Tag Archives: Delhi

Modi criticism mounts: from the Guardian’s Michael Safi

8 Sep

Narendra Modi criticised over Twitter links to abuse of shot journalist

Indian PM follows accounts that appeared to celebrate Gauri Lankesh’s death, but his party says criticism is ‘mischievous’

A protest in Delhi over the killing of journalist Gauri Lankesh
A protest in Delhi over the killing of journalist Gauri Lankesh. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

India’s ruling party has defended Narendra Modi’s use of Twitter after a number of users followed by the Indian prime minister appeared to celebrate the fatal shooting of a journalist this week.

Leaders from across Indian politics have condemned the murder of Gauri Lankesh, who was shot dead outside her home in Bengaluru on Tuesday, but a number of Modi supporters appeared to attempt to justify the killing.

One commented: “You reap what you sow.” Another wrote in Hindi: “A bitch died a dog’s death and all of her litter is crying in the same voice.”

Modi, who operates his own Twitter account and follows 1,779 others, has been criticised for continuing to follow accounts that have levelled abuse at Lankesh. He has yet to comment on the killing.

The head of his BJP party’s information unit, Amit Malviya, said the prime minister followed “normal people” and described the controversy as “mischievous and contorted”.

“PM following someone is not a character certificate of a person and is not in any way a guarantee of how a person would conduct himself,” he said in a statement. “[Modi] follows normal people and frequently interacts with them on various issues. He is a rare leader who truly believes in freedom of speech and has never blocked or unfollowed anyone on Twitter.”

Modi is regularly criticised for following users who post offensive content. In July 2015 he invited 150 social media users to his residence for a meet-and-greet, among them Twitter users who had used sexual slurs and levelled other abuse against women.

Malviya said Modi was frequently attacked for the actions of his supporters while abuse by backers of opposition political leaders was ignored. “This debate is not only farcical and fake, but also an exhibit of selective right to freedom of expression,” he said.

India’s information technology minister, Ravi Shankar Prasad, condemned the online abuse of Lankesh, tweeting that he “deplore[d] the messages on social media expressing happiness on the dastardly murder”.

Separately, Delhi police have filed a case against a Facebook user who published a “hit list” of journalists, activists and authors including the Man Booker prize-winner Arundhati Roy.

Police have sought the IP details of the user, who identified himself as Vikramaditya Rana, after he made a series of posts including one saying Lankesh’s killing “serves her and her kind right for the damages these so-called journos have caused our nation”.

Lankesh, whose murder is being examined by a specially appointed investigative team, had previously voiced concern about the “rabid hate” that she was subjected to online.

In her speeches and writing, Lankesh, 55, frequently criticised the Hindu nationalist ideology associated with the BJP and worked to rehabilitate guerrillas involved in the country’s five-decade-long Maoist insurgency.

Though police have not commented on the motive for her killing, friends, lawyers and colleagues of the journalist as well as some members of the BJP have speculated that it was in retribution for her work.

On Thursday the hashtag #BlockNarendraModi was used as part of a campaign to block the leader’s account and highlight the abuse that many prominent Indians, particularly women, say has become endemic online.

One prominent journalist, Barkha Dutt, wrote in the Hindustan Times this year that trolling “has become part of my daily life”. “I don’t even notice it any more; that’s how dangerously inured I have become to the gross innuendo and violent and sexually explicit abuse that is heaped on so many women,” she said.

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The West’s Neoliberal South Asian darling (and for me a personified insult to Hinduism)…

7 Sep

…finally gets something of the riot act read to him by the Times:

“Prime Minister Narendra Modi has let a climate of mob rule flourish in India, with his right-wing Hindu supporters vilifying “secularists.” The venom that reactionary social media trolls direct at journalists, or “presstitutes” as they call them, is especially vicious, but not entirely new. At least 27 Indian journalists have been killed since 1992 “in direct retaliation for their work,” according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Only one of the killers has been convicted.”

Gauri protest 07thu2web-superJumboPeople protesting and mourning the killing of the Indian journalist Gauri Lankesh in New Delhi, on Wednesday. Credit Tsering Topgyal/Associated Press

And yet even the Times, even in an editorial against the increasing violence of Hindutva nationalism, kowtows and calls it Bengaluru instead of Bangalore.  I think this is the first time I’ve seen that in print.

See my: Names: “Istanbul (not Constantinople)”…and Bombay!“:

“The most unfortunate and vulgar change of all is “Mumbai,” but almost no one knows or cares about how that change happened.  It was once generally accepted that Bombay comes from the Portuguese “bom bahim,” or good little harbour, just north as it is from Portugal’s long-time colony of Goa.  But even if that etymology is bogus, it was under the name Bombay that it flourished and grew under the British into the most important and cosmopolitan city in South Asia.

