Friday, May 18, 2012

The land of kings

Just back from the land of kings, the fabled castles and palaces of Rajasthan, to be more exact, Jodhpur. Modern day Jodhpur is a neat, sweet, and surprisingly clean city. It must be one the very few Indian cities of any size where there are no high rises, the  tallest building seen had no more than two floors. The roads are wide and good, especially after Chennai's pot holes, and there's a surprising number of trees, given that the desert starts just outside.

The two highlights of the city are the Umaid Bhavan palace, a modern day sandstone pile, built in the 1930s for a few crores, as a kind of employment guarantee scheme from the Maharaja to the locals, and the Meherangarh fort. Before you start turning up your noses at the age of the palace, and its consequent modernity, it should be told that it constitutes a beautiful example of decoration in the art deco style. Since a part of the palace is a hotel, and another the private residence of the erstwhile Maharaja, the most spectacular rooms are out of bounds to the public. However, what is on display provides a tantalising teaser to the riches within.  Notable items include matkas made of beautiful Murano glass, perhaps made specially for the Maharaja, the shape is rarely seen in Europe, and some of the Maharaja's collection of vintage cars, with Rolls Royces, Daimlers, Chryslers and Bentleys on display, all in immaculate shape, as is the rest of the domed and turretted building.

Unlike the modern palace, Meherangarh fort, is authentically old, being founded in the 15th century, with all the associated blood and gore of antiquity. Right near the entrance, (with the usual door studded with the nails built to discourage attacking elephants), is the memorial stone dedicated to Raj Singh Meghwal, who volunteered to have himself walled up in the castle rampart as the sacrifice demanded by the local goddess, as well as the little hand prints so often seen in Rajasthan, the marks of the sati, the queens who had immolated themselves at the death of the king. Unlike most monuments in India, the fort, a typical example of Rajasthani medieval architecture, is beautifully conserved, with help of the Germans, and provides an informative audio commentary.

After all the royalty and antiquity, the Indian Institute of Technology, Rajasthan, the newest baby in the IIT family, comes as a refreshing blast from the 21st century. The IITR differentiates itself from the rest of the IIT-s by taking a mulltidisciplinary approach, being organised around interdisciplinary centres, like systems science and biologically inspired research, rather than into the traditional departments and disciplines. To paraphrase a memorable quote from the director, even if you win the rat race, you are only a rat, if you want to be a cat, you have to be different! The approach sounded like an excellent idea, and we wish the newest IIT all luck for its effective implementation.

This blog post is by Neelima Gupte and Sumathi Rao.

1 comment:

AmOK said...

Thanks for the kingly article in this universe running amok.;jsessionid=7F417FE012631961B8B58EA3699E32F3.w6?a=956043&f=28&sub=Columnist