Monday, December 31, 2007

The Last Mughal...a big let down

The book has undoubtedly made very much thicker by pages of compliments, but what about its rendering of the story of 1857 and the Last Mughal, Bahadur Shah Zafar?
Of the 486 page story, how much is actually about Bahadur Shah Zafar and his environs? The bias would be obvious with a simple page count in each chapter which reveals that against 223 pages which tell the Indian story; almost 263 give the British viewpoint.
There is an amazing amount of detail about life for the British in 1857, with elaborate flourishes of verbal embroidery; comparatively very little of the Indian overall picture. Yes, all the possible negatives of the Mughal court are lovingly delineated. But it is difficult to digest that amongst all those thousands of princelings, nawabs and adventurers etc who descended on Delhi in 1857, there was not one single person of any military or other type of leadership or vision? Was that actually so?

What Research?
Despite the loud claims of exhaustive research from new sources, the only new references to the ordinary people of Delhi are one sentences references to the horse seller, the prostitute, the dhobi and other Delhi locals.
The records of the Mughal court itself, which would be an obvious reference point, seem to be absent. When did the Mughal courts do away with records and daily diaries, which are endemic in any Indian court?

Delhi centric
The book is totally Delhi centric. The other 1857 developments are barely mentioned in passing, whether the greased cartridge flashpoints, the mass upsurges in central India and elsewhere. Even Kanpur and Lucknow get short shrift in the telling of the Delhi story. When has India been so rift as to be totally unaware of what is happening elsewhere?

Whatever happened to Zafar and his Ghalib?
There is much use of verbal embroidery, beautiful or gruesome as the case may be. For the Indian viewpoint, heavy reliance on Ghalib, Zahir Dehlavi, Hakim Assunullah Khan primarily. Poor Ghalib has been so vilified as a luxury loving traitor, a self-serving dodder. Was he really? One wonders about his reputation and the reactions of the legion of admirers of his works. How much of this is true?
And what about the central figure of the book, the Last Mughal, Bahadur Shah Zafar? Where is the word picture of the man who, by the author’s own admission, instigated a cultural Renaissance in his court, to counter the steady erosion of his powers? How did he grow up? What were the influences that shaped him? Within and without his immediate family? His Hindu mother? Others? His various wives, sweethearts and concubines etc? Others in his circle and harem?
His schooling? Mughal princes are not brought up in a vacuum. There is a definite system of schooling in the classical and military tradition etc which shapes the mind. Princely upbringing and scholarship which could produce a poet and an inspiration for Renaissance would obviously generate character, which is not visible in Dalyrmple’s Zafar.
This poor creature is seen as a shifty, lazy dodger of the worst order. Worse, his only claim to note, for which he is still remembered today, his poetry is contested. With the literary prowess of both Zafar and Ghalib denigrated, the book seems to challenge accept known history. Will some historian please enlighten us on the charge of the British author/historian?
There is no information of Zafar’s long life before he came to the throne. Was the Mughal court that devoid of any developments of any sort for those sixty years before its crown prince finally came to the throne?
Coming to the final chapters of the trial and the Burma years, is one to infer that Davies wrote only one letter during those ix years in Burma, hence the paucity of any material on the Burma exile. The trial has been well recorded, but little comes through in the book. Was it because exhaustive coverage would have been totally damning of the British?
Forgive the journalistic bent, one wonders why this book was written at all, if facts were not be presented ?

Friday, December 14, 2007

let a hundred roses bloom

Remember the “Let a hundred roses bloom” of yore?
Why not in India?
The Lead India campaign is no doubt a welcome initiative. But why are we limiting ourselves to discover one leader for all of India? Is that possible, when our country is so huge with so many disparate elements, each of which presents problems which need solutions specially tailored for them.
When we are saluting all these young people, each of whom has attained excellence in the effort they are making within their social ambit, why not endorse their efforts with concrete support. Imagine the India ten years down the road with not one but eight or ten energetic young leaders working in their respective arenas and coordinating with each other.
Such efforts go out in concentric circles of development and we may just see such leaders emerge not just in eight or ten major cities, but also perhaps at each district level or even lower in a true spirit of Chak De India!

