All posts by Sohail Hashmi

Supporter of Causes no longer fashionable in these days of globalisation, script writer on documentaries on above causes and a chronic optimist

The changing face of Delhi in travellers’ accounts: Swapna Liddle

We thought of a series on Delhi that does not talk only of the narrow lanes of Shahjahanabad, the Mughalia, aka Mughlai delights and the lip-smacking Chaats of Chandni Chowk or the grand ruins of the seven Delhis and the wide open spaces and broad roads, but a series that also looks at the way Delhi has evolved. We wanted to explore the logic of the city and of the forces that have shaped the idea of the city itself.  It was this idea that made us approach people who have engaged with the city with love and care for decades and we requested them to write for Kafila.

This series is titled Dilli hai jiska naam, and the links to the previous posts can be found at the end.

This is the fourth post in the series, by SWAPNA LIDDLE

The changing face of Delhi in travellers’ accounts : Swapna Liddle

There are many sources through which we can learn about the history of a city, and these are often the writings of its inhabitants, such as personal letters, diaries, newspapers, and official documents of various kinds. When it comes to basic descriptions of a place, however, it is often the writings of travelers that give us the most vivid accounts. Residents often take their surroundings for granted, neither very conscious of nor feeling any imperative to record their own impressions of their surroundings.

Visitors, on the other hand, are struck by the novelty of the place, and the farther they come from, the more this is true. They often also want to record their memories, in words and in images. In the case of Delhi, a particularly large number of European visitors passed through and recorded their experiences from the late 18th century onwards. This coincided with the expansion of the British East India Company’s control over the Gangetic plain, and became a deluge after the Company actually conquered and began to administer Delhi in 1803. Sometimes the records of these travellers were personal aide memoires for a journey undertaken, but often accounts to be shared with those back home, via letters to near and dear ones. Some of these ended up in the form of published journals with a larger readership.

To us today, the words and pictures left behind are a valuable peek into a landscape that has since then changed profoundly, and this article will be largely dealing with that change. At the same time, 18th century observers were also acutely aware that they were seeing a changing landscape, that had been affected by both natural and human factors. Antoine Polier, the Swiss adventurer visiting Delhi in 1776, was aware that the river Yamuna had quite recently changed its course, from just below the walls of the Red Fort, to about a mile eastwards, leaving only a narrow channel separating Red Fort from Salimgarh.

It is this narrow channel flowing between the two fortifications that we see in many of the earliest sketches, such as those of Captain John Luard in the 1820s and Charles Stewart Hardinge in 1847.

“Red Fort” by Charles Stewart Hardinge

Continue reading The changing face of Delhi in travellers’ accounts: Swapna Liddle

RE-ORIENTING URBAN PLANNING STRATEGIES and The Master Plan of Delhi – Dilli hai jiska naam III: A.G. Krishna Menon

We thought of a series on Delhi that does not talk only of the narrow lanes of Shahjahanabad, the Mughalia, aka Mughlai delights and the lip-smacking Chaats of Chandni Chowk or the grand ruins of the seven Delhis and the wide open spaces and broad roads, but a series that also looks at the way Delhi has evolved. We wanted to explore the logic of the city and of the forces that have shaped the idea of the city itself.  It was this idea that made us approach people who have engaged with the city with love and care for decades and we requested them to write for Kafila. 

This series is titled Dilli hai jiska naam and the links to the previous posts can be found at the end.

This is the third post in the series by AGK MENON

Re-orienting urban planning strategies – The Master Plan of Delhi: A.G. Krishna Menon

Introduction

Delhi is an extraordinary historic city, comparable to Rome or Istanbul in the range and significance of its extant heritage. It is now the capital of a politically and economically aspiring Republican. However, unlike Rome or Istanbul, the significance of the city’s historic legacy plays little role in determining how the contemporary city is envisaged. In fact, this legacy is elided in civic planning and politically contested.  Therefore, when in January 2013, the Government of India forwarded a dossier to UNESCO, to nominate Delhi as a World Heritage City, it was a historic turnaround because it marked a paradigm shift in how the civic authorities sought to view its future.

