walk a-musing

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Maharaja's Well


Last week, while sorting out new donations at the charity book shop, I came across a small 12 page booklet titled "The Maharaja's well". There was a photograph on the front page of a mantap presumably with a well in the middle and the address below said 'Stoke Row, Henley on Thames, Oxfordshire'. Most curious! I couldnt help read through a few pages before I continued with my work.

Here is the story I gathered from the booklet and later, some quick web search. In 1850, the son of an English country squire while chatting with the Maharaja of Benaras told him the story of a small boy in the village of Stoke Row who was beaten by his mother for drinking up the last of the water in the house during a time of draught. The Maharaja was so moved that he commissioned the digging of a huge well in the village. Water from the well was to be free for the villagers like it is in Indian villages. Also, the well would have to be maintained from the money raised by fruits grown in the village (which I believe used to be the practice in India. I was not aware of that) . To this end he donated enough money to buy a few acres of land and grow cherries, and also maintain a well keeper, for whom a cottage was also built.
It was a huge feat of engineering because the well is 368ft deep (a little more than the height of St. Paul’s Cathedral). The main superstructure is about 23ft high and is topped by a gilded dome. There are many glass lenses fitted into the dome to allow light through to show the water line. Underneath is the winding machinery and a decorative elephant added some time later. A fw years later, a couple of other Rajas who did not want to be outdone commissioned more wells one of which is the drinking fountain in Hyde Park near the Marble Arch. There are more tidbits in the booklet about how the Maharaja insisted that the well be inaugurated, an approach road built to it, etc, to mark various celebrations in The British royal family. There are also details of the expenditure - around 350 pounds for the well and about 75pounds for the cottage. Though the village is no longer dependent on the well for its water supply, the well is being maintained and has a few visitors. Money for its maintenance is raised by the sale of booklets one of which had reached me in the shop.
A multitude of thoughts came up in my mind when I read all this. An Indian Maharaja financing the digging of wells in an English village during British rule? And insisting that the British royal family be honoured on the occasion! How well were the people of Benares looked after by their king during this time? Was the Maharaja just a puppet trying to please his puppeteers? Or should we just look at it as a gesture of goodwill by a rich Maharaja and leave it at that?
Stoke Row is not too far from where I live. Perhaps I will visit it one day.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Gardening. Part1: Way back


How I love my plants and the garden! I owe it entirely to mom.

Picture this. A quiet sleepy afternoon during the school summer vacation. All my friends have gone away to visit their grandparents and I am the only kid in the neighbourhood. I drag myself to my mother, slouch against the kitchen door, put on a long face and complain that I am utterly bored. My mother, busy preparing snacks for afternoon tea, dismisses me straightaway saying that with so many books in the house I should never ever complain of boredom.
Result: I become a book lover and an avid reader.
Thanks mom.

After hours of reading I want some change. I again go to her, put on a longer face and complain again. She has some time for me now and says, "Okay, come sit next to me."
I sit down eagerly. Will she tell me an interesting story? Or play some game perhaps?
"What is 7 times 9?" Oh no.
"12 times 6?"
"Recite the 13 tables" . It goes on.
And then the horror of horrors, "Have you learnt the 17 tables? Let me hear it".
But after a while she has to get back to her work and happens to say, "Why don't you go weed the garden".

I never complain of boredom again. Whenever I want a break from books I quietly pick up the tools and walk to the garden. When there are no more weeds to remove, I think up other projects in the garden. Anything to avoid more mathematical tables. I plant, I water and take pleasure in watching the plants grow.
Result: A gardener is born.
Thanks again mom.

I love maths too, but perhaps not thanks to mom. Reciting tables is not my idea of a fun summer holiday.


Friday, October 05, 2007

Another post

It has been more than a week since I announced that I was back and I have not put up a new post. I have been going around with thoughts popping into my head that I want to share on the blog but sitting down for long enough to type hasn't been easy. I have been doing some adding up to see what takes so much of my time. I have not taken up a new job or anything. But there is surely so much more to do since last year.
In addition to what I did before, I have joined an arts class. I have joined a book club. I have begun to particpiate in a few musical activities in the area. I have started to learn music from my sister (on skype!). But perhaps the most important difference is that I now live in my own house and more interestingly, I have my own garden. I am one of those who believes that the house exists for me and I dont exist for the house, meaning, I dont go about cleaning and polishing, tidying and arranging all the time. But in order that the house works for you, you have to work on the house a bit. One has to put up blinds, fix up shelves, change taps, buy furniture....the list is endless. And this being Britain, everything takes -phew!- a lot longer than elsewhere. Either you do everything yourself or when you have to get it done by someone, you start by taking three quotes from three places. And the garden? That is a whole different story and the subject of a series of posts. To add to all this the house is in a village a few miles from town so I spend more time in the car than before.
But you know how you feel when you stop exercising and start again? You just cant understand how or why you had stopped. That is the way I feel about blogging. I dont want to stop again.