Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Sikhs Want Their Treasure Returned

A British Sikh group has requested the Queen to return their artifacts which were plundered by the British troops during the Raj. The items includes sacred scriptures, swords, letters and writings of Maharaja Duleep Singh (he is said to have converted to Christianity) who was exiled to Britain after annexation of his kingdom. He reportedly presented the famous Kohinoor diamond to Queen Victoria which now is a part of crown jewels. In a letter to the Queen they have written- “Across the U.K., within the custody of your royal family, royal castles, museums and government bodies, there is an immense range of unquantified and unidentified cultural property belonging to the Sikh nation,” the Slough-based Sikh Community Action Network says in a three-page letter calling for “quantification” of such property.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

John Nicholson

In the story of 1857 mutiny there appears a remarkable man called John Nicholson (11 December 1822 – 23 September 1857). Though the Indian history texts book doesn't contain much about him for obvious reasons, he was a man who cannot be ignored by any serious student of history. A British East India Company officer, he played a legendary part in crushing the Sepoy mutiny of 1857. He was a junior officer in the First Anglo-Sikh war. Later, he was given much power as political officer, and later a District Commissioner. He was feared for his foul temper and authoritarian manner. Some Indian were so much in awe of his personality that they regarding him an incarnation of Vishnu. Many started worshipping him and formed a religious sect, the Nikal Seyn. Though he never concealed his distaste for Indians and even flogged and imprisoned some of his followers if they prostrated before him, this however, never stopped his followers from worshipping him. He would say, 'I dislike India and its inhabitants more every day'. He hated Afghans even more than Indians-'the most vicious and blood-thirsty race in existence.' During the disastrous Anglo-Afghan war of 1842 he was captured and imprisoned by the Afghans. After his release from their captivity he discovered the dead body of his younger brother whose genitalia was cut off and stuffed in his mouth. A most shocking incident of his life.

He was instrumental in planning and leading the storming of Delhi in 1857 to crush the uprising. A famous story about him is that one night during the Great Uprising of 1857, he strode into the British mess tent at Jullunder, coughed to attract the attention of the officers, then said, "I am sorry, gentlemen, to have kept you waiting for your dinner, but I have been hanging your cooks." He had been told that the regimental chefs had poisoned the soup with aconite. When they refused to taste it for him, he force fed it to a monkey - and when it expired on the spot, he proceeded to hang the cooks from a nearby tree without a trial.

He died at a young age of 34 from a wound that he had received while attacking Delhi. He had expressed his wish to see Delhi captured by the British force before he dies. He died a week after the fall of Red Fort. He became a sort of Victorian hero and inspired many young British boys to join the army. He was also source of inspiration to Rudyard Kipling who immortalized him in his book ‘Kim’. His tombstone, made from a white marble slab near Delhi’s Kashmir gate, was a former garden seat of the Mughals. His gallant service and untimely death are commemorated on a white marble memorial plaque at the Mutiny Memorial, on the Ridge in New Delhi. A large statue of Nicholson showing him with a naked sword in hand and surrounded by mortars was erected in his honour in Delhi, but was taken down when India became independent.
Epitaph on his grave reads-'The grave of Brigadier General John Nicholson who Led the assault of Delhi but fell in the hour of victory mortally wounded and died 23rd September 1857 Aged 35'

Monday, May 25, 2009

Rise And Fall of The Mughals

Reading ‘The Last Mughal’ by William Dalrymple was a moving experience. The book is extraordinary in many ways. Written lucidly, it highlights things not highlighted before, and he blames gradual hardening of the British attitude and interference in religious matters as the prime cause of mutiny of 1857. He writes- 'By 1852, although the British and the Mughals inhabited the same city and sometimes lived in close physical proximity to each other, the peoples were growing farther and farther apart'.
Nirad C. Chaudhury had blamed the Indian climate for the same in his book ‘The Continent of Cerci’. Dalrymple has done extensive and exhaustive (I must say) research to come out with the tome. It took him almost five years to complete the book. Despite accusing British for provoking Indians, he does come up with a balanced view of the things.

