24 Jun 2011

The Profanity Of Common Salt

It is an August morning in Delhi in 2006, with over cast sky and pitter-patter Monsoon shower. After the incessant debilitating summer, I find the cooler climes refreshing and most welcome. The rain falling on the scorched earth is producing an aroma more heady and exciting than “Tommy Girl”, the perfume that my wife wears, sometimes. It is eight o’clock in the morning, the air resonant with the cacophony of my household, and that of my neighbourhood. They are at it in full throttle ahead of a busy working day. Despite the light drizzle, I pull out the old plastic chair and migrate to the garden to absentmindedly eavesdrop on three Magpies on the ‘Neem’ tree in front of my house, an excited discussion of the page 3 events concerning their lives. I try hard to remember the words of a favourite song from my youth, “Rain Drops Are Falling On My Head”, but for the life of me, I cannot remember the rest of it. I give up and turn to the headlines in the newspaper on my lap. The news is as damp and unwelcome as the soggy newspaper. It is the 60th anniversary of Indian Independence. Tucked away amongst the tabloids of terrorism, Mr Chidambaram the taxman is scheming of more and more taxes to impose on the Indian Diaspora. There is already an income tax, wealth tax, death tax, gift tax, property and assets tax, sales tax, value added tax, service tax, special additional tax  ….excise duty, customs duty, countervailing duty….. never ending woes for the common man which compulsorily takes away an astonishing 72% of a man’s income by the simple act of MRP. In the worst days of the East India Company, a man at best paid only 33% of his income on taxes and the British offered much better governance. I read about how Chidambaram now wants to invade the privacy of the common man by seeking very personal information in tax returns which he will then probably use to promote Govt sponsored terrorism !!! Much like the fat on the Enfield Brown Bess cartridge that snowballed into the Indian Mutiny of 1857. Tinkering with liberty and human rights is dangerous to any government. I begin to wonder why we got rid of the British.

Namk Nihin Hai, Khatam Ho Gaya” (The salt has got over, no salt left to cook lunch), my maidservant screams from the kitchen.
There is pandemonium. My wife and maid are rushing about cleaning the house, making breakfast, packing lunch, sweeping, swapping, washing…….. it is the critical hour of the morning rituals before they run off. My wife to the National Security Council to do counter terrorism, and the maid to terrorise other households ! A busy time when the absence of salt, even for a few minutes, can critically usurp a mundane Monday morning household.
“Call the bloody provision shop’, commands my wife.
Sabzi Jal Raha Hai” (the food is burning), mourns the maid.

I get up and run to the ‘kirana’ provision shop just around the corner. In a domestic crisis, I have discovered that it is he who runs away that wins another day. While on the run, my thoughts go back to 1930, the days of the British Raj, and to the plight of the then Viceroy Lord Irwin, when Gandhi called the salt march. It shook the foundation of the empire like an earthquake, 9 on the Richter scale, followed by the Tsunami of the ‘Satyagraha’ that washed the British off the Indian continent.

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi
Early morning on 12 Mar 1930, before the commencement of a crazed summer, Mahatma Gandhi set out from Sabarmati with 78  camp followers, for a 430 km long walk to Dandi, a coastal village in Gujerat. During the next 23 days, virtually every resident of villages along the route, thousands of them, watched or joined the procession. By the time they reached Dandi, it became an international event covered by the press from South Africa to Alaska.  Gandhi was out to topple the might of the British Empire by the most ingenious method of making ‘Salt’, and ‘Satyagraha’!!!!
Gandhi did not rush to make salt when he reached Dandi. He was an astute political. He waited for a month giving press conferences and holding rallies for more and more people to arrive from other parts of India, and for the Colonial Police to arrive, and specially to give time to Lord Irwin, the Governor General, to make an ass of himself trying to prevent some one making salt, the silliest thing on earth.
By end Apr, enough had been said and written all over the world making the British Govt look foolish.  On 4 May, Gandhi walked up to a specially made platform on Dandi beach and through the PA system announced to the multitude of peasants gathered there that henceforth the people of India were going to make their own salt and not pay the “Salt Tax”. He then symbolically picked up a fist full of salt from a sack of salt crystals that had been procured from the local market and placed on the platform. The crazed multitude of peasants ran helter-skelter along the beach trying to find salt and when none could be found, played in the surf with profound sense of freedom. That night, while Gandhi was sleeping on cot under a mango tree, several kilometres away from the beach, the English District Magistrate of Surat Mr Baldwin, along with two Indian officers and thirty heavily-armed constables awoke Gandhi by shining a torch in his face and arrested him under the Salt Regulation of 1827.
So what was this about ‘Common Salt’ that caused the sun to set on the British Empire ?