Bombay

“But in 1995, the Shiv Sena party (the Army of Shiva…) won control of the state government of Maharashtra, of which Bombay is a part, though it’s so different in social and ethnic make-up from the rest of that state that it deserves a separate federal district type status like Delhi has, or Mexico City, or D.C.  Shiv Sena, being a party whose power base is rural Maharashtra and poor migrant Marathis who feel they deserve more power in the city, is actively hostile to Bombay’s dizzying diversity and especially its large Muslim population.  It’s essentially a Marathi branch of the BJP, only worse (and they haven’t been getting along lately): a virulently Hindutva bunch that have not only been found to be involved in Bombay’s drug, prostitution and extortion circles, but ordered and even carried out much of the more vicious anti-Muslim attacks during the Bombay riots of 1992-93: the kerosene-dousing and burning of individuals and the burning tire around the victims’s neck were a couple of their trademarks.

mumbai_riots_slider1

“When, despite all that, Shiv Sena were voted into state office in Maharashtra, their response to the poverty, massive infrastructural challenges, crime and destitution of this barely manageable city of more than twenty million was to change its name to Mumbai.  This was based on the supposed fact that there was (or is, or if there hadn’t been, I’m sure there now is) a temple of a Marathi goddess of that name on the site before the colonial city rose up, which may or may not be true, but, given the fact that every square yard of India contains at least one shrine or temple to someone or something, doesn’t mean very much.

“And yet the whole world fell in line.  Thinking that, like Myanmar, if it’s coming from there it must have some sort of indigenous, authentic root, filled with post-colonial guilt and worried about offending what we thought were Indian sensibilities, we all dutifully started calling it Mumbai.  Fearing that using the old name would immediately make others imagine us to be jodhpur-clad gin-swillers, we let a bunch of criminal thugs and violent nationalists change the name Bombay — the name by which this great, open-to-the-sea-and-the-world, mercantile, diverse, cosmopolitan, sexy metropolis, a microcosm of India itself and its modern face to the world, was known for almost three centuries – and nobody asked why or breathed a word of resistance.

Bombay — Marine Drive — Queen’s Necklace

“So as for C-town, you choose which is more “nationalist.”  Calling the city the name by which it was known to most of humanity for more than sixteen centuries?  Calling it an also venerable name that the nationalist, anti-cosmopolitan, Turkification project of a military dictatorship whose attitude to the City, its legacy, history and population was actually hostile for much of the time decided the world should call it?  Or just calling it both?

Or how ‘bout who cares?  As long as we know which city we’re talking about.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

From the Times: ‘At the Stroke of Midnight My Entire Family Was Displaced’

14 Aug
(Just going to lift this material in its entirety from The New York Times because it’s so beautiful and moving; it’s hard to find something of your own to say  — NB)

August marks the 70th anniversary of the end of British colonial rule in India and the creation of the two independent countries of India and Pakistan, carved along religious and political lines. More than 10 million people were uprooted. We asked readers how they or their families were affected. These are some of their stories.


The author’s mother, Rashida Begum, and father, Malik Fazal Haq, in photos taken around 10 years before partition. CreditCourtesy of Tariq Malik

‘Was he calling out for me?’

In 1947 I was 10. We lived in comfort in Jammu and Kashmir state.

We lost everything at the time of the creation of Pakistan. Things can be replaced, not lives.

My father, an intellectual and educationalist, was murdered. Eight of us crossed into Pakistan dressed in summer clothes and nothing else. Winter came and we had nothing to wear and no roof over our heads. By the following summer my feet had outgrown my shoes and I had to walk barefoot on scorching earth. My feet sometimes still feel that hot surface.

Even today I get nightmares about my father’s murder. As a physician I wonder how the end came. Was he in pain, was he cold, was he thirsty, was he calling out for me?

— Tariq Malik


Suman and Anand Khorana. Credit Dr. A. B. Khorana

‘My father recalled hiding in a Muslim family’s house’

My father, Anand B. Khorana, was about 10 years old at the time of partition. His father was a civil engineer and the whole family (my grandparents, father and his five siblings) had recently moved into a new home they built as a mark of their “middle-class” status. The oldest child, a daughter, had recently become engaged. The family had lived for generations in the state of Punjab and could not conceive of living any place else. As my late father told it, everyone had heard rumblings about the state being divided into a Pakistani half and an Indian half, but few thought it would happen imminently.

At the stroke of midnight my entire family was displaced. Their land and home were deemed to be on the Pakistani side and in a few days it was pretty clear that a Hindu family, regardless of their prior status, was in danger. I don’t know all the details but, unlike most families who decided to emigrate immediately (many losing their lives on the trains in the process), my father’s family went into hiding for a few months. My father recalled hiding in a Muslim family’s house (a former employee of my grandfather’s).

Eventually, things calmed down and the family made the trek to India and resettled, initially in Delhi in refugee quarters. My grandfather was able to find a job similar to his prior one. All of their property, including the house they had recently built, was lost but the family was grateful to have made it out alive — unlike so many others. The only person believed lost was the eldest daughter’s fiancé but, a year later, she spotted him at a train station in Delhi. They married and had several children.

— Alok A. Khorana


The Ghosh family, c. 1972. The author is in her father’s arms. CreditCourtesy of Madhushree Ghosh

‘We carried the heavy utensils, because we thought copper was more valuable than silver’

My parents were young when they walked from what’s now Bangladesh to India. Baba called East Pakistan “home” until he died in 2004. His family, landowners in Dhaka, fled with their belongings; copper utensils, large bowls, plates. He used to say, “We never needed anything, so we didn’t know the value of money. We carried the heavy utensils, because we thought copper was more valuable than silver. We were children, what were we to do?”

When Baba’s bank job moved him to New Delhi, he spent days recreating his childhood vegetable garden. Cabbage, cauliflower, peas, spinach, okra, we had it all. He used to say, “Our pumpkins were bigger than the sun!” and I would believe him. Everything in Bangladesh, the place he left, was better. The roses were more fragrant, the eggplants more purple, the fish were fresher — Delhi could never compete.

