Northern India, April 1981
"There, Babba, this is the Holy Jalanmalan," said the guide with a ceremonial voice. I could neither believe him nor my eyes.
"What!? This is pile of rocks in a jungle of figtrees, my friend," I answered, cynically and unable to hide my disappointment.
The guide appeared disappointed about my disappointment which upset me further.
"Babba, I am sorry to see you sorry but this
is the old place of the fathers of my forefathers. It is not in good shape,
Babba, but we are not as rich as you people."
I managed to jump down from the elefant without breaking my legs. "Look here," I said and I pulled a stack of maps out of my briefcase. "These are maps of Jalanmalan. They're made by men who studied the subjects for their entire life. Smart people, not like me or you; men who are being praised by _millions_ of people for their wisdom. Look!!"
Rajan looked at the map with curious eyes. Moments later he started giggling like a child. "Babba JD," he shouted, covering his face with his hands, laughing.
"Babba, you know Jalanmalan was a temple, square like a box - not a round tower, yes?" he asked with an inquiring attitude.
"What do you mean?" I said with a certain uncertainty.
"This is corner of temple, Babba, not top of tower," Rajan proclaimed, putting a greasy digit on my precious map.
I was not in the mood to argue but I tried anyway. "Listen, my friend, you are a good guide, OK, and the elefants listen to you sometimes, OK, but this is science, you know, a lot of people have thought about this for a long time, and..."
I looked at him and stopped preaching. It was too obvious that he rather believed what he saw in front of his eyes than to learn from the explanations of an educated man.
He saw that I was annoyed and tried to cheer me up again.
"You know, Babba, our forefathers have build
houses from all the pieces of old temple Jalanmalan. Maybe
ten houses, all different, may be more, all from the same stones,
that is funny, yes?"
He laughed again, seemingly uncontrolled, but stopped when he realized that I wasn't amused. "They are always called Jalanmalan but they were all different, only name is same...", he continued.
"Jaran, do you know that people have been building copies of the magnificent Jalanmalan in about every country in the world?" I said with an important voice.
"Really? Why?" he answered, frowning sceptically.
"Because it so wonderful!" I said impatiently.
"What's left is a lot of stones," he said, waving his hands towards the ruins of Jalanmalan. "I know them all, every one of them, and I am sure, Babba, it was a temple!" he insisted.
That did it. With a harsh voice I said to him: "I don't have time for this, it may be only a couple of days before the monsoon is starting around here. I want to look at some of the ruins as soon as possible. If you know all the ruins, can you show me this portal?"
I showed him another map, the one that so far has found the the most praise in the circles of the Jaranmalan experts of the world.
He looked briefly at the drawing and started giggling again. At least he seemed embarrassed now over his silliness, I thought.
"This is a cornerstone; from the foundation," he said, "in the ground..." He pointed downwards, painting some shapes in the air with his hands, as if I were a bit stupid.
"Show me," I said, cutting him off rudely. "Just show me, OK?"
We left the elefants behind and Jaran cut a path through the branches of figtrees that covered the ruins, silently. I felt sorry that I had been so impolitely to him, and I felt sorry for myself, having gone all the way to here just to hear some wisecracks of a guy who probably couldn't even spell the word 'college'. At least the elefants had been following his commands sometimes, I thought, not saying anything.
After a while we stood in front of a large piece of stone. It looked exactly like the top of the portal in all the drawings I studied. But it was far too big to serve in that function, it seemed. Now it actually looked like a cornerstone .
"Want to see more of these, Babba?" Rajan asked cautiously.
"Everybody knows, that there is only one like this," I said, getting out the camera and starting to take some shots.
"Oh, no, Babba, many more, let me show you, this way..." and he started to make his way through the next wall of dense bushes.
"Watch the snakes, they can kill you, Babba, and watch the spiders, some have poison, too. Most people never dare going here, hehe,..." he giggled.
Reluctantly I followed him. I figured it was equally dangerous to be left behind in the jungle without a guide than to stay right behind him.
In less than two hours I had seen seven more of the huge stones.
"Nobody is going to believe this," I said to Rajan and scratched my head.
"Hmmm, you are tired" he answered, "let's get some rest. There is small tribe living down that hill. I know well since long time," he suggested.
Exhausted as I was I agreed. Soon I was sleeping soundly.
