A Fort Won at The Cost of A Lion

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My earliest memory of spotting Sinhagad was from our terrace. I was fairly little and my grandfather would point at a distant hill in the hazy horizon and proudly declare, “To bagh, to Sinhagad ahe” (Look there, that’s Sinhagad).

Happy at having spotted the famous gad (fort), which had made a distinct impact on my imagination, I would rush down from the terrace to share my exploit (of having spotted the fort) with anyone who was willing to hear.

Most times I would not find audience, and would retreat to the safe cocoon of Amar Chitra Katha to validate my sighting.

The illustrations in the comic book only ignited my curiosity about the fort further.

Kalyan Darwaja, Yashwantichi samadhi (Yashwanti, the iguana’s memorial), Tanajichi samadhi (Tanaji’s memorial), Udaybhan (the fort keeper), the sheer rock face from where Maratha soldiers claimed to have made a daring entry into the fort — all clamored for attention in my young mind.

And while my mind raced with what could have possibly transpired that fateful night when the fort was under siege, it was always Tanaji’s tragic death that brought a bawling stop to my chain of imagination.

I would literally cry my heart out every time I read about how the brave Tanaji fought with one hand and ultimately succumbed to his war wounds. The fact that Udaybhan was also done to death had little consequence in the bargain.

A sombre Shivaji and Jijabai solemnly declaring “Gad ala pan sinha gela” (the fort is won at the cost of the lion) on the last panel of the comic book would inadvertently burst open my floodgate of tears.

Having thus bawled out and almost inconsolable, I would seek out aaji (granny) and get her to read to me from ‘Bokoba challe Kashila’. It was a thin book filled with the adventures of a dashing cat called Bokoba, who, much like his more famous doppelgaenger, Puss in Boots, encounters several adventures en route to Kashi (Allahabad).

I have visited Sinhagad umpteen times. A couple of times I also trekked up to its summit, eaten my worth in pithla bhaakri and bhaji and trekked down. But every time I visit the fort it’s like a first. Something about the place remains essentially elusive. You just cannot contain it in word, sight or smell. It is a ghost that eludes all sense of meaning, beckoning you to visit again and again and again…

Bonn, where I currently live, has its own version of Sinhagad. It’s called Lowensburg (lion fort) and is a part of the Siebengebirge range.

I am unaware of its history, though confident that it must be a radiant and bloody one.

Trekking up its ruined ramparts, one catches a majestic panorama of the Rhine.

The ramparts are well preserved and there are efforts underway to restore parts of the crumbling structure.

Unlike Sinhagad, its vicinity is not littered with plastic, peanut shells or paper.

People are mindful of not leaving garbage and littering is almost non-existent.

It is a beautiful place to visit, especially in Autumn. The surrounding forest is aflame in shades of auburn and ochre like an incandescent candle glowing bright just before going out. The sun is a mellowed orb of orange and trekking up Lowenburg is not half as tearful as it is in the blazing summer.

I feel a kinship with this hill. Just like my beloved Sinhagad back home, it offers me a respite from the tugs and pulls of day-to-day life.

But on top here, like the poet John Masefield, it is often the wind which rekindles my sehnsucht (yearning) for home.

Like Masefield, who longed for the ‘warm wind, the west wind, full of birds’ cries…’, I too yearn for a whiff of freshly roasted corn or the aroma of piping hot bhaji from ‘a fine land, the ‘east’ land, the land where I belong’.

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