Ma was 12 when her family fled Barisal for Kolkata. They sold everything, including Ma’s favorite school books. She mourned those books until she died, in 2008. But she was proud that she hadn’t marked any of them with a pen or pencil. “They were pristine,” she would say, “so Thakur da could sell them at a premium. That money helped us escape.”

— Madhushree Ghosh


The author’s father and mother, c. 1960. CreditCourtesy of Peter Jones Jr.

‘My siblings and I have been effectively stateless’

My father’s family was part of the British colonial administration. During partition my father was in Pakistan attending school while the rest of his family was in Pune, India. As hostilities erupted between Hindus and Muslims, my father was cut off from his family. He couldn’t get British citizenship because most of his papers were lost during the upheaval. So, in the ’50s, he made his way to the United Arab Emirates by ship and started a family there.

My siblings and I have been effectively stateless. Although we are familiar with Indian and Pakistani culture, we belonged to neither culture. We grew up in the Middle East, in Dubai, among other Asians but could not identify with them.

— S. Jones


The author’s father and mother in the late ’40s/early ’50s.Credit

‘He would never forgive himself if anything happened to her’

When partition was announced, my father, who worked for the British Indian Government, was posted in Bombay. He was advised that as a Muslim he would have better career opportunities in Pakistan. He was asked to report to offices in Rawalpindi as soon as possible. He left and my mother, Rosy, who was 20, and their six-month-old daughter stayed behind until he could arrange for their accommodation. Because of the chaos he could not come back to get them, so he asked my mother to take a train to Lahore. On the train a Sikh gentleman noticed my mother alone with an infant and asked her where she was going. When she told him Lahore, he was shocked and told her about the massacres that were taking place on trains going to Pakistan — my mother and father hadn’t known.

He said he was traveling to Amritsar (30 miles from Lahore) but would accompany her to Wagah, a border town between India and Pakistan, because he would never forgive himself if anything happened to her. He told my mother that if anyone asked, she was his daughter. He thought her name, Rosy, was fine since it was secular. But my sister’s name, Shahina, was distinctly Muslim, so if anyone asked her name was Nina.

He stayed with them until Wagah and walked with them to the Pakistani border, kissed them both on their foreheads and told them he wished he could take them all the way to Lahore, but he would not make it back alive.

My sister, who lives in Karachi, is still called Nina by everyone in the family. My mother insisted on that.

— Sohail Murad


The author’s father, left, grandfather and grandmother, a few years after partition. CreditCourtesy of Kanwal Prakash Singh

‘We prayed as we imagined the worst. Almighty God had other plans.’

On Sept. 7, a bespectacled Sikh man, much like my father, was killed in town and a rumor spread that he had come to set fire to the local mosque.

The next day dislocated families from surrounding villages who had taken shelter in schoolyards, grain markets and other vulnerable locations were attacked. I can still hear the cries of people shot or stabbed outside the Gurdwara and the gunfire that began around 4 p.m., as the last train left the Jaranwala Railway Station, in Pakistan, and continued into the evening.

That night women and children were sheltering in a room on the second floor of the Gurdwara with instructions on what to do if the militia broke through the doors and entered the temple. The thought still gives me chills. The temperature outside was in the 90s Fahrenheit, but inside the heat was oppressive. Some men stayed on the main floor or on the rooftop lookout, armed with sticks, swords, a pistol and one double-barreled gun. We were certain our end was imminent. We prayed as we imagined the worst.

Almighty God had other plans. For the next three days we holed-up in the Gurdwara. Our ranks swelled with the addition of the injured who were able to escape. We heard rumors that we would be attacked on Sept. 12, after Friday prayers. But there was a knock at the giant door of the temple around 10 a.m. and four Sikh military officers ordered us to leave in ten minutes and said they would escort us to the caravan of refugees that was passing. Everyone scrambled and ran with the clothes on their backs, relieved and hopeful to live another day or die with others traveling toward the new border and sanctuary of India.

— Kanwal Prakash “KP” Singh


‘I was probably the first member of my family to visit the home since 1947’

My father was a refugee and a migrant. As his child I have lived a peripatetic life, but have always been able to maintain connections with my family in Pakistan. I lived in Aligarh while I was researching my dissertation and visited the home where my father and my grandmother were born. I met the son of the family who had migrated from Lahore and received the home as refugee property (though he had been born later, in independent India). I was probably the first member of my family to visit the home since 1947 and met people who remembered my family, who were known for their love of rooftop kite flying. The family who lives there now sent homemade sweets for me to take to my Pakistani family.

— Amber Abbas


My parents with me in Calcutta at my Mundan ceremony, c. 1954. 

‘He spent days carrying two Muslims from the East to the West’

My mother’s younger brother lived in Jammu and must have been a lad of 15 at the time of the partition. He was aware of the mass violence around him, but he did not take up arms and perpetuate the violence. He was a strong swimmer, and he spent days carrying two Muslims from the East to the West and then two Hindus from the West to the East on his shoulders — back and forth. My uncle’s story reminds me that people can stop the cycle of violence.

— Ripudaman Malhotra


The author’s father, left, and grandfather. CreditCourtesy of Ritesh Batra

‘It was not a national tragedy for him, but a very personal one’

My paternal grandfather and grandmother moved to Bombay during partition with their two little sons. I shared a room with my grandfather growing up and heard stories of how things were before and silences about what happened during. In his last year my grandfather would often weep about partition. It was not a national tragedy for him, but a very personal one.

