namdev chi Pyari. You can see the temple dedicated to the untouchable saint, Chokamela at the entrance to the MukhaDarshan. Youwill need to walk in through the Darshan Mandap on the left of the Namdev Pyari for the SriDarshan.  ( Buy some tulsi leaves on your way in). A long snaking line will lead you to the Lord Vithal.

A wonderful thing about the temple is that I could actually touch the feet of the idol.  All devotees, irrespective of caste, colour or sex get this wonderful opportunity of “PaadsparsaDarshan”. This essentially bestows an additional sense of surrender to the lord as you physically touch his feet and pray. Mukhadarshan is when you cannot stand in the long lines but prefer  a quick glimpse of the diety from a distance of 25-30 feet.

After the Vithal’s idol is the idol of Rukmini . Also standing on the brick. Inside the main shrine, you find small temples dedicated to Satyabhama, Radhika, Mahalakshmi and Venkateswara.

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The Pundalik Temple next to the beautiful ChandraBhaga River.

Walk out of the temple through the Paschim Dwar and ask directions for the river.

On the banks of the Chandrabhaga ( Bhima river is called so here), you will find the temple of Pundalik.  With all the prayers and lamps here, this place offers great material for photography. You could sit here for hours and capture the changing sky and the pilgrim rush, and the boats which ply endlessly on it.

I found a solitary boatman. He soon became my guide across the river to see the Gopalpur temples and the ISKCON temple. A little downriver from the main temple would be the Narada Mandir. Located in the middle of the Chandrabhaga river. Cursed by Rukmini for causing a quarrel between Krishna and her, Narad spends his time in the middle of the river, 6 months above the waterlevel and 6 months below water.

Vishnupad Temple( where the footsteps of Vithal are drawn on a rock for us to pray) lies just ahead of the Narad temple. This temple seems quite dopey. And a little walk ahead is the Gopalpur temple of Rukmini-Vithal.  This temple pays homage to the two female saints of the Vithal lore. Sati Sakkubai and Sant Janabai. There is even a chakli where the lower caste saint Janabai is supposed to have made laddus for Lord Krishna.

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The Narada Temple. 6 Months underwater and 6 Months abovewater.

Beware.This Gopalpur mandir is full of smart-alec priests who will insist on money. Act dumb, pray and walk out. Do Not part with your money here.  The courtyard of the Gopalpur Mandir is tied up with ropes into intricate narrow passages so that you are forced to visit each of the shrines, ostensibly to be blessed but also to be relieved of a little cash. ( TBH, they ask for only10/20 rupees although the main priest asked for 500)

The ISKCON temple on the other bank of the river appears to be new and houses a shrine of Radha- Krishna. Nothing much to see here except the standard ISKCON fare.

And after this sojourn, like the good little boy I am, I took the VRL Bus back home from Solapur to get dropped in Sion.

I had missed a few places. Jagrut Maruti temple in Akkalkot, Kaikadi Maharaj Math in Pandharpur and the Siddheshwar Temple in Solapur. Paucity of time and other factors. You should try to see them also.

I computed my costs. It was just a little under 5000 Rs for the entire trip (Out of which the last minute tatkal booking in Siddheshwar Express AC 2 Tier cost me 1400 bucks).

This Solapur circuit might not be for everyone. But I would rate it as a trip you should consider making. And in the spirit of self discovery, you should certainly forget friends, family and work for a while and slug this out on your own.  You will come out stronger and happier.



Things to do on the trip.

  1. Look Around. See the Nine Yard Sarees and the Maharashtrian Topis.
  2. Converse in faltering Marathi. Attempt Telugu. A few of them can speak the language.
  3. Take Pictures. Lots of them.
  4. Ask Directions. Shamelessly. Repeatedly. Continuously.
  5. Try Local Food. Misal and Sugarcane Juice. (Everywhere. Literally Everywhere)
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“Do you have Anything to Declare?” – One of my Best Gold Catches.

      

A hot May night.             

“Whats the time?, I asked desultorily, to no one in particular as I watched the airhostesses from Indigo greet me and walk ahead.

“Its just crossed two o clock sir”, an officer answered.

Chalo. Emirates would land. Lets go onto the Bays. There is no use sitting here looking at passengers walk through the green channel

It was one of my random night visits to the airport. Everynight, there is a trio of flights which lands at the Bombay airport just after half past two in the night. I have christened them as the “Golden Triangle”. Jet Airways Dubai 9W-543, Emirates from Dubai EK 500 and Qatar Airways from Doha QR-556. I would always concentrate on these flights to make my seizures.