Until then, India had never sought to celebrate any of its remarkable historic cities for their heritage characteristics let alone conserve it. However, it had been the contention of the Delhi Chapter of the Indian Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), that there was a strong correlation between not valuing the cultural legacy of historic cities and the degraded conditions they had been reduced to in contemporary times. For example, the Master Plan of Delhi officially identified Shahjahanabad, the pre-eminent Mughal city built by Emperor Shahjahan in 1648, as a slum that needs to be redeveloped in the manner the bombed out cities of Europe after World War II were rebuilt. These circumstances motivated INTACH to actively advocate the need to conserve historic cities and it worked to get Delhi nominated as a World Heritage City. Continue reading RE-ORIENTING URBAN PLANNING STRATEGIES and The Master Plan of Delhi – Dilli hai jiska naam III: A.G. Krishna Menon

Basti Basna Khel Nahin Hai – Dilli hai jiska naam II: Narayani Gupta

This is the second part of a series on Delhi that does not talk only of the narrow lanes of Shahjahanabad, the Mughalia, aka Mughlai delights and the lip-smacking Chaats of Chandni Chowk or the grand ruins of the seven Delhis and the wide open spaces and broad roads, but a series that also looks at the way Delhi has evolved. We wanted to explore the logic of the city and of the forces that have shaped the idea of the city itself. It was this idea that made us approach people who have engaged with the city with love and care for decades, and we requested them to write for Kafila.

This series is titled Dilli Hai Jiska Naam, and the first post in the series by Pradip Krishen can be read here.

Here is the second post, by NARAYANI GUPTA

Basti basna khel nahin: Narayani Gupta

Presented at a seminar on ‘The Right to the City’ at Indraprastha College, Delhi University, on 5 September 2019 

The strident cry of the Right to the City takes us back 50 years, to Henri Lefebvre. 50 years ago, when I was in my 20s,  parts of the world turned upside down – 1967 saw the Naxalbari peasant uprising, in 1968, Lefebvre’s book Le Droit a la ville was followed by the  protest movements of students and workers in Europe. 1969, the rhythms of Woodstock, and in India the excitement of the founding of JNU… Today we get late for appointments because of the pile-up of cars on the roads. 50 years ago it was because of the river of red flags that eddied through the streets from Ramlila Maidan to Sansad Bhavan. Government bred its ‘other’ – protest. Things fall into place when recalled from a later time, but when they happen they merely disturb the surface.

So this is a golden jubilee moment, but also a nostalgia moment, nostalgia for that stubborn sense of hope which we seem to have lost, for the battle-cries now replaced by triumphalist slogans.

The plea for a collective life and an equal access to resources – which is implied in the battle-cry ‘The Right to the City’ – has to be placed against the histories of particular countries. It is certain conjunctures that explain why something happens when it does – even the rallying-cry of the Right to the City.

Continue reading Basti Basna Khel Nahin Hai – Dilli hai jiska naam II: Narayani Gupta

Restoring Delhi’s Central Ridge – Dilli hai jiska naam I: Pradip Krishen

We thought of a series on Delhi that does not talk only of the narrow lanes of Shahjahanabad, the Mughalia, aka Mughlai delights and the lip-smacking Chaats of Chandni Chowk or the grand ruins of the seven Delhis and the wide open spaces and broad roads, but a series that also looks at the way Delhi has evolved. We wanted to explore the logic of the city and of the forces that have shaped the idea of the city itself.  It was this idea that made us approach people who have engaged with the city with love and care for decades, and we requested them to write for Kafila. 

This series is titled, Dilli Hai Jiska Naam, and here is the first piece, by PRADIP KRISHEN

Restoring Delhi’s Central Ridge:  Pradip Krishen

(All images by Pradip Krishen)

Delhi’s Central Ridge is big — a little more than 850 hectares. That’s 8 and a half square kilometres of semi-wild forest in the heart of a totteringly large metropolis.

The Central Ridge is mostly open thorn forest but it can be quite dense in pockets. An evergreen climber called ‘heens’ (Capparis sepiaria) adds to the impression of density

It’s true the Ridge is degraded and filled with invasive trees from South America, its potholed roads are used as a rubbish dump and there are all sorts of other problems inside, but it’s still remarkable that the Central Ridge exists at all. And that it hasn’t been taken over to make multi-storeyed flats for civil servants. Or worse.

The President’s Bodyguard leases a polo ground inside the Central Ridge and does some damage by scattering rubbish from its Polo clubhouse indiscriminately on the Ridge.

