Many trains ferry people now between the two Telugu capitals (of Hyderabad and Vijayawada-Guntur-Amaravati). Yesterday (Saturday), I had to make a sudden dash to Vijaywada to pick up an important document. It was possible to take a train in the morning and come back to Hyderabad — all in one day (albeit a very long one).
At the Vijayawada railway station, I needed to pick a mode of transport to take me to my parents’ home. The choices included one that always presents me with a moral dilemma — rickshaws. Is it horrible to sit back and let somebody, many times an aged man, pedal me home? Or, if I choose the modern auto-rickshaws or city buses, am I denying a poor man some dwindling income? Today, taking a chance with the Monsoon-laden clouds, I chose the latter.
There was a hint of drizzle in the air, but this is about the best time to be in Vijayawada. The better part of the rickshaw-ride is on Samba Murthy road, which runs parallel to Ryves canal. The swirling, muddy-brown and garbage-laden Ryves canal is one of the three gravity-assisted canals of Vijayawada built in the 1850s (the other two are the more famous Eluru and Bandar canals). The Samba Murty road wears its new-oldness on its sleeve. The old Alankar property is still there — but instead of the Alankar theatre of the 80s and 90s, it is now Alankar Inn. Further down, the fabrication shops are still there. But instead of water-coolers and refrigerators, they now make ready-to-assemble aluminium kiosks. Heck, I even saw a poster advertising a Chiranjeevi re-run from the 80s, “Khaidi”. But the original poster had been re-mixed with Chiranjeevi’s anachronistic visage from his latest movie.
The busy Siddhartha college road runs next to the Moghalrajpuram hill. The hill is home to an ancient cave system with engravings from the 5th Century AD. The Archeological Survey of India protects these “monuments of national importance”. I have taken the road countless times, but never stopped to see the caves (the hill has a protective grill around it). I had been reading “Sapiens” on the train to Vijayawada. Discussing the many reasons for European imperial success, the author Yuval Noah Harari highlights the intellectual/scientific curiosity that propelled European enterprises. Many cultures, Yuval argues, were simply not interested in deciphering their past. Local people in the middle-east found dozens of cuneiform tablets for over 1500 years. Yet, no one knew what they recorded. Over 200 years, European scholars (and soldier-scholars) put in the effort to decipher the script. In India, Yuval writes:
“Mohenjo-Daro was one of the chief cities of the Indus Valley civilisation… None of India’s pre-British rulers — neither the Mauryas, nor the Guptas, nor the Delhi Sultans, nor the great Mughals — had given the ruins a second glance. But a British archeological survey took notice of the site… [a] British team then excavated it, and discovered the first great civilisation of India…”.
With those troubling lines in mind, I walked to the Moghalrajpuram hill to see if I could get a sense of the caves. Not much, unfortunately, is visible from the road. The landscaping also does a good job of obscuring the cave system. There is a steel gate with a padlock a few meters away from the caves. There was a fruit-seller next to the gate, but he had no idea when visitors are allowed, if at all. I need to see if I can get to visit those caves one day…