Dream of gold leads to government excavation in India
- 12 January 2014
- From the section Magazine
A dig for treasure begins after a man dreams of a huge amount of gold hidden under a fort in the north of India.
Dreams are part of our lives.
The double helix structure of DNA appeared to Nobel laureate scientist James Watson in a dream. Abraham Lincoln dreamt he was going to be assassinated days before it happened.
But what would you do if you dreamt of a secret stash of gold?
This is a question I put to students in north India. Most said they would ignore the dream.
"If you believed in dreams," said a young man called Lokendra Singh, "every day you would wake up with a Bollywood beauty".
Another friend, Om Pal Singh, took a different view: "No, you must believe dreams can come true."
We were talking about this because Shobhan Sarkar, a holy man in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, recently had an amazing dream.
In September, a long-dead king - Rao Raja Ram Baksh Singh - appeared to Sarkar in a dream and told him that 1,000 tonnes of gold were buried beneath Ram Baksh's old fort, which now lies in ruins in Unnao district of Uttar Pradesh.
Ram Baksh told Sarkar that the gold should be dug up and used for India's economic development.
Sarkar decided to take his story to the government. He wrote to the president and prime minister. His letters received no reply.
This is 2013, after all. Why would the government spend money on a dig just because of one man's dream?
But an Indian food and agriculture minister heard Sarkar's story and was intrigued. The minister instructed the Geological Survey of India to investigate the story.
The Geological Survey took soundings and found an "anomalous non-magnetic zone" under the ruins. Put simply, there might be gold.
The digging started on 20 October, accompanied by news vans, armed security and thousands of onlookers.
People started rubbing their hands thinking about what they would do with the gold.
Ram Baksh Singh's descendants, many of them fallen on hard times, claimed the treasure should belong to them. Locals said that the gold should be used for local development. Members of Ram Baksh Singh's caste said that the gold should go to them - not to the descendants or the locals.
The team stopped digging after four weeks of careful searching. The survey team found some rusty iron, some toys, some shards of broken glass.
But no gold.
However, maybe the gold rush will have a silver lining. Some of my student friends say that it has drawn attention to the terrible state of modern Uttar Pradesh.
An earnest journalist friend called Tejpal Singh says: "In Uttar Pradesh, 50% of women are malnourished and half the rural low caste population is illiterate.
"The dig will draw attention to this, and policies may begin to change."
Other students are less upbeat. Many see the story as a type of morality play.
"Everyone is chasing gold in modern India," they say. "No one any more is interested in truth or earning through hard work."
The gold rush also became a political matter. The Archaeological Survey of India now refuses to acknowledge that it was actually looking for gold at all. Its spokesman says that it was simply following up on the report of the Geological Survey. But the Geological Survey is now washing its hands of the whole business.
In early November it emerged that someone tampered with the Geological Survey's report, the zone it identified was never likely to contain gold and it didn't actually recommend excavation at all.
Media organisations have entered the fray - queuing up to ridicule what is going on. India Today magazine called the gold rush the "Taj Mahal of moronic madness".
Politicians have also got in on the act. The Hindu nationalist politician Narendra Modi said that the gold rush had made India into a laughing stock.
Instead of digging up earth in search of hidden treasure, Modi said, the government should try to recover the billions of rupees that politicians have stashed in Swiss bank accounts.
But Shobhan Sarkar is a popular figure. Modi suddenly realised that he was alienating his Hindu support base. Modi rapidly apologised to Sarkar and praised the holy man's work.
In the meantime, Shobhan Sarkar has got hold of a mechanical digger and is picking up from where the archaeological team left off.
The government has put a stop to this illegal dig but that still has not stopped Sarkar.
"I am ready to go to jail," he says.
It seems like he is not willing to give up on the dream of gold just yet.
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