I can’t say I know all of the Central Ridge. But it’s now been nearly 50 years since I first started going in there, and there’s a portion — it could be as much as 90 or 100 hectares or so — that I can claim to know really well because I walk there every day. I’m writing a journal-style book about the C Ridge — only about this parcel I’m most familiar with — and I hope to give you a sense of what it is about the C Ridge that I find not just fascinating but important from the angle of how this city is evolving and growing. Continue reading Restoring Delhi’s Central Ridge – Dilli hai jiska naam I: Pradip Krishen

Alchemies of Art and Resistance in Kashmir

Bertolt Brecht, was to write

“In the dark times

Will there also be singing?

Yes, there will also be singing.

About the dark times.”

Violence, persistent and unending, creates an alternative reality, a festering, perverted, horrible, surreal reality. Violence, unending and unrelenting erases all memories of times past, Memories of times when another reality existed, It is this alternative reality that begins to redefine imagery, ideas, sensibilities and begins to creates a new grotesque discourse, a discourse in which the ugly face of fear and death becomes the normative. I’ll give you one example of how this works. Continue reading Alchemies of Art and Resistance in Kashmir

The Gurgaon Deluge Is Only A Taste Of Things To Come

This article was first published in The Huffington Post.

What happened in Gurgaon two days ago is only a foretaste of what is going to befall Delhi. The same fate awaits all other regions surrounding Delhi in the broader National Capital Region, if we refuse to draw appropriate lessons from the deluge that short-circuited the virtual dreams of those who had bought the chimera of the Millennium City.

 A short recap of what led to the deluge will help place the entire issue in perspective. The low-lying plains of the area receive precipitation run-off from the Aravalis and the Chhattarpur area of Delhi. All this run-off used to flow through the Badshahpur Nala.

Map: Shehla Hashmi Grewal Drainage pattern of Delhi
Map: Shehla Hashmi Grewal
Drainage pattern of Delhi

Evening out the Odds, Learning from the BRT Fiasco

The Chief Minister of Delhi has come out with a very practical idea, an Idea, whose time has come as the American would say. Anyone who says that Delhi’s air is a killer is only putting it mildly. The number of those dying of respiratory ailments on a daily basis stands today at 23, this translates to 161 per week, 644 per month and 7728 per year. The figures were half this 4 years ago.

Even if pollution levels do not worsen in future the cumulative effects of exposure to these high levels of pollution will keep pushing up the death rate and increasingly it will be the kids born today who will grow into wheezing asthmatics, inhaling this deadly cocktail of pollutants increasingly becoming unfit, as they grow, for doing anything that calls for even mild exertions. The resultant costs on medical expenses incurred by their families, in the face of the rapid withdrawal of government spend on public health will assume the shape of a horror movie gone real and it can only get worse unless something is done and done fast. Read the full article, published in Catch News, here

The Sheepification of Bakistan: Mina Malik-Hussain

We are reproducing this piece by Mina Malik-Hussain, which appeared in The Nation (Pakistan) as it deals with an important issue which concerns the changes that are taking place within subcontinental Islam. The piece underlines the great cultural battle underway within Islam which, in the final analysis is about being Muslim in many different ways. Mina Malik-Hussain is a feminist based in Lahore.

When we were small, there was a month and it used to be called Ramzan. It was Ramzan on television, it was Ramzan in the newspaper with the sehr-o-iftar timings and while nobody had a cell phone or Facebook to wish anyone, it would have been Ramzan Mubarik nonetheless. Sometimes if one was being quite linguistically adventurous it would be Ramazan, but nobody seemed to mind.
And then, insidiously, The Arabs crept up on us. It wasn’t like the return of Muhammad Bin Qasim, but somehow Ramzan became Ramadan. Nobody knew exactly how it happened, but almost overnight our crisp z’uad sound became a lisping Arab burr, and we—a nation of language speakers with no apparent consonant pronunciation difficulties—were flung into the downward spiral of an affectation obsession. Now it was cool to sound Arab, and soon enough it began to be increasingly desirable to look it. Cue Al Huda, cue our streets being lined with gangly palm trees that do nothing, either in terms of beauty or shade, cue the availability of the most bling Islamic cover-up gear you’ll see this side of Dubai.

