I picked up Portraits from Ayodhya on Amazon, when I was planning my trip to Ayodhya. There are hundreds of books on the city but almost all of them talk about the Ram Janambhoomi case. I could not lay my hands on the books that talk about Ayodhya – the ancient city on the banks of Saryu. This was the closest I could get to that.
Portraits from Ayodhya takes you through the lives of 25 residents of Ayodhya. They come from all kinds of background, some of them born and brought up in Ayodhya but many of them migrated from other states of India. In fact, a fair percentage comes from the neighboring state of Bihar. There are men and women, there are saints and politicians and some who are both. There are musicians and astrologers and social workers. All in all, a great mix of people picked up from the layers of Ayodhya.
Ram Janambhoomi mandir still remains at the core of the exploration of the author of Portraits from Ayodhya, though her take is more real and on the ground. She tries to draw a sketch of the contemporary Ayodhya and the life of its common citizen. Among their lives, she tries to gather what they feel about the Ram Temple and what is the verdict that they want.
As a format, Dubey traces the life of the person and their relationship with Ayodhya. She talks about what they do and sketches a day in their lives. With a fair portrait in place, she goes on to ask her questions.
Buy Portraits from Ayodhya by Scharada Dubey at Amazon
When I began reading the book, it almost felt that it was to prove that VHP or Vishwa Hindu Parishad has brought Ayodhya to a conflict state. Many of the people featured in the book talk about VHP spoiling the Ram Mandir issue. However, as I progressed through the book, it came out as a general opinion that VHP could have handled the Ram Mandir issue better. What you get to feel through these portraits is the earthy rustic life of people. Many of these people are saints living in Ayodhya. Mind you at one point in time they formed 75% of the population of the holy city.
What is unanimous though is that everyone wants the Ram Mandir. Some want it because they are believers of Ram – which is almost everyone in Ayodhya. Others want it so that the city can come out of the deadlock and move ahead.
I spent a week in Ayodhya and it feels strange that around its core – both physically and emotionally, the city moves as if it is a big roundabout. People who live closest to the temple land need to move with passes. I wish the author also asked people what they felt about the core being locked and blocked. There is the whole generation that has never seen a free entry to the temple that is ingrained in the whole identity of the city.
Read More – Ayodhya: The city of Ram and Ramayana
I happened to meet two people mentioned in the book by Scharada Dubey – Musician and Singer Pt Gauri Shankar & Astrologer Dr. Premlata Pandey. Both of them came across as simple citizens soaked in the aura of Sri Ram. Gauri Shankar ji used to sing in Kanak Mahal temple for a long time and now lives in a single room that is full of his instruments. Premlata ji is like your long granny who welcomes everyone at her home with a small personal temple. I had a long conversation with her where she recalled many incidents when her predictions came true but what impressed me most was her knowledge of Indian Scriptures. So, thank you, Scharada Dubey, for taking me closer to Ayodhya through your portraits from Ayodhya.
I also agree with the author that something needs to be done about the monkeys of Ayodhya. I hope the administration listens to her.
Overall, a very readable book. Read it if Ayodhya interests you the way it interests me.
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