Vitasta: The Battle of Hydaspes

In 326 BC, a fierce battle was fought between Alexander the Great and an Indian prince, Porus, on the banks of river Jhelum (then known as Vitasta in Sanskrit and Hydaspes in Greek). This poem is a tribute to the two warriors.

Alexander and Porus.jpg

Alexander and Porus, painted in 1673 by Charles Le Brun

 

Two and a half thousand years have passed

Since the plains of Indus were crossed

Golden were the days here then

None dared to put his hand in the lion’s den

 

On the west stood Alexander, the son of Zeus

Everything, but the dominion of the world, he would refuse

At Gaugamela he had crushed the might of Persia

Against him no match were the armies of Egypt and Scythia

 

But behold! On the east stood Porus, the son of soil

His greatness lay not in lineage, but pride and toil

His lands were fed by the hard-work of the farmer

And his army was composed of chariots laden with armour

 

To repel the invader, the soldiers of Aryavarta were restless

The Companion Cavalry of the west, as always, was fearless

On the banks of Vitasta, the two armies were to meet

Death danced all night in anticipation of a big treat

 

All through the previous night the God of Rain was relentless

On the muddy fields, Porus would defend his nation nonetheless

Flooded was the mighty river, the flow was furious

‘How will he lead us across?’, soldiers of Alexander were curious

 

A swamp, his spies discovered, was in the river somewhere upstream

Sparks came in his eyes; just a river lay between him and his dream

Porus, the lord of his lands, knew that the victory was at hand

If only he could guess, where the heathen enemy would land

 

And then it happened; the Greek phalanx moved in from the north

Porus commanded his seasoned troops to move forth

His elephant warriors flanked the enemy from the east

The soldiers of the west had never seen such a beast

 

The invincible were being crushed under the pillars

They were being killed, who till now were the killers

But Alexander was far from over; his temper was hot

Flashed in his mind the memories of Bucephalus and the Gordian Knot

 

He rallied his men again with cries of Zeus and Olympia

Aroused again were the sons of Greece and Macedonia

Hephaestion was with him, his friend, companion and lover

Seeing the fury in his eyes the beasts ran for cover

 

Porus still had with him his supreme weapon

The heavy chariots which could make even impossible happen

Charging towards him was the Companion Cavalry with all its might

He summoned all his forces for the one last fight

 

But look! Stuck in the wet earth the chariots won’t move

It was nature that defeated Porus, history can easily prove

An arrow struck him in the heart and he fell from his steed

But stout-hearted was he, this battle was not his last deed

 

Presented before the victor was he, bound in a heavy chain

He still kept his head high, though he was in great pain

‘How should I treat thee?’, asked Alexander, brave and clever

‘As a king should treat a king’, answered Porus, as proud as ever

 

Never since his father had Alexander seen a man so magnificent

He was now looking at one in a civilization so ancient

Dumbstruck he stood, staring curiously at his enemy

Here was finally a man, he was looking for among so many

 

‘O king of five rivers’, said Alexander, ‘I bow before thee.’

‘Will you be my friend as I now set you free?’

And there on the banks of Vitasta, the two shook hands

Never again was such a scene witnessed in any of the lands

 

A tribute this is to the two heroes of the east and the west

Who against all odds, fought and cleared the test

Greatest among all nations were Aryavarta and Greece

It was they who gave the principles of justice and peace

 

Note: I wrote this poem a long time ago, sometime in early 2008. I found this while going through my old documents so thought to share with everyone. I do not claim it to be the complete historical truth but what the folk tales and bards have passed down.

 

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His mother was basking in the sun in the lawn on a fine winter afternoon. And that was a problem. It was through that lawn that we (me and my younger brother) had to take him with us. He was her son and we did not want her to know that we were taking him away. So we hid him in a gunny bag and moved stealthily across the lawn. But she knew. And she wailed. It was the cry of someone who knew that she won’t be seeing a loved one again in her life. It would take me 15 years and a few days to realize the pain.

He was just a month old and didn’t look too attractive. Actually he looked as good as one can when one is a mixed breed of a German Shepherd and a Lhasa Apso. But his then looks didn’t giveaway the dark golden hue and a robust, if short, built dog he would develop into. We named him Sam. His namesake was the clever detective of a DD National soap opera, a series that we loved to watch (we weren’t even teens and that was a series whose contents could be fathomed completely by our minds).

