Friday, October 23, 2015

Short Story: Return of the Protector

It is historical town of Hampi, situated in South India. It was home to a forgotten kingdom. Historians called it India’s Rome. But unlike Rome, residents of this town had deserted this place soon after their king was killed in the decisive war. It has remained uninhabited for centuries since then. It has only visitors. People come to offer prayers in the temple to Lord Virupaksha. Not all of the temples see prayers being offered in them. Many of the temples were destroyed soon after the war and some were damaged by treasure hunters in the period aftermath. River Tungabhadara does not overflow during season, like she did in the times when Hampi’s fame was at zenith as a dam built nearby collects the water and lets a small stream flow through the river path. Tourists arrive in big numbers to this place attracted by its glory, beautiful monuments and architecture. But at the night all visitors return to their respective hotels and houses in the nearby town named Hospet, which means “A New Town” in the local language, leaving Hampi to its darkness and a ridiculous quietness.

In this town which found a permanent place in Indian history, one man earned his living working as a Guide. He is a guide with a precise knowledge of history and deep insights into the lives of those who lived an ordinary life and those ruled as kings during the times of Vijayanagara kingdom. His tall and healthy physique gave him a commanding presence. He would have been a soldier if not a guide, such was his stamina and he never appeared tired in the day long walks. Tourists could not keep up with him while climbing the small hills and big boulders to get a better view of the place. He was able to read people with ease and had the ability to take people along with him, more like a leader than a guide. His dramatic gestures, vivid expressions on face coupled with pitched but loud tone would make it easier for even the least creative human being to imagine the sequence enacted by him. The details he provided seemed to be more realistic for those tourists who had done their reading before visiting the place. His poetic exclamations would make the places of Hampi more interesting and human. The travelers who came from different corners of the world were in a treat if they got hooked up with this Guide and they would return with a sense of satisfaction of knowing the place better and a day being well spent.

All travelers won’t be done in a day and some stay back as they think visit for a day won’t be enough for a place like this. On the second and the successive days of their stay, who else can guide them well than the one they had on their first day? They naturally turned to him. And they would ask now, what is his name, by the way? On the first day, it never mattered. A guide is a guide, what name he has should not matter much as long as he had done his job well. But on the second day, it makes sense to know the name of the person who is guiding them. But this Guide would tell some name and he would not respond to it when the tourists called him by that name. The next day, he would say a different name for himself. When the tourists ask how come it is different every day, he would say in return

What is wrong with that? We have different names for different seasons, why should I stick to one name forever?

It made no sense to the tourists but they would smile and rather focus on their purpose of visit. When someone else raised the same question again, the Guide would argue

People change things. They get new clothes for themselves. Few change their life partners with ease. I changing name is not a serious matter”.

Though not pleased with this answer, tourists would stop arguing with him. They understood it is none of their business and they would simply call him ‘Guide’ and get on with their business.

This Guide was always to be found at the foothills of Hemakuta if he is found nowhere else. So tourists had no issues in locating him. From there the Guide would take them for exploration of the town. On the walking trails, the Guide would narrate how the caves in the surrounding mountains served as temporary residences for those visiting capital of Vijayanagara kingdom during 13th century and how the kings learnt the hard way that, it was strong horses which gave an upper hand to their enemies during wars and the resolutions Vijayanagara Kings took to strengthen their cavalry but yet how their failure to breed horses was causing them troubles. Such details were making the walks of tourists less tiresome. Few tourists wondered how he has more details than the book of Robert Sewell. Some thought this Guide belonged more to past than the present. Others thought he just makes up the stories to make the tour interesting.

He would take the tourists to numerous temples and demonstrate how they did not just serve religious purposes but doubled up as the stage to showcase the talents in music and dance by the evening. They were the places to bring cultural transformation in the society which had suffered from multiple attacks and suppressed from its natural expression. He would emphasize on the efforts of Vijayanagara kings to popularize the festival of Vijayadashami also known as Dasara, a festival for celebration of the win of good over evil. On the way to their next spot, he would show tall watch towers and explain to tourists how the multi layered defense system of the town worked. He would detail out the preparations the kings made before the wars and how a war fought wrongly would reduce the army size to a miniscule which would push out the next war by at least a decade as they had to wait for the natural population to catch up and provide soldiers for their army. He would also take them to water feeding canals running from the river which aided agriculture and also filled up multiple Pushkarani in the town to provide drinking water, then to neatly laid out streets and rows of houses of those serving the royal family explaining how the subject of “Town Planning” was put to good use.

