Memories Of A Lost World
There was a bloody battle between Amar Singh Rathor and Prithviraj
Chauhan on board. Sri Devi danced and the Russian magician performed.
Quickly the floor was cleaned of the blood and colour, and all
were bundled into Birju Ranaji's bag.
Puppeteering has remained in Ranaji's family occupation for several generations.
Every Friday he boards the train with his nine-year-old son to perform a
puppet show in the library. Rajasthani folklore
weaved with Hindi film songs formed his standard storyline while
son Vicky played the tabla. By now, we even had a new guide,
Shri Ram who remained with us for the next four days.
Junagadh.Garlands, tikka and bugles. It
was a traditional Indian welcome to the city whose last nawab
wanted to secede to Pakistan after Partition. The
Darbar Hall museum
houses some poorly displayed priceless
artefacts. In a gallery hangs the portrait of the last diwan of the princely state,
Shah Nawaz Bhutto. The name, which
over five decades would remain intimately associated with the Islamic republic
Mahabat Khan's maqbara
and the Ashokan edicts
circa 250 BC were fascinating. Though not very well maintained,
the mausoleum retains its architectural charm. "The Archaeological
Survey of India does not have the funds for the upkeep of such
monuments," explained Shri Ram. There lay a surrounding calm
around those Ashokan edicts. Looking back, I think it was
the several millinneia between us and those relics that brought
about a brief moment of reverance.
After several rude jerks that sent things flying off the dressing
table and woke us with vibrating abdomens, the overnight halt
at Veraval was too tranquil. We had grown to enjoy the
rhythm of the train. "He was a goods train driver. I had
to get off the train in the night and tell him to be careful,"
Gupte clarified about a particularly rough stretch a few days later.
We reached Sasangir at dawn on Saturday. A cold and
bumpy ride took us to the Gir lion sanctuary. The tinted
glass windows, not the most ideal of devices
for viewing lions in their natural habitat. But the prospect of
encountering Asiatic lions proved far too exciting than mulling
over the failings of an automobile in the middle of a deciduous
Through brooks, past teak trees and the guide's account of the
cattle community living there, we
moved on, peering in the bushes to catch a glimpse of at least
one of the reported 304 lions in the sanctuary. We soon realised
predatory attendance wasn't so easy. "It all depends on your
luck madam, last week also we saw nothing," quipped Shri
In the midst of chanced encounters with pea hens, antelopes and
blue bulls, Marilyn and Ollie told us about their plans of writing
a book. Dating after 55. "We feel there is enough
for youngsters, its the elderly that get more lonely," said
Ollie. Dr Raj Kumar, Chandra's husband, had already thought
of another title. "Ollie, how about 55 not out?"
Tuned into American football with rudimentary interest in cricket,
Ollie prefered sticking to his title.
After losing their respective spouses, Great Expectations,
a dating agency, brought Marilyn and Ollie together two years ago.
Today, two rulers with rueful ends in world history are etched
on the couple's rings. Czar Nicholas II on Marilyn's ring and
the Shah of Iran on Ollie's. "These used to be gold coins,"
revealed Ollie. What followed reminded me of snatches from a Jeffery
January 1, 1924: Ollie's father fled from Communist Russia
and trudged two hundred miles across Siberia before making it
to the nearest railway station in China. His mother left a day
in advance on the pretext of seeing her sister who was a ballet
dancer in Shanghai. After battling with the bitter Russian winter
he met his wife in Shanghai. They began life anew and two years
later Ollie was born to them. In 1939 the immigrants arrived in
America, a country which would be home to them for the rest of
"I still have those boots my father wore on his journey through
Siberia," Ollie recalled his father's torturous journey many,
many years ago. A Professor Emeritus at Stanford
University with as many as 40 students completing their Ph d under him,
Oleg Sherby himself had come a long way since the day he arrived
as a 13-year-old in FDR's America.
Marilyn served as a nurse at the US army hospital in Teheran for
20 years before returning to the US a few years ago. "When
I was there I wore the hejab, spoke Farsi and wore contacts
because I didn't want to attract attention. But now things have
changed and most of my American friends have moved," she
"Shh...quiet everyone..." We didn't realise the bus had halted quietly and sauntering a
few metres away were two lionesses and a cub. The tinted windows
were tugged open, cameras went berserk, Ollie and Marilyn
kissed and our guide breathed a sigh of relief. A dramatic end
was thus brought to a four-and-a-half hour bus ride. "Khuda
Hafiz.With Marilyn's polite farewell to those
queens of the wild, we made a quiet exit from their territory.
Lions and tigers dominated the conversation on our return from the reserve. Amidst
references to the Sunderbans, the Corbett national park and
lions in Iran from across the Hindukush, we made our way back
to the Sasangir station. The timetable at the platform indicated
that only three trains halted there. "As this is a forest
area, lions are likely to venture onto the tracks, so no trains
cross this station during the night," revealed the station
Returning to the train after a tiring excursion was always a pleasure.
Usually a short nap followed a meal at the restaurant a few carriages
away. The food was a combination of Continental, Chinese and Indian
cuisine. There always was a mix of four to five
dishes at every meal. Sweet corn soup, garlic chicken, haka noodles,
vegetable Manchurian served with fish masala, alu-gobi, chapatis,
pickle and papad.