70,000-year history of Indian sub-continent


Unraveling the mystery of our roots to understand the present and predict the future.


Do we have it in us to give the fairer sex the place they deserve?.


Change of world order. Religious Terrorism. Where are we heading?.


Wanderlust Hodophiles.

Welcome to KHOJ: The search to know our roots and understand the meaning of our existence.

Prejudice is the biggest problem in the society. It can be it in terms of religion, cast, sex, skin-colour, status etc. Prejudice can also be in form of the feeling that human beings are the greatest creation, or even patriotism about artificially created borders. The motto of KHOJ is to gain knowledge and break that prejudice. But there is a word of caution for the readers. To break the prejudice KHOJ might throw upon you the concepts it believes in. If the reader believes on KHOJ’s perception without question, then KHOJ itself might incept a prejudice in the readers mind thus failing in it own motto. KHOJ is trying to break its own world of prejudice, but at times that prejudice might get reflected in its writing. Please do challenge them.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Shekawati - A weekend destination from Delhi that you won't regret!

Shekawati is a collection of small towns and villages stuck in time. Colourful wall frescoes grace the walls of the 2-3 century old Havelis. It is locally said that the term 'Haveli' comes from 'hawa' meaning wind since they are made in a way that there is good cross ventilation. It is most likely derived from Arabic word 'Hawali', meaning partition, or private space. 

The mansions built in Indo-Mughal style was partitioned into different sections. There is a main gate outer gate through which one enters the outer courtyard. This was mostly for men and visitors. There might be a separate attached room from private business meetings. Then there is the second door that leads to the inner sanctum, where the women of the family lived. 

The intricately sculpted doors were made of teak wood. I was told that it was one of the three most expensive kinds of wood found in India, other two being sandalwood and Bollywood. Unfortunately, most of the houses are empty or occupied by the caretakers family. The owners have moved to other cities like Kolkata for better fortune decades ago.

This place is part of Matsya Kingdom where the aboriginal Meena tribes (Meen meand fish), and is related to Matsya Avatar of Vishnu. The name Shekhawati is derived from its first independent ruler Rao Shekha. This region was once part of the flourishing old silk route. Trading made the Marwari community rich, and they settled down in this arid land. They brought good painters from bigger cities like Jaipur to paint their house with their lifestyle, culture, stories from Ramayana and Mahabharata, and a bit of erotica.

Mandawa is the heart of Shekawati, around 260kms from Delhi. The rich havelis here are surrounded by small houses that are glued with one another in a way that you can go from one end of the town to the other by jumping from one terrace to another. The romantic set up have brought Bollywood here... including PK and Bajrangi Bhaijan.

It is recommended to take a guide (300INR) since most of the havelis have their main door closed and there is no way to know if you should just open the door and step into someone's private property.
Some of the key havelis are:
1. Murmuria haveli
2. Shet Dayaram Goenka haveli
3. Golden haveli
4 Jhunjhunwala haveli
5 Chowkhan double haveli
You will get to see a lot of antique items in the houses.

Most of them charge you to enter now. The money goes into maintenance and renovation. Don't miss the Ramnath A Poddar museum in Nawalgarh, around 30 km from Mandawa where you come as a tourist and go as a friend.

Friday, November 30, 2018


Old Delhi is a fascinating place not just for the history, but also for the conversations that the mystic chaos of this place triggers. It was one of such days, in the winter of 2016. We were walking through the haphazard narrow gullies and tangled streets of Old Delhi. It was a puzzle of different eras intertwined together is a small crowded city like a time capsule. This place was once the walled city of Sahajanabad, with busy colourful markets lined up on each side of the streets coming down from the magnificent Red Fort. Sahajanabad was founded by Shah Jahan in 1639. He was the supreme monarch who controlled the markets. Free markets and Adam Smith were yet to be born. While the demographics have not changed much, the market dynamics have completely altered over the last few centuries. The free market has taken over and powerful brands have replaced small businesses. Even Karims survived by evolving into a big brand. But the Baskin-Robbins and Haagen-Dazs have had up until now failed to replace Daulat-ki-chaat, the magical winter dessert for which we have come this far.

Our first stop in the time-capsule maze was Asia's largest spice market - Khari Baoli. This market has become a brand in itself. When we reached there, we were shocked to see the amount of garbage on the road. It was not the usual dirt that this part of Delhi was known for. It was a city that sprang up like a mushroom on an over-filled dustbin. But people kept going on with their usual life completely ignoring the unusual thrash. When asked, we were told that the MCD, who are responsible for cleaning the public dustbins, were on strike. And that was the perfect trigger for a long conversation. The question that came to our mind at that time was why are we in this mess? Is it because of our attitude - this is MCD’s mess and not ours, even though we generate it. Who are responsible for this attitude? Is it the market-driven society that we have built where branded ice-creams would sell more than unbranded Daulat-ki-chaat?