Still, as a nation we were still fairly open-minded about this, so we fasted year after year and didn’t really pay attention to the semantics of it. We were busy trying to live our lives and be regular Pakistanis, but The Arabs kept making inroads onto our cultural minds. One year ‘khuda-hafiz’, that old and comfortable way of saying goodbye and Godspeed, became ‘Allah hafiz’ with the dubious reason of having to specify which deity to whose protection one was recommending you. Because here in multi-religious, multi-cultural and secular Pakistan there was actual leeway where one would wonder who exactly Khuda is, and perhaps not want to be entrusted to a pagan god. Some people resisted, and continue to resist Allah hafiz and keep saying khuda-hafiz with the logic and hope that whatever His name, He will still protect and love them. Also if it was good enough for one’s grandfather and great-grandfather, it was just fine for them too. Read the full article here

Chhering – A Guiding Star

This article has appeared in the June issue of Terrascape

Travelling with a knowledgeable guide makes a trip worth it. And if the guide is someone like Chhering, you’ll cherish the trip all your life.

Kee Monastery, Spiti
Kee Monastery, Spiti

Broadly speaking there are two kinds of human beings, the inquisitive and the conformist. It is the inquisitive kinds who try new things; experiment, ask questions, make most discoveries, travel to unchartered territories and constantly venture into terrain, geographic and cephalic, where angels fear to tread. The conformist does none of the above. They travel only the well-trodden path, visit places where the food, the hotel, the weather, in fact nothing whatsoever has the potential of throwing up a surprise.

The world cannot exist without either. The inquisitive opens up the world, both physically and in terms of ideas, while the conformist fashions new territories – geographical and cerebral – habitable and familiar for others and prepares the ground for the next generation of the inquisitive to venture beyond what has by then become familiar.

It is a fact that I am not one of those who can be included among the ‘inquisitive’, not in the sense in which I use the term here. It is equally true that I do not want to belong to the category that I have chosen to describe as the ‘conformist’. Why I do not want to be placed in the second category will be revealed once you go through this episode placed below. Your perusal of the same would perhaps justify my reluctance to be counted among the second category. Continue reading Chhering – A Guiding Star

The pasts in our present

This piece has appeared in the May issue of Terrascape

A quest for those mountains where a true seeker of truth can find solace and solitude – and a lesson in geology

I had grown up being told, as were most children who grew up in the times when I did, about great spiritual seekers, sanyasis, sufis and such like who had chosen to seek truth and to give up everything that tied them to the mundane concerns and attachments of this world. The stories of all these seekers of truth invariably ended with many of them finding what they sought in the mountains.

The mountains they visited were not the mundane, run-of-the-mill mountains, that ordinary mortals like us visit. They went in search of mountains that gave meaning to words like desolate, forsaken, remote, impassive, distant and words that created similar impressions. It was mountains such as these that the gods had chosen as their abodes, it were these that invited the seeker of truth within their folds. The seekers immersed themselves completely in the contemplation of the unknown and the unknowable, and emerged years later wiser and all-knowing.

As I and other children of my age grew up, we were drawn away from the spiritual and into the thick of the knowledge of the ‘this worldly’. We studied the secular sciences and gradually came to acquire a totally different understanding of  the mountains.

Spiti3

Continue reading The pasts in our present

All Is Not Well at AUD: Natasha Narwal

Guest post by NATASHA NARWAL

Ambedkar University Delhi, a recently established State University in the NCR, has become the new buzz in the academic circles of the Capital. It is seen as space full of creative opportunities by an academic community exhausted by bureaucratic regimes and the sheer weight of established institutions stifling any real creativity and innovations in most central Universities. In a recent article in Economic and Political Weekly, Janaki Nair described AUD as a ‘viable, vibrant space of thinking and learning, striving to provide affordable and yet sustainable fee structures and encouraging creativity and non-hierarchical structures of learning.’ To be fair, such perceptions are not entirely baseless. As it is a recently established University, almost everything, from the various schools, courses, syllabus even physical infrastructure is in the making without very rigid contours. All this gives one a sense of an innovative and fluid space. Many of the faculty members indeed do strive hard to design courses in consultation with students and give them space to express themselves. But beneath this, on the grounds, all is not well at AUD. Continue reading All Is Not Well at AUD: Natasha Narwal