‘Namste Sahib’ (Greetings Sir), the shop keeper greets me warmly.
‘Chote Mia, kaise ho ?’ (How are you doing ?), I emulate the Lucknow Nawabi flavour of Hindustani, assured to command respect. I ask for a kilo packet of common salt. I am offered a variety of salt, all Iodised with an Indian Standards Institute (ISI) stamp, guaranteed to remain dry in the wet weather, for a paltry sum of seven Rupees. In a few minutes, I collect a packet of Nestle salt and run back. I know fully well that the man who made this salt is Nusli Wadia, one of the richest men in India. It doesn’t bother me that Nusli Wadia is the grandson of the man who precipitated the largest genocide in the world, the founder of Pakistan, Mohammed Ali Jinah. Who cares now-a-days about Hitler or Nadir Shah.
I have no recollection of genocides, or genetic disorders that plagued India for hundred and twenty years for the lack of common salt. I am from a new generation who produced only one baby and fed him with enough carbohydrates, proteins and vitamins to ensure that he grew healthy, tall and handsome. We had no time to look backward, a generation that focussed on distant forward vision. However the story of common salt, or the lack of it, remains in my subconscious, in the peripheral vision. But running back home in the rain, clutching the packet of iodised, ISI marked dehumidified common salt, I have flashes of the past, of distant history, and a Lata Mageshkar song of my childhood which was like an anthem.
“Laye hai toofan se, kishti nikal ke, rakhna mere bachon sambhal ke”
(“I have weathered the storm and dragged the boat out. It is now for you my children to keep it safe and afloat, and not go back into the storm”)
I feel ashamed and impotent.
“After all, why blame Chidambaram” ?.
I start a monologue, just to take my mind off the rain draining from my back through the posterior cleavage. “What did I do to safeguard the boat ?”, I ask myself.
“Simply nothing”, I answer my own question.
I began to chide myself, as my backside went “squelchy welchy”.
I don’t even bother to vote and therefore helped create the Frankensteins  in Lok Sabha (house of commons). Rakesh Sharma, India’s only space man, was my colleague in the elitist group of Test Pilots in ASTE, before he went to Russia and was ejected in a ‘Sputnik’ into space and 10 minutes of fame. That Sputnik is now a museum piece in the Nehru planetarium in Delhi, a much better remembered historical baggage than Rakesh or I. We were all part of a generation that simply mouthed clichés and felt smug about it.
When Rakesh was orbiting the earth, Indira Gandhi held a much televised conversation with him.
“Which is the country that looks best from space ?’, she asked rather spontaneously at the end of a long chat. Rakesh looked out from his window, and equally spontaneous answered the sound bite of the century,  “Sare Jahan Se Acha, Hindustan Hamara” (Our Hindustan is the best country in the world). Ours was a generation that mouthed the clichés, rather spontaneously, robotically, and felt smug about it.
“Here is your salt”, I proffered the packet to the servant maid.

