Whispers and Tall Tales

Sprawled in the vast acres of Ashtur is the final resting place and half preserved edifices of the Bahamani dynasty – time stood buried and alive at the same time. The Sunday mood, perfected by the weather, was quite evident with locals indulging in a game of cricket or cards under a huge tree. For the traveler it offered a chance to satiate  history and heritage at an unhurried pace. Sighting visitors, an enthusiastic lad or two will offer to share trivia and interesting facts with the hope of earning some quick bucks. One of them led us to the precincts of the largest tombs to show us the gold- rimmed lining on the domed structure. Just a little away stood the façade of a tall edifice, one half of it struck by lightning. The rooftop could be accessed through an intriguingly designed double staircase where a person taking the stairs one side is not visible from the twin side! Bidar which goes by the epithet of Whispering Tombs tirelessly treats you to legends, trivia and back stories. The most interesting story of the day was awaiting us…

The group was huddling back after pictures, selfies and strolls when a simple looking man wearing a prayer cap approached with a newspaper cutting and an ID card. Taking him to be another local guide with an interesting story, he had got everyone’s attention. He introduced himself as the direct  descendent of the Bahamani dynasty. He offered to take us to his house and show us the family heirloom of aritfacts and weaponary . I took the paper cutting wanting to see the byline – instead a stunning title of a royal-languishing-in poverty caught my attention. The day before, we had the good fortune of meeting some members from YUVAA, an NGO working towards the conservation of heritage and restoration of the karez system. A senior journalist was also with us who has the distinction of covering news from every nook and corner besides human interest stories from this town. The byline for this story was however not his. Neither had Vinay and his team mentioned about such a person.

The best guard for a traveler is always caution and instinct;  or at least common sense. Never let it take leave of you…  The “languishing-in-poverty-yet-holding-on-to-a-legacy” angle had got everyone in the group interested. Any attempt to alert the group was impossible without this man getting a wind of it. Since I did not smell grave risk or danger, I decided to go along and see how it would all play out. When we reached his locality, the entire clan was there to welcome us. We squatted on the floor inside the tiny living room with around 30-40 artifacts displayed on the thin carpet. They were badly in need of oiling and polishing. I exchanged a quick glance with Shoham sitting beside me, who urged the family to have them treated and preserve the collection in a better way, only to be met by a feeble response. “No funds”, the host said and added that an appeal for help from the government to preserve and showcase was met with stoic silence. The group admired all the artillery and regaled themselves by brandishing swords and knives followed by generous pooling of funds. The children of the clan (at least about a dozen) posed for pictures and were treated to goodies.

Late in the afternoon we met the YUVAA team at Bidar fort. When I narrated the encounter to Vinay, without any haste he shot down the veracity of this “legacy keeper”. He had a very valid point – the last ruler of the dynasty  had sired only daughters thus defeating the patrilineal claim by the conman.  Interestingly, this man had also turned down an offer (by a high official) to play host to visitors at the fort and regale them with his collection and stories in return for a decent salary. But no! “How can a royal member (sigh!) stoop down to such a lowly position”, was his contention! Vinay also cited one instance where they tried to intervene and stop foreign tourists from getting carried away by his tall tale but to no avail. Visitors are suckers for such stories.

Whether his ancestors had any connection at all, or whether they were just retainers in the king’s court and if that’s how they came into possession of these artifacts, I will never know. All I know is one err… behimaani (scrupulous) claiming to be a Bahmani got us carried away with his voyeuristic tale!

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