When I was 11, kids in my class used to ask me if I ate atlases for breakfast because I seemed to know all the capitals . The truth, which I concealed from them, was that I studied maps every night in bed. I'd never get sleep without poring over a great, big, musty atlas. And it wasn't the capitals that captivated as much as those small towns with wonderful names, Kumasi, Potosi, Toowoomba... What did they look like? Did they rise up from the coast or at the foot of mountains? Were they flat and dusty? Did they suddenly begin where scrubland ended or gradually build their way up from scraggly clusters to towering blocks? The atlas didn't have answers to all these questions. Imagination and extrapolation had a lot of blanks to fill. Now, there's no need to imagine. Thug got the cat in me mewing for a town named Etawah, described in Thug as a decrepit town at the confluence of the Yamuna and the Sangam and set amidst deep fissures in the earth. I think people are way too critical of Wikipedia. True that all it says isn't a hundred percent factual but at least it points you in the right direction. And the direction the Wikipedia article pointed me in was an intriguing relic of the 19th century. A reference to the only remains of the Great Hedge of India sent me squirreling around the net. Apparently, to arrest smuggling of salt and opium from eastern India, the British set up a massive living fence. This customs line stretched nearly 4000 km from the Punjab east to Orissa. Of these 4000 kms, nearly 1300 was a hedge made most of the Indian plum. There's a book by Roy Moxham called The Great Hedge of India which I'll have to dig up to satisfy one rabid mewling cat.
Flickr cc image Hedge at Montacute House, Sommerset by Moochy