Woe India

Woe to India:
The day that the netas ambitions overshadow national interests. Sixty years ago, the Father of the Nation wanted to see his Jawaharlal become Prime Minister before he died. Lo and behold, India took birth as a truncated state, scoured by the ravages of mass murder in the Partition.
We then had a prime minister, Vajpayee who aspired to a Nobel Peace Prize. Was that perhaps why we were maneuvered through a “war” and later a grandstand peace with Pakistan, which was aborted thanks to the machinations reputedly by his own team mate?
Now we are witness to another desperate bid for prime ministership (before I die) attempt. The dramatic announcement of a prime ministerial candidate when no elections have been called, the self same candidate whose candidature was refuted the last time it was raised, by the “elder statesman and former prime minster” who has not yet accepted the candidature. Only been said to have done so, by sources!
The same sources who have perhaps released the desperate election-eve endorsement of Narendra Modi by Atal Bihari Vajpayee who has hitherto been resolute in not doing so. So long as the advertisement does its election eve magic, what does it matter if the Leader later refutes it, eh? Many Gujaratis will recall that in the aftermath of the 2002 Godhra genocide, Vajpayee had mourned “What face will I take abroad?” right here in Ahmedabad. A few weeks later, at a party show, he did his famous about turn, refusing to acknowledge any wrongdoing in Gujarat.
Why this Advani desperation? Is it merely to achieve prime ministership or perhaps to ward off the latent threat from the Hindutva fury he himself unleashed first on India and then on Gujarat, which now threatens to overtake and outstrip him?

Friday, March 16, 2007

Tulsi and Gujarat

Smriti Tulsi Virani is a TV brand name which is being used to the hilt by her party the BJP. All of us in Gujarat recall how she had railed against Chief Minister Narendra Modi, only to eat her words on the party's say-so. How unlike her Tulsi persona who stands for the truth and nothing but the truth, so help her God and no matter what it costs, even the gunning down of her own son.
This Smriti has come so far from Tulsi that she actually calls the traumatised state of Gujarat a bright star in India's firmament "Chamakta sitara". Tulsi dear, please do visit Gujarat without your BJP supervisors to see how far the state is from fastdevelopmetn and responsible samaaj and how close it is to ghettoiasation.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

A wedding affair

Recently couch potatoes were treated to public outrage on a news channel. The outrage came from viewers as well players in the drama which unfolded in Bhopal where a young bride chose the Varmala ritual in the wedding proceedings to take a stand. Bypassing her waiting groom, the young lady placed her garland around the neck of her boyfriend who had been invited to the wedding.

The groom’s side and practically all the male viewers who phoned in were almost apoplectic over the bride’s perfidy in handing out such an insult to the groom, his baraat and Bharatiya Sanskriti which demands strict obedience of parental orders by girls. The outrage outrage over the bride’s INSULT to the groom and his baraat and her attack on Hindu sanskriti had to be seen to be believed. What was that all about??

Our hoary traditions prescribe a Swyambhar wherein the bride selects her groom in an open assembly by placing a garland around his neck. Over the centuries the demands of patriarchy have transformed this Lady’s Choice into a Varmala ceremony wherein the bride is usually compelled to place the garland around a groom of her parents’ choice.

How much of the outrage was male ire at the Bhopal lass who had reinstated the original Swyambhar concept, obviously in the face of parental pressure to drop her boyfriend and marry the groom of their choice

The very stridency of the male outrage over the terrible loss to the groom’s family, not of his bride, but of the prospective expenses on the wedding dinner they had planned on the return back home sounded obnoxious.
The groom’s family had apparently already given their caterer a down payment for the five hundred odd guests they were expecting.
The obvious question: all this concern over the waste of expenses of the groom’s side? The world and his wife knows that the major expenses in an Indian wedding are on the bride’s side, from trousseau and gifts to all and sundry , to dowry and staging the actual wedding with all its peripheral pre and post events, all expensive affairs with lavish settings, sumptuous food and gifts galore. Would the bride’s family not suffer much more losses? Why did no one think or comment on that?

Dowry is an ancient tradition which is spreading its evil tentacles even in those communities which never knew it before; this serves to load the dice against the arrival of the girl child in any family. With all the leaders of society leading the trend away from simple dowry-les weddings, it is any wonder that commerce is taking over where tradition left off. All the TV channels and magazines are replete with ad campaigns and coverage of lavish spreads of jewelry, designer clothes and accessories, marriage melas and fairs, bank loans to fund all that razzmatazz etc. The icing on that cake is of course, all those weepy saas bahu soaps.

Did no one recall those thousands of weddings over the years, in which the groom’s party had wrecked trauma, havoc, ruin and even death by walking away from the mandap over dowry issues or even just how well they were or were not received and looked after by the bride’s family!!

Considering the dramatic sequence of events as it unfolded, obviously the bride had failed to move her parents on her choice and had been willy nilly railroaded into the wedding, with perhaps little help from the young man of her choice; she had apparently had to practically order him when she rang up to invite him for the wedding. Was that perhaps why the last minute mustering up of courage to place the garland on the correct neck, leaving him as much surprised as her family and baraat was aghast?

Yes, one would definitely have wished that the bride had been more discreet and not made her preference known so publicly; but perhaps that is the point: that when she told her parents in private, they were not moved. Hence a public show to force their hands?

The preponderance of male viewers calling in to breathe fire and brimstone against the errant bride, with only a couple of rather subdued female call-ins raised suspicions that the female sympathisers from countless middle class homes could not possible expr3ess their solidarity with the brave bride on air; because the telecast took place at eventide when they would have to do with their Papajis and Bhaijans breathing disapprovingly over their shoulder, as menfolk are wont to do when their womenfolk are on the phone?
For all the tall talk and headlines of women racing ahead, ghar ghar ki kahani still prevails, does it not? Hats off to the young lady from Bhopal who resurrected the Swyambhar tradition.