Emirates was the first to land today and that would be my target. Determined to hunt down gold from it, I walked towards the bay 77. That was where EK would land. From bay 77, you needed to cross three toilets before you landed in the Customs area. The officer accompanying me was asked to guard the second toilet while the third toilet was closed temporarily. I walked towards the toilet closest to the aerobridge and recced the place.

We were on the look out for a new modus operandi. A smuggler would handover the gold to an employee in one of these toilets and walk out through green channel. Even though he would frisked religiously by us, nothing would ever be recovered. The employee would later walk out, taking advantage of the fact that staff, who keep walking around the place are rarely checked.

I ensconced myself on the carpet opposite the toilet on the Bay 67. This was the first toilet a passenger would encounter after disembarking from EK. With the faded jeans and casual shirt and the iPod plugged into my ears, I would have looked just like any other passenger for the untrained eye.

Passengers had already begun to walk by. Emirates had landed. EK500, the flight which would later be christened as Dhanalakshmi.  The business class folk, mostly foreigners and captains of industry were being ferried in the shuttle carts so that their gentle knees wouldn’t be molested by the harsh carpeting. Then you could see the rest of the passengers slowly walk out. Gujarati families yelling out instructions, Africans walking around confused,  Marathi guys coming home from the US via hot transfers, and South Indian couples searching for toilets and places to stretch their legs after the four hour flight.  And then you had the usual suspects. The gentlemen with conspicuous clothing who walked with a single waist pouch tied extra carefully across their body. These were the folk who walked out confident of their surroundings, not waiting to look at signboards or seek directions. Bingo.! Smugglers!

I was only pretending to be looking at my smartphone but was observing over everyone walking into this specific toilet. My eyes, after months of profiling passengers knew the exact amount of time they ought to rest on a particular passenger before darting away in search of a more likely prey. They would keep bouncing off passengers, eagerly looking out for telltale signs of conspiracy or intent constantly hunting out symptoms of uncommon activity or hesitance in the footfall of an individual. In an area like the airport, surveillance is the key.

After about fifteen minutes of watching passengers walk in and out of the gents toilet, I decided to make a break for it and walked into it.  Over the din of rolling zippers, splashing faucets and running flushes I realized that none of the gentlemen inside appeared to rank high in my suspect list. I was crestfallen. Looked like I would walk out empty handed today.

Just then a young man walked out of one of the cubicles. Dressed in an immaculate white shirt and black trousers, the violet identification tag that hung from his neck told me that he belonged to a particular airline service provider.

I paid no heed to him as he walked passed me, avoiding my gaze out of the toilet.  The toilet was empty now.  I stood there contemplating my place in the universe.

Then something struck me.

This chap has stepped out of the cubicle and walked directly out of the toilet. He hadn’t stopped to wash his hands. “What a dirty litte fellow! Doesn’t even wash his hands after using the loo.” I uttered a low Eww and in mid thought I considered the possibility of him not doing anything in the toilet that needed washing of hands.

“Hey. You.! White shirt! Come here”, I ran out of the toilet and called him back in again.

“Where are you posted?”

“Departures sir”

Then what are you doing here?”

“Emirates ka arrival thaa. So they called me here. Shortage of staff tonight”. I could glean a strong Malayali accent in his tone.

“Do you know me?”

“Yes sir. You are Karlapu sir. Customs”

“You know my rank?”

“Yes sir. Assistant Commissioner”

I called him aside to a corner to search him. As I proceeded to perfunctorily rattle section 105 provisions to him, I stopped in my steps. Declaration.

A voluntary oral declaration is mandatory. Any individual must be given a chance to declare the items in his possession.  This chap was not a passenger. Nonetheless, I offered him a chance to make a voluntary declaration.

“Are you carrying anything that you should not be carrying?”

“No sir. Absolutely nothing. And sir. You have seen me so many times in the arrival hall. Don’t you remember?”

“You are not Sushmita Sen  that I would remember.” My eyes still kept darting around, expecting someone to step out of the cubicles with a big block of gold and make my day.

This chap was rambling on. I needed to shut him up

“Yes. Yes. Ok. Ok. I am going to search you now. Section 105 of the Customs Act gives a gazetted officer the power to search an individual”

I was always meticulous in procedure, informing the rights to the other side before I searched him.

