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[In early 2010, illustrator Girish Sahasrabudhe and I spent more than a month doing about 500 ink-wash sketches from the film for my book The Pather Panchali of Satyajit Ray. During that period I visited a number of local art galleries and came back once with a couple of books by Pune’s water colour artist Milind Mulick. The paintings were on the old Pune city’s street life and were achingly authentic. Inspired by his and many other artists’ work, we began discussing possibilities of doing a book incorporating elaborate water colour illustrations. That’s when I thought of this book and wrote out this preface.

The book was to be a series on visits to places of historical, religious and cultural—in other words tourist—interest, both in India and abroad. Known local writers and painters were to be invited to participate. The text would be an account of an actual visit for the purpose of the book in diary format but instead of photographs, the piece would be generously illustrated with water colour renditions of the same authentic views. The last illustration could perhaps be the artist’s visualisation of the place in the event of an imagined terrorist strike. Why terrorist strike? The preface below explains why.

It still looks like a good book to write. Any takers?]

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One morning in 1996 the newspapers carried a sting so small you could miss it. The Taliban administration in Kabul declared that they were going to blow up a certain Bamiyan statues in their own country. A stamp size picture accompanying the report gave a faint idea of the horror. Two large figures of Lord Buddha were the targets. Even as we wondered what Buddha was doing in Afghanistan, we hoped one or the other super power would take timely action. But within days, the majestic statues were casually aimed at by smiling bearded handsome young men in black turbans and blown off on camera.

Contemporaries of Ajanta and Ellora and carved by generations of bhikshu artisans in a rugged Afghan mountainside, the Buddhas had stood overseeing the Bomiyan valley for 1500 years. At 180 and 120 feet they would stand slightly lower than Qutab Minar. As for age, Buddhisn is older than Islam by about a thousand years. And in a weird cultural sense, Bomiyan statues should be a greater loss to humankind than the Twin Towers of New York, over which wars have since been waged.

It’s a strange world that we live in. Every other place of religious or cultural importance in the world is under threat. The zealots claim that they serve the cause of their great religion; as it happens, they do nothing but destroy milestones of human heritage. Before another stinging report takes us by surprise, we decided to visit as many of these places as we could and start this series. Primarily we address ourselves to young people and urge them to travel and check out these places. We do so in the hope that the citizens of tomorrow will stop both Bomiyan as well as Twin Towers from happening ever, ever again.

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