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?