My maternal grandfather moved to Lucknow in India at the height of the violence. They lost many cousins and relations, but the immediate family made it safely. He restarted an optical shop called Lahore Opticals, named after the city of his birth, and became successful. When Hindu-Muslim strife breaks out in India, the shop is invariably targeted. But my grandfather never changed the name. His shop is now run by my uncle and is still named after the city they fled, now in Pakistan.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

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Eid Mubarak, Iyi Bayramlar, Bajram Baracula

19 Aug

Bahadur Shah Zafar, last of the Mughal Emperors (see “Destruction of Delhi’) in Eid procession, 1843 (please click)

Today is the first day of Eid al Fitr, (usually called Bayram in Turkey and the Balkans) the three-day feast that marks the end of Ramazan.

Below is a photo of Bayram Namazi in the Blue or Sultan Ahmet mosque in Istanbul (thanks to Aykut for that; I couldn’t tell which mosque was) the morning prayer which is the official beginning of the holiday. (click)

And an impressive video of Eid Namaz at the Jama Masjid in Delhi, which we almost lost.  See the Destruction of Delhi series from Dalrymple’s The Last Mughal here, here and here.

In Bosnia (click)

In Afghanistan

In Syria

In Pakistan, where women have their hands henna-ed for the celebration (I’m assuming Indian Muslims too?)

In New York

 

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

The Destruction of Delhi — Dalrymple (final)

3 Jul

Bahadur Shah Zafar enthroned

Bahadur Shah Zafar ended up being the last of the Mughal emperors.  Already along in years when the Uprising began, he became, due to the enormous symbolic power the Mughal Shahenshah still commanded, the reluctant leader of a revolution that, for even a younger and seasoned warrior – of whom he was neither – would have been a daunting force to control, command and direct.  The original rebelling Hindu and Muslim sipahis (sepoys) had gravitated towards Delhi as the symbolic center of northern India.  They were soon joined by random teams of jihadis, groups of what Dalrymple calls “Wahabbis,” though always in quotes so I don’t know quite know who he means, and the usual motley crew of Pashtuns down from Afghanistan that never miss a good fight if word of one reaches them.  This alienated many Hindu factions in no good time and, bent as many of these groups were on plunder as much as Holy War, they ended up being as great a curse on the poor, long-suffering Delhiwallahs as any of the other players involved.

Zafar lived to see most of his family murdered.  Of his, I believe, thirty-one sons – who participated in the uprising from roles of active leadership to not at all – only two survived: three teenagers were shot in the heart at point blank range; two of the more ’implicated’ sons of similar age were put before a firing squad ordered to fire low in the guts for maximum pain; the rest hanged – along with all the other male notables of his court, including Hindus.  Certain amuck British officers seem to have spent days running around the ruins of the city, shooting anyone that looked even remotely “mirza”-like, or even Muslim, or just once rich.  The hangings seem to have lasted for weeks, with a cessating intervention finally coming from London itself.  Zafar was exiled first to the Andaman Islands and then to Burma, where he died in 1862.

It was the effective end of the Mughal aristocracy and the complete wiping out of an historic dynasty; a twentieth-century style liquidation of a social class; given the comparative dimensions of the societies involved, it was surely a purge of Bolshevik proportions and equally paranoid and crazy.  Dalrymple artfully carries the consequences of these events into modernity for us.

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Zafar (below)

Dalrymple:

But while Zafar was certainly never cut out to be a heroic or revolutionary leader, he remains, like his ancestor the Emperor Akbar, an attractive symbol of Islamic civilization at its most tolerant and pluralistic.  He himself was a notable poet and calligrapher; his court contained some of the most talented artistic and literary figures in modern South Asian history; and the Delhi he presided over was undergoing one of its great periods of learning, self-confidence, communal amity and prosperity.  He is certainly a strikingly liberal and likeable figure when compared to the Victorian Evangelicals whose insensitivity, arrogance and blindness did much to bring the Uprising of 1857 down upon both their own heads and those of the people and court of Delhi, engulfing all of northern India in a religious war of terrible violence.

Above all, Zafar always put huge emphasis on his role as a protector of Hindus and the moderator of Muslim demands.  He never forgot the central importance of preserving the bond between his Hindu and Muslim subjects, which he always recognized was the central stitching that held his city together.  Throughout the Uprising, his refusal to alienate his Hindu subjects by subscribing to the demands of the jihadis was probably his single most consistent policy.

There was nothing inevitable about the demise and extinction of the Mughals, as the sepoys’ dramatic surge towards the court of Delhi showed.  But in the years to come, as Muslim prestige and learning sank, and Hindu confidence, wealth, education and power increased, Hindus and Muslims would increasingly grow apart, as British policies of divide and rule found willing collaborationists among the chauvinists of both faiths.  The rip in the closely woven fabric of Delhi’s composite culture, slowly widened into a great gash, and at Partition in 1947 finally broke in two.  As the Indian Muslim elite emigrated en masse to Pakistan, the time would soon come when it would be almost impossible to imagine that Hindu sepoys could ever have rallied to the Red Fort and the standard of a Muslim emperor, joining with their Muslim brothers in an attempt to revive the Mughal Empire.