The first day was difficult. He still seemed to remember his mother and would not play as we wanted him to. I wouldn’t turn into a teen for another two years and for me a puppy meant a toy, one of many that we had. Only this one had life in it. But this toy was to teach us another dimension of love, of affection, of care and of those pangs of separation.

We grew and he grew with us. As we turned teen, he came of age. But he still had that mischievous streak in him. That he never lost. Even during his last days. He would run away with a shoe the moment we started putting our socks on. It was his way of telling us not to leave him alone, even if for a few hours. He would run through the battle formations of G.I.Joe soldiers, like a rogue T-Rex of Jurassic Park, and take one into his den just as we would commence a game. ‘You don’t include me? This is what you get.’

We called him the king of our locality – king of all canines. At least he thought so. What a racket he made when he saw another dog passing through his ‘territory’. And he would never eat a thing which had fallen to ground. He preferred catching it in the mid-air as we threw it to him. Whatever fell or he couldn’t catch wouldn’t be touched again (let him not hear this; from the look of his eyes it was not his mistake that the thing fell on ground). Next best would be serving in his bowl – which he would eat grudgingly. And mangoes were his favourite. He was – in fact – a mango thief. Only a lock and key arrangement would save the king of fruits from being devoured by this king. And he was regal even as he posed for photographs.

Will Always Remember that Regal Look

It was my father who loved him the most. And cared for him the most. And Sam loved him the most of all. He would complain to my father in case others were not treating him properly. Literally. That complaining bark was very different from touch-me-not bark, take-me-for-a-walk bark, I-am-hungry bark, I-am-bored bark and simply-wanted-to-let-it-out bark.

For 15 years he lived with us as a family member. It didn’t matter to him that for most of the time of the latter half of his life I was not at home. Whenever I went home I would find the same brown wagging tail and those brown eyes conveying several emotions all at once: ‘Ah! There you are. C’mon, let’s play’, ‘Oh! So you finally found time to remember me’, ‘I hope you are staying for long this time’ or simply ‘I remember you. And I would remember you even if you come after many years’. And then it was all the same routine. First I would catch hold of him and play with him like a toy (just as I did when he was a year old) – caressing, pushing, teasing, punching, rolling etc. Then would come the resting time and I would lie down on the bed with my arm outstretched and he would come and, using his snout, place my hand over his head, asking me to caress it. He would do it again and again if I stopped. And then after some days I would go away. At first he always used to come to the terrace to see me off. And I do not have words here to describe what his eyes looked like then. But for some years now, he simply knew that I was leaving when I used to get my bags out and would retire to his corner and won’t come out, however hard you tried.

Sam (21-Oct-1994 ~ 18-Dec-2009)

I went home during Deepawali last year. And I found him in great pain. He had developed a wound which would not heal. He was already 15 years, an above average age for his species. He had been in ill health for a couple of years now but had bounced back soon after. This time it seemed to be different. This time his eyes seemed to be tired. Somehow I knew it was the last I was seeing of him. And this time, when I was leaving, he came to see me off to the terrace, even if limping and full of pain. I remember those eyes which kept looking at me through his lookout (a hole in the terrace railing) as I receded into distance.

I wasn’t told that he had passed away peacefully in his afternoon nap for about a month. My parents thought that this would make me very upset and planned to tell me when I went home. But then some 2-3 days ago, while talking to my father on phone, I casually asked about Sam. Then came the sudden silence and then the quivering voice which tried to tell me something. And I understood. I won’t be seeing my Sam again. And the feeling was strange. Actually I didn’t feel a thing. No shock, no sadness, the feelings were not even neutral either. There weren’t any feelings at all. May be the reality hadn’t sunk in. May be it would when I would go home and won’t find those brown eyes looking up at me in recognition. Those eyes full of pure happiness. May be I would know the pain when I won’t find him lifting my hand with his snout, asking me to caress him on his head. May be I would miss him when I would find no one ready to catch that bit of cheese in mid-air. May be I would simply miss his not being there.

I don’t know. May be I miss him already.



देखो मुल्क मराठों का ये, यहाँ शिवाजी डोला था!
मुगलों की ताकत को जिसने तलवारों पे तोला था!
हर पर्वत पर आग लगी थी, हर पत्थर इक शोला था!
बोली हर हर महादेव की बच्चा बच्चा बोला था!
शेर शिवाजी ने रखी थी लाज हमारी शान की!
इस मिट्टी से तिलक करो, ये मिट्टी है बलिदान की!