Centred around the rule of the last Mughal king-Bahadur Shah Zafar, the book describes the events of his time. Zafar, despite being a weak king, emerges as a very reasonable man, who could have done little at the age of eighty. The mutineers also called contemptuously ‘pandies’ by the British, had committed excesses against the British officials and civilians, the British showed no clemency or humanity in crushing them. They suppressed it with even greater cruelty. At the end of the book when the region of old Delhi was captured by the British and rebels crushed, the British soldiers took to raping ladies from the noble families. ‘As many as three hundred begums of the royal house- not including former concubines in the palace were taken away by our troups after the fall of Delhi' he quotes a British writer. The British suspected that the mutineers had raped English ladies, which was proved to be false after an investigation was carried out. The British indulged in looting houses after houses. They shot or hanged its occupants. The anarchy and all-round violence was akin to ‘The French Revolution’, Dalrymple writes.

The great Urdu poet who survived the British onslaught by a quirk twist of fate was aghast at the hell like situation in Delhi. He saw a great civilization dying. He writes in a letter to a friend, 'The light has gone out of India. Would it be surprising if I should lose my mind from this onslaught of grief?' Ghalib laments ‘had you been here you would have seen the ladies of the Fort moving about the city, their faces as fair as moon and their clothes dirty, their paijama legs torn, and their slippers falling to pieces. This is no exaggeration..'

The Last Mughal makes reading history a pleasure like a thriller. The book ends with a warning by Edmund Burke that those who fail to learn from history are always destined to repeat it.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Chawri Bazar

The Chawri Bazar Metro Station in old Delhi could be a unique experience for any visitor to the city. From modern and state of art infra-structure of the underground Metro to emerge amidst old spectacle of Delhi could be a mind-blowing experience. Areas like Chawri Bazaar, Nai Sarak, Dariyaganj all surrounding the spectacular Jama Mosque is old but vibrant. The area is a major business hub for books, paper products, brass and copper. In baffling milieu of the Chawri Bazaar, people, rickshaws, porters, men, children, women, tourists and even cows jostle for way.

Once popularly known for its bewitching dancing girls in the 19th century, the street is named after a Marathi word 'chawri', which means meeting place. The street got this name mainly because here a 'sabha' or meeting would take place in front of a noble's house and he would try settling the disputes before it would reach the emperor. A second reason is probably that a gathering used to get organized when a respected dancer performed and showed the finer nuances of her skill. The whole ambience of the street however got changed after the 1857 war when British destroyed many huge mansions of the nobles.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Other Side Of CNG

On Thusday (14th May, 2009) a CNG run auto-rickshaw burst into flames under mysterious circumstances at Connaught Place, New Delhi. The horrible part of the incident was that two women passengers too were charred to death. There were three women passengers in the autorickshaw while one escaped to safety, why were the two not been able to escape? According to the police the investigation is still on. The Gas cylender usually lies below the back seat of the auto. The incident has raised questions on the safety of the CNG which widely used by public transports in Delhi.
CNG (Compressed Natural Gas) is a fossil fuel substitute for gasoline (petrol), diesel, or propane fuel. Although its combustion does produce greenhouse gases, it is a more environmentally clean alternative to those fuels, and it is much safer than other fuels in the event of a spill (natural gas is lighter than air, and disperses quickly when released).

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Scheme of Providence

King Bharthari after renouncing the world wrote three important books-Niti Shatak, Vairagya Shatak and Sringar Shatak. In Niti Shatak, he tells an interesting story. A snake was locked in a basket for quite a long time in the house of a snake-charmer. Once, a rodent entered the basket by making a hole in it. As soon as the rodent entered the basket he was eaten up by the snake. Strengthened by the food, the snake slipped out of the basket and became free. Bharthari explains that the action of the rodent led to the liberation of the snake. These two seemingly unconnected agents get connected in broader scheme of providence.

Don’t desist from action, you may become a liberating agent for some unfortunate snake (It’s not a joke!). If you are trapped hopelessly, never loose hope, a rodent may turn up to help you. Sometimes, inaction is better than action.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Story of Narad

This is from Shiv Puran, ancient religious text of Hindus. Narad, son of Brahma, the creator once underwent a tapasya (penance) with great austerities inside a cave. Seeing his great tapasya, Indra the head of Gods in heaven become disturbed. Sensing that Narad might take his celestial seat of power, sent forth the God of sexual desire, Kamadev to disturb him. But the cave was blessed by the Lord Shiva himself. He had once during his meditation had blazed Kamadev with fierce look of his third eye who was trying to disturb him. After the prayer of Rati, the wife of Kamadev, Shiva forgave him but said that the Kamadev will have no effect inside the cave and the surrounding region. Because of this the Kamadev had no effect on Narad. Narad didn’t know the story and mistook this for his spiritual conquest.