Following the crushing of the Uprising, and the uprooting and slaughter of the Delhi court, the Indian Muslims themselves also divided into two opposing paths: one, championed by the great Anglophile Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan, looked to West, and believed that Indian Muslims could revive their fortunes only by embracing Western learning.  With this in mind, Sir Sayyid founded his Aligarh Mohamedan Anglo-Oriental College (later Aligarh Muslim University) and tied to recreate Oxbridge in the plains of Hndustan.

The other approach, taken by survivors of the old Madrasa i-Rahimiyya, was to reject the West in toto and to attempt to return to what they regarded as pure Islamic roots.  For this reason, disillusioned pupils of the school of Shah Waliullah, such as Maulana Muhammad Qasim Nanautawi – who in 1857 had briefly established an independent Islamic state north of Meerut at Shamli, in the Doab – founded an influential but depressingly narrow-minded Wahhabi-like madrasa at Deoband, one-hundred miles north of the former Mughal capital.  With their backs to the wall, they reacted against what the founders saw as the degenerate and rotten ways of the old Mughal elite.  The Deoband madrasa therefore went back to Koranic basics and rigorously stripped out anything Hindu or European from the curriculum.*

*(It was by no means a total divide: religious education at Aligarh, for example, was in the hands of the Deobandis.)

One hundred and forty years later, it was out of Deobandi madrasas in Pakistan and Afghanistan that the Taliban emerged to create the most retrograde Islamic regime in modern history, a regime that in turn provided the crucible from which emerged al-Qaeda, and the most radical and powerful fundamentalist Islamic counter-attack the modern West has yet encountered.

Today, West and East again face each other uneasily across a divide that many see as religious war.  Jihadis again fight what they regard as a defensive action against their Christian enemies, and again innocent women, children and civilians are slaughtered.  As before, Western Evangelical politicians are apt to cast their opponents and enemies as the role of “incarnate fiends” and conflate armed resistance to invasion and occupation with “pure evil.”  Again, Western countries, blind to the effect their foreign policies have on the wilder world, feel aggrieved to be attacked – as they interpret it – by mindless fanatics.

Against this bleak dualism, there is much to value in Zafar’s peaceful and tolerant attitude to life; and there is also much to regret in the way that the British swept away and rooted out the late Mughal’s pluralistic and philosophically composite civilization.

As we have seen in our own time, nothing threatens the liberal and moderate aspect of Islam so much as aggressive Western intrusion and interference in the East, just as nothing so radicalizes the ordinary Muslim and feeds the power of the extremists: the histories of Islamic fundamentalism and Western imperialism have, after all, often been closely, and dangerously, intertwined.  There are clear lessons here.  For, in the celebrated words of Edmund Burke, himself a fierce critic of Western aggression in India, those who fail to learn from history are always destined to repeat it.

Zafar’s two surviving sons, who shared his Burmese exile with him.

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Agha Shahid Ali: “After Seeing Kozintsev’s King Lear in Delhi”

Lear cries out “You are men of stones”

as Cordelia hangs from a broken wall.

 

I step into Chandni Chowk, a street once

strewn with jasmine flowers

for the Empress and the royal women

who bought perfumes from Isfahan,

fabrics from Dacca, essence from Kabul,

glass bangles from Agra.

 

Beggars now live here in tombs

of unknown nobles and forgotten saints

while hawkers sell combs and mirrors

outside a Sikh temple.  Across the street,

a theater is showing a Bombay spectacular.

 

I think of Zafar, poet and Emperor,

being led through this street

by British soldiers, his feet in chains,

to watch his sons hanged.

 

In exile he wrote:

“Unfortunate Zafar

spent half his life in hope,

the other half waiting.

He begs for two yards of Delhi for burial.”

 

He was exiled to Burma, buried in Rangoon.  

 

Last known photograph of Bahadur Shah Zafar

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I’d like to heartily and gratefully thank Mr. Dalrymple (below) for his permission to reproduce such an extensive piece of his work.  Usually permission is hard to obtain or you get no answer at all.  When I wrote Mr. Dalrymple, however, he shot an email back at me within minutes saying nothing but: “Go for it.”  Shukriya, kheyli moteshakeram, teshekur, and thanks again.

 “After Seeing Kozintsev’s King Lear in Delhi” reprinted from The Veiled Suite: The Collected Poems by Agha Shahid Ali. English translation copyright © 2009 by Daniel Hall. With the permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Watercolor of the Jama Masjid and old Delhi from 1852

 

The Destruction of Delhi — Dalrymple (ctd.)

2 Jul

Another selection from Walter Dalrymple’s The Last Mughal: The Fall of a Dynasty: Delhi, 1857, this one dealing more specifically with the Uprising’s effect on Delhi’s Muslims and Urdu-language culture, told mostly through the accounts of the Urdu poet Ghalib who, though born in Agra, was a consummate Delhiwallah and lived through all the events of the Uprising and its aftermath in the city itself.  Ghalib or Mirza Ghalib or Mirza Asadullah Beg Khan (Ghalib was his pen name), is, I think it’s safe to say and by common consensus, the greatest classical poet of Urdu literature, the Dante or Pushkin of Muslim India, the poet every literate Indian or Pakistani can quote, the way Iranians do Hafez or Russians Pushkin.  If it’s odd that such a crucial figure in Urdu culture came so late in the history of Indian Islam, we need to remember that India was later to throw off the weight of Persian as a literary language than the Ottomans were (Ghalib and even the much later Iqbal still wrote in Persian as well), through a continued influx of Iranian literati until very late, attracted to the still healthy patronage possibilities available in the various Muslim courts of India, not just Delhi. 

