| Chief minister Nitish Kumar gets a briefing from a guide at the Mohenjo Daro site. Picture by Sankarshan Thakur |
Mohenjo Daro, Nov. 11: The womb of civilisation is dry as dead; life has leapt out of it to prosper elsewhere in the great and teeming habitations of the subcontinent. Mohenjo Daro, or Moen Jo Daro, as Sindhi locals spell it, is much like a shrivelled placenta, critical to every human birth but rejected soon after. It’s a hard and ochre land that permits nothing on it other than shrubs and nettles; imagination must leap to sustain the sense this is where living cities were born.
Dust swirls around the ancient site’s single mound — the great citadel of the first settlement of man in our parts — and there’s little else around but the evidence of an unfinished autopsy into its origins and sudden demise, an elaborate dissection table of archaeologists led by John Marshall in the early 1920s.
The eroded remains of a Buddhist stupa that was wrought over the remains of the old and original city; skeletons of roofless dwellings, fragile as an old man’s ribs; a terrace of pygmy walls interlaced with openings, like this were someone’s idea of a labyrinth; a hole in the ground that is surmised by experts to have been the “great bath”; another pit, now eddied in fine earth, thought to have been the granary.
Chief minister Nitish Kumar carried a quizzical expression on his face as he was shown around the ruins in the company of Sindh’s culture minister Sussiyo Palejo, and local government minister Agha Durrani. “Are you quite sure these bricks we see are 5,000 years old?” he asked his guide at one point, “They don’t look that old to me.” These are probably what the Buddhists built on top later, he was told, but that makes them very old too, several centuries old. “But where are the original bricks?” he countered.
“Some are there, faintly visible and yet unexcavated,” the guide offered, “Some the British took away, what we have is these remains and we plan to excavate more some day, much more lies buried that what we can see.”
At the Mohenjo Daro Museum, a little later, Nitish turned to quiz the guide yet again when he saw a likeness of the “Dancing Girl”. “But where is the original, why don’t you put that one out, this is only a cast!?” This time culture minister Sussiyo Palejo pasted a quick riposte on it: “But the Dancing Girl is with you, in India, you took it.” Nitish smiled and said: “Achchha, is that so.” It was actually the British who took it.
For an exhibition in 1946. Partition followed and Mohenjo Daro’s Dancing Girl stayed back. She is currently at the Indian Museum in Calcutta, in fact.
From the cradle of the Indus Valley civilisation, Nitish’s party went to the Indus itself — to the temple of Sadu Belo, islanded midstream off the northern Sindh town of Sukkur. Sadu Belo is probably Pakistan’s biggest “living” temple and takes up a whole island on the Indus.
Nitish’s reception was so boisterous it verged on bedlam. Bells tolled, aartis were performed and bhajans sung out. And the rituals of puja soon became a party — an all-vegetarian lunch, the first Nitish’s delegation has been treated to on this visit, and probably also the last.
But what may have pleased the chief minister most was neither the puja nor the party but a poster hung out to receive him. “Welcome Nitish Kumar, Prime Minister,” it read.