Sunday, May 1, 2016

Notes on "The Kalka Mail"

Notes on the poem "The Kalka Mail"

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A) Place Names and other Vocabulary (in order of occurrence in the poem), with Pictures and Maps

B) Some Cities, States/Provinces and Regions of the Subcontinent (mentioned in the poem or its preface)

C) Geography of the Subcontinent and the Violent Creations of Three of its Modern Nation-States

Political map showing Afghanistan and the Indian subcontinent, with its six nation-states

A) Place Names and other Vocabulary (in order of occurrence in the poem), with Pictures and Maps

A1) Kalka:  See B1 below.
A2) ikka or ekka:
an Urdu/Hindi term for a two-wheeled carriage drawn by one horse, with seats for the driver and a couple of passengers. The tanga/tonga is a larger version, with more seats, at times covered. The bagghi (buggy) is an yet larger, four-wheeled carriage. These traditional horse-drawn passenger vehicles of the northern subcontinent have been disappearing from the cities. See:  and .

Ekka carriage, 1894

Tanga in Saharanpur
A3) riksho: Bengali word for rickshaw--an import from China or Southeast Asia, in which the passenger(s), seated on a two-wheeled, hooded cart, were pulled along by a racing man, often running barefoot on the hot tar of city streets. In the city's periphery, where there was less automobile traffic, the less manoueverable cycle-rickshaws were also permitted. In these, a man pedaled a bicycle attached to the passenger cart. A motorized version of this, still common in many cities of the subcontinent, is the scooter-rickshaw. And then there was the phat'phat'i or phat'phat'iya.  See A19 (the last entry for A) below.

Rickshaw, with puller and passenger, Bengal ?

Rickshaws in Rain
Calcutta rickshaw

Hand pulled rickshaw in Kolkata's waterlogged streets
Sheikh Abdullah of Kashmir and Jawaharlal Nehru, walking (on left),
with Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel. in rickshaw, Shimla (Simla), 1940's

Two young women on a cycle rickshaw 

The Plight of Rickshaw Pullers  in Kolkata -- a Video

A4a) T'aligo`nj (Tallygunge) and Bou Bajar (Bau Bazaar): localities in the city of Kolkata (Calcutta), regarding which see B6 below.

A4b) Asansol: the second largest city (after Kolkata) in the state of West Bengal, in Bardhaman (Burdwan) district.  Asansol lies on the state's western border, near to the state of Jharkhand.  On trains headed northwest to Dilli (Delhi) from Kolkata, this is the last major stop in West Bengal.  It will be better described and illustrated when this page is updated.
A5) “Ça, gawrom ça!” ("Cha, gawrom cha!"):  "Tea, hot tea!" a commonly heard cry, in Bangla (the Bengali language) in railway stations. Tea vendors used to run along the platform dispensing hot, milky tea from kettles into disposable, baked-clay cups. Similar cries were used by tea-vendors speaking related Eastern Indian languages and dialects

Vendor pouring tea for a passenger in a train at a railway platform in India
Disposable baked clay tea cups, Kolkata (Calcutta), West Bengal
A6) Bengal: a fertile, riverine, densely populated region in the eastern part of the subcontinent.  It consists mainly of the combined delta of the Ganga (Ganges) and Brahmaputra rivers. The main languages are Bengali and its dialects--although many other languages are also spoken. Islam and Hinduism are the major religions, although several other religions are also extant.  Bengal was once an undivided cultural and political entity,  However, it was divided, in 1947, on religious grounds, into what is still the Indian state of West Bengal and what first became (1947-1970) East Pakistan and then (from 1970 onward) the country of Bangladesh.  Please see B4 below.

A7) “Çae, çae—garam çae!” ("Chaey, chaey--garam chaey!"): "Tea, tea--hot tea!" in Hindi/Urdu and related Northern Indian languages and dialects. The contents, methods of preparation and flavors of the milky teas prevalent in different parts of the subcontinent vary from region to region.

Tea in a kulhar
A8) "Kaavi, kaavi, kaaviya!":  the cry, "Coffee, coffee, coffee!" in Tamizh (Tamil), a language spoken mainly in the southeastern region of peninsular India, being the main language of Tamilnad'u (Tamilnadu).  Similar cries are used by vendors speaking related Dravidian languages, The wonderful flavor of freshly-brewed coffee in south India is something that remains with one forever.  See also Çennai (Chennai/Madras city) in B3 below.