Begum is a lady of the court, the female form of “beg,” or “bey;” like “hanim” in Turkish, or “khanum” in Farsi, or “hatun” in several languages, is the female form of “khan;” all (along with “aga”) of Turkic origin, which gives you a really good idea of the division of labor in the Turko-Iranian world.  (Only “mirza” is a contraction of the Arabic “‘amr,” commander, and the Farsi lineage-son-of suffix “-zade.”)  It was impossible to be part of the north Indian Muslim aristocracy without a claim to some Turkic or Mongol lineage, (and I guess in Iran too, from the Seljuks on?) however bogus I imagine some of those might have been.

A late photo of Mirza Ghalib

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Dalrymple:

While all this was going on, throughout 1858, Hindus were slowly being readmitted to the city, but Muslims remained almost entirely banned from within the walls.  As Ghalib wrote in Dastanbuy [his journal of the events, though I don’t know if the word itself means “journal.”]

“In the entire city of Delhi it is impossible to find one thousand Muslims; and I am one of these.  Some have gone so far from the city it seems as if they were never residents of Delhi.  Many very important men are living outside the city, on ridges and under thatched roofs, in ditches and mud huts.  Among those people living in the wilderness are many who are anxious to return to Delhi, relatives of the imprisoned, and those living on alms.”

A passing traveller in 1860 was horrified by “the old withered Musulmanis and gypsy-like Mughals [still] camping out at the qutb.”  Even the imperious Matilda Saunders was aware that “numbers of people are daily dying of starvation and want of shelter.”

In December of 1859 the Muslims of Delhi petitioned the government to be allowed to return to their houses.  They wrote to Queen Victoria praying (according to the translation commissioned by Charles Saunders)

“that they may be permitted to return to their houses in the city of Delhi.  They are in the greatest distress, excluded rigorously from the town, they can obtain neither shelter nor means of subsistence.  The cold weather is now at hand and they beg that they may not be exposed to its severity in their present state of destitution and misery.  They trust that Her Majesty following the example of other magnanimous sovereigns, would pardon their misdeeds and permit them to reinhabit their old houses – otherwise they see nothing but beggary before them.”

Even when their plea was granted and they began to be given permission to return in 1860, many Muslims who could not prove their loyalty found that their houses had been confiscated.  Things got so bad that even some of the British papers in India began to feel sympathy with the Delhi Muslims: “When will agitation of European nerves subside?” asked the Mofussilite in June 1860.  “There is no reason for it…”

“The people are abject because they are starved out, banished and plundered.  Thousands of Muslims are wandering houseless and homeless; the Hindus, pluming themselves on their loyalty, strut about the streets giving themselves airs.  Let not the public think that Delhi has not been punished.  Wend through the empty grass-grown streets, mark the uprooted houses, and shot-riddled palaces.”

Most of the confiscated Muslim properties put up for auction by the British were bought en masse by the Hindu khatri (clerical castes) and Jain bankers of the city, such as Chhunna Mal and Ramji Das.  They were the only Delhiwallahs who still had access to liquid cash, their man centre of Nil ka Katra having bought immunity from the depredations of the Prize Agents on the payment of a large sum soon after the fall of the city.  Hindu traders and bankers even bought up two of the city’s most famous mosques: Chhunna Mal bought up the Fatehpuri Masjid, while a Hindu baker bought the Zinat ul-Masjid, one of the main jihadi centers throughout the Uprising.*

All this exacerbated the sudden shift of power from the Muslim elite, who had dominated the city before the Uprising, to the Hindu bankers, who were its most wealthy citizens afterwards.  “The capital is in the hands of one or two men like Chhunna Mal and Mahesh Das,” wrote Edward Campbell in 1858.  What remained of the court circle and the Mughal aristocracy were by and large left penniless.  A few survived on a pittance as schoolteachers and tutors.  For many, such as Maulvi Zaka’ullah, the shock of the utter devastation of their world was “beyond all bearing,” and Zaka’ullah later admitted that for a time he had succumbed to “a melancholy that bordered on blank despair.”

“Alas my dear boy,” wrote Ghalib to a friend in January 1862.  “This is not the Delhi in which you were born, not the Delhi in which you got your schooling, not the Delhi in which you used to come to your lessons with me, not the Delhi in which I have passed fifty-one years of my life.”

“It is a camp.  The only Muslims here are artisans and servants of the British authorities.  All the rest are Hindus.  The male descendants of the deposed King – such as survived the sword – draw allowances of five rupees a month.  The female descendants, if old, are bawds; if young, are prostitutes…”

What Ghalib did not say was that many of the Delhi begums were set on the path to prostitution by the mass rapes that followed the fall of the city.  Believing that the British women in Delhi had been sexually assaulted at the outbreak – a rumour that subsequently proved quite false, as a full inquiry by Saunders later proved – British officers did little to stop their men from raping the women of Delhi.  At the same time as Saunders’ inquiry completely exonerated the rebels of any single instance of rape, another inquiry found that perhaps as many as three hundred begums of the royal house – not including former concubines in the Palace – had been “taken away by our troops after the fall of Delhi,” and that many of those who had not been abducted were now making their living as courtesans.  The fate of the women of the royal family was clearly something that deeply shocked Ghalib, and he returns to it again and again in his letters.  “Had you been here,” he told his friend Mirza Tafta, “you would have seen the ladies of the Fort moving about the city, their faces as fair as the moon and their clothes dirty, their paijama legs torn, and their slippers falling to pieces.  This is no exaggeration…”

With the loss of the Mughal court went much of the city’s reputation as a centre of culture and learning.  Its libraries had been looted, its precious manuscripts lost.  The madrasas were almost all closed, and their buildings were again mostly bought up – and in time demolished – by Hindu moneylenders.  The most prestigious of all, the Madrasa i-Rahimiyya, was auctioned off to one of the leading baniyas, Ramji Das, who used it as a store.

