Illustration/Uday Mohite

Off the beaten track

By Rahul da Cunha | Mumbai

Updated: 25 October, 2020 09:05 IST

Aaah Manuel, you are welcome. What places would that be? Kerala for the backwaters, Agra for the Taj Mahal, Goa for the beaches, Rajasthan for the desert, Mumbai for Bollywood, Kashmir for the mountains...where, where?

I have a trekker friend, Manuel from Barcelona. He's not a Mt Everest type climber, or a Leh-Ladakh type hiker. He is more of a long distance walker-discoverer-traveller. "Raoool, buena nochas, I am in the midst of a long walk around the world. It ees a specific subject I am explorreng…," he said to me on WhatsApp last week.

"Ah ola! Manuel… wonderful idea. What is the subject you are exploring this time?"

"Yes Mi Amiga, there is a theme, not a pretty one. A specific behaviour of man. It is violence."

"Violence. What kind of violence?" I asked.

"All types, my friend! Earlier this year, I 'ave finished the subject of genocide, visited every type of concentration camp—Aushwitz, Treblinka, walked around Europe. I 'ave now, just last week, completed a detailed walk to all the areas that 'ave witnessed 'racist' violence—George Floyd was a study I did in some depth, in Minneapolis."

Manuel took a pause.

"So now, I weesh to caam to Eeendia…" his voice lowered ominously.

"Aaah Manuel, you are welcome. What places would that be? Kerala for the backwaters, Agra for the Taj Mahal, Goa for the beaches, Rajasthan for the desert, Mumbai for Bollywood, Kashmir for the mountains…where, where?"

"Uhm, mai friend, I wish to come to one state in particular..."

"Oh really, which state is that?"

"I weesh to come to Utah Predesh."

"But, my Spanish friend, what is so attractive about Uttar Pradesh? Except that it has a massive population, the largest state in India. It was said that if UP was a country by itself, it would be the fifth largest. The dusty landscape, Shekhar's Bandit Queen gave you a whiff. It does have history, no doubt."

"Raool, yes, it is history I wish to study. The history of violence. I wish to walk around Utah Predesh to explore aspects of violence."

"Great! You could take many historical heritage walks, to explore wars, go to some of the great battlegrounds in the region. Go to Panipat, or to Kurukshetra, the Battle of Bareilly… So much history."

"I'm actually looking to begin my understanding with a lone woman fighting the enemy, bravely defending herself against all odds, outnumbered, and finally succumbing, painfully."

"Are you referring to the Rani of Jhansi? You wish to walk around Jhansi? Jhansi is lovely."

"No, my friend. Hathras." He paused. "I wish to go to Hathras, to understand the history of violence and the sociology of cruelty."

"Where else do you wish to travel to in UP?" I asked.

"You can now guess what is the kind of violence I wish to explore."

"Yes. Unfortunately."

"Lead me to Badhaun, an area that gave birth to Nirbahaya's most vicious of attackers, the juvenile delinquent. I am thinking that you are aware of the region, and the events in 2014… they made a film even. It ees called Article 15, I theenk. And, of course, there is Unnao."

"You wish to walk around Unnao? How have you heard about Unnao, my friend?"

"Just type, Unnao on Google, and up pops 'Unnao case'. Need I say more?"

"I now know where else my travels will lead me—Balrampur, Lakhimpur Kheri, Salarpur, Azamgarh, Bhulandshahr, Ballia."

"Yes," I said.

"Raool, these are historical sites, these places will forever be remembered for the ghastly acts, for the history of a certain kind of violence."

"Yes," I said.

Rahul daCunha is an adman, theatre director/playwright, photographer and traveller. Reach him at rahul.dacunha@mid-day.com

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First Published: 25 October, 2020 09:02 IST

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