Tourist guides are contemporary balladeers. The balladeers of yore depended on stories that were transmitted orally, and over time they came to be embellished by their own likes and dislikes. Context and content fused and became indiscernible. While the written word and research exists, and is available to the contemporary balladeers, colourful stories always make for better telling than an arid recitation of the facts. Unfortunately, the choice of adjectives often colours the story with a bias, rather than become a harmless decoration.
Such was a guide, we recently hired. My friend and I already knew a lot about the history of Pratapgad, so I guess we easily tuned out the needless adjectives, and asked questions that we didn’t have answers for. We both wondered the impact this has on someone who listens to a history for the first time. History’s heroes and villains are created, not necessarily by their actions, but where we the readers of history stand.
Slightly disillusioned by the official guide, we descended from the fort, and stopped for tea at a local eatery. And we were in for a big surprise.
Ajit Jadhav is a 20-something young man, who is a 10th generation resident of the fort. We met him in the eatery, which is run by his father and brother. He is currently non-resident at Pratapgad, because he is earning his degree in mountaineering, in far away Himachal Pradesh. He is here for the break, helping his family run the eatery and conduct treks for groups. He is a walking-talking Wiki on the forts of Maharashtra. He is aware of the geography and the history of the land. He states facts with ease and has a mature restraint on adjectives. At first we have a casual conversation. It gets a bit serious after a while. What would have otherwise been a 10-minute tea break now turns into an hour-long conversation. We ask him some more questions. He has the answers. I ask, why he does not edit the Pratapgad page on Wikipedia, and correct all the mistakes there? Data-connectivity, is the villain.
It seems that our history is in good hands. Both of us have invited him over to Mumbai for a History-Jam session. There’ll be conversations, Q&A, and free Wi-fi.