South Indian coffee, frothed and served in a typical metal cup and bowl
South Indian coffee being cooled and aerated (frothed)
South Indian coffee being cooled and aerated
A9) Deccan
: southern.  This Anglo-Indian word is from the Sanskrit dakxin (dakshin), meaning "right-hand". This is the direction towards south when one is facing east, which is purva (in front) while the west is paxçim (pashchim, behind).  The Deccan plateau occupies the interior part of peninsular India, which was once attached to what is now eastern Africa. The Tethys Sea that once arced  between what is now peninsular India and the rest of Asia further north was filled up, over the eons, by sediments carried down from the Himalayas that were raised up (along with the Tibetan plateau and more) as the Indian-Australian plate wedged under the Eurasian plate.  These deposits now constitute the low-lying, fertile arc of the Indo-Gangetic plains.

The Deccan Plateau, in relation to other physiographic divisions of India 

Plateau regions of peninsular India
source: unknown

A10) Çhot’a Nagpur (Chhota Nagpur): a hilly region, in the east-central part of the subcontinent, with the hills being being the eroded remains of a northeastern intrusion of the southern plateaus. It lies between the rest of peninsular India to its south and west, the upper plains of the Ganges to its north and west, and the Bengal delta to its east. From the trains running between Kolkata (Calcutta) and Dilli (Delhi) in the 1950's, the crossing through this hilly region between the delta and the northern plains was magical, with the tall, dreaming Chhota Nagpur hills, which were then still densely wooded, appearing blue-green from a distance.

Chhota Nagpur Ecoregion
Low outlying hills of Chhota Nagpur in Bankura district, W. Bengal

A11) Mughal Sarai:  "Mongol" caravanserai -- camp or watering place for caravans and armies.

The Mughals were an imperial dynasty in India, whose first emperor, Babar, became marooned in north India during a looting raid, when his ancestral  seat, in the Ferghana valley of what is now Afghanistan, was taken by a rival warlord.  Babar was descended, on his father's side, from Islamicized and Persianized Turkic tribesmen, with Timurlang (Tamerlane) as a paternal ancestor. On his mother's side, he was of Mongol descent, with Genghis Khan as a maternal ancestor. So Babar was able to command, as his raiding army, a diverse crew of Central Asian and Afghan tribes, who collectively came to be known in India as "mughals" or "moghuls".

Mughal Sarai has been an important railway junction in North India since British times, lying about halfway between Kolkata and Dilli (Delhi), in what is now the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh (Northern Province).  It lies close to the city of Varanasi (Benares/Banaras/Kashi) on the Ganges, the ancient holy city of the Hindus.  Mughal Sarai lies on the way to Varanasi from Gaya, a city to its east, in Bihar, near to Bodhgaya, a site revered by Buddhists as being the place where the Buddha was enlightened.

When we note the location between Varanasi and Gaya, and note further that this railroad junction at Mughal Sarai came into existence during British rule, while the much older name of the place, with its Mongol, Turkic and Farsi roots, derives from northern and central Asia, we begin to get a sense of some of the cultural interactions that occurred in this region.

Sign at the Mughal Sarai Railroad Junction, in Hindi, English and Urdu
A12) Dilli: the current pronunciation, in Hindi/Urdu and most other Indian languages, of "Delhi", the historic seat of empire in North India, situated strategically at the divide between the plains of the Indus to the west and those of the Ganges to the east.

Tomb of Humayun, the second Mughal emperor, son of Babar, in what is
now a suburb of New Delhi, near to the gravesite of the saint Nizamuddin,
and close to a library devoted to the Urdu poet Ghalib.  When I was a young
teenager, my family moved from Kolkata to New Delhi, and we lived next
to this site.  I spent many hours, after school and on weekends, on the
greens, where our two dogs could run free.  Humayun might not have
liked this, as dogs, like pigs, are considered to be haraam in Islam.
Purana Qila (Old Fort), New Delhi. These fortifications were renovated
by Humayun, 1533-1538, and soon after by an Afghan king, Sher Shah
Suri, who defeated Humayun. But the site dates back several thousand
years, as has been revealed by excavations, and might even be the
Indraprastha of the Pandava clan, heroes of the
ancient Hindu Arya epic, the Mahabharata.,_Delhi.jpg