Behold the land of the Marathas; it is here that our king Shivaji was born!
Who tested the might of the great Mughals on the blade of his sword!
Every hillock was on fire and each stone enclosed a lava of rebellion!
The tandava of Lord Shiva was invoked even by children with their war cries!
Our king Shivaji, the lion hearted, restored our pride again!
Smear the soil of this land on your forehead, O beholder; it is the soil of sacrifice!

It is this underlying ‘pride’ that has shaped and is, perhaps, still shaping the glorious ‘Land of the Marathas’ – Maharashtra. Having brought up with stories of valor of the great Maratha warriors, my journey to Mumbai and Pune was a tryst with history. A history that has blended with modernity in such a subtle way that it is difficult to tell them apart. The day I landed in Mumbai (12th November 2008), the newspapers and news channels were still fresh with the debates that were ignited by the violence that had engulfed Mumbai less than a month ago. It was the tirade, both of words and ‘hands’, against the North Indians – especially from the lower income group – who are working in Mumbai. And all that for a so-called Maratha pride. Coincidentally, the taxi I hired to reach office had a driver from Bihar. And he took no time recognizing me as hailing from North India – which I suppose was due to the pure use of Hindi by me. As soon as I sat in taxi, the following conversation ensued.

Driver: “सर, आप यू.पी. से हैं न?”
Me: “हाँ, पर अब हम यू.पी. में नहीं रहते. मेरा घर देहरादून में है.”
Driver: “सर, मैं काफी सालों से बम्बई में हूँ. पहले अच्छा लगता था. पर अब नहीं. अब तो बस घर जाने का ही मन करता है.”
Me: “ऐसा क्यों?”
Driver: “सर, ये लोग (referring to MNS may be) बहुत गंदी राजनीति करते हैं! बम्बई में तो सबके लिए जगह है. लेकिन लगता है अब हमारे लिए नहीं है!”

I could feel the divide that had set in. If the driver could share all this with me just because I was a ‘North’ Indian, there certainly was something which was not right. I felt sad. It was not just the driver, but the divide in general that has set in our society – between sects, between regions, between ideologies and between everything and everyone. I am not sure if my motherland, which was built on additions and multiplications, will be able to withstand the assault of subtraction and division.

I finished my office work for that day by evening and met my friends Arjun and Shreshtha, who work in Mumbai, and we really had a good time together – especially the hearty Italian dinner, all of which looked like a starter except for a preparation of rice which looked and tasted like tamarind rice khichdi! (In spite of eating to our full, me and Arjun had to call upon the room service at 0030 hours in the morning to get us something to eat). It was the next evening that Arjun decided to make me live the life, at least partially, that he lives in Mumbai. First of all I was asked to come to the Dadar station of the local train. And I complied, in spite of the scenes from ‘Mumbai Meri Jaan’ still reverberating in my mind. According to Arjun, you just can’t experience Mumbai without traveling by local train. “It is here that I read my novels – where I can’t even lift my shoe without kicking someone”, said he. Luckily, at that time the train was almost empty and we reached Church Gate quite comfortably. From there on we took a stroll towards the Nariman Point and passed Not Just Jazz by the Bay, one of the hangouts of Arjun. Every night there is some performance by artists in this restaurant and I guess that is what pulls him there. The cool sea breeze greeted us as we neared the coast. To the left was the famous Marine Drive of Mumbai the lamp-posts of which had already started lining the night sky. We walked towards our left to the Nariman Point. The entire sea line, which has been paved to keep it clean, was full of people with their consorts (either a person of opposite gender or a dog or both). We sat there for some time and called and talked to our old buddies from IIFM – Sonal, Parul and Sunil. We would have called all of them hadn’t it been for a get-together with Prof. P. K. Biswas (of IIFM – yes he was also in town that day) organized by our senior Ashish Malik later that day. So we got up to see the rest of Arjun’s hangout. We first went to the Jahangir Art Gallery which displays creations of amateur, upcoming as well as senior artists. The art forms there were unconventional in every regard and are replaced regularly to make way for the new artists – who also sit there and you can interact with them. Our next stop – David Sassoon Library – a place where, according to Shreshtha, Arjun goes to do some serious reading and ends up reading novels! This library was built in 1870 and represents the British architecture of the time. It boasts having hoards of books some published as long as 200 years ago. From there on we strolled on towards the famous Leopold Café and Bar – the most frequent hangout of my dear friend. It is here that he likes to inhale the essence of whiskey along with that of books. This place too is very old (in commission since 1870) and according to Arjun has an aura of its own. Well, a teetotaler like me might not understand this aura. However, one thing which I felt and with which Arjun agreed completely was that taking walk in those lanes was liking walking in Victorian Mumbai – with the roads still made of polished stones – rather than the usual cement or Coal Tar, the Victorian buildings rising on both sides of yours and of course an occasional horse carriage – now used to take tourists around. We had now reached the Gateway of India, built to welcome King George V and Queen Mary who had come to attend the Delhi Durbar in 1911. It was in this year that the capital of British India shifted from Calcutta (now Kolkata) to New Delhi. The huge structure was completed finally in the year 1924 and was also the place from where the last British troops in India withdrew after a ceremony in February 1948. The Gateway which I had first seen in 1997 during a school trip to Mumbai is built in an Indo-Saracenic architectural style and stands 85 feet high. It stands at an angle to the present road as the approach road could never be built due to lack of funds. The only buildings in the area that overshadow the Gateway are the twin Taj Hotels on the other side of road. It was time now to leave for the get together and we took a train to Bandra. This time that train was jam packed and if I say that moving my head would have brushed my nose against someone’s head, this would be no exaggeration. We had to push the crowd like a battering ram to get out of the train. After an excellent evening with Arjun, what followed was a sort of anti-climax. It was a get together – the highlights of which were plastic smiles and under-toned comments. It was only the sight and handshakes of old friends that made the gathering somewhat refreshing. It was already late night when we all were relieved and I bade goodbyes to all of them before leaving back to my hotel – I had to leave for Pune early next day.

