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).