Custom Line
In early history, salt was a most uncommon produce in India. It mostly came along the silk route in small quantities from the salt mines of Hindukush mountains (near present day Islamabad) or from the Kangda region of modern Himachal. The salt in those years was mostly rock salt, brownish blackish substance with a pungent taste, probably a wild mixture of Sodium Chloride (Salt) with Potassium Nitrate (Salt Peter), not very palatable to the Indian palate. There was no organised production of salt in India. Small quantities were collected by tribals from tiny rock formations here and there and bartered for other produce. Salt was considered a medicine even in those years for the treatment of dehydration, specially resulting from Cholera.  Since it was rare and more expensive than gold or diamonds, not available to common man, it was shared most reluctantly. It became a custom in the tenth century to swear allegiance to the King over a pinch of salt probably because it was only the king who could bestow a pinch of salt (the custom could also have been adapted from Jewish customs of offering salt, specially after Jews began to migrate in small numbers into India around this time). The expression of disloyalty, “Namak Haram”(‘Salt Sinner’ - an abuse), arose form this custom. It was probably the Moguls who first introduced salt into the Indian cuisine, a Persian, Turkish or Jewish influence.   
A widespread epidemic of Cholera and Small Pox struck northern India in 1825 - 26. It brought with it devastation of a magnitude of unimaginable proportions. By then the ‘India Act’ had accorded to the Governor General absolute powers to tinker with the socioeconomic fabric of the Indian society. One of the first things that the secret conclave (the board of directors of the East India Company in Calcutta), did was to formulate the “Salt Regulation of 1827” primarily to prevent hoarding of the life saving drug called “Salt”. Salt was to be a Govt controlled and regulated commodity. Trading in Salt required a licence from the East India Company and a Custom Duty (Salt Tax) had to be paid by any one who imported Salt or traded it in the market. The word “”Custom Duty”” was a bastardised version of “Customary Duty” or Compulsory / Statutory  Duty.  To ensure that it remained a controlled item, East India Company  decided to make a “Custom Line” from Lahore to Bhubaneshwar, the territory then under their control. The line went from Lahore via Delhi to Agra, Indore, Raipur, all the way to Orissa,  right across the country like a cross belt. It took about thirty to forty years to build this Custom Line, a wall 2800 km long, many times longer than the great wall in China. Basically the wall was about fifteen to thirty feet thick and 18 feet high. In some parts, the wall was made of stone, but in most parts it was simply a continuous barrier, arrow straight, made of thorny bushes and trees so thickly grown on a raised bund that neither animals or humans could get through it except at the check points manned by special police called “Custom Police”. By 1857 there were over five hundred thousand Custom Policemen, mostly Indians, who zealously guarded the Custom Line. Unauthorised crossing of the custom line, with out paying the Duty /Tax, or smuggling across the line, were treated as a capital office and the Custom Police had the power to do summary executions and to hang the offenders on the nearest tree. No British law had terrorised it’s subjects as much as the ‘Salt Regulation Act’. By 1857 there were no private enterprise that sold Common Salt. The British had set up Salt Works at Sethna in Madhya Pradesh, in parts of Rajasthan, and at Farukabad near Gurgaon in Delhi to convert brackish water into Salt (a mixture of Sodium Chloride and Epsom, much like the salt crystals that are available even now in the Indian market). Some time later, they also founded a similar enterprise in Kutch in the then state of Junagarh where a Nawab lived in a palace all by himself in the company of over six hundred dogs and periodically had ostentatious weddings and public mating between his dogs !!!.  The salt was sold for about Rs 250/pound,  about 100 times the monthly salary of a Seopy in the East India Company, making it out of reach to an Indian in those years. A hundred years of salt deprivation stunted the growth of ordinary Indians all over India, led to malnutrition and caused death in unimaginable proportion.  

