Where do I start? Deepak was restless throughout the night. Why are they so tiny? Why could not they have written in big letters like in the Pyramids? He kept thinking and gradually dozed off. The next morning, as Deepak was brushing his teeth, his dad sat on the balcony of his hotel reclining on a lean chair.
‘This is tragic son. So many people killed in Mumbai blasts yesterday.’ He mumbled as he read the newspaper.
‘Really dad?’ we should call mom again he said.
As they called and found out that his mom was well, they were relieved. They set again to continue their visit of the Mohenjadaro museum. Deepak went back to the display of scripts where he had left off yesterday.
‘But dad. Give me a clue. Why are they so tiny?’ He asked again.
‘Well Deepu. These scripts were written in the form of seals.’
‘Why seals? Deepak quizzed.
‘Well. We don’t know. That’s for you to find out.’
As Deepak studied the seals closely, his face lit up.
‘Dad. Look. This looks to me like the alphabet E.’
Deepak’s dad smiled. ‘No son. Experts predict it’s a fig leaf icon. This is not a language like how we write English.’
‘Fig leaf icon? He wondered. Then, if they know all about it, why haven’t they decoded the script yet dad.’ Deepak asked once again.
‘Well son. It’s just an educated guess because they have not found a Rosetta stone yet.’
‘Ok dad. Now you are confusing me more. What’s a Rosetta stone?
‘Rosetta stone was a stone with the inscription that decoded the Egyptian writing-hieroglyphs.’
‘How and what are hieroglyphs?’
Hieroglyphs are Egyptian writings that you find in the Pyramid. The Rosetta stone had not only the Hieroglyphs written on it, but also it was translated in two languages. Greek and ancient Egyptian written next to it. By reading Greek and ancient Egyptian, scholars could decipher what these hieroglyphs meant. Once they did this, they deciphered all the inscriptions inside the great pyramids. That’s how we know so much about pharaohs.’
‘But who wrote the Rosetta stone, dad?’ Deepak asked curiously.
‘Well, long time ago, some of the Greek rulers in Egypt wanted to communicate with Egyptian natives. And that’s when it was written.’
‘But dad. Was hieroglyphs a spoken language?’
‘That’s what a French scholar tried to prove. He could read the hieroglyphs as a spoken language by studying another old Egyptian language called Coptic.’
‘So Dad. Do you think we’ll never find a Rosetta stone for the Indus code.’
‘We don’t know yet son. Some experts say that it could be somewhere in Persia or Central Asia with whom the Indus valley people traded with.’
‘What trade did they do? Deepak asked
‘Grains, jewelry, cloth, mirrors, toys, fish hooks among several other things.’
Deepak took out his microscope and carefully examined other writings in the length of the museum. Then he took some photographs for a later investigation.
‘Ok dad. Don’t tell about this sign. Let me try and decode it.’ He silently thought for some time and said
‘a…scorpion. Is it?’
‘Well. Unfortunately no son. That’s not a scorpion. Give it another try.’
‘In fact, they say it’s a fish.’
‘But dad. Did the Indus people eat fish?’
‘Yes son, they did.’
‘But why I don’t see any river here?’ Well son, as the guide pointed out, the Indus river has moved five kilometers from here. But the river once played a big role in sustaining Mohenjodaro people, providing them with vital drinking water and irrigation.
‘But dad, how do you know it’s a fish and not a scorpion?’
‘That’s a good question son. Well. Experts have an answer to that. Now, bring your lens here. Watch that other sign next to the fish. That’s a crocodile. Now look at what the crocodile is eating. What is it?
Deepak studied the crocodile figure for sometime. His dad was waiting for an answer ‘Hmm?.’ Deepak pondered.
‘Looks like the crocodile is eating something like a fish.’
‘Exactly.’ Deepak’s dad replied. ‘You got it. Now look at the symbol we saw before and compare it. That’s the same thing. A fish.’
‘But dad.’ Deepak was not convinced. ‘How do you know this one is a crocodile in the first place?
‘Well. That’s for you to find out son. I am only quoting the experts. Don’t take my word or their word for granted. Some scholars say it represents a star or the Zodiac sign. They think the Indus people knew everything about astronomy. So, you may be right after all. It could be as well be a scorpion. We’ll never know.’
Deepak scratched his head for some time and continued studying more seals
‘Look dad, a horse.’
‘Wrong again. There is no documented use of horses during that time son. Experts say it’s a bull. And what do you see next to the bull?’
‘Hmm,’ Deepak pondered. ‘Looks like a man sitting.’
‘That’s right.’ Deepak’s’ dad replied.
‘Remember the priest-king. Here he is in a Yoga position and taking part in some kind of ritual.’
…And you said, the script was discarded after some years. So maybe it represents a code, like how the dabbawalas mark their tiffin boxes.….
‘Dad. All you are explaining to me is about symbols and signs. Where are the alphabets’
Well son, some experts believe that the Indus script is both a sign and a language. Like the Chinese script, and that one alphabet could have different meanings and you can mix and match these signs.’
‘But dad. If this was really a language, why is no one speaking this language today?’
‘Well son. Some scholars say it could be a root for languages such as Brahmi, Persian, Sanskrit or even Tamil. Other experts say that this is not a spoken language at all. Some say that the language was written in perishable paper and was destroyed while others say the language disappeared with the Indus Valley culture. It’s also interesting that the inscriptions were found in trash dumps rather than in graves or homes. This made the scholars believe that the seals were thrown away like expired credit cards.’
‘Hmm. This is more complex than I thought.’ Deepak thought about all the languages he knew: English, Hindi, Kannada, Tulu, Konkani, Gujarathi. None of them looked familiar. He was pretty convinced that this was not a language but just a collection of signs. He was restless in bed and late in the night Deepak woke his dad.
‘Dad. Tell me what you think? What’s your opinion of the Indus code.’ Deepak’s dad turned on his bed lazily. After a long yawn he mumbled…
‘Well son. Here’s what I think. If the seals were used only for some times and then thrown away in dump yards, then my guess is that they were used to send messages in a pictorial language. The seals then could have been used as a template for printing these messages on papyrus papers? And as other forms of communication emerged, they must have abandoned the seals because it was worthless for the next generations. That’s my theory. Now, you may have your theory. So go on and sleep over it. You will get it tomorrow.’
The next day Deepak was sad to leave. But they had to set out to Mumbai. As they landed in Delhi, they planned to take the train route to indulge in some scenic views. Deepak loved the train rides. As they reached Mumbai and he spotted them once again. The Nehru caps. Then he paused. ‘Wait a minute.’ He thought to himself. The tiffin boxes.
‘Dad. Dad. He came running spitting his paste. I think I decoded the script.’ Deepak’s dad looked puzzled.
‘Look dad. This is my theory. You said the Indus valley traded with other cultures. You said they did grain cultivation. They wrote the script in the form of tiny seals for some reason. And you said they were trying to convey some message. And you said, the script was discarded after some years. So maybe it represents a code, like how the dabbawalas mark their tiffin boxes. Perhaps to represent where the goods came from, where the goods should go. May be that was a code to the tradesmen in Mohenjadaro. May be it had information of who the owner was and how much the goods cost. And may be they punched it on the sacks of grain before it was traded…’ Deepak’s dad put his shoulder around his son and beamed with pride.
Author: Newton Dsouza- USA