As I stepped closer towards him, against a flint of hesitance stopped me.  “Wait Kiran, what if there is gold on him?”

I hollered in the narrow hallway of the gents toilet. “ Oi. Housekeeping!”

“Ho saab”, came a young chap running towards me.

“ Ajun ekala housekeeping staff la aatmadhe bolvaa. Laukar”

“Ho. Sahib”

The Panchas. Every seizure under the Customs Act had to be performed under a panchnama, or the account of two individual independent witnesses of the events. This is the standard document.

This gentleman was thoroughly in shock. Tied down in bureaucratic procedures, I hadn’t noticed the growing pallor in his cheeks until that moment.

The two housekeeping staff appeared in a minute. They were the witnesses now.

“Whats in this pocket?”, I shot at him pointing towards his right trouser pocket. “Phone sir” and he retrieved it for me. I grabbed it and considered it for a while in my palm. No weight. I returned it to him.

“Whats in the other pocket?”, I now pointed to the left trouser pocket. An obvious bulge there as well.

“Nothing sir. Just another phone. Just like the one you have checked now.” His voice had a palpable quiver in it.

“Yaar. Dikhaado. Time waste math karo. Baahar Abu Dhabi aagaya hoga”. I was referring to EY-206 which follows Emirates into Mumbai by 20 minutes.

He took out a velvet phone pouch, visibly guarding a phone and nimbly  handed it over to me. That instant as he extended his hand to give the phone to me, his hands trembling with the terror of a thousand icy winters, I understood. My case was made.

As I grabbed the pouch, my hand dropped under its weight. This goddamn pouch didn’t contain a phone. It contained a One Kilogram Gold bar. I knew my precious when I touched it.

Toilet bandh karaa” , I snapped to the housekeeping staff

IMG-20141228-WA0062 IMG-20141228-WA0063

I immediately stepped upto him and ran my hands over his posterior to check the back pockets. Two more pouches. Two more kilogrammes of gold. As I gave him a pat down and another pouch of gold came tumbling out of a secret trouser pocket.

Waah mere laadla. Walking out of the airport with 4 kgs gold”

His face was now ashen. I could see tears well up and he dropped to his knees and start grabbing my feet

“Sir. Galti hogaya”

“Chee. Get up.!” I yanked him back onto his feet, caught him by his collar and dragged him out of the washroom.

Vishal!! Aaj ka case hogaya. Four kilos!!!” I yelled across the hallways of the boarding bays to one of my officers walking towards me.

This young man, made one last attempt to convince me and wiggle out of the situation.

“Saab. Listen sir. Keep one biscuit. Let me go”

My lips curled in anger as I looked at him. He just realized that he had made his situation a lot worse.

Chal G***u. Tera case banaate hain. Offering me a bribe???”

The officer had come running towards me by then and I hugged him in joy. This was the best case in a month and catching an airport employee was always a high in its own.

Gold worth one crore. Caught just in a minute.

……………………

This is among the best of my cases until now. This is only 4 kilos among the 1000 kilos we have caught but it gave me immense pleasure. It was a case that was based on sheer luck and presence of mind.

Within a month, we had two more such seizures in the same toilet and on the aerobridge.  Both through my hands. And soon I was christened the “ King of the Aerobridges”.

Will post more such stories soon. Gold rains at CSI Airport.

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Kubler-Ross-KiranKumar Model of Smuggling Psychology

 

 

The Kubler Ross Model was developed to explain the various stages of dealing with grief.

Through my experiences in the Airport, I have modified it and now I present the

“Kubler-Ross-KiranKumar Model of smuggling”

This shows the various plethora of emotions a smuggler goes through from the time of interception till the actual recovery of gold/contraband.

The stages in making a smuggling seizure are usually 1. Interception 2.Conversation. 3. Antecedent Verification 4. Physical Examination 5. Extraction. 6. Elation and Celebration

The various stages of the Kubler-Ross-KiranKumar Model are as follows.