In 1955, I was five years old. I lived in a small village on the southern tip of India with an unpronounceable name called “Amba-la-puzha”. This was about eight years after Indian independence. As I recollect, as a five years old, I had none of the affectations or trauma pertaining to Indian independence or it’s long colonial past. Ambalapuzha was socio-economically, politically and demographically about the same distance, from Gandhi’s head quarters at Sabarmati, as Jupiter is to Mars.  Afterwards, in a very anglicised school in Dehra Dun, I grew up with a very silly notion that Gandhi was an ass.  However, as a five year old, I did have something in common with Mahatma Gandhi who was assassinated just before I was born. Both of us played childish games with “Common Salt” !!!!
As a five year old boy, the favourite game that I played with my only friends (both girls) Lalita and Nirmala was called “Uppeh Uppeh” (Salt, Salt). The game was probably a variant of the “Robber & Cops” where I was asked to close my eyes and count to hundred. Lalita and Nirmala would then run around to find hiding places to horde salt. They would run to make small pyramids of sand, an inch high, hundreds of them under leaves, behind plants, under stone slabs, every where that I was not likely to go looking. After I finished counting, it was my job to find the hidden hordes of salt with the zest and hostility of a colonial policeman. And once the horde was discovered, I was expected to dramatise the game and squash the piles using my toes with as much violence as could be mustered by a five year old, probably emulating the zest of the colonial police in stamping out crime. To make the game interesting, Lalita and Nirmala were to suitably look crestfallen and repentant. Not a very strange game for children to play in a country that had just shrugged off the yokes of a four hundred year long colonial burden. It probably symbolised the trauma of a nation that had been starved of salt.

Indian Independence
Early 20th century Lahore was the hub of Indian politics. After raising a flag and reading of a “Declaration of Indian Independence” on 26 Jan 1930, Mahatma Gandhi’s political career came to a full stop simply because he did not have enough followers and there were no Indians to espouse his cause  !!! The native peoples of the continent thought of themselves as highly parochial denizens of 446 princely kingdoms, each with cultural, ethnic, and linguistic identities, riven by caste and creed agenda. Funny enough, at that time there was not even a mention of a common ground called ‘Hindustan’. Hindustan came much later, around 1936, as an antithesis to Pakistan, the concept of an exclusive theological state for the Muslims propagated by Mohammad Ali Jinah when he was not re-elected as the General Secretary of Indian National Congress. And incredibly, the word ‘Pakistan’ was an acronym coined by a Hindu student of geopolitics at Oxford, in his thesis discussing the demography of Punjab, Kashmir, Sindh and Baluchistan the old North West Frontier Provinces !!! The only historical reference to ‘Indians’ before 1930, were about British born white population, residents of the Indian continent. “Naboob and Indians” were two dirty words in English society in London, specially in the House of Lords, where proletarians had bought their way to aristocracy using riches gathered in the services of the East India Company !!!  In 1930 Gandhi had no followers for the Indian independence simply because there was really no India and no one except some of the British thought of themselves as Indians !!!!!
Back in 1930 no one, least of all Gandhi, really had a clear picture for nationhood for India. After the politicking, beating, jail sentences and final compromise with Jan Smuts in South Africa to exile him to India, he was simply motivated by a childish obduracy bordering on vengeance, that the British must quit India. Neither Gandhi nor any of his then political followers, including Nehru or Jinah, had the vaguest idea of what was to be done if they succeed and the British were to indeed leave India. In 1947, if it had not been for one man, a fellow Gujarati Sardar Vallabhai Patel, there would never have been an India, just Balkanisation of India as Churchill desired, that British India be divided into 446 sates that had once been annexed under the infamous Dalhousie scheme. Amalgamation and formulation of the current federal states, on the basis of the most untenable rationale of linguistic and ethnic basis rather than geopolitical barriers, was an impromptu accommodation arrived at to appease an illiterate and incredibly stupid Indian politico Kamraj Nadar, who cherished king size personal agenda in the Madras Presidency. Only on the eave of Independence did the Congress party realise that they had no clear ideas of how to form a new government. So the easiest  thing to do was to emulate the British Govt, with a President instead of a King/Queen, a House of Lords / House of Commons minus the Lords, just to appease the Indians who dreamed of becoming Kings and Lords. They even asked the Viceroy, Lord Mountbatten, and all his minions to continue to govern because Indians had no clue how to do it !!! However, back in 1930, Gandhi had to find a catalyst to unite the masses to get his independence movement going. And Salt was his unique, brilliant, political catalyst. There was nothing else that was more politically infectious and insidious to the simple Indian diaspora. 

