Hindi Belt Metroplus

Life down Muanjodaro’s street

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When I heard the news that Jansatta editor Om Thanvi had been honoured with the prestigious Bihari Award for 2014 by the K.K. Birla Foundation, I immediately leapt out of my chair to locate my copy of the book that had fetched him this prize. Four years ago, this slim 118-page volume titled “Muanjodaro” was released at a well-attended function at India International Centre and I had read it from cover to cover.

The news of the award prompted me to read it all over again, and the experience was even richer than the first time.

Although the book, published by Vani Prakashan, has been described as a ‘travelogue’, it’s much more than that as it operates on multiple planes. It’s primarily an account of Thanvi’s journey to Mohenjo-daro, the largest urban settlement of the Indus Valley Civilisation, in Sindh province of Pakistan. However, had it been only this, I doubt that it would have been considered for such an honour.

I am yet to read a travelogue that is written with such sensitivity, using the Hindi language in so creative a manner, and offering the reader a panoramic picture of the place as well as its history and archaeology. Even those who have done extensive readings in the history of the Indus Valley Civilization and its material culture will find more than a few nuggets of new information and analysis in this book.

Om Thanvi informs us that the local people call the place Muanjodaro, not Mohenjo-daro. In Sindhi, muan means dead and dara means mound. So, muanjodaro means ‘a mound of dead bodies’. In fact, Rangeya Raghava (a Tamil Iyengar Brahmin whose family had settled in Rajasthan nearly three centuries ago) had named his 1948 novel on the Indus valley civilisation Murdon Ka Teela “Murdon Ka Teela” (“A Mound of the Dead”) precisely for this reason. Therefore, Thanvi has titled his book as “Muanjodaro ”.

As one travels through the book, one feels as if one is taking a stroll on the streets of Muanjodaro. For nearly a century, historians and archaeologists have been writing about its impressive town planning, advanced drainage system, trade with distant lands and mysterious script. Consequently, there is no dearth of scholarly works on the Indus Valley Civilization. Yet, one is not sure if many readers would know that houses in Muanjodaro did not have their entrances facing the main streets and opened towards the inner alleys, and that Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier (Édouard Jeanneret-Gris) adopted the same style while planning Chandigarh. Similarly, not many might be aware that the Indus or Harappan people were the earliest to dig wells and draw water from them and that there were more than 700 wells in Muanjodaro alone. Eminent historian Irfan Habib has been quoted in the book to draw attention to this fact. As the houses have no balconies, the Indus seals have figures of lions, elephants and other such animals, and no canals were dug for the purpose of agricultural irrigation, Thanvi speculates that at the time when this civilization was flourishing, this area must be receiving ample rains and could not have been a desert.

Perhaps, sudden climatic changes turned the area into an arid land and ground water level went down considerably owing to extensive use of wells, thus leading to de-urbanisation.

Besides offering fascinating descriptions of the place, Thanvi also familiarises his readers with the unresolved issues concerning the nature of the Indus Valley Civilisation, its spread over a large area and sudden decline, relationship with the Vedic culture and its mysterious script that remains to be deciphered.

He does not pronounce the verdict but lays all the contending theories and views on the table.

However, it’s not that he does not have his own views. He does have his views and expresses them very lucidly. In the process, he does not hesitate to contradict views held by iconic figures such as Vasudev Sharan Agrawala, a great scholar whom some Hindi writers like Kamalesh have been trying to deify for ulterior ideological motives, or Ramvilas Sharma, a famous Marxist literary critic who wrote tomes on many non-literary subjects and propounded unsubstantiated theories. Thanvi also informs that no serious historian believes in the Aryan invasion theory or the theory that the Indus Valley Civilization co-existed with Vedic civilization (Agrawala) or that they were one and the same (Bhagwan Singh).

He also informs the readers about the academic fraud perpetrated by the likes of N. S. Rajaram who tried to prove Singh’s RSS-inspired theory by morphing the figure of horse on an Indus seal.

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Printable version | Feb 21, 2019 6:40:08 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/hindi-belt-life-down-muanjodaros-street/article7113649.ece

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