Returning from the salt-lake, just before entering Varzaneh, I am transported to this Bishnupur-afternoon, as I notice the pond, and ask my driver to stop the car so that I can spend a little time on its banks smoking a few cigarettes quietly. Of course no one is taking a bath here, nor is there any large shady tree, yet I feel that there’s an intrinsic similarity. I am unable to place my finger exactly on it though. It could have been a Bankura village pond, but for that strange edifice behind it.
Travelling from Isfahan to Varzaneh I had seen similar edifices spread all along. It’s a Kabutarkhaneh, a dovecote
I have never seen a Kabutarkhaneh, a dovecote, before. Returning to Varzaneh, I make it a point to visit inside a Kabutarkhaneh. What I see is stunning. In brief it’s a pigeon house. In India we are quite familiar with pigeon houses. Anyone with any interest in the enthralling cultural history of Lucknow would have heard of the Nawabs’ huge Kabutarwali Kothi’s, separate buildings that housed thousands of pigeons. A little research into it will tell you about Jawan Khan, the keeper of Nawab Wajed Ali Shah’s Kabutarwali Kothi, who received Rs. 2000, a fortune in the mid-19th century, for gifting the Nawab a pigeon with one spotless black and one spotless white wing, which Khan had raised through years of crossbreeding of various shades of pigeons. But the Kabutarkhaneh is a totally different entity.
The one that I enter could house 1700 pairs of pigeons within its intriguing geometry. Hundreds of pigeonholes are arranged around a spiral staircase that leads right up to the top in such a manner that each one has a path in and out of the edifice and has proper ventilation. Javed tells me that the huge pigeon shit, which used to accumulate inside it were periodically collected and used in the fields as excellent fertilizer. A Kabutarkhaneh, therefore, used to be in a sense a living fertilizer factory, which didn’t produce devastatingly poisonous effluents. And more: unlike the monstrosities of today’s fertilizer factories, these beautiful edifices merged effortlessly into the village vista. Now, however, they are mounds of ruins mostly, waiting to be erased out of existence soon. Or perhaps a few to be preserved for curious tourists to peep in once in a long while.
Varzaneh leaves in me a deep impression of the ‘other’. I realize, if I didn’t belong to the choking opulence of the S’ad Abad or the Golestan palaces, I don’t belong to this village either, which reminds me of that mango tree by the pond in the dense shade of which I cherish my cheap gin in oppressive summer afternoons, an existence that is content to be there just for being there forever.
My drink over, I take a deep breath and I must move on. I spend my day loitering around Varzaneh, absorbing in my system its idle highway, its even more idle old men, gossiping away squatting beside roads, its dull muddy houses, once in a while its women, hurrying home, with the accompanying little girl unable to keep pace, both in spotless white hijabs, and its lone curious totally unafraid child suddenly face to face with a foreigner, with not a soul around.
I am done with my drinks. Au revoir mango tree. I must leave to come back another day, perhaps. Be there and be good.
Photo Credit : Nilanjan Hajra