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Uddhav Thackeray and those scenic forts

By Mahesh Vijapurkar

The historic Murud Janjira fort, built on an island over an area of about 9 hectares, photographed by Uddhav Thackeray.

MUMBAI, JAN. 13. The perspectives this series of pictures offer highlight the locational advantages of forts. They also drive home the significance of being on an island in a sea-lane, or being perched atop a hill, hugging the contours, precariously poised on the edge of a cliff.

The photographer, Uddhav Thackeray, the executive president of the Shiv Sena, hovered over and around the 27 forts he picked of the more than 350 that dot the landscape of Maharashtra, including an impressive array along the Konkan coast. He did this from a helicopter over 40 hours, over 10 days.

In order to avoid the monotony of a dry landscape, he chose the clear, post-monsoon months. But that also meant being buffeted by winds. Which in turn meant that only a handful of the spectacular forts, unique in their own way, could be documented. Apparently, the top-view of these forts glimpsed while travelling on earlier political missions in small aircraft, both fixed-wing ones and choppers, drew him to this project.

Each fort has its own story, whether built by the Dutch, the Portuguese, the Abyssinians, the medieval rulers or by Chhatrapati Shivaji himself. Maritime forts are a special feature along the Konkan part of Maharashtra, but Mr. Thackeray laments that "very few are in good shape." He adds: "I wonder if those who are in their charge pay attention to their upkeep."

Having studied these forts carefully, Mr. Thackeray, and Ninat Bedekar, an engineer-turned historian who studies forts, say that the pace of decline of these impressive structures is so rapid that in another 100 years most of them would be rubble. The photographs, they hope, will lead to the authorities moving to ensure their proper maintenance.

Mr. Thackeray has donated, through one of his trusts, Rs. 50 lakhs for the upkeep of one of the forts.

In their heyday, the forts were not easily taken, especially after the Marathas gained control of them. This was true whether they were on the shore, on islands, or on bald hilltops with sheer cliffs alongside.

After holding an exhibition of these photographs here from January 19, Mr. Thackeray intends to compile them to make a reference book, with commentary for each photograph.

Although a friend, A. Bhosle, lent him the helicopter for the shoots "free of cost, because of the novelty of the project and its usefulness," Mr. Thackeray says, getting the project together was a tough task.

As soon as each roll was shot, it was taken to New Delhi by the Ministry of Defence for scrutiny before granting clearance. The authorities had even posted a man on the helicopter.

A few of the pictures of a sensitive nature were found to be too sensitive. The procedural exercises notwithstanding, not one of the 4,500 frames shot was lost or misplaced. The aerial enterprise had its advantages: one could go up or down, round and round, till the "best angle was available and the light was just right." But the vibrations of the helicopter taxed the photographer's ingenuity in terms of getting the aperture and the shutter speed right.

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