A13) Noakhali: a district in East Bengal (later part of East Pakistan and then part of Bangladesh). The Hindu-Muslim riots that had started in Calcutta on the "Direct Action Day" called by the Muslim League leaders, M.A. Jinnah and H.S. Suhrawardy, spread quickly to other parts of Bengal, with Nokahali being one of the worst affected.  My father, the photographer Sunil Janah, was then working for the Communist Party of India.  Along with the American photographer, Margaret Bourke White, he had made, by steamboat and other means, the long and dangerous journey, from Calcutta to Noakhali, even as the riots were raging there, with residents fleeing burning villages. Some escaped on boats, others made their way to railway platforms to wait for trains that never arrived. Gandhi later also traveled to ravaged Noakhali, and began a fast that might have helped end the riots. Even more lethal riots, pitting Hindus and Sikhs against Muslims, had, by then, occurred in the Punjab.
A14) Dhaka:  formerly Dacca, the capital of East Pakistan and later Bangladesh.
A15) Howrah:  a city immediately across the wide Hooghly river from Kolkata (Calcutta),  The main local railway station is located there.
A16) Medinipur:  Midnapore, the southwestern-most district of  West Bengal, bordering the state of Od'isha (Orissa). It is a coastal district on the Bay of Bengal. My father's father came from that district. The city of Tamluk (ancient Tamralipta) was an old sea-port from which locals once voyaged across the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean to places as far as what is now Malaysia, Indonesia and Indochina,
A17) Çat'ga~:  Chittagong, the southeastern-most district of  East Bengal (later East Pakistan and then Bangladesh). Chittagong district borders the Arakan region of Myanmar (Burma), contains hilly tribal regions in its interior and the important port city of Chittagong on its coast. It lies across the Bay of Bengal from Medinipur and Od'isha,
A18) 'Pind'i, Quetta and Peshawar:  'Pind'i (Rawalpindi), is a city in what became West Pakistan. It is situated at the start of the foothills of the Himalayas, close to the modern capital of Islamabad.  The Pakistani capital has moved over time from the port city of Karachi to Rawalpindi to Islamabad.  Quetta is a city in Baluchistan, in the west of Pakistan, bordering Iran and Afghanistan. Peshawar is a city in what is now Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (formerly the North West Frontier Province) in the north of Pakistan, bordering Afghanistan.
A19) phat'phat'i: phatphatiya, an eight passenger vehicle, consisting of an elevated, covered cart attached to a powerful motorcycle.  This was once a popular means of transport in Dilli, being a larger cousin of the scooter rickshaw and much noisier.  The loud, puttering sound of its engine led to its onomatopoeic name.

Two three-wheeled vehicles:  a scooter rickshaw (left), driven by a turbaned Sikh man,
and a phatphatiya (right) carrying two women passengers on the covered cart, driven
by a man seated on the attached motorbike.  Connaught Place, New Delhi.  


B) Some Cities, States/Provinces and Regions of the Subcontinent (mentioned in the poem or its preface)

Political map showing Afghanistan and the Indian subcontinent, with its six nation-states

B1) Kalka:  a city, currently located in the state of Haryana, adjoining the Union Territory of Delhi, in the Republic of India. It was formerly part of the larger (east) Punjab state, and, prior to the partition of 1947, part of the even larger undivided Punjab,  Kalka is an important railway terminal, including for the Kalka Mail train that ran, as I remember from the 1950's, for a distance of about a thousand miles, between Howrah station (across the river from Kolkata/Calcutta) in the state of West Bengal, near to the border with what is now the Islamic Republic of Bangladesh, and Kalka, which is not far from the border with what is now the Islamic Republic of Pakistan,

B2) Kashmir:  a former independent "princely state", ruled by a Maharajah, during the British Raj.  It is located in a mountainous region in the northernmost part of the subcontinent, .  After the partition of the subcontinent in 1947, most Kashmiris sought to remain independent, but instead the region was (and still is) claimed and carved up between what became the Republic of India and what became the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. The Indian region is now the state of Jammu and Kashmir, and the Pakistani region is the province of Azad Kashmir.

Political map of the subcontinent, showing the states of the Republic of India, 
as of 2015, along with adjoining countries (Warning: ultranationalist site!)

The violence, carried out by both the military and the insurgents, in Kashmir,where hundreds of thousands of troops are stationed and active, has taken more lives, since the 1940's, than the violence in Palestine-Israel, which began around the same time.

After several decades, the influx of Wahabi Sunni theology and militancy in the late 1980's, 1990's and early 2000's resulted in an ethnic turn to the conflict.  So most of the minority Hindu Pand'its (Brahmins), who had generally lived peaceably among the mostly Muslim population of the Valley of Kashmir through the ages, were forced to leave.

In the 1960's. Ladakh, a region in the NE, part of the Tibetan plateau, inhabited by followers of Tibetan Buddhism, was claimed and occupied by China. This resulted in a high-altitude war with India in which China prevailed.

The Indian portion includes the valley of Kashmir, where the main language is Kashmiri, and the region of Jammu in the south, where the main language is Dogri, and which was and remains mostly Hindu. The Pakistani portion in the north and west includes mountainous regions inhabited by various Muslim tribes speaking a number of languages.

