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A small town in the early 1940s, Gwalior was the capital of the princely state of the eponymously named princely state, one of the bigger states – in the same league as Mysore and Hyderabad with the Maharaja getting a 21-gun salute. A rich state, Gwalior was ruled by the Scindias, the collaborators of the Marathas who once ruled over Delhi, albeit for a short while. Descendents of the legendary Mahadji Scindia who happened to have sacked Bengal, the Scindias ruled over a pretty big area that covered not only Baghelkhand, Bundelkhand but also parts of Malwa. Mahadji’s loot of Bengal was reportedly stacked up in the Gorkhi palace that later became a school run by the State where my three elder brothers studied up to the secondary level. Legends had it that shovelling off a little bit of earth in the palace grounds would occasionally yield precious stones.
Like Gorkhi, another palace was converted into an educational institution, this time it was a degree college for women. Next to it was an adjunct to the Palace which too was converted into a girls’ school where education used to be free. My sister did matriculation from this school. The Scindias were progressive and had placed emphasis on education, especially girls’ education. Madhav Rao Scindia, the great grandfather of Jyotiraditya, was a forward-looking prince who ran a kind of administration that came in for praise by bureaucrats who served much later in the government of Madhya Bharat and, on its merger with it, of Madhya Pradesh. Madhav Rao and his father Jiyajira together built some magnificent structures in the town and elsewhere in his kingdom. It was he who had the Tighara dam, as indeed several others, built to provide water-security to his people in the capital. It is a tribute to his foresight that even after a hundred years the citizens of Gwalior are making use of it.
A recent pull-out of a national daily on property matters mentioned the Special Development Area that is colonizing Tighara near Gwalior to create a “counter-magnet” for the National Capital Region. Reading about it launched me on a nostalgic trip down the proverbial memory lane. Images from the childhood in Gwalior jostled around and prompted me to record them for whatever they are worth.
Tighara is a few kilometres out of Gwalior, Tighara was way out of town those days, beyond the low hills in the west behind which the sun would go down every evening. It was mysterious for us children as we were told that the place was infested with tigers. In fact, reports of tiger-sightings on way to the place and at Tighara itself used to be common. I could see from our terrace over the second floor on summer nights occasional lights of vehicles climbing down that lonely road. I still wonder whether they were the lights of vehicles of shikaries who went that side and beyond looking for big game.
It had a huge body of water created by damming of a small river by the name Sank. A BOAC sea-plane that used to fly between London and Sydney would regularly land on the Tighara waters in the early ‘40s. Among other places that it used to touch in India were Karachi, Allahabad and Calcutta. Our house used to be in its flight-path and, hence, it was an object of much curiosity as it flew past. I was still a very small child when the family was taken once in some acquaintance’s vehicle to the Tighara Dam. We walked on top of the dam from where we could see virtually an endless expanse of water. As there was a very strong breeze blowing, I recall, holding on to my mother. A little later, lo and behold, the sea-plane came in to land, touched down with what appeared to be a massive splash and taxied for some distance before coming to a halt. Boats went out to fetch the passengers, crew and the cargo. It was exciting for us children to have watched a plane land on water – perhaps a rare sight in India even today.
Nonetheless, the latest reports suggest that Nitin Gadkari, a minister at the Centre has plans to introduce sea-planes again to connect places that have remained unconnected so far. It seems to be a good proposal as many of our important and interesting towns would then be opened out to the world.
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