चायवाला: गौहर रज़ा

Guest post – a poem by GAUHAR RAZA

चायवाला

बहुत फ़र्क़ है यह चायवाला
उन से
जो अपनी ज़िंदगी
दूसरों को चाय पिलाते गुज़ार देते हैं
बहुत फ़र्क़ है यह चायवाला
रामदीन, मैकल या ज्ञानी जी से
जो भूखे पेट रहते हैं दिन भर
और टूटे छप्पर, या पेड़ की जड़ के सहारे
चाय के एक प्याले से किसी के माथे की
थकन मिटाते हैं
फ़ैक्टरी के गेट के बाहर,
उस नौजवान का ग़म दूर करते हैं
जिसे अभी अभी नौकरी से निकाला गया है
या किसी राहगीर को सही रास्ता बताते हैं
बहुत फ़र्क़ है यह चाएवाला
उन से जो
देर गए, रात को अपने घर लौटते हैं
चंद सिक्के समेटे, उन गुंडों की गालियों के साथ,
जो रोज़ ज़बरदस्ती चाए पीते हैं,
और बदले में धमकियाँ देते हैं Continue reading चायवाला: गौहर रज़ा

उन्नाव का सोना और विश्वास के आगे समर्पण

अभी ज्यादा समय नहीं बीता जब एक दिन यह ज्ञात हुआ के नई दिल्ली में स्थित तथाकथित अग्रसेन की बावली को अगरवाल समाज के हवाले कर दिया गया है क्योंकि उन्होंने ए एस आई से यह कहा था के इस बावली का निर्माण महाराजा अग्रसेन ने किया था जो अगरवाल समाज के संस्थापक थे. उनका कहना था कि इसलिए अगरवाल समाज बावली की देखभाल करना चाहता है – आखिर बावली उनके संस्थापक की यादगार जो है. ए एस आई ने विधिवत ढंग से एक एम ओ यू (इकरारनामा) तैयार किया दोनों पक्षों ने उस पर हस्ताक्षर किये और बावली अग्रवाल समाज के हवाले कर दी गयी.

अग्रवाल समाज को शायद उस शिलालेख से भी ऐतराज़ था जो बावली के बाहर ए एस आई ने लगाया हुआ था और ऐतराज़ वाजिब भी था अग्रवाल समाज का “विश्वास” है के बावली महाराज अग्रसेन की बनवाई हुई थी और शिलालेख पर, जहाँ तक हमें याद है, यह लिखा हुआ था के ‘उग्रसेन की बावली के नाम से मशहूर इस बावली का निर्माण सल्तनत काल की वास्तुकला का एक सुन्दर नमूना है’. इस तरह की बात ज़ाहिर है अस्वीकार्य थी और फ़ौरी तौर पर भूल सुधार की आवश्यकता थी. लिहाज़ा भूल सुधार दी गयी. अब जो नया शिलालेख वहां लगाया गया है उस पर साफ़ साफ़ लिखा है के “इस बावली का निर्माण अग्रवाल समुदाय के पूर्वज, राजा उग्रसेन, द्वारा किया गया था.” यह अलग बात है के शिलालेख पर अंग्रेजी में इस बात को ज़रा अलग ढंग से इस तरह कहा गया है “ कहा जाता है के इस बावली का निर्माण अग्रवाल समुदाय के पूर्वज, राजा उग्रसेन, द्वारा किया गया था.” (यह भी दिलचस्प बात है कि राजा का नाम कहीं ‘उग्रसेन’ तो कहीं ‘अग्रसेन’ लिखा जाता आया है.) Continue reading उन्नाव का सोना और विश्वास के आगे समर्पण

डी डी कोसांबी पर भगवा हमला: कुलदीप कुमार

Guest post by KULDEEP KUMAR

कुलदीप कुमार की यह पुस्तक समीक्षा समयांतर के अक्तूबर २०१३ अंक में छपी थी. इस विषय में चूँकि हमारी ख़ास दिलचस्पी है, लिहाज़ा, इसे हम यहाँ अपने पाठकों के लिए पेश कर रहे हैं.

कोसांबी: कल्पना से यथार्थ तक, लेखक भगवन सिंह, आर्यन बुक्स इंटरनेशनल; पृ. ४०१, मूल्य: रु ७९५/-

हड़प्पा सभ्यता और वैदिक सभ्यता को एक ही मानने वाले भगवान सिंह ने अंतर्राष्ट्रीय ख्याति के गणितज्ञ, विद्वत समाज में समादृत संस्कृतज्ञ एवं प्रसिद्ध मार्क्सवादी इतिहासकार दामोदर धर्मानंद कोसंबी पर एक पुस्तक लिखी है ‘कोसंबी: कल्पना से यथार्थ तक’। 401 पृष्ठों की इस पुस्तक को आर्यन बुक्स इन्टरनेशनल, पूजा अपार्टमेंट्स, 4 बी, अंसारी रोड, दरियागंज, नई दिल्ली-2 ने इसी वर्ष छापा है और इसका मूल्य 795 रु॰ है।