After the Chinese debacle in 1962 war, India had to find a way to demonstrate to the world that the then North East Frontier Area (NEFA - the modern Arunachal and some of Naga Land) were indeed part of India. The govt had to find means to make the local population speak Hindi, recognise Indian flag, trade in Indian currency, elect representatives to a constitutional assembly, all the things that civilised Indians were supposed to be doing at that time. All easily said than done, because the people of NEFA were about 1000 years behind the rest of India, absolutely prehistoric and the region was totally inaccessible and inhospitable. At that time, it took three to four months in winter to walk through jungles and over never ending mountain ranges to get to places like “Tuting”, “Daparizo”, or my favourite, in the middle of no where, a place called “Sarli & Huri”. In rainy season, it was not possible to go anywhere in NEFA. In the 60’s the task of civilising this area was given to the “Special Intelligence Bureau (SIB)” probably because no self respecting political wanted to go there. These special breed of men were part administrators, political agents, intelligence gatherers, and incredibly to the last man they were all Malayalees, probably because they were recruited by Shankaran Nair, the father of the Intelligence Bureau (IB) in the same mould as Henry Lawrence’s men in North West Frontier (Pakistan and Afghanistan) after the second Punjab war in 1849. They were relics of the past.
Nine years later in 1971, at the age of 21, I started my working life in No 43 squadron of IAF, flying Dakotas from Jorhat, a sleepy village in Assam whose only claim to fame was that there was the “Grand Hotel” which had “Sand Bitches” on it’s menu !! Our daily task was to air lift provisions (sacks of Atta, Sugar, Rice), tins of Kerosene and Rum, and incredibly “Meat On Hoof” (MOH). The MOH were live goats in wooden cages tied with a parachute. The goats were as frightened as I to fly in the Dakota. I frequently went to piss in the ‘Elson’ compartment in the tail section. The goats obviously couldn’t get there ahead of me. So they just did it on me, squirts of yellow juice whose awful smell could never be got rid of even after scrubbing with a whole bar of ‘Hamam’ soap. When we reached over drop zones (DZs), over places like Anini or Gelling in NEFA, we would simply push out the sacks and the MOH from the open door of the Dakota. The DZs , small clearing in the jingles, actually volley ball courts, were manned by the SIB. They would collect the few bags and parachuted crates that fell on the DZs (and didn’t fall into the ravines) for distribution amongst my tribal countrymen. One of the drops that I did very early in my career was a wooden box filled with coins. I was told that the SIB men made the locals do small errands or unskilled labour and rewarded them with Indian coins, which they then encouraged them to spend buying the Atta, Sugar, Rice, Kerosene or Rum, specially the Rum from a fair price shop. The coins came right back into the treasury to be distributed once again. A Govt of India free market enterprise which has only one parallel, that of the story of Yossarian’s eggs in Catch 22 !!!  The locals drank up the Rum and ate the rest, but in 1972 they were yet to learn Hindi or recognise the national flag. On the other hand, the SIB Malayalees did get to speak fluent local dialects and have liaisons with very dirty and very deceased local women !!!  In 1975, I progressed further east to “Chabua” to fly a rickety Russian helicopter (MI4). The only difference in my job was that instead of dropping the stuff over the SIB’s head, I was to land and hand over the same stuff. That was when I became the king of “Sarli & Huri”, by the simple act of presenting a small paper packet, 250 gms of crystalline common salt, to the village headman on the advise of Mr Kunjaco, the local SIB person.  The salt was pilfered from the officer’s mess kitchen at the air base and didn’t cost me a thing. I was made king of Sarli Huri because I revolutionised the life of the “Khamba” tribe – I introduced them to the delicacy of the Common Salt which they coveted !! During many of my trips to Sarly Huri in the same rickety M4 till 1980, I partook in their salt ceremony where one solitary salt crystal would be ceremoniously placed on a pedestal in their community hut, like the Kohinoor diamond. The village would gather with their opium pipes and bamboo mugs full of Chang (heady rice beer). One by one they would then proceed to lick their index finger to wet it, and gently rub it on the salt crystal. With religious fervour and orgasmic delight, they would then lick their finger. Every one would chant “Ahom, Ahom, Ahom” probably to ensure that the individual did not rub the salt crystal more than once, and deplete the crystal. The ecstasy and joy on their face when they tasted salt gave me more pleasure than just being the king of Sarly Huri with attendant privileges of unpalatable wine, filthy women and the songs that I could never comprehend  !!! 