By the evening tourists along with the Guide would return to Lord Virupaksha temple or sit on the banks of Tungabhadra River. Tourists would sit in the form of a circle around the Guide and he would tell them few more stories. On one such evening, they began to discuss the historical events behind the birth of this town. Kampilaraya, a king ruling over the small state with capital at Anegundi had lost the war to northern invaders. Sangama, who was father to Hakka and Bukka was at the service of Anegundi rulers as a treasurer and as a head of an army branch. When they lost the war, the entire Anegundi kingdom was put to destruction along with their king. Sangama too had died in the war. Hakka and Bukka were held as prisoners in that war but they managed to escape after a couple of years. Once they returned, they found a mentor in sage Vidyaranya. And their dream to establish a new kingdom took shape.

The Guide opined that, the rain of gold coins was an exaggeration but it is Hakka and Bukka with the help of sage Vidyaranya being able to locate the hidden treasury of Anegondi kingdom helped them to build this city of Vijayanagara, the city of victory and establish a new rule. Hakka and Bukka were brave and ambitious. The political situation was in their favor. They had the right mentor too. Their efforts did not go waste and their success was phenomenal. The small state born on the banks of Tungabhadra River expanded its horizons to the basins of River Krishna towards north and River Kaveri in the south. It erected a strong defensive wall against the northern invaders, revived the unique culture and traditions of southern India. Art and literature gained the prominence in a land free of fear. Society flourished. Fame got spread.

A tourist asked “How Hakka and Bukka did look like?

The Guide replied “Hakka was tall, lean but strong and Bukka was short and fat

The Guide provided some more details on them. Hakka was focused on raising army and expanding the empire and Bukka being a fine administrator, took care of domestic matters and the shouldered the responsibility of building the town of Hampi. Both brothers had unquestionable commitment towards their people and the town they had built. It was their life energy. Even after their death, people did not forget their love for Hampi which led to birth of a legend. Locals believed that ghosts of these two brothers visited the town whenever it was in danger. Their appearance served as a warning to the people to become cautious. One of the tourists mentioned he had read about this in a novel and he felt it was a good fiction. Nodding his approval the Guide continued:

Though their appearance was taken seriously initially, it lost importance in the continued glory, unquestioned supremacy of the later kings of Vijayanagara and their arrogance proved too costly for them in the fifteenth century war”

The war fought at Talikota was against the union of five kingdoms but yet the soldiers in the army of Viajaynagara had outnumbered their counterparts and were expecting a victory like they their numerous wins in the past. But the destiny had a different plan. They lost the war and their king was killed. A two century long glory had come to a sudden end. Magnificent city of Hampi was reduced to ruins in a matter of days.

It would have been a bad time for the ghosts of Hakka-Bukka” said one of the tourists. 

A terrible one” said the Guide with noticeable pain on his face.

Why they did not try to revive the place?” asked a tourist.

The Guide replied “Brief attempts were made but they did not see success as the destructions were devastating. Residents did not have the heart to return to the city they loved and held in pride

He continued “The survivors of the royal family moved to Penugonda and continued to rule from there. But the shine was lost forever”.

He went on to add “Though past residents of Hampi found a new home somewhere else, they did not desert Hampi completely. Even after the extensive destruction, some charm was left in the remains. Fascination for their once beautiful town brought the people back occasionally and the prayers in the temples continued uninterrupted. Many monuments stood test of time and they are mute witness to the rise and fall of Hampi. But they too need some care and protection. If we cannot build things any better, we should protect what is left behind for us

He pointed his finger towards the tower of Virupaksha temple which was coming off in the corners losing its originality and said:

Hakka-Bukka would not have tolerated it”.

It was not just that tower but many of the structures in Hampi were in sorry state and badly needed a revival.

One of the tourists joked “What would ghosts of Hakka-Bukka do now? Will they cry on the boulders of Hampi at night?

The Guide did not respond but looked at the infinite sky in silence. He appeared to be lost in thoughts. Tourists too fell into silence. Some time passed. It was getting dark and the mild touch of cold breeze reminded them it is time to leave. Tourists called it a day to and bid a ‘Good Night’ to each other in the darkness.

It was rainy season ahead. Travelers left Hampi. Some of them wrote to the local Govt. and to UNESCO seeking their attention to the issues at Hampi. Few in authority had met the concerned personnel demanding them to take necessary actions. Some change was about to happen. Local Govt. had decided to revive Hampi and make it a top tourist attraction. They pooled the funds more than they would spend regularly and began their work. Most of Hampi had remained closed for tourists during that work. But the wait was fruitful. Many of the structures got face lift including the tower of temple. It appeared like the whole town of Hampi had got a fresh lease of life.

Then came the summer and the tourists returned as before. But the Guide was nowhere to find. What was his name, he had several of them. At the usual place he was available to tourists; there stood a brand new information center to help them.