Hello and welcome to the world of Somewhere. I am Dhruv, one half of Studio Oleomingus.
Somewhere is a text driven, exploration game set within an alternate Colonial India of the mid eighteen hundreds. It is an anthology of stories about people searching for the mythical city of Kayamgadh. Our stories for Somewhere exist are a loose adaptation of the incredible work of the historian and author : Mir UmarHassan.
Born in early nineteen hundred and ten, Mir UmarHassan lived and worked in Dharampur, where he spent nearly forty two years as a newspaper editor. His work which is written in Urdu or Gujarati, is a magnificent portrait of the post independence anguish of the once princely state of Dharampur.
His historical essays, written for the fortnightly journal : Shodh, form the narrative core of our work. The following text (and bear with me for it is a story of some considerable length), is an excerpt from an essay called :
By Mir UmurHassan
If you visit the town of Matsyapur, in the Tok (Tok’h)province of what used to be the southernmost tip of the Malwa state, you will find a hundred and twenty year old palace that houses the land redistribution offices, in one of it’s better preserved annex.
This used to be the Magistrate's residence at Matsyapur.
The province of Matsyapur was a waystation on the East India Company's opium trade routes in the Malwa region. An administrative stranglehold on all shipments that moved along the Nanku coastline.
Traces of this verdant past can be seen in the magnificence of the palace construction, and in the proud moat that encircles it.
And though much of its glory is lost to both time and circumstance, there is still a central hall in the eastern court of the building where the wooden floors, and tapestry remain well preserved.
This is the museum at Matsyapur.
Known, since 1959, as the Seth Gopichand Gayakwad Sangrahalaya, it is home to the usual accoutrements of a Company museum. The brass spitoon, the imitation prints, the hunting rifles and stuffed trophies.
But in a hesitant corner of the hall, lies the reason for our visit to this town.
For here, in a glass box about eight feet wide, are kept the only original records of the Burkhampore uprising of the 1816. The uprising that lead to Connington's strange journey and the elusive myth of Kayamgadh.
Our story starts with, Charles Henry Connington, a veteran of the Company's Maratha conquest, who was awarded the Magistracy of Matsyapur in the winter of the year 1812.
Under his domain was placed, the administrative command of all Salt and Opium taxation in the Bhula province.
And while there is scant record of his governance during this time, we do know that in 1816, Connington was forced into conflict with the Bir tribes of the Burkhampore region.
The Birs or the Bir-Bhaktas, were a community of camel herders and stragglers from the disbanded Maratha army, who had settled in the floodplains of the Jumbali-nadi.
What lead to their conflict with the sparse British population at Matsyapur, is a matter of much discontent amongst historians, though dispute over sharecropping opium fields along cultivable land in the thin Jumbali floodplain, was perhaps the principal cause.
But while records of it’s origin are few, the violent suppression of this uprising by Company troupes, is incredibly well documented, in the several dispatches and paintings from the field.
But colonial history often neglects a mention of the three months of arduous siege endured by the garrison at Matsyapur. And the eventual embarrassment of having to capitulate to the Birs; control of the town of itself.
Here the small administrative British populace fought a failing battle from Connington’s besieged palace, and under his military leadership.
Eventually, late in the July of 1816, when overwhelmed by the number of their enemy and fearful of the massacre that would have followed were they to be captured, Connington organised a daring escape for the members of the surviving British contingent.
An escape through Tok, and a treacherous camel ride across the Bhula Desert were expected to lead them to the safety of the fort at Gwalior. Several hundred kilometers to the north.
While much record of the subsequent journey has since been unforgivably embellished, we may rely upon the work of Professor James Greenwald Fielding, who pieced together the events at Matsyapur in his seminal work, The Siege of Matsyapur : A portrait of rebellion in the subcontinent.
On the third day of their escape, according to Fielding's book, after having lost the pursuing armies in the vagrant sands of the Bhula Desert. The convoy chanced upon an old opium road that wound it’s way across the Deccan crags.
It is here, or so Feilding presumes, that Connington and his faithful bearer were separated from the rest of the convoy of riders, perhaps as their pack horses stumbled down a deep and treacherous ravine.
And when after weeks of arduous travel the survivors of the escape reached the fort at Gwalior, they reported that Connington, was lost in the desert, and by now, certainly dead.
But eight years after he vanished somewhere on the sands of BhulaDesh, long after his death was forgotten, Connington miraculously reappeared at the gates of the Gwalior fort , proclaiming his discovery of a hidden city called Kayamgadh.
A magnificent fortified city of strange wonders, where he found refuge after having been lost in the desert for seven days.
His return caused a minor sensation, in the confined British society of Opium merchants and Company officials at Gwalior. And several accounts of the feat were published in the English newspapers and pamphlets of the time.
But Connington, who became a celebrated figure in the pantheon British adventurers, disappeared from public life, mere months after his return.
Instead of touring the country with stories of his journey or reclaiming his position with the Company, he remained cloistered in a garret on the printer street in Gwalior, where he turned the careful notes of his journey into a Journal chronicling his adventures.
This chronicle was published later the same year and the book was called : Kayamgadh. a city of storytellers. Or simply : Connington’s Journal.
The Journal, which was printed in an Indian press, was written in a bewildering mix of, pidgin Urdu with inflections of Gujarati and English.
And it contained an intricate sophistry with allegorical interludes and established a doctrine of society, expounding the theological practices of the people of Kayamgadh.
Despite the vague geographical assertions regarding the city itself, several expeditions were mounted to search for Kayamgadh. Most notably the ill fated Daniels expedition of 1826-27. But no could recreate the journey or discover any trace of this magnificent city.
Moreover the reformatory but often blasphemous narratives within Connington’s book soon started to invite a slew of criticism from skeptics and from the missionary orders whose presence had emboldened after the 1813 charter.
Distaste for the book reaches its nadir when it was discovered that the Journal in its vernacular form, had mutated into a religious text. With followers across all manner of people, who believed that the search for Kayamgadh was salvation.
Upon such rampant idolatry of the book, all copies of this scandalous text were ordered burnt, in an act famously called the Connington’s Purge.
Leaving no surviving copies of the original text and turning individual pages that did survive, into artifacts of great value.
What followed was period of discord, as people across the region, from Merchants to Explorers, Zamindars and Soldiers, Rajhas and Mendicants all attempted to recreate Connington’s book, and reenact his journey to the fabled city of Kayamgadh.
Our game, Somewhere is a collection of stories about these people and their search.
An examination of how the perpetuating myth of Kayamgadh tore at the reality of the people who sought the city and of the painful process of disillusionment whilst looking through the lens of its most ardent believers.
For Kayamgadh does not exist, but there are stories about it.
Kayamgadh cannot be reached but people will chart its location on their maps.
Kayamgadh offers no answers but people will turn to it for salvation.
And nobody can return from Kayamgadh because they were never there.
But people will claim and even believe in it’s indelible existence.
And in doing so they will create a city of their own.
A city that would truly be a city of storytellers.
An untruth, yes. But no less real to the believer, than the actual city.
The one that does not exist.
All images in this article are screenshots from the various environmnets within the game.
Somewhere is being created as part of an arts practice grant by the India Foundation for the Arts.