The Psyche of Satyagraha.
Pursuant to the Jail sentence after Dandi, Gandhi undertook a nation wide yatra, strangely facilitated by the Railways run by the British, and protected by the Colonial Police. What is lesser known is that Gandhi wrote at least one letter to the Governor General every week, outlining his strategies and plan of action to make the British quit India. It was some kind of childish love hate relationship, where he sought the acknowledgement and approval of the British Govt for anti Govt activity, thereby providing him with legitimacy and evasion from severe punitive action, beyond simple imprisonment. Every letter was signed, “your loyal subject”, probably to avoid criminal proceeding under the Penal Code dealing with “Treason”, punishable with death. Gandhi was a brilliant lawyer before he took to politics !!! When Gandhi’s plan to travel became known to Lord Irwin, his official comment, file noting, to the Govt was simple, ‘We don’t want anything untold to happen to the “Fakir”. Make sure that we do not make him a martyr’ !!!  The govt thereafter rolled out the red carpet for Gandhi. The press travelled with him. The reception that Gandhi received from the common man was realistically portrayed by Richard Attenborough in his movie “Gandhi”. The simple rural folks flocked to see him, touch him and to hear him speak, wherever he went. The New York Times carried an article in those years which aptly and symbolically commented that, “Gandhi the man is a phenomenon of iconic proportions, the second Christ. No one hears what he says about an independent India free from the yolk of colonial oppression. They simply come to see the man who will provide them with free Salt, a man who is loyal and trustworthy, a Mahatma”. Mohandas had earned his sobriquet, the ‘Mahatma’.

As I switched on the TV to see and hear Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s speech from the ramparts of Red Fort on the 60th anniversary of Indian Independence, I thought to myself, “I was called “Kartooz (Bullet or explosive)”, one hell of a sobriquet for my rather bull in a china shop attitude to everything  !!
 The PM chose to speak in Hindi, understood even now only in the cow belt of UP, Bihar, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, the cauldron of coalition politics from where 55% of the MPs are elected. As far as politicking in India is concerned, it is necessary to appease only the cow belt to rule the country. For almost half an hour Manmohan Singh droned in a lethargic, uninspiring monotony matching the warm and sultry morning, the tone and tenor much like the speeches of Rajiv Gandhi, probably to appease Sonia Gandhi, his mentor.
“Why don’t our politicals speak in English, which is still the only binding factor in our country fragmented by the same kind of parochial attitude and belief like it was before independence ?”, I asked myself silently.
“”Hame Bharat Desh Ko Banana Hai” (We need to do nation building), Manmohan Singh paused for applause.
The TV pans to the small children in front of him. They are wearing saffron, white and green T shits and caps to make the group look like the national flag. They are being goaded by political assistants to clap and cheer.
“Hame Terrorism Ko Hatana Hai” (We need to curb terrorism). There is more of forced applause and cheering from the children. The TV crew does close-ups of tired children.
“Pakistan Ko Chnauti Deta Hoon”(I challenge Pakistan).
More applause. The children are fidgeting and beginning to faint from the sweltering heat.
I switch off the TV.
I have heard this crap many times before and watch TV only hoping that the political will speak in English and say some thing different, some thing inspiring and vaguely promising. I used to like the speeches by Pramod Mahajan. He was the only political who made the nation laugh, and his fiery speeches ensured that no one slept though it. He was pure entertainment on prime time. It is unfortunate that his brother shot and killed him, like Godse did to Gandhi.
“Why do we always murder the goose that lay golden eggs”, I asked myself.
Pramod was a joker. We lost a great political entertainer, who knows, one day he may have been the Prime Minister.
“Would you like a cup of tea ?”, asked my wife from the kitchen.
“No, just salt”, I tell her.
“What about salt”, she hiccups.
“Let us horde twenty packets of salt”, I comment. “You never know when Chidambaram is going to bring the Salt Tax back”.
My wife gives me a strange look. She is convinced these days that I am going woolly in the head. I quite agree with her.
I am most grateful to Nusli Wadia, the “Salt Man” of Nestle, who was the one who actually met the aspirations of the teeming millions of rural India. Not Gandhi. Nusli Wadia gave Indians the salt that they expected Gandhi to provide. So what if Nusli Wadia is the grandson of Jinah and not Jawaharlal Nehru. Who cares ?  I ring the local provision shop and order 20 packets of Iodised, ISI Stamped, dehumidified Common Salt.
I didn’t care whether it is Nestle or Tata brand, as long as it is ‘Common Salt’. It is the symbol and meaning of freedom for me, to horde salt and not be prosecuted for it. Otherwise I cannot think of a single reason that I should be grateful to Gandhi for making the British quit India and facilitating a bunch of nincompoops in parliament and the so called free press which spreads sedition and sensationalism couched as news.