When I woke up, rain was pouring down outside the simple but surprisingly clean litte hut I had been sleeping in.
My guide and a family of three was sitting in the center of the hut, looking both curiously and friendly at me.
"Monsoon early this year," Rajan said and rubbed his chin. "Did you sleep well, Babba?" he asked.
"My back hurts and my neck, too, but I'm OK," raising slowly from the mat on the floor.
"Damn, I shouldn't have stayed that long in Bangladesh, now we're stuck here" I cursed my fate.
"Rain comes and goes! We can try to get back as soon as we can see more than 30 meters through the rain or so," Jaran tried to encourage me.
I looked outside and saw a wall of water splashing down.
"How much are they charging us for staying here overnight?" I asked Rajan.
He looked at me with surprise and started laughing again.
"Hehe, this is not America, Babba," he said, visibly amused. "We stay here until the rain slows down so that we can see ahead of us. They don't know here what money is, hehe. No hamburgers, Babba, only rice here, sorry..."
The family looked at me with friendly eyes. They didn't seem to understand English. The woman was painting some kind of a vase using a strange liquid; the man offered me a bowl of cooked rice. Their child, a boy, perhaps 5 years or younger, played with pieces of clay. The tribe must be into making pottery, I figured. Jaran tuned a tabla set and eventually started drumming a slow and relaxing raga.
Still, after a couple of hours, I became restless and thought what I could possibly do until we could had head back to the nearest city.
Watching the child play with the clay, I got an idea.
"Rajan," I said, "you said you know every piece of the ruins, is that right?"
"Sure, Babba, sure!" he answered with confidence.
"Can you take that clay here and make pieces just like them out there, but very small?"
Rajan scratched his head.
"Why not - rain still strong for some time," he mumbled. He talked to the family in a dialect I had never heard before.
Then he started forming little pieces of clay, one by one - tiny copies of the ruins of Jalanmalan.
The second day after the monsoon had started I was ready for a nervous breakdown. Peering out into the rain, living of brown rice and some unknown, strange fruits, I started to daydream of being back in the civilization. But the next McDonalds was a couple of hundreds of miles away, if not more...
On the third day, Rajan proudly announced that he had finished his work.
Scattered on the floor were nearly fifty small pieces of clay, still moldable and soft, but having a distinct shape, each of them.
"OK, Rajan, you say Jalamalan was a square temple, right?" I challenged him.
"Yes, Babba," he answered with confidence.
"Here are the pieces," I said, "let's build it!"
On the fourth day after the monsoon had started the rain seemed to become thinner.
The pieces of the ruins of Jalanmalan didn't fit together. Rajan and myself, each of us had our turns while the other was sleeping, trying to use the pieces to build something that made somehow sense.
"I give up," I finally said with a sigh. "Me too, let's make some music!" Rajan said.
I closed my eyes and fell asleep again, listening to the sound of the tabla drums still in my dreams. Rajan played the tabla like god Rama himself, here, way out in the jungle, while the rain was droning on in the background like a didgeridoo.
When I woke up on morning of the fourth day after the monsoon had started, the child of our host family had taken over the pieces of clay.
And, much to my amazement, the boy had found a way to put them all together. He had put away some of the pieces that didn't fit anywhere, maybe the original pieces had been made in later times for a different building. For some minor parts of the construction he had formed some new, small pieces to link the existing pieces together.
But what he had built while we were sleeping, was not a tower. And it was not a temple either. All the maps I had studied didn't describe what I saw here. They were just maps anyway, I realized. And, actually, they were maps of maps of maps of someone who may have seen the old building but perhaps he just saw a later contruction instead, who knows?
I looked at the assembled pieces for a long time. Then the sun broke through the cloud unexpectedly. The child, all of a sudden, swept all of the pieces away, smashing what it had built in an ingenious way.
I was startled. There really was a way to fit the pieces together, I knew now.
My voyage had been successful in a completely unexpected way. Happily said I good-bye and "thank you". Even the lead elefant, grim and stubborn, seemed to smile at me when we left to return.
Yes, Jalanmalan had not been a tower. Neither a temple.
The only way, it seemed, to make all the pieces fit perfectly together, was in the shape of a bridge.
I still remember it today, every detail of it. It was so incredibly beautiful...