STAR FACTORY

MAPPING THE STARS OF INDIA.


★ Star factory, Shantiniketan.

Shantiniketan, the estate where India’s Nobel Laureate, Rabindranath Tagore established a “school of ideals.” It shaped luminaries such as former PM Indira Gandhi, Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen and the iconic filmmaker Satyajit Ray.

★ Star ships, Port Blair.

They’re no luxury liners but the ships that ply the nautical corridors between Chennai, Vizag, Kolkata and the Andamans, are a lifeline for the islanders. Still not self-sufficient, the archipelago depends on cargo shipments – and an influx of tourist rupees – to sustain its rudimentary economy.

★ Star studded, Pune.

Pune’s stud farms have morphed into deluxe establishments for wealthy horse owners and their pedigreed mares and stallions. Acres of green, state-of-the art facilities and multiple turf tracks – the Mumbai Derby may get a run for its money.

★ Star-crossed, Binjore. (near Anupgarh in Rajasthan)

Thousands of hopeful couples gather annually at the Indo-Pak border – the apocryphal tomb site of legendary star-crossed lovers, Laila and Majnu. The tragic twosome’s grave reputedly possesses the power to bless away obstacles to a blissful union.

★ Star struck, Patna/Rajgir.

Plans for a dedicated Bhojpuri-language film city reemerge as regularly as retired movie stars who headline the vernacular movies. But with Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar backing plans for the construction, the Bhojpuri belt could well add this notch to its buckle.

★ Star search, Hanle.

The stars draw a little closer at Hanle, Ladakh, where the highest observatory in the world sits 14 800 feet above sea level. It’s not just high up, it’s high-tech – the facility’s two metre, optical infrared telescope is managed remotely by the Indian Institute of Astrophysics in Bangalore.

★ Star power, Chennai.

The late Tamil megastar MGR founded the AIADMK political party, now led by yesteryear bombshell Jayalalitha. Scriptwriter and current chief minister M Karunanidhi helms rival party DMK, the other contender for political power in Tamil Nadu. Bollywood may have more box office clout but Tollywood clearly has a bigger pull at the polls.

★ Falling star, Simlipal.

The 400 metre two-tiered Barehipani waterfall nestled in a wildlife sanctuary lays contentious claim to being India’s tallest. In the monsoons it doesn’t cascade as much as hurtle down, leaving prismatic stars in its wake.

★ Star trek, Tawang (Arunachal Pradesh)

High-altitude treks in north-east India offer twofold access to the heavens. Discover hidden Buddhist gompas – gemlike monasteries and nunneries – by day, and walk the crest line of the Himalayas in the starlit eve.

★ Star crush, Allahabad (This year’s took place in Haridwar; in 2013 the Maha Kumbh will take place in Allahabad.)

When the stars align – Jupiter enters Aquarius and the Sun enters Aries – sages and pilgrims gather for the Kumbh Mela. And every 12 years, millions throng for a dip in the Ganges, which takes on an especially holy dimension for the duration of the Maha (Great) Kumbh.

★ Star fish, Goa.

Are there more stars in the seas than in the skies? Walk the sands, wade the waters of Goa and ruminate on the meta-physicality of the star fish that abound. Not actually fish but echinoderms, star fish belong to the class “asteroidea” – the idea of a star!

★ Star fruit, Udupi.

The souring agent in Mangalorean cuisine, the waxy, fleshy carambola or star fruit lends a sharp bite to pickles and curries of the Konkani coast. The backyard snack fruit is also a highlight of childhood memories – green, doused in salt and tart enough to pucker eyeballs.

★ Star bound, Sriharikota.

The GSLV Mark 3 may sound like the next-gen razor blade, but it is in fact an orbital satellite vehicle set to trail blaze. Its predecessor the D3 plunged to the deeps of the Bay of Bengal but hopefully the Mark 3 will make its mark in the heavens.

★ Star(s) of India, off the charts.

An iron-hulled ship built in 1863, an almost flawless 536-carat sapphire and an order of the British Empire all bear the name of the republic – but lie out of its territorial bounds:

★ The gem flaunts two stars on either of its spectacular sides and is housed in the Museum of Natural History in New York City. (Due west)

★ Named for its maiden voyage to Calcutta, the seaworthy vessel is the oldest in the world to still foray regularly into water. When it’s docked in San Diego it doubles up as a maritime museum. (Due east)

★ The Most Exalted Order of the Star of India was instated after the 1857 mutiny as a (very pretty) thank you to loyal subjects – Indian and British – of Queen Vic. It hasn’t had much currency since 1947. (Due north).

Byline: Aditi Saxton


Motherland is a bi-monthly magazine with a focus on contemporary and emerging Indian cultures.

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