Adam Smith believed that division of labour can increase productivity by a factor of 2000 by eliminating the time wasted in switching between different types of jobs. In the older mercantilism economy, government controlled import and export to hoard silver and gold that made nations rich. Smith identified the flaw in such thinking and showed how labour was more precious than gold or silver. To Smith ‘man was an animal that makes bargains’ and the ‘invisible hand’ of acting in one's self-interest can benefit the society as a whole. To enjoy such benefit government interventions should be minimised. Smith hoped that the free market would give people autonomy and freedom along with prosperity. He probably assumed that humans behaved in a rational way. That was a big mistake. In the free market, jungle norms take over and the fittest survive. It's economic Darwinism that breeds inequality. While valuing labour, Karl Marx was critical of the free market. Marx believed that the free market only made the bourgeoisie class rich. This new privileged class replaced the oppressive kings, but not the oppression of the poor and powerless. Instead of producing an entire product, workers sell their labour by doing a small part for a smaller salary. This creates huge industries that people can never replace. But how is all this related to my Daulat-ki-chaat? To know that we need to solve the maze.

Our next stop was Ghalib ki Haveli, the residence of the famous 19th century poet, Mirza Galib.

bas-ki dushvār hai har kaam  āsāñ honā
aadmī ko bhī mayassar nahīñ insāñ honā

Tis difficult that every goal be easily complete
For a man, too, to be humanis no easy feat

Human beings have a symbol-centric brain. Without the symbolic connect, that Galib’s poems did so eloquently, it is indeed difficult to be human. Inside a big interrelated chaos of things that we cannot relate to, we get lost. Lost in the big picture is a curse of the free market. Just like how the labours are ignorant of the way their work adds up to the product that they are creating, the end users also unaware of how these products magically come to them. In the morning when we get up and brush our teethwe have absolutely no idea who made that paste or where the brush came from. We even have no clue about the food we eat, who grows them, what kind of chemicals are added to make them look good, what kind of atrocities the plants and animals grown in the farms have to suffer. We don’t know how to hunt our food or make our clothes. From all the products we use, to the job we dowe have no clue about the bigger picture. It was not the same with the hunters and gatherers. They made their own clothes. They hunted their own meal. They knew how to make their shelter. They appreciated everything they needed to know about their own life. Modern humans would be lost if left alone because we know nothing.

Because we are the John Snow of the neoliberal world, our choices are easily manipulated. Division of labour has made us so specialized that we have forgotten how to comprehend the big picture. Our likes and dislikes are guided by advertisements. Our happiness and sadness is defined by market. The models flashing on the screens and smiling at you in the big hoardings tells us how to dress, what to eat, and which car to drive. We work hard to earn enough to maintain a lifestyle whose standard is set by someone else. Unfortunately, that standard has nothing to do with who we are, and thus it can never make us happy. And the effort to keep pace with the lifestyle inflation is increasing the stress in our lives. Is there a way out?

We finally found Sanjay Kumar, the man whose family has been selling Daulat-ki-chaat for three generations. We had a long chat with Mr Kumar as he told us all about his family and the art of making the dessert. They come to Old Delhi only in the wintersmake this delicious creamy and frothy dessert topped with khoya and nuts, and then once the season is over they leave for their village to farm. The Kumars have been doing this for decades every year. Every person in their family knows the entire process of how to make Daulat-ki-chaat, and not just parts. They were both happy and proud of their product.

With a scoop of Daulat-ki-chaat melting inside our mouth, we finally solved the maze. We realised the most important factor that was missing from a market driven society. It was the social connect. We are social animals, and market driven societies often does not respect that social nature of human beings. We are slowly losing the emotional connect with friends and family. The inequality resulting from our market society is leading to loneliness and depression. Rate of suicide among young generation is increasing all over the world. The problem is so critical that universities are offering courses on happiness, and countries are appointing ministers for loneliness. This, in turn, is breeding a new industry. Professional cuddling is a new hot occupation. Robot dogs are being manufactured in China to give young people company. Soon paying for companionship, for an evening walk, for even a casual date will become a norm. But it is people like Sanjay Kumar and their Daulat-ki-chaat that gives us hope. Not all connections are lost in the big picture.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018


The river knows, they say. Like time she flows without complain, silently observing the rise and fall of civilizations. Humans share an intimate relation with the rivers. While she quenches the thirst of humans and provide them with the vital fertile plains, humans make her immortal through prayers, songs and art. Mangli is one such small river that flows down the dying Aravalli Hills, seeping and snaking smoothly through the beautiful town of Bundi. As you stand at the edge of her yellow rocky bank sporadically covered with short shrubs, you could hear the burble of Mangli as she dance around and jump over the boulders, occasionally slashing through the sandstones of Vindhyans. This apparently trivial river have witnessed a lot.

