At about noon I arrive at the bus station at Vapi. Vapi is an industrial city. Obnoxious smells and general litter fill the senses as I enter Vapi. The coastline is quite likely to be heavily polluted. It is not a place to stay for the night.
I am in two minds. Should I have lunch here or should I wait till I get to my destination? It is also not clear what is that destination. I wait for a bus to Daman. The bus to Silvassa arrives first. I board it. The road is bad. I enter the Union Territory of Dadra and Nagar Haveli by a prominent gates that welcomes visitors. The road improves and I arrive at its capital soon enough.
I check into a Jain dharamshala next to the bus station. The place is empty. The manager is glad to let me a room for a single night. I postpone lunch and head to the tribal museum across the traffic lights.
‘Remove your shoes,’ barks the woman with a register at the entrance. I do as I am told but I wonder if it makes a lot of difference.
‘Write down your details,’ she says and pushes before me the register. I enter my name and address. It is just a record of visitors to the museum and proof enough to keep it open.
The museum is small and the exhibits are mediocre. Dioramas enclosed behind glass panes depict some of the tribes of the region. It is said that most of the U.T. is tribal. Among the tribes are the well-known Varlis, also found in parts of Gujarat and Maharashtra. Their paintings are world famous. The Varlis claim the forested hills of Dadra and Nagar Haveli as their original home.
I read to my great interest about the different tribal dances of the region – tur-thali, bohada, gheria, tarpa and dhol. There is a dance for every tribe. There is a dance for every occasion – harvest celebration, marriage festivity or religious ceremony. The bohada is an interesting dance for its elaborate painted wooden masks, many of which are displayed in the museum.
I have lunch and wander around the city for a few minutes. I search for tourist agencies hoping to visit a tribal village. I don’t see a single one. Anything is better planned at Vapi. Dadra and Nagar Haveli is still new to tourism. The tribals of this U.T. live in the hills. Tourism can combine trekking in these hills with visits to tribal villages. It has to be sensitive and controlled without affecting the life of the tribes. Perhaps it is better not to develop tourism here. Tourist agencies are avaricious and will do anything for money.
I did not expect much from Silvassa. I am here only because it is part of a larger agenda. I have to visit every state and Union Territory as part of my all India tour. It is better done today than later. It is hard to say how many more states we will have in a few years time. Already the call for Telengana is growing stronger. The guy in Datia calls himself a Bundeli. He doesn’t identify himself with Madhya Pradesh. The auto-driver at Mandvi thinks he is more Kutchi than Gujarati. How many more such shades of identity am I to meet as I travel into Northern and North-Eastern India?
With nothing else to do, I return to my room and spend most of the afternoon completing a drawing of Kalki avatar I had seen at the stepwell at Patan. The petrol kiosk next door is continously playing Hindi songs from the 50s and 60s. The same dull songs repeat after a while. Here theatres are showing movies from the 90s. People are still in another age.
I wash my clothes and go out for dinner after sunset. I find a small place in a lane close by.
‘Roti and sabji?’ I ask.
‘No. Only daal bhati,’ says the boy without leaving me any choice.
I would not have understood this had my uncle in Bhopal not told me about daal bhatis, a traditional Rajasthani dish. He had related to me how many years ago on a visit to Rajasthan he had wished to sample some authentic daal bhati; and how he was taken to a Rajasthani village and was served bhatis cooked under a covering of burning cowdung cakes.
I settle myself down to sample some daal bhatis for the first time. Small balls of wheat are served along with daal, which is in this case a little too diluted. Some chutney is also served, what is actually spicy potato bhaji. I break off a bhati with my fingers. Steam escapes from the soft insides. I dip them into the daal or chutney and relish the meal. Others in the restaurant are eating it differently. They break off all the bhatis on their plates and knead them till they become little crumbs. The daal is then poured and mixed to make a messy broth. I prefer my method and continue to eat my way.
‘I started selling daal bhatis eight years ago,’ says the cook at the stove outside. He has a stove fed by a gas cylinder. Two grills cook the bhatis. He places about 20 bhatis on each grill and closes a steel lid over it to create oven-like heat.
‘How long does it take to cook a batch?’ I ask.
‘About 30 minutes.’
‘That long!’ I say a little surprised.
‘Well, it has to be cooked on slow heat. Otherwise, the insides will remain uncooked while the skin gets burnt,’ he argues. Indeed, while eating my bhatis I had noted that the crust was hard while the insides were soft and well-cooked.
‘Do you get enough customers for just daal bhatis?’ I ask.
‘I sell them only on Sunday evenings. On other days I sell a standard thali of roti and rice,’ he replies.
I take my leave thinking about my future trip to Rajasthan. I have already been initiated into it and I am looking forward to the real deal. I return to my room and that blasted movie music from yesteryears.