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Reviving Swyambhar ?

A WEDDING AFFAIR

Recently couch potatoes were treated to public outrage on a news channel. It came from viewers as well players in a drama unfolding in Bhopal where a young bride chose the Varmala ritual in the wedding proceedings to take a stand. Bypassing her waiting groom, the young lady placed her garland around the neck of her boyfriend who had been invited to the wedding.

The groom’s side and practically all the male viewers who phoned in were almost apoplectic over the bride’s perfidy in handing out such an insult to the groom, his baraat and Bharatiya Sanskriti which demands strict obedience of parental orders by girls. The sense of outrage over the bride’s INSULT to the groom and his baraat and her attack on Hindu sanskriti had to be seen to be believed.
What was that all about??

Our hoary traditions prescribe a Swyambhar wherein the bride selects her groom in an open assembly by placing a garland around his neck. Over the centuries the demands of patriarchy have transformed this Lady’s Choice into a Varmala ceremony wherein the bride is usually compelled to place the garland around a groom of her parents’ choice.

How much of the outrage was male ire at the Bhopal lass who had reinstated the original Swyambhar concept, obviously in the face of parental pressure to drop her boyfriend and marry the groom of their choice

The very stridency of the male outrage over the terrible loss to the groom’s family, not of his bride, but of the prospective expenses on the wedding dinner they had planned on the return back home sounded obnoxious. The groom’s family had apparently already given their caterer a down payment for the five hundred odd guests they were expecting.
The obvious question: all this concern over the waste of expenses of the groom’s side? The world and his wife knows that the major expenses in an Indian wedding are on the bride’s side, from trousseau and gifts to all and sundry , to dowry and staging the actual wedding with all its peripheral pre and post events, all expensive affairs with lavish settings, sumptuous food and gifts galore. Would the bride’s family not suffer much more losses? Why did no one think or comment on that?

Dowry is an ancient tradition which is spreading its evil tentacles even in those communities which never knew it before; this serves to load the dice against the arrival of the girl child in any family. With all the leaders of society leading the trend away from simple dowry-les weddings, it is any wonder that commerce is taking over where tradition left off. All the TV channels and magazines are replete with ad campaigns and coverage of lavish spreads of jewelry, designer clothes and accessories, marriage melas and fairs, bank loans to fund all that razzmatazz etc. The icing on that cake is of course, all those weepy saas bahu soaps.

What, one wonders, of all those thousands of weddings over the years, in which the groom’s party had wrecked trauma, havoc, ruin and even death by walking away from the mandap over dowry issues or even just how well they were or were not received and looked after by the bride’s family!! One wonders whether the male viewers phoning in their vehement outrage had even remembered that aspect even subconsciously.

Considering the dramatic sequence of events as it unfolded, obviously the bride had failed to move her parents on her choice and had been willy nilly railroaded into the wedding, with perhaps little help from the young man of her choice; she had apparently had to practically order him when she rang up to invite him for the wedding. Was that perhaps why the last minute mustering up of courage to place the garland on the correct neck, leaving him as much surprised as her family and baraat was aghast?

Yes, one would definitely have wished that the bride had been more discreet and not made her preference known so publicly; but perhaps that is the point: that when she told her parents in private, they were not moved. Hence a public show to force their hands?

The preponderance of male viewers calling in to breathe fire and brimstone against the errant bride, with only two rather subdued female call-ins, raises another question :
Were the female viewers in most of the middle class homes who may have sympathized with the brave bride, inhibited from expressing their sympathy and solidarity ? WHY ? because the telecast took place at eventide when they would have to do with their Papajis and Bhaijans breathing disapprovingly over their shoulder, as menfolk are wont to do when their womenfolk are on the phone?
For all the tall talk and headlines of women racing ahead, ghar ghar ki kahani still prevails, does it not? Hats off to the young lady from Bhopal who resurrected the Swyambhar tradition.

Monday, January 22, 2007

women in humor

Has anyone ever wondered why women are missing from humor when they have made their presence felt in every other field of human endeavour?
We have had women heading our country;there are topnotch police women, writers, artists, administrators, stock brokers, business women etc etc etc. but we have yet to come up with a woman who can make fun of husbands, on the stage as easily as our army of "hasya kavis" make fun of women, especially wives on any and every public platform.
It is quite immaterial whether the ocassion is a laughter competetion, a hasya kavi sammelan or a social gathering. The male of the species will find every excuse to poke fun at his better half, glamorous or otherwise.
The few women who take the stage at mushiaras talk of everything under the sun; but none of them have ever picked up the gauntlet to give back to the males their unholy ribbing. WHY?