 

 

  1. Denial

 

“I have nothing at all. I own nothing at all” (Middle Path of Buddhism)

“Check karlo” ( Nonchalance)

“Mushkil nahi. Aapki marzi. But youll need to repack it. (Cheekiness)

“Me and gold? Mera autaak hain kya?” (Oh!Cruel World)

“I don’t even have money to go to Mangalore now. Forget gold” ( Damsel in Distress)

“Why will I smuggle sir?” (The epitome of God)

“Do whatever you want to. See whatever you want to see” ( Hemingway Hero)

“You stopped me last time also. You found nothing. Remember?” (Déjà vu)

DO I LOOK LIKE A SMUGGLER TO YOU???? “(Constructive Opinion Seeking)

 

My favorite ( A case of rectal concealment)

*turns around and bends over* “Push a finger inside if you want. Kuch bhi nahi hain mere maalik”
 

  1. Anger

 

“ How dare you ask my passport?” (Robert Vadra)

“Don’t you know who I am?”   ( Retrogade Amnesia)

“Why are you stopping me? I need to go”   ( Bowel Movement Urgency)

“I am hardworking citizen and you are insulting me on returning to India” (Prodigal Son)

“I want to talk to whoever is incharge of this airport RIGHT NOW” (Senex Iratus)

“Why should I pay duty on my personal gold?” ( Free Lunch Syndome)

I have travelled so many times. Never been checked” ( Law of Diminishing Returns)

“You think everyone is a smuggler!!!” (Racial Stereotyping)

 

  1. Bargaining

 

“Saab. Please. Don’t open the package in front of everyone.” (Fear of Open Spaces)

“There is one more fellow with me. Catch him and leave me” (Crown Witness)

*falls on the floor and catches your feet* (Bridegroom at the wedding)

*falls on the floor and catches everyone’s feet* (Bride at the wedding)

“Saab. I have five biscuits. You keep two of them.” (Usually followed by the sound of palm meeting cheek)

“Please sir. Don’t put my name in paper” (Irreparable Damage to Reputation)

“Only this and nothing more at all. Swear by my kids.” (Fundamental Attribution Error)

“If you let me go, I will give you names of ten more smugglers” (Crowdsouring)

“ I have never done this earlier. This is my first time. Please” (Gentleman Thief)

 

  1. Depression

 

“I have no reason to live now. I will jump out of a window” ( Survivors Guilt)

“I have lost everything.” (Cyclone Victim)

“They told me no one checks in Mumbai. I have been cheated” (Misled by False friends)

“I have two daughters to marry. How will I ever do it?” (Responsible head of family)

“So many people smuggling and only I was caught” ( Game Theory)

“ Why check sir? Ill tell you. I have 5 biscuits” (Embracing the Inevitable)

*Wails in the middle of the arrival hall and starts slapping himself* (Self Flagellation)

 

  1. Acceptance

 

Acceptance is always in the same dialogue, with a crestfallen face looking glumly as the sepoy warms the wax mould to seal the package with Mumbai Customs seal.

 

“Where do I sign? When will I get my Gold back?”

 

 

Welcome to Mumbai International Airport. My Airport. More funny/interesting stories would follow.

Image

 

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Languages of the Karlapu Household.

The Languages of the Karlapu Household

Every family speaks in its own way.  Some shout. Some fight. Some speak with their eyes. Some speak with their hands. Some of them cook and express love. Some love and therefore cook. People use words to express love, affection, endearment and share sweet memories. My family has been endowed by a rich tradition of languages and we use it quite vociferously. Not to Communicate though.

In my house, language is an instrument of exclusion. Of ostracization and of discrimination. It is used in a most reprehensible manner to make a person feel unwanted, neglected and distanced.

We are a horrible bunch of people who (led by my Super Mom) engage in planned persecution of linguistic minorities in the household. Here linguistic minorities wouldn’t be the people speaking a particular language but would be the people who cannot speak it.

Here is a tabulation of the languages spoken in the Karlapu household and the malafide intent behind their usages.

Language Chosen

Persons who can understand

Persons who cannot understand

Net Winner

Aim

Telugu

Everyone

No one

All of us

General Communication

English

Entire Family and  Friends

Maid

Family

Bitch about the maid

Hindi

Mom,Dad, Sister, Grandpa and  Me

Friends

Household

Bitch about the friends

Malayalam

Mom, Dad, and Sister

Grandpa and Me

Mom

Bitch about  Grandpa’s drinking, try to get me married

Oriya

Mom, Dad, Sister and Grandpa

Me

Everyone except me

Try to get me married, bitch about me

Kannada

Mom and Sister

Dad, Grandpa and Me

Mom and Sis

Talk about Shopping and Jewellery

Bengali

Mom, Dad and Grandpa

Sister and Me

Older folks

Try to get me married

Tamil

Mom and Me (I can understand)

Rest of the Family

Mom

To try to wiggle out more allowance

Punjabi

Mom and Grandma

Rest of us

Mom

Bitch about the men of the house

Any Language

Mom Mostly

Me Mostly

Mom always

 Rant and try to get me married

  There you go. The different methods of language discrimination in my house. We are weird. I know that. Tell me something I dont know :)

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When Santa Claus was stopped at Customs.

