A professor of computer science at the Institute of Mathematical Sciences, Chennai, Kamal Lodaya was an editor of the children’s science magazine Jantar Mantar in the 1990’s. Kamal occasionally writes stories for English and Gujarati magazines.
We came to the Circuit House in Tawang looking for accommodation. Janardan Yadav, the caretaker, said that as the chief minister of Arunachal Pradesh had cancelled his programme of coming that week, there were indeed rooms available. He asked us to get permission from the Deputy Commissioner’s office. We waited for Mr Damu, the ADC, outside his office, until a suited gentleman (he was another ADC himself) politely told us he was in the adjoining building and led us there. Mr Damu was fascinated by our plans of watching the total solar eclipse from Tawang, and enthusiastically looked at one of the eclipse goggles Shobha pulled out from her bag. (We later left all the eclipse goggles we had with him for the benefit of schoolchildren.)
While Janardan talked of government officials with respect, he saw Dorjee Khandu, the then chief minister, with something close to awe. “He has poured money into Tawang,” he said with pride, and pointed out all the renovations done to the Circuit House in the last two years. I asked him whether this might not be seen as nepotism (since Mr. Khandu is from Tawang district, the first one to become chief minister of Arunachal) but Janardan waved me away.
“He is spending money in other districts also, he is planning hydroelectric projects, he is building schools …”
In Tawang there appeared to be an additional personal element.
“There are so many people who queue up here to meet him when he visits,” Janardan said, “none of them go back empty handed.”
When we left, Janardan gave us a calendar of Tawang produced by the Arunachal government, where a corner of the beautiful scenes photographed for every month is overlaid with a picture of Mr. Khandu.
Janardan said he would give us good Bihari food, and was as good as his word. We looked forward to the meals at the Circuit House and he looked forward to surprising us every meal with some new and interesting dish. He told us how to find the laundry in the New Market (it turned out that the couple who ran the restaurant promising South Indian dishes also ran a laundry in the back). He suggested the Crafts Emporium for shopping. He told us that we should go to the gompa (monastery) in the afternoon and it might therefore be better to visit the Tawang War Memorial in the morning.
When we did go to the 17th century gompa, we found ourselves in a ceremony in the main hall where perhaps a hundred children, studying to be lamas, were praying. Two senior priests were chanting mantras and some older students were blowing long horns, some were beating drums. It was an interesting form of prayer and we wondered whether all prayers at this gompa had such an aural component.