Pune was a village during the age of Rashtrakutas and it passed hands from the Yadavas of Devagiri to Mughals during the subsequent centuries. However, it was during the age of Marathas, beginning with Shivaji, that the real history of the city begins. Shivaji moved to this town, with his mother Jijabai, as a young boy and it was here that he was crowned Chhatrapati (king) in 1674. From there on began an age of Maratha expansion and Shivaji exacted a number of defeats on the Mughal imperial army. He went as far as Surat and sacked the port city of the Mughals. The age of Marathas ushered in by Shivaji was only the beginning. The following history of Marathas is quite interesting and offers ups and downs as also those elusive ‘what-ifs’ of history.  The descendants of this great king appointed Peshwas as their prime ministers. Eventually the Peshwas, who had their seat in Pune, became de-facto ruler of the growing Maratha power and defeating the Mughals at the Battle of Malwa in 1705 became the most reckoned with force in India. It was at this time that the Maratha cavalry used to ride all across northern, western and central parts of India exacting tributes (sardeshmukhi and chauth) from other rulers and their defeat of Nizam’s in 1760 made them unrivaled yet uncrowned rulers of a major part of India. It was the next year when something happened. The ruler of Afghans, Ahmad Shah Abdali, invaded India (perhaps on the instigation of nobles of Mughal Delhi) and led an alliance Rohillas and some Nawabs like Shuja-ud-Daula against the Marathas in the famous ‘Third Battle of Panipat’ in 1761. The Marathas led by Sadashiv Rao and with their artillery in the able hands of Ibrahim Gardi should have won the battle – but they lost. With most of their army decimated (even Abdali suffered causalities and left India soon after), the fall of Marathas led to a political vacuum which was eventually filled by the British. The main reason that is given for the defeat is that in their arrogance they antagonized the Rajputs, Jats and Sikhs who could have assisted them in this battle fought far from home. It is a question of interest as to what would have been the history of India had they not lost the battle. After the battle, the Marathas recovered somewhat but in a series of skirmishes called the three Anglo-Maratha wars lost much of their territory including Pune to the British. However, the Maratha pride was not dead yet and the ‘Doctrine of Lapse’ whereby the adopted son of Peshwa Baji Rao II, Dhondu Pant, was refused the hereditary title ignited it again. Dhondu Pant, who came to be known as Nana Sahib, soon became one of the leaders of the ‘Revolt of 1857’ along with Maratha general Tatya Tope. Another Maratha, also the playmate of Nana Sahib, was soon to join the battle and became an icon of the struggle – Manu Bai, better known as Rani Laxmi Bai of Jhansi. She became one of the most formidable opponents of the British and when she died in the battle against them, the rival British General Hugh Rose commented on the spot where she had fallen, “Here lay the woman who was the only man among her compatriots”.

