First things first. Lunch. The bus from Rajim drops me at a chowk. I do not bother to find out the name of the chowk. I head out in search of food. I have an excellent thali meal for Rs. 60.
Next is to find accommodation. I walk out to a street that is a hive of activity. It has the feel of Bangalore’s Commercial Street, only wider and longer. There is no chance of finding a room within my budget here. It certainly looks upstreet and congested here.
‘Go to Ganesh Ram Nagar. You will get rooms for even Rs. 150,’ advises a passer-by.
So I ask for directions, find the place and check into a room for Rs. 180. Then I head out in search of a museum.
‘Do you know where is the museum?’ I ask the guy at the hotel reception.
Clearly he doesn’t know much English. ‘Sangralaya?’ I translate.
‘Where old and important things exhibited for people to see?’
I get no response from him. He has never left the hotel in all his five months in town. I leave the hotel and accost an elderly man on the main road.
‘Can you tell me the way to the sangralaya?’ I ask.
‘Sangralaya? What is sangralaya?’
‘Oh, museum! I don’t know much Hindi you see,’ he tells me to my surprise. He is Muslim and perhaps the Urdu or Arabic word for museum is something else altogether.
He gives me directions to Ghasidas Museum via Gadi Chowk (Clock Circle). Gadi Chowk, as it turns out is an important landmark of Raipur. For the rest of my stay in the city, I frequently passed by it.
The museum has some wonderful exhibits. Many 10-11th century Jain sculptures from Karitalai are exhibited here. In a 10th century piece of Tripurantak, the god carries his bow and arrows, sword and shield, other weapons while stamping with one foot on a bullock cart. It is a sculpture with great energy. In a 12th century piece from Ratanpur, titled raja-Purusa, a bearded king, almost saintly in appearance, prays with folded palms. He sits under a parasol and on a lion pedestal. His jewellery is beautifully worked. His prayer is meditative, symbolic perhaps that prayer from within is more important, that prayer should be genuine and heartfelt. Another superb piece of Uma Maheshwari from 11th century Bhoramdeo.
Three other things particular to Chhattisgarh are:
- Kaasht kala – stone obelisks carved with stone imagery and painted in colours. I saw some of these from the bus on my way back to Jagdalpur from Barsoor. They are perhaps an offering to a god or in memory of the dead.
- Dokra – metal sculptures with exquisite detailings. Raigarh to the east is a famous place for this type of art.
- Rajwar kala – from Sarguja area, it is decorative art form on houses inside and out.
Next to the museum is a gallery which today contained a travelling exhibition by the Indian Institute of Interior Designers. The designs displayed were stunning. I didn’t know that such wonderful modern architecture exists in India.
In the evening, I came back to the museum, this time to spend an hour at the auditorium. It was to listen to Urdu poetry reading of Habib Tanveer. I understood some of them but many Urdu words went completely over my head. The result was that I could not appreciate or understand the true depth of the poet’s feelings. This was followed by folk music of songs composed by Habib Tanveer for dramas. Habib Tanveer is more known for his plays than for his poetry. This session attended by some 30 fans was an attempt to popularize his poetry.