 Post Script
The great custom wall just disappeared some time between 1920 – 1950. No trace of it anywhere in India. I am told that when the national rail grid was introduced, after 1857, they found the custom line a readymade solution to lay the track. It was in a straight line, on no man’s land, already compacted and raised, running across natural barriers and streams, and hence just right for the railway. They simply cut off the trees and thorny scrub and laid the tracks. The axis of the railway from Delhi to Jallunder is exactly on top of the old custom line. So is it from Delhi to Bhopal and Raipur on the main southern railway line to Madras. The rest were converted to National Highways when the country was united and there was no more use for a custom barrier. Salt had become an ordinary and cheap commodity, very “Common” even in India !!!


  1. really? all true? if yes then all should read this!

  2. nice idea..thanks for sharing....

  3. This is truly great storytelling.The lines between fact and fiction merging seamlessly that leaves the reader feeling enriched and highly engaged

  4. The more I read from your blog,the more I am impressed with your vast knowledge of history and other day today facts. It makes me uneasy and disturbed to realise how our country is slipping into a state of anarchy with no solutions in sight.Thank You Sir for at least pricking our conscience and making us feel alive through your blog.
    Mohd Raj

  5. I am guilty as hell. I lament like a silly old woman.
    While I had youth and the zest, I did nothing other than to mouth clichés.
    Now that I am old and infirm, I use history to camouflage my failings.

    I had the power in 77, during the emergency, to set right the wrong. But I did not do it. I had no courage to do it. I sincerely believed in democracy, the politicals of yore.

    Now I don’t believe in democracy. I now believe in benevolent dictatorship. If we have a dictatorship, we atleast we have a visible enemy, one whom we can hate and hang (or shoot). Now we have a billion political defaulters to hang, whom do we hang ?

    Indians do not deserve freedom, or democracy, we need Nadir Sha, because we are a bunch of silly people riven by cast creed and colour, our politics have nothing to do with development or nation building, , it is to do with personal greed and avarice.

    What a tragedy.

    I would like to believe in Khajariwal or Anna Hazare. But they have no charisma and they have no credibility. There is a Gandhi that I want to believe in, a man who may have something different for us, an old school friend who kicked me in my balls in foot ball. But he is in jail for life. His name is ‘Kobad Gandhi’, a bit of a ‘Gadbad Gandhi’ as far as the present politicals are concerned, but good for India. Who will let out the Dogs ?

    I am now too old and the only thing that I can do is lament and cry.
    I gave my youth yesterday for your happy tomorrow, but the current political have hijacked that and you have no yesterday or tomorrow.

    God bless us all.

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  7. Powerful writing, keeps the reader engrossed. While it tickles those funny bones, evokes pain and rightly provokes to reassess our duty and ability.

    I salute you in reverence.


  8. Unni well written old pal from neighbouring Foxtrot. Us Echowallahas not withstanding, the cycle valve stories etc, arnt as good at narration as you were and currently are. Attaboy. Sooks

  9. Unni the Cyclic. Enjoyed reading it as I always do your writings.You have a charismatic knack of story telling. The threads are effortlessly made to merge together,so that facts with a sprinkling of fiction make it enjoyable reading and your message goes home.
    Keep at it.