The heaven I am talking about is the region between the rivers Krishna and Godavari. Verdant fields stretch endlessly on all sides, save some long tarmac roads that cut through them. Palm trees cut the horizon in their silhouettes of loneliness or clustered company. Little villages dot the open landscapes. The sky is radiant in the sunshines that last through the day except in the early hours when mist hangs lightly.
Villagers go about their business. There is that woman washing some clothes by the canal flowing generously with water. Further down, a young man is washing his buffalo and two calves, scrubbing them all with thickly matted coir brushes. Boys are taking a dip just when the sun is at its hottest. Under a thatched shelter by the canal, an old man is taking an afternoon nap. A lady has raised up her saree and stamping purposely on a pile of cowdung. Later they will be patted to round dung patties and laid to dry on walls, tree trunks and roadsides. I look up at a haystack and notice that round gourds, almost like pumpkins, are growing on them.
‘You can have them,’ a young man points at the gourds on the haystack.
I reply something in half-English and half-Hindi. I can’t imagine myself carrying a gourd the size of a man’s head on buses and trains, through villages and cities, into hotels and lodges for many weeks before I return home.
The homes of the people here are rather simple. In general, all have thatched roofs. Those that rear livestock, have open thatched shed for the cows and the goats. There is generally a haystack nearby. There is often an outhouse which may be a toilet or may contain a bed for women to stay during their monthly periods. All these are in many cases enclosed by a fence.
I have noticed that these fences come in three styles. They are mostly of dried palm leaves full in their fronds, tied to a framework of sticks that form the fence. In another case, the palm leaves are individually looped, pleated and tied to the framework. In the third case, twigs and sticks are twisted and woven to form the fence. In some cases, such sticks are thin bamboo split in the middle and neatly interwoven. Finally, I have also noticed walls of houses made of interwoven sticks and plastered with mud. This is similar to the “wattle-and-daub” method of medieval construction that was prevalent in England.
One of the most interesting find for me as I walked through these roadside villages was the art of rangoli or kolam as it is called in Tamil. It is common to see these decorating the entrance of houses. The difference is that in the cities we see them constrained, mathematical and almost predictable. In the villages, it is much more a form of art than simply an upkeep of tradition for the sake of it. It appears that the women do it as second nature without realizing the artistic excellence of their work. Such beauty lasts for only a day before something just as beautiful appears differently the next morning.
Houses are built on little mud platform, perhaps only four inches. Even if there is no such platform, a platform is what I have seen encircling the walls on the outside. They are decorated in white with motifs consisting of curves, lines and dots. Sometimes the walls too are decorated in this manner. This is a little known local form of art, in the sense that I have not heard of it before.
I did a lot of walking today in this part of Andhra Pradesh, particularly the fields irrigated by the waters of Krishna. A few paces into fields of paddy, it felt like I was miles away from the highway. Surrounded by wavy green grass stalks, it was a great place for spotting birds – kites, herons, pigeons, egrets. Weaver birds are common and their nests can be seen hanging from many low palm trees. A mongoose scampering into the undergrowth was a chance sighting. A villager was setting up a V-shaped fish trap in one of the water channels leading into the fields. A cowherd waited for sunset under an umbrella as his buffaloes grazed busily. A woman followed her cow as she eyed me suspiciously. Non-villagers walking through fields is not a common sight.
I visited heaven by accident. I took a bus from Vijayawada bound for Avanigadda. I alighted at Kuchpudi, hoping to get a flavour of the dance form originated from this village. Kuchpudi turned out to be a village not for tourists. There is really nothing here. Just a historic association should be no reason why guidebooks should list it as a place worth visiting. There are no lodges or hotels here. Someone told me to ask at the Kalakshetra. I did. Being Sunday, the place was deserted. Students study various dance forms here. I could come here tomorrow to watch them practice.
‘Anywhere I can watch Kuchpudi dance performance tonight?’ I asked pushing my luck.
‘December 22nd. There will be a dance’, replied the boy.
It appears that the village Kuchpudi is out of touch with its past. If you go to coastal districts of Karnataka, you are bound to find lots of performances of Yakshagana. The same cannot be said of Kuchpudi. When a dance form stops being folk art and evolves into a classical form, some of its original spirit is lost.
So last night, although I enjoyed the long bus ride with the shifting scenes of heaven going past my vision, I left Kuchpudi in the dark and headed to Pamarru. This too did not have any lodges for visitors. It is a typical one-day market town where people come to trade and return to their villages for the night. So I took one more bus to Gudiwada where I found an excellent room with good service and cheap rate.
This morning I returned to Pamarru and made my way to Ghantasala, by bus and then by shared auto-rickshaw. It is amazing how many people can be squeezed into a single vehicle on three wheels. When you think that there is no room for anymore, the vehicle stops for a fat village woman with luggage. More adjustments. More contortions. More squeeze. Exhale.
Ghantasala has the ruins of a 2nd century AD Buddhist stupa. It has clear signs of restoration and with loss of the original feel of a ruin. History is masked by such resoration or worse still a reconstruction.
When I returned to Pamarru, it was right time for lunch. Immediately after lunch, I started out in the hot sun towards Gudiwada looking for scenes of heaven.