It was the night before Christmas. I was on duty at the Bombay Airport. Dubai had just landed. The passengers slowly began to walk out in the halls, like a herd of cattle that has cleared immigration. There was this guy dressed in bright red on whom my eyes were set from the moment he had entered the baggage hall. As soon as he crossed the Green Channel and walked towards the Exit gate, I stopped him.

 “Hey. Red Nighty. Come here”

 He was an elederly gentleman, all dressed in a red fur coat with a white lining and matching track pants. Rotund and slightly out of breath, he shuffled across the hall as he walked, possibly under the weight of the large duffel bag he had slung across his shoulder.

 “Ho Ho Ho. How can I help you sir?”

 “You can Ho all you want later. Tell me. Where are you coming from”

 “Er. Canada. But via Dubai. Emirates EK 502”

 The moment he says Dubai, my ears cock up and signal my officers with my eyes. They soon swoop down and surround him.

 “When was your last trip?”

 “Who are you sir?

 “Tera Baap”. I flashed my ID card. “Now speak.”

 “Exactly a year ago”

 “I gather you are coming from Dubai? Gold leke aaya kya?”

 No sir. Nothing at all. I am not a smuggler sir.” He looked back at me in indignance.

 “Yeah yeah . that’s what they all say” I kept looking at the passenger, assessing the possible places where he could have hidden gold. The big fat duffel bag slung over his shoulder seemed very suspicious. He had a generous posterior. Rectal concealment couldn’t be ruled out.

 “So No Gold?”

 Absolutely not sir.”

 “Sir”, I heard one of my other officers shout from behind the last of our counters. “You were right. This passenger’s emergency light. 4 gold bars.” The proud officer was brandishing four shiny metallic bars as he grinned joyfully.

 “Look at him”, I pointed to another young man standing in obvious disappointment behind my officer in the distance. “He also said he wasn’t a smuggler when we first intercepted him. Now look at him”

 “Sir. But look at him. Look at me. I don’t look like a smuggler at all.”

 “Arey Wah. So you are already racially stereotyping people here. I thought that was my job.”

 “Sorry sir.”

“So now tell me. You’ve crossed Green Channel. Anything to Declare?”

  “Lots of Love”, he hesitantly says hoping for some laughs out of me.

  “Love eh? Lots of it you say? Must be above your free allowance. Arey. Internet se price dekho. Whats in that duffel bag?”

 “Gifts Sir. Gifts for Christmas”

 Whats their total value?”, I perfunctorily asked as I scratched my head disinterestedly and looked around for other suspicious passengers. It was standard procedure. Passengers are allowed to voluntarily declare the value of their goods before we actually start an inventory.

“I don’t know sir.”

 “What sort of an idiot are you? Don’t know the value of the gifts that you’ve purchased”

“Sir. Would be around 2-3 Lakhs. Rough estimate sir.”

 “Show me your passport please

 “Why sir?”

 “Dikha mote. I want to see your previous trips”

 *Hands over passport with trepidation to my officer*

 “United States. Brazil. South Africa. Thailand. Egypt. Dubai. Syria” the officer rattles on.

 “See Chavan”, as I assumed the air of a savant instantly. “His entire itinerary is through countries on the white powder line. ( That’s the word we use for drug trafficking routes). “Looks like this clown has something more to hide than he is telling us.”

 “Abey. Drugs bechta hain kya?”  

 “No sir.  I would do no such thing. I never venture anywhere near such intoxicants sir. Any intoxicants. Never.”

 “Then what is this?”  I gingerly open the duty free bag on the trolley and viola! Three black label bottles cozily tucked in beneath a pullover.

 “That’s just alcohol sir. Nothing much”, he sheepishly admitted.

 “Teri nothing much ki mother sister. Do you know that your allowance is only 2 litres of alcohol?

 “Sir. Sorry sir. It slipped my mind. I was in a hurry to get out” He takes out a big red napkin and starts dabbing his perspiring forehead.

