Although I didn’t see anything ancient in Ujjain, it was the modern day scenes that interested me both yesterday and today on my walks around the city. I suppose every ancient city has this capacity to surprise by showing something you never expect. Perhaps it’s just the privilege of the tourist to be surprised by such social scenes of everyday life he would not find in his own city of a more modern presence.
Scene 1 – Of Cows and Bulls
They are everywhere, sitting or standing in the middle of thick traffic. No one seems to be annoyed by them except me. As in the rest of India, they will be foraging at open garbage heaps. The bulls in particular are huge, possibly weighing half a tonne. They will sit with their eyes shut at the turning of a busy road. Talk about blind curves and blind spots! Their fatty will lumps hang languidly from their backs. Their horns will point at you dangerously. When they walk, it is a dull swagger. Their steps are short and slow. They struggle with each step as it in agony. One feels sorry for them.
Scene 2 – A Wok of Boiling Milk
This wok is about three meters in diameter set up right at the entrance of a restaurant. A man with a huge perforated ladle will stir with all his vigour the frothing milk of this wok. Customers are plenty. A large glass tumbler is washed and the hot milk is poured almost all the way to its brim. Then a scoop of the frothing cream is dished out to fill the tumbler before it is served. I hope the milk is not from the stray cws of Ujjain but I don’t think anyone else cares.
Scene 3 – Paper Kites
My hunt for an Internet Cafe last evening took me to a street with close to a dozen shops specialized in making kites. Rows of kites hang dovetailed at the shopfronts in their many colours. Some are plain. Others have exotic designs and even poster copies of the latest Bollywood movies. Inside, the shelves are stacked up to the ceiling with wooden rollers wound with coloured threads. Workmen will be busy tranferring these threads from huge rollers to small handheld rollers that can be used while flying a kite. Shop owners will be busy counting and collecting; others arranging and despatching. Little boys will look expectedly while their parents bargain on the price.
Scene 4 – The Potter’s Wheel
Pottery is an ancient occupation. Even today earthern pots are important household items all over India. On my walk from the observatory to the Mahakaleshwar Temple, I passed a handful of houses where the main occupation was pottery. The wheel is not mechanized by electricity. The potter will spin the wheel with the help of a wooden stick. When enough speed has been gained, the process of creating a pot begins. In the courtyard, women will be mixing and shuffling mud, clay or sand. Half baked pots will be beaten or moulded further by hand towards its final form.
Scene 5 – The Grass Seller
Near the Mahakaleshwar temple, a woman is selling grass. These are large stalks with lushy green leaves. Perhaps they are from corn fields. The grass is arranged in bundles on a wooden cart on wheels. Why would anyone buy grass? The answer is an elephant standing behind the woman and her cart. People buy grass, offer it to the elephant and are blessed in return. The obedient elephant will wait patiently despite being within a trunk’s reach of a luscious feast.