A discovery of India on wheels
Kozhikode: Neelambuj Neel, doctoral student at Benares Hindu University and Vikas Yadav doing post-graduation at Jamia Millia Islamia, Dilli, are on a discovery of India on wheels. Through this academic exercise, doubling as an adventurous enterprise, they seek to deepen their understanding of ‘Indian Contemporary and Historic Culture’. Kitted out with a spartan pair of clothing each, sleeping tent, an inevitable tool kit, ubiquitous mobile phones, a small container for food and bottles for potable water, they have ventured on this voyage of exploration riding the king of the road – Royal Enfield Bullet 350.
The academic duo hit the road on February 14, 2021, from Varanasi and expect to return by April 8. They reached this port-capital of the fabled Malabar Coast traversing diverse terrain, zigzagging through cities and towns redolent of the fragrance of history - Jabalpur, Nagpur, Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Dindigul, Kodaikanal, Madurai, Kanyakumari, Rameswaram, Tiruchendur, Pondicherry, Mahabalipuram, Thiruvannamalai, Kochi and Thrissur. Having covered nearly 4,500 kilometres, the biker companions reached this city around ten in the night.
Exhausted after a hot day’s drive, they pitched their sleeping bag on the pedestrian pathway along the beach. Their blissful sleep was interrupted by a night patrol. Convinced of their genuine credentials as itinerant scholars, the cops had only a cautionary word for them: “Please take care of your belongings.” This was quite a pleasant departure from what had occurred a previous morning in Kochi, where, while they were folding their tent a regular busybody turned up with all sorts of unwarranted questions, an eloquent manifestation of the obnoxiously meddlesome Malayalee.
In Kochi, they met the sculptor P H Ho Chi Minh, who hosted them and acted as their guide while visiting the T K Padmini gallery and Gallery OED. They also had an informative interaction with the faculty of RLV College of Fine Arts, before proceeding to Kozhikode via Thrissur, where the Akademi unfortunately had closed by 5 p.m.
With quiet delight they revealed that not one night of the forty-five days they have been on the road has been spent in paid accommodation. They have either camped in the welcoming open or found shelter with friends or artists, with whom they must interact as part of their travel. Obviously, this is a great relief, since fuel costs on an average up to re.1,000 per day, while on the move, burn a hole through Neel’s educational stipend.
As part of their studies, the pair visited museums and art galleries, apart from meeting prominent sculptors and painters. For archival purposes these were documented through photographs. In the local Lalithakala Akademi, they made the acquaintance of a trio of Thrissur-based artists, who were exhibiting here – Anil K V, Devan Madangarly and Johnson M K.
Earlier, at sculptor-painter Johns Mathew’s suburban Cheruvatta home, the students met and had an animated discussion with Lenin Narayanan, a student of sculpture, now working with glass; self-taught tablist Ramdas, who earns his living as an electrician, psychologist Shijo and photographer Valson Mathew. After partaking of Johns’ hospitality, Neel and Vikas left for Udupi, where their friend Ganesh Urala will welcome them into his family.
Subsequently, they will wend their way home to Varanasi, passing through Gokarna, Goa, Hampi, Hyderabad and Jabalpur. By then, the roadster duo would have savoured the syncretic mosaic of India and steeped themselves in the embrace of her inclusive culture. In context, Neel had confided that their experience with the local people was "totally different from North India.”