 “Arey Chavan. Write this down in the inventory. Excess alcohol. One Black Label. Start screening his bags once again. Fellow thought he could get away on my shift”

 “Yes sir. No way sir. He couldn’t have avoided your hawk eyes sir.” The officer shifts into sycophant mode.

 “Theek hain . Whats his nationality. “

 “Canadian sir.”

 “No wonder. Looks like a polar bear in a dress”

 Sir. Thank you.” He started to smile slightly.

 “That was NOT a compliment”

 

“Chal. Let’s sit.” I escorted him to the chairs behind one of the screening machines. “Now tell me man. What is the purpose of your visit to India?”

 “To distribute gifts sir”

“To whom”

 “Little kids. I sneak into their homes and give those gifts” his eyes lit up as he continued to narrate how he would climb into their houses through windows and leave them gifts in the night.

 “What? That’s disgusting. What sort of a creep are you Meeting little kids in the middle of the night when their parents are asleep. Arey Suresh. Call the Sahar Police Chowky. This fellow looks like some geriatric sex offender.”

 “No sir. No sir. My intentions are very noble.”

 “So were Hitler’s when he invaded Poland”

 “Sir. No sir. I am good man. I give gifts to little kids.”

 “Well. Gifts are not free. They cost money. When aforesaid mentioned gifts cross Customs borders, they become liable for taxation. Is the inventory finished?”

 I looked at Chavan who was obediently taking out all the gifts out of the duffel bag and preparing an inventory.

 “Sir. These are all wrapped in gift paper. To identify them, we will need to tear up the paper.”

 “Wait. Don’t do it. We’ll ask this fellow only. Please declare a value for the goods being carried out by you. “

 “Sir. Three Lakhs.”

 Ok. Let’s accept his declaration. As a Canadian citizen, you get only 8,000 rupees as free allowance. We will charge you duty on the rest. You will have to pay duty on them at 35%”

 “Duty? Why? I have never paid duty anytime earlier when I came to India.”

 “Aah. A repeat offender I see. Lets book a case. Been a while since we have arrested someone under COFEPOSA”

 He began to panic as soon as I talked about an impending arrest.

 “Err… Sir Can’t we settle it amicably? I shall give you some good wishes and blessings if you let me go”

 “What? How dare you offer me a bribe? Me! Of all the people! And good wishes and blessings? What sort of a crappy bribe is that?” he could see my face flush in bright colours as I yelled at him.

 “I apologise sir. Sir. I am sorry.”

 “You just offered a government officer a bribe. How dare you? Now you see. On one hand, Anna Hazare sits on fast after fast asking for cleaner governance and here you are perpetuating corruption!!” I pointed an accusing finger at him “It is because of people like you that India gets a bad name”

 “I am sorry sir. Extremely sorry. I didn’t mean to offend you.” He pulled out an asthmatic inhaler and started to puff from it.

                          Image

 

Just then, like a dream, Sushmita Sen walks by. It appears that she had just landed in a Air India London flight and was going home.

 She stopped as she saw me and waved in recognition. Before I could process what was going on, she strolled towards me and said “Working hard making cases I presume Mr Kumar?” That voice. That bloody beautiful voice.

 “Ye… Ye…. Yes. I think so. Work. Hard. Duty. Government of India. Sushmita. How am I doing? I mean. How are you doing?

 She gently smiled and tossed her hair back and ran her hands through it, clearly enjoying my obvious infatuation with her. That gentle chuckle made my knees go weak and I called out “Chavan. Cant you see? Sushmita Madam is here. Call for Chai.”

 “No Kiran. Its quite ok. I am tired and I want to go home. What’s this gentleman doing here? It looks like he is in some big trouble with you guys.”

 “No. Some old hack who claims he is distributing gifts to little kids on Christmas. Hasn’t declared the goods nor has he paid any duty.”

 “Aww.. What a noble gesture. I like such good Samaritans. Jaane do na isko”, she said this in a husky guttural voice and drew her finger across my cheek, and let it linger on my lower lip for the slightest moment.

 “Haaa…Whatever you say. Theek hain. Theek hain.. Arey Chavan. Uncle ko Jaane do” I waved my hand towards my officer never letting my gaze slip from her.

 “But the inventory and all sir?”

 “Do one thing. You pay the duty Chavan”, I snapped back. Chavan realized that this case was now closed.

