Udaipur’s history is not merely a page in the opus of India’s rich legacy, it is a book in itself. Alas, this treasure-chest is lying tucked away under the dust of oblivion, neglect and indifference.
What is more delicious than the smell of a newly-minted currency note? The smell of a newly-printed book? Yeah. But there is something more soothing and irresistible than that – the sniff of an old book.
For it is not in the sound of cash registers that we find the meaning and beauty of life. The ruffle of a well-written page and the bells of wisdom that ring sweetly from the stories travelling from many centuries ago – this is where the real essence of life throbs.
An essence that we seldom remember to spray. More so, after being lost in the fog of social media, smart-phones and virtual one-upmanship. Who has the time to inhale the scent of history when one has caught the cold of Instagram likes, Facebook fights, hashtag existences and binge-weekends?
A walk in the corridors of the Archive Department of Udaipur in Sector 3 envelopes you with the very sights, smells and stories we have lost sense of and for. Like the hills that roll around the city, there are many old and wise pages that roll from one shelf to another – both having been witness to not one ruler, battle, culture, dynasty, turning point; but many.
These stories come in many shapes and stripes. Some are stacked as bahis, some are wrapped as ledgers, some are slipped inside books – and each is a knob that opens into a new world, a world we have all come from in one way or another – and yet, a world we have comfortably forgotten.
Not by everyone, thankfully.
Charlie in the Chocolate Factory
A bespectacled man here can often be found poring industriously over ancient scrolls, reading a language that is not comprehensible to even the most-educated, English-babbling millennials amongst us. This is a language from the past, and State Archivist Sohan Lal Damor is able to translate, interpret and make sense of a lot of the arcane Zen hidden inside these old and long-traveled archives.
How old you may ask – 1600 can be a good hint of just how well-kept this treasure is.Yet, the irony is – not many people are able to comprehend the real value of this treasure.
Meet Basant Singh Solanki, Assistant Director, Rajasthan State Archives, who is often found traipsing from one corridor to another, organizing one rack to another and steering his teammates like Damor into preserving not just the letter but, also, the spirit of these forgotten vestiges of our rich past.
Basant Singh Solanki – In his DisneyLand
These custodians do more than just fumigate or fight termites or fiddle with chemicals or repair paper. These soldiers are on a war of sorts to not let another Kohinoor of our legacy slip away from our hands – the gem of wisdom and knowledge that is lying asleep inside these archives. They are resurrecting our memories that can be dotted back decades and decades back. They are repairing our present.
The Original Constitution of Mewar
Open the Chest
If you take a quick jog around these carefully-curated archives that run up to 10,000 bags, 250,000 files. 3000 registers, you will catch a glimpse of a lot of formats and shades that sing tales from everything – from ancient culture, ancient accounting, ancient architecture, ancient daily mores to ancient battle-huddles.
Solanki explains – “Here you will find everything – Roz Namcha or records of daily work, instruction reports and inventory lists (for Devsthan , for banks, and even for royal kitchen), gazette notifications, copper plates, Patta files, revenue records, Jewarkhana or jewelry inventories, Daulat khana, arms’ inventory, Sasht darshan, custom records and so on and on. These date from as old as 1756 to as new as 1956,” he adds.
Bahi Khata – 1940
He picks up one really old-looking file of sorts from 1656 and takes a peek before telling you that it is a record accounting for an income of 17 lakh from Zawar miners back then! Yes, that happened.
Keeping Ledgers in the Old Times
These troves of historical wealth came in the arms of Udaipur after centralisation and protocols that allowed it to accommodate and nurture these archives. Some of them are still in Bikaner but whatever is here is under the passionate hands, eyes and vision of these few men who regard this as more than a pickle-jar-watching job.
Solanki, for instance, has been zealous about history and its preservation since the onset of his career. A history major in Mughal and Ancient history, he got his sharp appetite of curiosity as a child in a village he was born in. He used to watch rural customs and asked ‘where did this all come from?’
Stored – History of Rajasthan by Colonel Tod
The question still hangs around his air. His earlier postings in Alwar (where he initiated a cleaning intervention of records neglected for years) and Ajmer (where he undertook Custodian Property Migration by adopting 36,000 files that would have, otherwise, been relegated to scraps but are now fueling a revenue-centre in itself) cemented his vision – to do more than just watch over. He adopted 4000 bahis of Mewar and led digitization drives in Ajmer, ensured fresh counting and cleaning of bahis in Jodhpur and has been working with the same drive after he joined Udaipur.
The records here are subject to extensive pest-control twice a year while regular sorting, changing of clothing bags, classification and comprehension-work keeps going throughout the year. The department has also initiated some form of revenue process by making some records amenable for use by current users.