Urdu and its sibling, Hindi, are widely understood in Kashmir.

In addition to clashes between the military and insurgents and the population itself, there have been several wars between India and Pakistan that began in or involved Kashmir.

B3) Çennai (Chennaiformerly Madras city):  a beautiful city on the east coast of South India, capital of the state of Tamilnad'u (Tamilnadu, formerly Madras state). The original name might be connected with madrasa (an Arabic word for a religious school, cognate to the Hebrew midrash).  Madras city was once the center of the large Madras Presidency of the British Raj.  The division of  the Republic of India into states based mainly on language occurred some time after Independence and has been ongoing since.  English is widely understood in Chennai city,  but the main language there and in the rest of Tamilnadu is Tamizh (Tamil), a Dravidian language closely related to Malayalam to the west and, more distantly, to Telengu (Telegu) to the north and to Kannad'a (Kannada) and Tulu to the northwest. Tamil (along with Malayalam) is also spoken in parts of Sri Lanka (Ceylon).

Political map of Afghanistan, Myanmar (Burma) and the subcontinent, showing
capitals and major cities.  Kolkata is in the east, near Bangladesh.  Delhi is the north center.

B4) Bengal:  a mainly low-lying, wet and fertile delta region in the eastern part of the subcontinent.  Bengal was divided on religious grounds, during the partition of 1947, into what became the Indian state of West Bengal and what became East Pakistan.  This was accompanied by massacres and movements of millions of refugees across borders, in a great (partial) ethnic cleansing. The Hindu-Muslim riots that started in Kolkata (Calcutta) spread throughout Bengal and also soon reached other parts of the subcontinent--particularly the Punjab (the land of the five rivers, in Farsi), which had also been divided on religious grounds. There, there were even greater massacres, and an almost complete ethnic cleansing of the region, with Muslims fleeing west across the new border, and Hindus and Sikhs fleeing east.

In 1970, following an election in Pakistan won by a party based mainly in East Pakistan,  and a subsequent fierce military clampdown there (that again sent about a million terrified refugees, mostly Hindus, but also Muslims, especially students, into West Bengal and other adjoining parts of India), an intervention by the Indian army led to the creation of what later became the Islamic Republic of Bangladesh.

The main languages spoken in Bengal, on both sides of the border, are dialects of Bengali, with the standard written and spoken language, along with a literary tradition, taught in the schools and used for formal communication on both sides.

West Bengal has had a long history of leftist coalition governments, including two major Communist parties and other socialist parties.

Political map of the subcontinent, showing the states of the Republic of India, 
as of 2015, along with adjoining countries (Warning: ultranationalist site!)

B5) Kerala:  a geographically and ethnically diverse state, green and fertile, lying along the southwest coast of India. It was constituted out of the former Malabar and Travancore-Cochin.  The main language in Kerala is Malayalam, a Dravidian language closely related to Tamil and more distantly to Kannada, Tulu and Telegu.  Among the Indian states, Kerala had, as of 2011, the lowest population growth rate (3.4%), and the highest human development index (0.79), literacy rate (94%), life expectancy (77 years) and sex ratio (1080 women to 1000 men, unusual in the subcontinent). It has had, along with Bengal, a long history of Communist and socialist governments.

B6) Kolkata (Calcutta): currently the teeming, bustling capital of West Bengal state, being a port city situated mainly on the eastern banks of the Hooghly river (an estuary of the Ganges).  Kolkata is an ethnically diverse city, with a significant cultural history dating from the Bengal Renaissance that began with the meeting of western and native cultures initiated by the British rule that spread out from Bengal, with Calcutta long being the regional imperial capital during the British Raj.  Calcutta has also had its share of extreme misery and poverty (dating from the time of the predatory British East India Company), of refugee influxes dating from the partition of 1947, and of political unrest.

Political map of  Afghanistan, Myanmar (Burma) and the subcontinent,  showing capitals
 and major cities.  Kolkata is in the east, near Bangladesh. Delhi is in the north center.

B7) Dilli (Delhi): the old center of power of the Mughal and other Indian empires, with New Delhi being the capital for undivided India in the latter part of rule by the British Raj, and continuing till now as the capital of the Republic of India, being located in the Union Territory of Delhi, adjoining the states of Uttar Pradesh to its east and Haryana (once part of the Punjab) to its west.