Happy with his spiritual development, he went to heaven and met Lord Vishnu, the preserver of the world. There he boasted about his austerities and his conquest over Kamadev. Lord Vishnu tried to test the spiritual achievement of Narad. With his power he created an illusionary city. Where there was a king and his beautiful daughter Shrimati. Narad went to the city and met the king there. The king welcomed Narad and said, ‘my daughter has now become of marriageable age. She has all the qualities of a good girl. We have made arrangements of a Swayamvar (where a girl chooses her future husband among host of eligible suitors) where I have invited eligible suitors.’ Narad , struck by the beauty of the princess, Narad fell madly in love with her, ‘I too will join the Swayamvar . It will be great if she choose me.’ Narad went to Lord Vishnu and asked him to make him as handsome as the lord himself is. Lord Vishnu laughed upon seeing Narad hopelessly in love. Lord Vishnu granted him the handsomeness of his physic but made his face look like a monkey. Narad had no time to see himself in mirror. In haste he went to the Swayamvar and took his seat among the other suitors.

The Princess arrived on the scene with a garland in her hand and surrounded by her maids and friends. She found no one attractive in the Swayamvar. She was aghast when she saw Narad. He looked very ugly with his monkey face. Narad couldn’t understand what the matter was. At that very time Lord Vishnu arrived on the scene. He was the very epitome of handsomeness. The Princess immediately put the garland in his neck. Lord Vishnu holding the hand of the Princes disappeared from the scene. Narad was crestfallen. He went to the abode of Lord Vishnu and started cursing him. He was in great mental agony.
The test of his spiritual strength was too much for him. Cursing, Narad said, ‘as you have made me suffer for women you too will suffer for a woman on earth when you take avatar as Prince Ram.’ Lord Vishnu humbly accepted this curse. It was only after many days that Narad become normal and regretted his emotional outburst.
The story teaches us many things like we should not be boastful of knowledge or wisdom acquired. We must check and recheck our facts before attending any meeting. We should not loose our cool when caught for our stupidity. Be careful while asking help, the helper might be your rival. etc. Write in your comments.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

King Bharthari

There is a very interesting story about King Bharthari. He was the King of Ujjaini (modern Ujjain) in the 6th century India. In his kingdom there lived a Brahman who, after years of austerities and worship, was awarded with the ‘fruit of immortality’ by the God. According to Hindu mythology there is a tree in heaven called Kalpataru under which if any desire is produced it gets fulfilled. The ‘fruit of immortality’ grows on the Kalpataru. The Brahmin thought ‘what is the use of eating the fruit. I don’t want to live forever!’ He regarded the King Bharthari as the only deserving person who should eat the fruit. He met the king and offered him the fruit. The king was madly in love with his queen. ‘My queen who is dear to me more than my life should eat the fruit’ the King thought and offered it to the queen. The queen in turn offered it to the head of the state police, Mahipala whom she loved more than her life. Mahipala was in love with a courtesan Lakha. He offered the fruit to her. Lakha who was deeply in love with the King presented it to him. The circle revealed the downside of the infidelity to the king. The King summoned the queen and killed her. The King ate the fruit and abdicated the throne to his younger brother Vikramaditya and become a religious mendicant.

Details about the lives of Bharthari and his brother Vikramaditya are from the tales of Baital Pacchisi (Twenty five tales of Baital), translated as 'Vikram and The Vampire' by Sir Richord Francis Burton, in 1870.

This is a fiction. But there is wisdom to be learnt from such stories. Like money and power cant buy you love. Never take your love for granted, you might be in for a shock. Men renounce the world when they lose power over their women. A man must find his true goal in life early. Even those whom we regard as of loose character (Lakha) can show a great strength of character, etc.

If you think that there is something more to the story, please write in. It is open to interpretations.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Undernourished India

Now a very disturbing news. According to a World Food Programme report India remained home to more than a fourth of the world’s hungry, 230 million people in all. It also found anemia to be on the rise among rural women of childbearing age in eight states across India. Indian women are often the last to eat in their homes and often unlikely to eat well or rest during pregnancy. more

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Long Time No See

I am blogging after a long time. I was more into reading than writing these days. Actually, I was on a quest (that still continues) for understanding of the human mind. I hunted books, human minds , gurus for the answer. I doubt whether I have found the answer but the journey itself has been so unique experience that I wish it continues as long as I live. I will try to write it in my blog. See you soon.