पुस्तक के ब्लर्ब में कहा गया है: “कोसंबी का नाम दुहराने वालों की कमी नही, उन्हें समझने का पहला प्रयत्न भगवान सिंह ने किया। वह कोसंबी के शिष्य हैं परंतु वैसे शिष्य जैसे ग्रीक परंपरा में पाए जाते थे।” इन दो वाक्यों में दो दावे किए गए हैं। पहला यह कि भगवान सिंह से पहले किसी ने भी कोसंबी को समझने का प्रयास नहीं किया, और दूसरा यह कि वह कोसंबी के शिष्य हैं, वैसे ही जैसे ग्रीक परंपरा में हुआ करते थे। कोसंबी के इस स्वघोषित शिष्य के अपने “गुरु” के बारे में क्या विचार हैं, यह जानना दिलचस्प होगा। भगवान सिंह कोसंबी के बारे में श्रद्धा से भरे अपने उद्गार कुछ यूं व्यक्त करते हैं: “…वह आत्मरति के शिकार थे, उन्हें अपने सिवाय किसी से प्रेम न था, न अपने देश से, न समाज से, न भाषा से, न परिवार से। उनका कुत्ता अवश्य अपवाद रहा हो सकता है। इसीलिए लोग उनसे डरते भले रहे हों, उन्हें कोई भी प्यार नहीं करता था। उनके अपने छात्र, पत्नी और बच्चे तक नहीं।” (पृ॰ 120) Continue reading डी डी कोसांबी पर भगवा हमला: कुलदीप कुमार

Performing Heritage

By SOHAIL HASHMI: Navina Jafa’s Performing Heritage: Art of exhibit walks is one of few books dealing with the process of conducting heritage and culture walks in India. But the subject is a rapidly expanding and lucrative field that – until now – has not been very well understood.

Jafa is a student of history, a trained classical dancer, a conservationist and a heritage activist. Normally those with their fingers in too many pies end up mixing their metaphors, but this author specialises in inventing her own – the title of this book, for instance. Performing artists, performing acrobats, performing monkeys are terms that all of us are familiar with, but the concept of heritage that performs is more unusual.

The text exists simultaneously on two planes. The first locates heritage walks in the realm of public performances, distinguishing them from exhibitions in controlled environments like museums and art galleries. The second is more illustrative, and is presented as an explanation of the arguments being advanced across the first strand. Continue reading Performing Heritage

A memorable evening with Vidya Charan Shukla

In this January 3, 1977 photo, V.C. Shukla, Union Minister of Information and Broadcasting inaugurates the sixth International Film Festival of India in New Delhi. The Justice Shah Commission of Inquiry which went into the Emergency execesses, had mentioned Shukla's name in its report. Photo: The Hindu Archives / TheHindu.com
In this January 3, 1977 photo, V.C. Shukla, Union Minister of Information and Broadcasting inaugurates the sixth International Film Festival of India in New Delhi. The Justice Shah Commission of Inquiry which went into the Emergency execesses, had mentioned Shukla’s name in its report. Photo: The Hindu Archives

By SOHAIL HASHMI: Though the East and the West have great differences in issues cultural, in one matter they are like twin brothers. Both insist we should not speak ill of the dead. This does not apply to Changez Khan, Hitler and Mussolini. Some would add a few more to the list, but there are chances of violent disagreements on some of those names.

There have been honourable deviations from this haloed creed and if my memory serves me right,  at least one of them has been attributed to The Bard, who made Mark Antony declare at the funeral of Caesar, “Friends Romans and Countrymen, we have gathered here to bury Caesar and not to praise him,” or words to that effect.

These were some of the confused musings that floated to the top of the mind when I heard the news of V.C. Shukla’s passing away. Does the fact that he is dead or the dastardly fashion in which death stalked him and ultimately consumed him, give him an escape from his deeds?

