Friday, March 02, 2007


These days for about two hours in the evening I put on my best announcer voice, accent and all, and read aloud from The City of Djinns, by William Dalrymple (WD). Its been a day or so, but I haven't been able to get this scene out of my mind.

WD writes about literally stumbling on a taykhana, an underground cool chamber from the times of the mughals, early 17 th century. He writes about persistence and cutting through red tape to get permission to visit what used to be a residence used by the British deputy resident William Fraser. This complex is now the administrative office of the chief engineer of the Northern Railways. The official mentions in passing how horrible the seepage problem in the main block is because of the underground chamber. An attendant takes an excited WD down several steep flights of stairs, some crumbling, some broken, and after a number of turns he finds himself in a huge musty chamber, with torchlight illuminating what seemed to be remnants of frescos on the walls, tangled roots and webs and the sound of water trickling somewhere. The bricks that line this chamber are smaller and seem to belong to the mughal period. He determines later that the bungalow was built over a palace that once belonged to one of Shah Jahan's senior generals. Several tunnels that lead off this chamber have not been explored, but have been summarily sealed.

I want to go and see. I want to stumble down those stairs and explore the network of tunnels that lead off. I want to check if there is a catacomb-like network. I want to feel scared and excited, curious and strangely alive.

I am reminded too, of the tunnels, bypasses and hidden recesses deep in our minds. Something on the surface and something quite different deep, past the grey matter and and the tracing crisscrossing capillaries, and you watch yourself. One thing leads on to another, reactions, events and memories triggered by seemingly random stimuli. Unsettling, and I can't say why.


Cherie! said...

Move fast in the tunnels of the underground? They say these tunnels were escape routes to other towns in the case of a siege. You might have travelled a long, long the speed of thought too, to continue with your metaphor.

mago said...

So you discover your "cataphil" side.

austere said...

cherie- one has grown up hearing these tales of hidden tunnels from the palace in my city to a place outside the town,used in times of danger and intrigue, no doubt.

mago- yes, but that is about it, just words. wouldn't it be great fun, but?

Anonymous said...

I love tunnels! When I was in Bangalore I visited a 3,000 year old temple that was underground. You actually had to get down on your hands and knees to get down through the entrance.

I struggled with the idea of being a "tourist" of another cultures's religion. I was there just to watch, but was coaxed by an Indian couple to receive a blessing from the priest. "The gods won't mind?" I asked hesitantly. "No, no, they'll be pleased by your visit and obvious respect I'm sure of it." the lady said.

Too bad the churches in the U.S. aren't as exciting.

Take Care my dear!

E said...

Madam, Everyday ley kay jana agar jaatey toh , lal waala, bada wala ;)

Ricercar said...

i want to go and see too!
and yes i like storms. yahaan storms nehi hote hain.

AmitL said...

Wow.,..yes,that must be worth seeing,Austere...the actual tunnels,i mean.Mind tunnels and recesses and crevasses,are always existent,but,need to be 'awakened',I guess.Heh heh.

mago said...

I prefer the imagination. Remember that i saw a site with pictures from Moscow underground - definitly not the tube. Was somewhere on the "The Urban Exploration Ring".

sathya said...

Hi Aust....

An unrelated comment first

Degree mil gayee!!!!

Convocation huyi!!!!

Ab Engineer ban chuka :p


GhostOfTomJoad said...

Would be great to get in there, wouldn't it? You say it's the "administrative office of the chief engineer of the Northern Railways". Hmm, the this should be in Delhi, right? Maybe one should use good relations with old colleagues (who're now a part of the Indian railways) to try and gain access, eh? :-)

Nice connection with the recesses of our almost make it seem like this description I once read about existentialism - like the ripples that a stone chucked into a lake causes ad how one leads to another. Me, I'd much rather walk into a snake pit than venture into the "recesses" of my mind :-)

About my round of editing done. We're waiting for the channel to give us the formal approval before we get on to the next stage.

Prajakta said...

Austy, superb comparison.

Christina said...

Followed you here from 4th Avenue... your writing blows me away. I'm ready to grab your hand and race to explore this underground labyrinth with you!

For some reason, searching the tunnels seems safer to me than delving into the recesses of the mind. "Unsettling" says it all.

driftwood said...

"I want to feel scared and excited, curious and strangely alive."

Exactly what I felt like the first time I went into a tunnel, makeshift one, though it was. I just went a little inside and became so claustrophobic that I got out. Till date I refuse to enter closed, dark spaces.

Maybe why I can't get the words right about what lies in the dark recesses of my mind :-).

Paavani said...

holi ki rangeen bauchar.
Bachna chaho to bacho Warna rang main rango. :)

austere said...

proxima- you were lucky, and blessed. Some of those churches are beautiful, I remember some from a yellowing volume of Books of knowledge, and one in the evening sunlight, all sleep deprived and running on low, in wash, a lace-like feel to the view. In Puri last week the priests began a purification ceremony after an American tourist walked in for darshan, the police dont quite know what to do, no rule against praying!

e- sure, will take spares too.

ricer-aww. next trip?
amit l-you're the expert. I only observe, distanced.

mago- I remember reading a story in nyt a long time back. yes, imagining is quicker but bounded, right?

sathya- CONGRATZZZZZZZ. What? I already said that?

Mr Ghost- itna connections! wah wah. PMO too, psst? Just kidding. You go there then you write about it, deal? ENVY.
Wouldnt know existwhatsitcalled, someone tried to explain but gave up halfway in exasperation.
Snakepit; why?
Re the proj- when will it be aired? It will be shown in India too, right?

prajakta- thanks. how are you?

christina- THANK YOU FOR COMING OVER. glad you like it here. maybe it would be great to explore. Maybe it seems great to explore in the pages of a book. Entirely unsettling, I gave up after a while.

driftwood- :) WHY are you scared? Can't you whistle or sing the feeling away? Ah maybe so, you think so? Why?

paavani- ji. aap ko bhi shubhkamnayen aur designer rang.

sanguine said...

they can be claustrophobic, scary ... they give you goose bumps ...been to so many in lucknow ...old parts of lucknow has so many ....
when i was young i used to close my eyes and i cud listen to the ghosts, the soldiers and their horses, the ladies , even umraojaan really i cud , as an adult i have lost the skill...

austere said...

sanguine- now that's a good girl. goosebumps? why? like a previous birth thing? I believe that part about hearing them sing and wail. Somehow.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your visit! Am i allowed to link your blog?

austere said...

Oh absolutely! thanks for the link.

SimplyTim said...

Austere: Reading "of the tunnels, bypasses and hidden recesses deep in our minds" was in the back of my mind when I wrote an entry yesterday, March 13, entitled: "This writing business can be a bit risky."

Also, thanks for visiting my site and leaving a comment.