By 1859 Ghalib was complaining that he could not even find a single bookseller, binder, or calligrapher in this once most bookish of cities.  Still less were there any poets: “Where is Mamnun?  Where is Zauq?  And where is Momin Khan?  Two poets survive.  One, Azurda – and he is silent: the other Ghalib, and he is lost in himself, in a stupor.  None to write poetry, and none to judge its worth.”  To make matters worse for Ghalib, much of his own verse – his life’s great achievement – had been lost: he had never kept copies of his ghazals and the two private libraries in which his friends had stored his poetry had both been sacked and destroyed by the British.  “A few days ago a faqir who has a good voice and sings well discovered a ghazal of mine somewhere and got it written down,” he wrote in one letter.  “When he showed it to me, I tell you truly, tears came to my eyes.”

“This whole city has become a desert,” wrote a melancholy Ghalib to a friend in 1861.  “Delhi people still pride themselves on Delhi language!  What pathetic faith!  My dear man, when the Urdu Bazaar is no more, where is Urdu?  By God, Delhi is no more a city, but a camp, a cantonment.  No Fort, no bazaars, no watercourses…”  “Four things kept Delhi alive,” he wrote to another friend who enquired what Delhi was like these days.  “The Fort, the daily crowds at the Jama Masjid, the weekly walk to the Yamuna Bridge, and the yearly fair of the flower-men.  None of these survives, so how could Delhi survive?  Yes, there once was a city of that name in the realm of India.”

In such a situation Ghalib often wondered what the point of carrying on was when everything he had lived for was finished.  “A man cannot quench his thirst with tears,” he wrote.  “You know that when despair reaches its lowest depths, there is nothing left but to resign oneself to God’s will.  What lower depths can there be than this: that it is the hope of death that keeps me alive.”  “My soul,” he wrote in June 1862, “dwells in my body these days as restless as a bird in a cage.”

Without the Delhi College and the great madrasas, without the printing presses and the Urdu newspapers, and without the Mughal court – whose immense cultural prestige always compensated for the monetary constrictions on its actual power of patronage – and most of all without the Emperor there to act as a focus and, to some extent, catalyst, the driving force behind Delhi’s renaissance and artistic flourishing was gone.  The beating heat of Indo-Islamic civilization had been ripped out and could not be replaced.  As Ghalib wrote as he neared death: “All these things lasted only so long as the King reigned.”

*Neither was returned to the Delhi Muslims until many years later — the Fatehpuri Masjid in 1875 and the Zinat ul-Masajid by Lord Curzon in the early years of the twentieth century.  Sikh troops remained occupying the Jama Masjid until it was returned in 1862.  See S. M. Ikram, Muslim Rule in India and Pakistan, Lahore, 1966, p. 462

Below: “Oval Portraits of Mughal Ladies,” 1860-1870 in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

The Destruction of Delhi — Dalrymple

29 Jun

The following is reproduced by permission and with the generosity of the author from William Dalrymple’s The Last Mughal: The Fall of a Dynasty: Delhi, 1857.  I’ve mentioned this brilliant book in a previous post: Favorite Blogs: The Delhi Wallah.  These are from the gripping few pages where Dalrymple describes the irrational and totally vengeful destruction of much of Delhi by the British after the Uprising of 1857 had been suppressed.

The entrance to the Jama Masjid

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Canning had already given orders to destroy the Delhi walls and defences, but Lawrence managed to get the orders rescinded, arguing that there was insufficient gunpowder in Delhi to blow up several miles of walls.  By the end of 1859, Canning had agreed to his plan only to demolish what was needed to make the fort and city more defensible.  By 1863, the planned demolition of the eastern half of Chandni Chowk down to the Dariba had also been stopped.  Even so, great swathes of the city – especially around the Red Fort – were still cleared away, as Ghalib recorded in a series of sad letters to his correspondents across Hindustan: “The area between Raj Ghat [on the city’s eastern edge, facing the Yamuna] and the Jama Masjid is without exaggeration a great mound of bricks.”

“The Raj Ghat Gate has been filled in.  Only the niched battlements of the walls is apparent.  The rest has been filled up with debris.  For the preparation of the metalled road, a wide open ground has been made between Calcutta Gate and the Kabul Gate.  Punjabi Katra, Dhobiwara, Ramji Ganj, Sadat Khan ka Katra, the Haveli [palace, mansion, konak] of Mubarak Begum [Ochterlony’s widow], the Haveli of Sahib Ram and his garden – all have been destroyed beyond recognition.”

What had been the neighborhood around the Jama Masjid (above).  The Kashmiri Gate (below).