 “Hello Uncle. Go. Sir has allowed. Say thanks to Madam also.”

 The gentleman, extremely glad, shoved all the gifts into his duffel bag and sprinted towards the exit.

 “Merry Christmas Sir”, he yelled as he ran.

 “Haan. Teri bhi Christmas. Now get lost.” I looked towards her now “ Sushmita. How about adding me on whatsapp?”,

 She laughed again, this time louder and I swung around to find myself a chair. I needed some water.

 

 *Just to clarify. This is total fiction ( except the part about me having a crush on Sushmita Sen).

                                                                                                                                                  

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Break Up on Marine Drive ( excerpts from my novel)

             A stream of memories filled her as she looked at them.

                   It was almost two years ago. It was at Marine Drive, and late in the evening. The sun was sinking slowly over the Arabian Sea, a large refulgent ball of flaming fire slowly being engulfed by the endless expanse of crimson stained water.  The whole stretch of  Marine Drive, from the Jawahar Bal Bhavan until the road ended abruptly at the Nariman Point was a favourite haunt for lovers, young and old, straight and gay. In the midst of such a multitude of couples, sat the couple in mention.

     She was inspecting one of the bangles that he had handed over to her. It was one of the four that he had held in his hand. They were heavy. They were made of iron, it seems. He explained to her. Bengali women were supposed to wear a piece of iron touching their body all the time and so this bangle was created. Iron, which was then heavily worked in gold to make a bangle. He had told her its Bengali name, but she forgot. The bangle was beautiful and she held it up against the setting sun. the ochre of the bangle blended into the crimson of the sunset and it looked as if she had captured the sun for a moment within that little circle of hers. She felt the intricate handicraft work on the bangle as she ran her fingers through it and smiled at him.

                “ These were my grandmother’s bangles. She had willed that these should pass onto my wife. I had picked them up from my mother last week when I had gone home to Kharagpur. Mother was reluctant to part with them, always worried about my gift to misplace valuables. But finally she relented. I thought you should them wear them. They belong to you now”.

   Joy spilt onto the boulevard that hugged the sea.  She embraced the gentleman. She was never the person to talk much, reticent and almost petrous in her emotion, and even now she expressed the gratitude by a tender squeeze alone. He moved close to her and planted a kiss on her neck, gently adjusting her hair backwards as he moved in to cuddle. A few couples saw this brazen expression of romance and smiled. A woman walking her dog stopped to watch, another woman dragged her kids ahead. An old man raised his fist in mock reproach. The couple in question didn’t seem to care.

          Her mind whirled ahead, sifting through her memories, struggling to find peace and struggling to separate the layers in her mind and zero in on the particular evening which she wanted to remember. It was the monsoons and Bombay’s monsoons were always ruthless. It was the same couple, but the situation was different. They were sitting in a dank and damp café facing Marine Drive. She had always felt safe in this particular café, which served only vegetarian food, a lifestyle choice influenced by its propinquity to a large Jain housing society. Although Bombay had altered her in innumerable ways, it failed to shake her strict vegetarian dietary habits.

     The gentleman was no longer gentle. He had suddenly assumed the role of a demonic nether-creature who was ripping her life apart deliberately. She had just returned the bangles to him, rather ruthlessly banged them on the countertop. She wanted to fling it at him, but she didn’t want to create a scene. She figured out that she had already drawn enough attention to herself . Her blood red eyes would certainly raise a few eyebrows. She knew the waiters well here.

“ Take them back. Give them to whichever whore you are sleeping around with right now. I don’t want them anymore. I just realised that these were not bangles. These were handcuffs. Handcuffs by which I had bound myself in some sort of a mental prison, pledging undying fidelity to you, while you sleep around”

 “Paddy…!” he interjected, visibly flustered by this violent demonstration of hate.

            “Don’t call me Paddy! You bastard! I hope you are dragged through Vaitarani and that you burn for a million years in the depths of hell.” She had lapsed into Tamil. She stood up and pushed the chair back with such noise that half of the café was now looking at her. She just didn’t care. She was tired of it all. The waiter had walked upto them. She recognised him as her regular. He tried to smile, unable to say anything. 

                She passed him a 1000 rupees note and said, “Don’t give the bill to that son on a bitch. Keep the rest as tip. I am not coming back to this place ever again”. She just walked out of the door into the evening rain. That was last year.

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