Mangli River
When we disturbed the buffaloes

Once upon a time, in its hay days, Mangli was a mighty river that sustained quite a large population of hunters and gatherers. These ancient admirers of her have left their mark on the banks inside the small caves that they once called home. Why did they create the rock arts we probably can never decode. It might have been an early form of writing that contained important information, may be painting was how they taught their kids, they might have been summoning the divine or simply appreciating a form of art. Whatever may have been the motivation, these ancient rock arts are a rare window to the mind of our hunter ancestors.

Rare window to the mind of our hunter ancestors

The window was once lost behind the desert shrubs, ignored, forgotten, and left to rest in peace. Thousands of years later it managed to find a simple and innocent 8-class pass village bloke, with a passion for the past, peeping through the bushes. His name is Mr. Om Prakash Sharma, aka Kukki. Kukki’s hunt for old artifacts like historic coins began in the late 70's when he met a man who used to sell precious stones in Bundi that he claimed to have found in the hills. Kukki tried to imitate the man and found nothing as that man was a sham. As fate would have it, he found something better. He found ancient coins. When he took his findings to the Delhi National Museum the experts revealed that his coins are 100 to 700 years old, with one specific one that was from 4th century BC Mauryan Empire.

Mr. Kukki

It was only after his visit to National Museum in 1988 that he became interested in archaeology. Since then he have been crazily looking for more. With a little experience of artifacts he saw in the museum he found spear-head arrows, hand axes, cleavers, scrapping tools, bronze and copper age artifacts from mounds in Garada, Bhilwara, Bundi and other places. The madness turned a sweet-shop owner into an amateur archaeologist who found over 103 sites, and according to him the longest rock art site in the world stretching for 35 kms. His first encounter with rock paintings started only from 12th June 1998. Kukki is in his mid-sixties now, but even time could not erode his craving for archaeology. In his own words,
“I am richer than Bill Gates. Gates is rich by money, and Kukki is rich by culture. Everyone has at least a bit of money, but Gates do not have a single piece of the precious artifacts I own”.

We met Kukki in an unplanned trip to the sleepy town of Bundi. Unlike the rock paintings, I found Kukki on internet.  Being a busy man, it is difficult to get his time during working hours. So, we met in the evening and had a long chat. He is a very interesting man who can entertain you with stories for hours. Some of them even have ghosts in it. After a bit of persuasion he kindly agreed to share his time from a packed day to show us his ‘discovery’. I, along with my wife and over enthusiastic 7-year daughter started the trek along the rocky banks of Mangli with Mr. Kukki, looking for the ancient art. How often you get the opportunity to see the rare rock paintings away from the mad crowd, with the man who discovered it? It was our lucky day.

Over enthusiastic 7-year daughter

The paintings we saw are of antelopes, tigers, bears, humped bulls/buffalo, dogs, dancing men and women, hunting scenes, animal traps, various geometric patterns and one specific one that he claimed to be a giraffe. While the giraffe was not very convincing, the humped bull/buffalo in site no 23 is my favorite. These paintings are one of the richest I have seen.

Nets, traps of just geometric figures
A Dog?
A rich canvas of antelopes, wheels, dancing scene, hunting scene, etc

Humped bull or buffalo from site no 23
The animal canvas
The rock paintings are brown or yellow. Unfortunately Indian pre-historic men made paints from hematite and chalcedony and not charcoal, and hence carbon dating is difficult. But, based on Rock tools found here, these sites should be equivalent of Bhimbetka (Paleolithic and Mesolithic). But there is a mix and these sites have been occupied periodically even until recent historic times. A disappointed Kukki tells us with a sigh that only because of the poor choice of paints we cannot claim the oldest rock paintings of the world. He complains how the Indian archaeology is lagging far behind. Kukki’s discoveries are left unguarded and unprotected, only marked with numbers. Probably because it was not discovered by any professional, and thus there is no glory for the babus in wasting their precious time on this. But Kukki is hell bend to protect his findings with his life.

Kukki believes that he was a hunter and gatherer living here in his past life. That is why the paintings found him. Despite the threats to his life from mafias who are blasting the hills into the ground for home building rocks, and along with it Kukki’s passions, he continue to protect the sites. His biggest threat however comes from innocent local children and fervent lovers who write their names in the now popular cave paintings. As he was showing us one of the sites, a group of half-naked local tribal children gathered around us. When Kukki yelled at them, they giggled, ran and jumped unto the Mangli River. They were so comfortable with Mangli, as if she was one of their own. It was their time to bath alongside their pet buffalo who looked no different from the paintings in the wall. I wondered, if the person who drew the humped bull in the Chalcolithic period was yelled at for spoiling the Paleolithic paintings, would there be the site no 23. And, if not for Mr. Kukki's yelling, would these sites survive? May be, the river knows.

The local tribal children behind me

The pet buffalo