Some of his challenges are predictable – applicants, unlisted records, public pressure, vague procedures and revenue gaps. But some of them leave you wondering and reflecting. “We are trying to translate the old language used in bahis to make it easier to understand them. That said, I get more visits from foreign researchers than Indian ones. PhD students and history students do not take as much interest as their global counterparts do. We are also struggling to sort out space issues.”
Indeed, a paradox. An Ali Baba-cave of precious gems is fighting for attention and space. In its own neighbourhood.
Old Record Books – 1934
“These are primary sources of information – whether for a thesis or for a history professor. Yet, these records suffer from inadvertence and indifference while international researchers go gaga over their heritage and knowledge depth.”
And that is not a small question that he raises here.
History – blind man, black cat, dark room
History is what is written by battle-winners. It is what is chosen to be told and retold. Going by that, it is hard to believe everything we read – without accommodating for a hint of bias, exaggeration or embellishment. But what about the part that is left untold?
Speaking of which, there are some passionate voices and curious eyes in the city that have the courage and diligence to question everything served on a platter. Historian Sharad Lodha explains that if we go through the major dynasties then we find that history was twisted / distorted to erase some facts which were not acceptable to the then ruling society.
Historian – Sharad Lodha
“If I had to answer this topic just based on two factors then I will carefully bisect the whole history in two parts viz. 1) The Ancient Reasons 2) The Modern Factors. First of all let us not call this history of Udaipur – let us recognize this as the History of Mewar, so that we will be covering a major area that concerns the history of this place.” – Sharad Lodha
He lets on that Mewar, since centuries, had been a State of interest to the Delhi Sultanate because of the rich natural resources and the safe haven, thanks to the Aravali mountain range. “The total looting and plundering of the state led to a total anarchy of history, because of the fact that all relevant things, including the literature, were burnt or destroyed and hence a total dependence on the Mughal historians emerged. This can be called good but not without a lot of bias.”
Kitchen OR Armory – Everything was Accounted for
An Accountants daily job
TALLY of the Old Days
If we turn to Dr. Pushpendra Singh Ranawat. Former Professor, Geology and a strong advocate of authenticity of history, he also reckons that the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb, besides destroying temples and religious conversions, damaged our educational institutions a lot and nearly wiped our Sanskrit, which was rich in knowledge.
Ignorance of Jain scripts and not connecting them with history might have also played a major role in distortion of the history of Mewar, Lodha reminds.
“After the early 1700s the ”uneducated” meek Junta simply believed what was thrust upon them by their ‘superiors’ or ‘illogical creations’ by writers (Badwa/Bhaat/Charans…), which they accepted without any question. Brits had their own selfish policy. Hence we now have to unlearn a lot of that 1700-1960 phase (including the (self-proclaimed) ‘progressive’ socialist literature).” Prof. Ranawat observes.
This is exactly where preserving our past comes in. “Non-compilation of history from different sources and not connecting them with archaeological remains has also played a major role in this debacle. The disorganized and mutilated state of Mewar rendered it imperative to observe secrecy and this gave rise to a situation where all the history that remained was concealed and from there on, it still remains in oblivion or has been destroyed and the despicable material is floating all around us. The real truth still remains in fragments and is lying scattered with many local people and the royal houses.” Lodha adds more twists and mystery appetite here.
Copper Plates or Tamra Patra
Solanki also avers that a lot of history can be easily assumed to be distorted and sadly, the answer is right within our grasp but not being grabbed.
And he is not just talking about history’s value for subject experts or intellectuals. “A normal average man or woman – a teenager looking for life answers or a person struggling with business problems or a novice second-guessing a kitchen recipe– everyone can find some nugget of wisdom in these old records. The way they kept their kitchens stocked, or the way they accounted for money, or the way contracts were signed – after three to four cross-checks – there is so much that we can learn about being systematic, smart, process-tight and creative and more.”
“We need to look for the right form of history. That will challenge a lot of assumptions and misconceptions. That will also teach us a lot about our social customs, education ways, our psychology etc. It can change the way we think, live and look at life.” Solanki underlines.
As Lodha also cautions, the distorted History also gains strength due to the lack of original history, which was carried off by the Britishers and was transferred to the Royal Asiatic Society in whose custody / library they were deposited and the content of most of them still lie unexamined.”
Solanki – who with his team, is a soldier of this new war for truth – strongly feels, “Our cultural heritage should be saved and shared. Not blindly lost to ‘once upon a time’.”
Can we do that? Can we stop looking at neglected history as a shadow? Can it not be a beam of light? A mine of wisdom? A genie waiting to be uncapped? Can we care?
If only we could stop through our daily races and pause to smell the roses. Not click their pictures, post them and scurry to the next new phone. But inhale them.
Else, they wilt.