It is a commentary on our justice delivery system that V.C. Shukla, one of those who belonged to the coterie that ran the Emergency establishment for Mrs Gandhi, did not spend a long time behind bars for his acts of commission as Minister of Information and Broadcasting. Some of his achievements as Minister of Information included snapping power supply to newspapers critical of the Emergency, introducing Draconian censorship, banning magazines and newspapers, and sealing printing presses that dared to publish anything critical of the infamous Mrs G or her Emergency regime. Continue reading A memorable evening with Vidya Charan Shukla

Playback of a golden voice

In this country of almost a billion and a quarter you might find some people who have not heard of Mohammed Rafi. In such a scenario, My Abba: A Memoir, a book on the great singer written by his daughter-in-law Yasmin Khalid Rafi in its stream of conscience kind of technique, connects one to his life like no other book. Yasmin is writing about someone she idolised and loved, like only a daughter can. When she talks of him, a jumble of memories comes rushing back and surrounds her—the songs she liked, the music directors who worked with Rafi Saheb, his simplicity, his generousness, his love for his family, his insecurities, his inability to be flamboyant, the metamorphosis that transformed him into a great performer the moment he set foot on the stage. Continue reading Playback of a golden voice

Chit-funded media

With the Sarandha chit fun scam in West Bengal, a side-effect has been the going bust of its media investments. Seema Guha, Delhi bureau chief of the recently shut down Bengal Post writes in The Hoot:

The executive editor Ranabir Roychowdhury and several of the core journalist team were known to us, but none of us had ever heard the name of Sudipta Sen, the owner. We in Delhi were far away, but our colleagues in Kolkata too did not know anything about him, except that he was a real estate tycoon with a land bank of 100 acres or more. He was also into chit funds. It was much later that we came to know that this was his main business, our money was basically derived from the collections Saradha made from the poorest people in Bengal and other eastern states. He had business in the north east as well as in Odisha. [Read the full article]

Statement by concerned academicians on the death of a student in police custody in Kolkata

We have watched with disgust and horror the brutal police assault on students during a peaceful demonstration organized by four Left students’ organizations on 2nd April, 2013 in Kolkata and the subsequent death of Sudipta Gupta, a participant in the demonstration, while in police custody.  Sudipta was a bright student and a leading activist of the Students’ Federation of India. We are shocked to see the Chief Minister of the state absolve the police of any responsibility for Sudipta’s death before a proper enquiry had even been initiated. We do not perceive this incident as an isolated one but rather as the egregious culmination of a series of systematic attacks on the civil and democratic rights of the academic community in West Bengal over recent months.  We strongly condemn this unprovoked singular attack on a peaceful students’ demonstration and the subsequent custodial death of Sudipta Gupta. We demand an immediate and impartial enquiry into the incident.  Continue reading Statement by concerned academicians on the death of a student in police custody in Kolkata

The love story of Quli Qutub and Bhagmati, and other tragic endings

Still from an animation film, 'Bhaggmati'
Still from an animation film, ‘Bhaggmati’

For some strange reason, all, or almost all love legends have a tragic end. I cannot recall too many that end with “and they lived happily ever after”. In fact, Romeo-Juliet, Laila-Majnun, Heer-Ranjha, Sohini-Mahiwal, Sassi-Pannun, Dhola-Maru, Saif-ul-Malook-o-Badi-uj-Jamaal – the list of unhappy lovers separated by the cruel hands of society, scheming relatives, jealous rivals, misunderstandings and plain simple divine design is endless.

Amidst such tears and tragedies, poison-tipped swords and daggers, deceit and chicanery, there is a story of love that makes you believe that this world can’t be all bad. The most fascinating and enduring quality of this legend of love is that it is not a legend, it is fact, well mostly. And this is how it goes. Continue reading The love story of Quli Qutub and Bhagmati, and other tragic endings

Ageless chisel: The rock-cut caves of Ellora

Cross-section of a frieze in Cave 16, or the Kailasa Temple
Cross-section of a frieze in Cave 16, or the Kailasa Temple

The Ellora caves, locally known as ‘Verul Leni’ and located on the Aurangabad-Chalisgaon road, were, like the Ajanta caves,carved out of the terraces that were formed as a result of the great movements in the crust of the earth that began millions of years ago. A part of land that had broken off the Australian landmass drifted north and began to push against the Laurasian plate about 65 million years ago, giving birth to the Himalayas at one end and triggering hectic volcanic activity at the point of contact. The resulting waves of lava flow solidified into layers, or terraces, spread across hundreds of miles. Both Ajanta and Ellora are located on this massive lava flow known as the Deccan trap. Incidentally, the Deccan trap is full of man-made caves. Maha-rashtra alone has about 1,200 big or small caves or big and small cave clusters and close to 75 per cent of them (about 900) are Buddhist caves. Continue reading Ageless chisel: The rock-cut caves of Ellora