Present day Pune is a modern city built around Maratha age monuments like the Lal Mahal, where Shivaji lived in his youth, Shanivarwada (this was the palace of Peshwas), and the Saras Garden. The city is full of greenery and the mix of past and present could be seen in this place. Although, I couldn’t see the place much, the rich cultural heritage was very much visible – especially the Maharashtrian thali which I had as dinner at the Shabri Restaurant on the Fergusson College Road was something none should miss. For any person going to Pune, I would highly recommend this place. The next day I found time to visit the famous Sinhagadh Fort about 25 km from Pune. The fort, which was earlier called Kondana, lies on a rocky hilltop with steep cliffs guarding it from all sides. These cliffs offer the place a natural defense and the place has been strategically important since the 14th century. Of the many battles that have been fought here, the most famous was its recapture by the Maratha forces under Shivaji’s general, Tanaji Malusare, in 1670. Tanaji used the pet monitor lizard of Shivaji, named Yeshwanti to climb the steep walls on a moonless night. These walls were most difficult to climb and were thus left unguarded. On reaching the top, he let down ropes for his soldiers to climb. In the ensuing battle, the fort was captured; however, Tanaji succumbed to his injuries. On hearing the news, Shivaji famously commented, “गढ़ आला पन सिंह गेला”, i.e. we got the fort but lost the lion. The fort was thus named Sinhagadh or the fortress of the lion. A monument for Tanaji Malusare stands atop the fort and radiates energy – the energy of a brave warrior who gave his life for a cause. The approach the fort is through a narrow road which leads to a couple of gates. The top of the fort is a plateau from which the leeward side of the Western Ghats, called the Sahyadris, is visible and provides a breathtaking view. Even today, the famous cliffs seem as inaccessible as they were in the past. I sat there for some time and could again hear the stones speaking to me; telling me the tales of long gone days, reciting the poems of the brave, dances of the courtesans and the clanking of swords- something which happens to me whenever I visit a city long lost or a fort now desolate.

I would have loved to explore the city more had I been on a personal visit. However, my tryst with the great Marathas was to be that much only for the time being. I wait for the day to complete the tour.

It was almost two and a half months ago that I stepped out of my alma mater for the final time as a student. And since then not a day has passed when I have not watched the Photo Story made by Sunil for our batch. And almost regularly I have revisited past two years of my life by browsing through the photographs that we took at almost every event. The memories of field trips and the excursions (singing and hullabaloo in the bus included) are as strong as are those of birthday bashes, treats and parties. But when I reflect back on the days gone past, the images that instantly cover the landscape of mind are very simple ones. The walks after dinner followed by parking ourselves beneath the lamp post, pulling people apart (literally) during the class breaks, a cup of coffee (along with Maggi with four pieces of buttered bread and a couple of samosas) in Veer Ji’s canteen, sharing of heart’s secrets with Arjun and Shrey, strolls in the new market, long IP chats (especially the call for dinner to Arjun, Kanika, Parul and Prans – Knights of Lord Bharadwaj, Oaths you have taken – now fulfill them all – Charge!! To Mess) and poking toothpicks into people’s arms are some of the memories that I will take with me to my death. It all seems now a world away – something which, may be, existed only in dreams – a part of life snatched away by the will of providence – a piece of heart torn apart.

In the past two weeks of my stay at Bangalore with my friends of engineering days, there hasn’t been a moment when I have not told them the tales of these past two years or shown them the Photo Story and the snaps even when I knew that they won’t feel an iota of what I am feeling and experiencing. It was like flaunting about something which you owned, a dream world which you got a chance to live in and which others can’t even imagine. And then yesterday, Shailendra Fuloria asked me something very seriously.

“Hey Bharadwaj, do you mind my asking a question? If you had any of the friends from IIFM posted here in Bangalore, would you have lived with them or us?”

The question took me by surprise. I hadn’t thought of it. I answered very diplomatically about it depending on a number of factors. But the question kept me awake for a long time that night. When I had first come to IIFM, my memories of my college were as strong as that of IIFM now. It took almost a couple of months to get over them. So it might be that this phase too will pass. IIFM days would be memories of past buried beneath many more years of memories. And then everything was not rosy in IIFM. I had my share of disappointments, anger, jealousy, hate and sadness along with all happiness. But with each passing crest and trough of my life at IIFM, I felt the bond grow stronger. It moistens my eyes now to remember those good old days. The moments when I find no work to do or my mind strays are now the most difficult of my life. But then this is what we call the inescapable wheel of time. I would once again learn to live with it. But if I am granted a 100 more lives, I would like to have the same two years at IIFM with the same people with me included in all those lives.

May God Will It!