Other letters of Ghalib’s mourned the destruction of some of the city’s finest mosques, such as the Akbarabadi Masjid and the great Masjid Kashmiri Katra [I haven’t been able to find any photos of these, but the Akbarabadi Masjid was considered a sort of twin to the Jama Masjid — my comment]; great Sufi shrines such as that of Sheikh Kalimullah Jahanabadi;* the imambara+ built by Maulvi Muhannad Baqar; and the establishment of a cleared open space 70 yards wide around the Jama Masjid.  Four of Delhi’s most magnificent palaces were also completely destroyed; the havelis of the recently hanged nawabs of Jhajjar, Bahadurgarh and Farrucknagar, as well as that of the Raja of Ballabargh.  The great caravanserai of Shah Jahan’s daughter Jahanara was demolished and replaced by a new town hall.  Shalimar Bagh, where Aurangzeb had been crowned, was sold off for agricultural use.  Even where old Mughal structures were allowed to continue, they were often renamed: Begum Bagh, for example, became the Queen’s Gardens.

Tragically the Red Fort was another area where Lawrence intervened too late to stop the wholesale destruction.  He managed to save both the Jama Masjid and the Palace walls, but 80 per cent of the rest of the Fort was leveled.  Harriet Tyler, who was living in an apartment above the Diwan i-Am at this time, was horrified by the decision and decided to paint a panorama of the city before it disappeared.  It confirmed her in her disgust of the way the British had behaved in Delhi since the assault began on 14 September.  “Delhi was now truly a city of the dead,” she wrote in her memoirs.  “The death-like silence of that Delhi was appalling.  All you could see were empty houses… The utter stillness…[was] indescribably sad.  It seemed as if something had gone out of our lives.”

[These are some drawings I’ve been able to find of the palace and palace grounds but, though beautiful, they don’t give you much of a sense of what was destroyed — my comment]:

(the above appears in Dalrymple’s book)

The demolitions started at the Queen’s Baths in November 1857, and continued through most of the Palace, destroying an area “twice the area of the Escorial,” as the horrified historian James Ferguson pointed out twenty years later.  “The whole of the area between the central range of the buildings south and eastwards from the bazaar, measuring about 1000 feet each way, was occupied by the harem apartments – twice the area of any Palace in Europe.”

“According to the native plan I possess, which I see no reason for distrusting, it contained three garden courts, and some thirteen or fourteen other courts, arranged some for state, some for convenience; but what they were like we have no means of knowing.  Not one vestige of them now remains…  The whole of the harem courts of the palace were swept off the face of the earth to make way for a hideous British barrack, without those who carried out this fearful piece of vandalism, thinking it even worthwhile to make a plan of what they were destroying or preserving any record of the most splendid palace in the world.”

As late as March 1859 George Wagentrieber was please to record in the Delhi Gazette that “a good deal of blowing up” was still going on in the Palace.  Some of the finest buildings were the first to go, such as the Chhota Rang Mahal.  Even the Fort’s glorious gardens – notably Hayat Bakhsh Bagh and Mehtab Bagh – were swept away.  All that was left by the end of the year was about one-fifth of the original fabric – principally a few scattered, isolated marble buildings strung out along the Yamuna waterfront.  These were saved owing largely to the fact that they were in use as offices and messes by the British occupation troops, but their architectural logic was completely lost once they were shorn of the courtyards of which they were originally a part.


(click on this photo)

All the gilded domes and most of the detachable marble fittings were stripped and sold off by the Prize agents.  As Fergusson noted,

“when we took possession of the palace, everyone seems to have looted after the most independent fashion.  Among others, a Captain (afterwards Sir) John Jones [who had blown in the Lahore Gate during the capture of the Fort] tore up a great part, but had the happy idea to get his loot in marble as table tops.  Two of these he brought home and sold to the Government for 500 pounds, and were placed in the India Museum.”

These fragments included the rightly celebrated “Orpheus panel” of pietra dura inlay which Shah Jahan had placed behind his Peacock Throne.

Meanwhile, what remained of the Mughal’s Red Fort became a grey British barracks.  The Naqqar Khana, where drums and trumpets had once announced the arrival of ambassadors from Isfahan and Constantinople, became the quarters of a British staff sergeant.  The Diwan i-Am became a became a lounge for officers, the Emperor’s private entrance a canteen, and the Rang Mahal was turned into a military prison.  The magnificent Lahore Darwaza was renamed the Victoria Gate and became “a bazaar for the benefit of the Fort’s European soldiers.”  Zafar’s contribution to the Palace architecture – the Zafar Mahal, a delicate floating pavilion in a large red sandstone tank – became the centerpiece of a swimming pool for officers, while the surviving pavilions of Hayat Bakhsh Bagh were turned into urinals.

* A modest tomb of the saint is, however, still extant in the Pigeon-seller’s Bazaar in Old Delhi

+ Shia religious hall used to hold mourning ceremonies during Muharram

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Below, I’m just posting whatever photos I can find of what’s left of the palace, without specific naming of each building, but hoping that readers constantly keep in mind that all this gorgeousness — and seen here damaged and stripped of its jewelled furnishings, gold, carpets, silken hangings, “Dacca gauzes,” running waters and the exquisitely dressed men and women of the court — is only the twenty percent of the original that survived Some photos may be clickable:

The famous Persian couplet by Amir Khosrow: “Agar Firdaus bar-ruhe-e-zamin ast, haminast o haminast o hamin ast.”  “If there is a heaven on earth, it is here, it is here, it is here.”
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