C) Geography of the Subcontinent and the Violent Creations of Three of its Modern Nation-States

While Kolkata (Calcutta) lies in the Bengal delta in eastern India, Dilli (Delhi) sits nine hundred miles to the northwest, at the slightly raised divide marked by the old, worn Aravalli hills.  This is where the plains of the Ganga (Ganges) and Jamna (Yamuna), sloping to the southeast, meet those of the Sindhu (Indus) and its tributaries, sloping to the southwest.

The subcontinent, with low-lying plains and coastal areas in greens, higher areas
in yellows and browns.
In the old German map above, names are not visible.  The Bengal delta is in the east, with the Bay of Bengal to its south. The Gangetic plains slope gently upwards, NW from the delta, till they meet a slightly raised divide. Delhi (not visible) sits on that divide. The plains of the Indus slope gently downwards, SW from that divide, to the Arabian Sea.
Map of the rivers of the subcontinent: The Himalayan arc separates China (Tibet)
from the subcontinent. 
The major rivers of North India arise on the Tibetan side 
of the Himalayas. The plains of the Indus are in the NW, those of the Ganges,
just south of the Himalayan arc, lead to the Bengal delta in the east.  The 
valley of the Brahmaputra (Tibetan Tsangpo) is in the NE.  The southern plateau
of  peninsular India 
slopes, generally, from the west to the east. Most of the major
rivers of the peninsula follow that slope, 
with several starting in the Western Ghat
mountains near the west coast of the peninsula, and flowing east 
from there to the
Bay of Bengal.  Some, however, further north, flow west into the Arabian Sea.
In the old German map below, names are not visible. Nepal, the Himalayas and Tibet are in the elevated area in the North center and NE. Afghanistan is in the NW. Assam, with its Brahmaputra valley, and adjacent regions are in the ENE. Myanmar (Burma) lies to the east of the Bengal delta. Peninsular India, with the central Deccan plateau and the coastal strips, occupies the center and south.

The large island of Sri Lanka (Ceylon) is visible. So is the chain of the much smaller Andaman and Nicobar islands, in the SE. The international borders are marked (not too visibly in darker areas) in black and brown. The major rivers are in black.

The trains to Dilli from Kolkata’s Howrah station travel northwest from the delta, up the Gangetic plain.  Some of the routes encounter, when leaving the delta, an intrusion of the Deccan (dakxin = dakshin) = southern) peninsula.  These are the hills of the Çhot’a Nagpur (Chhota Nagpur) plateau.  In the 1950’s, when I first rode a train from Kolkata to Dilli, those hills were still well forested.

Howrah lies across the Hooghly river from Kolkata,  From that starting point in the southeast of India, the westbound Kalka Mail ran all the way to the town of Kalka in the northwest.  That town lies in what was once the eastern part of the undivided Punjab.  In 1947, after the partition of the subcontinent and the end of British rule, this eastern Punjab became part of independent India, with the western Punjab becoming part of West Pakistan.  Later, in 1966, after the Indian Punjab was further subdivided, the town of Kalka became part of the Indian state of Haryana.

Political map of the subcontinent, showing the states of the Republic of India, 
as of 2015, along with adjoining countries (Warning: ultranationalist site!)

After the partition of 1947, train and other routes that used to run between what became, eventually, the Republic of India and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan (with its eastern and western wings) had been suddenly interrupted.   In particular, trains had ceased to run between the Indian capital in New Delhi and the Pakistani capital, which moved over time from Karachi to Rawalpind'i to Islamabad—all in West Pakistan.

Punjab, in the northwest of the subcontinent, was one of two British provinces that were cut in two by the partition of 1947.  In the east, the province of Bengal was also split. The western part of Bengal became the Indian state of West Bengal and the eastern part became East Pakistan.

So the land routes between the two parts of Bengal had also been interrupted, along with the sea routes between the old Bengal’s westernmost district, Medinipur (Midnapore), and its easternmost one, Ç~at’ga~ (Chittagong).  These two districts lay on opposite sides of the Bay of Bengal.

Much later, in 1970, East Pakistan became Bangladesh.

The partition of 1947 had been accompanied by tremendous human misery, as refugees who happened to be of the "wrong religion" fled across the new borders that divided the Punjab in the west and Bengal in the east.  Countless numbers had been slaughtered in massacres.

The events leading to the birth of Bangladesh in 1970 were also marked by horrors in East Pakistan—beginning with a fierce military clampdown that negated the results of an election—and yet another flight of terrified refugees across a border.

I cannot go here into the history of the railroads in the subcontinent, that began in the British Raj. Suffice it to note that those railroads, running thousands of miles, were built, as elsewhere, mainly by human (and animal) labor.

– Babui (Arjun) 2016 May 1, Sun. (edited and expanded June 6th, Sun.)

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"The Kalka Mail".

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