Category Archives: Culture

The Lives And Times Of The Asokan Pillar At The Delhi Ridge

Tourists are people in a hurry; they want to pack-in a city in two days, even a city that has taken more than a thousand years to grow. Tourists see buildings as structures, frozen in time, standing aloof, without being part of the ebb and flow of life. Travellers on the other hand come searching for the feel and the spirit of the city. Looking for the lesser known the less explored and the uncelebrated, for it is here that one may find untold histories that lie sheltered under each stone that awaits the explorer.

Beginning with the story of a large piece of rock we launch into an exploration, or shall we say recapitulation, of the almost forgotten stories connected with the less touristy structures and ruins that have been witness to the unfolding of the many histories of Delhi. We begin this series with one of the Two Asokan Pillars erected at Delhi. The pillars were erected at Delhi, not by Asoka who commissioned them in 3rd Century B.C, but by a king who ruled Delhi in the 14th century.

Continue reading The Lives And Times Of The Asokan Pillar At The Delhi Ridge

The Lal Masjid Syndrome

[We are pleased to present here two pieces by way of reflection on the state of the Muslims in India and Pakistan. These two pieces together constitute an acute and critical reflection on the general crisis of the community: in one instance, as a consequence of the emergence of a clergy in a religion that prided itself on its ‘unmediated’ relation between the believer and the Creator; in the other instance as a result of the social and political discrimination directed at it by ‘secular’ governments in India. Ekram Khawar’s is a voice of internal critique – as ruthless about its own leaders as it is of the supposed secular dispensation of Independent India.]

By Ekram Khawar

There is an eerie silence after Pakistan army’s operation in the Lal Masjid premises; a silence dour and dark, in all immanence. It is got to be since the message, however, delayed is loud and clear, a warning to the zealots not to mess around with the state and not to impose their notion of Islam on others, and with such disdain.

But, in all fairness, it must be said that it was coming to this all along and only the blissfully innocent, if any still left in an otherwise cynical age, would have been surprised by the turn of events. The discerning ones could see it coming all along; in fact, as early as 1949, Chowdhary Mohammad Ali Rudawlwi, not a rabid “secularist” of today’s crusading mould, but a devout Sunni Muslim (married to a Shia woman), a perfectly honourable and practicing, believing Muslim and a “Haji” to boot, while writing to his friend in Pakistan, in 1949, cautioned that the ever increasing influence of the “mullahs” did not bode well for Pakistan. Perhaps, the malaise lay somewhere else; probably in the very ideology and genesis of Pakistan, whether Jinnah intended it or not and irrespective of whether the great visionary poet Iqbal would have approved it or not. In fact there are enough materials on record to suggest that both the poet and the Qaid would have disapproved of the events as they unfolded and determined the broad contours of both the Pakistani establishment and its ruling mindset. I tend to believe that, as far as Pakistan was concerned, the seeds of its “kharabi” were inherently built-in in its creation, to borrow a word from Ghalib. No wonder the votaries christened the new state as “Pakistan” – land of the pure, implicitly in the back drop of an impure world. And almost logically, the mullahs, much to the detriment of the new nation increasingly occupied the centre stage, of course aided and abetted in their efforts at nation building as a necessary justification and as a counter poise to the presence of a predominantly Hindu India masquerading as a secular state. And so a proxy war of jihad, always underlined the onward march of the competitive existence of both the newly liberated states, compounded with a vengeance apparently on an apple of discord called Kashmir.

Continue reading The Lal Masjid Syndrome

Kaurnanidhi knows his Ramayana Well – MSS Pandian

MSS PANDIAN, well known scholar, writes on DMK, Ram and the BJP. 
 

For M Karunanidhi, DMK chief and Tamil Nadu chief minister, Lord Ram is not a historical persona but a figment of human imagination. He has not only invited BJP leader L K Advani for a public debate on Ram’s historical status but also – as if turning the knife into the wound – has advised him to read Valmiki’s Ramayana with all the care it deserves. It is common knowledge in Tamil Nadu that Karunanidhi knows his Ramayana well.

Karunanidhi’s remarks have provoked Advani and his cohorts to breathe brimstone and fire. But they have not succeeded one bit in turning the Hindus of Tamil Nadu against Karunanidhi. Their desperation is evident when Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, BJP spokesperson, claimed during a press meet that Karunanidhi has lost his head. Perhaps, he meant Karunanidhi’s followers too.

But for a minuscule fraction of rationalists, the majority of the cadres and sympathisers of the DMK are practising non-Brahmin Hindus. They regularly visit temples, worship, and go on pilgrimages. If they stand by Karunanidhi despite his open disavowal of Ram, they have their own reasons. For one thing, there is nothing novel in Karunanidhi’s comments on Ramayana. From the days of the Self-respect Movement founded by Periyar E V Ramasamy in the 1920s, Ramayana and Ram have been subjects of vigorous public debate in Tamil Nadu.

Read the full story in Times of India

Aini Apa

It turned out that she was being rash. I am referring to Ismat Chughtai’s summation of Qurratulain Hyder following the publication of the latter’s second novel in the early nineteen fifties. Ismat had asserted that “the star that had emerged on the literary horizon with all the promise of becoming a Sun dazzled so strongly in one place that it lost all its splendour.” Chughtai wrote this before ‘Housing Society’, before ‘Agle Janam Mohe Bitiya na Kijo’ and above all before ‘Aag ka Dariya’ were written. She also wrote this before Hyder’s gradually expanding sweep harmonized the dichotomies of History and Past, Civilisations and personal identities, stream of consciousness and feminism and nostalgia into a meta-historical plane where no Urdu writer has ever reached.

Through many a desolate month of the English winter the County library at Oxford provided me nourishment and succour by allowing me access to Qurratulain Hyder’s novels and short stories. Reading works like ‘Roshni ki Raftar’ and ‘Patjhar ki Aawaaz,’ titles which resounded with movement when all around me was depressingly still, I was doubly reassured. My own nostalgia for a warm home was echoed by the nostalgia for the lost world that resounds in all her works. Continue reading Aini Apa

The Attack on Taslima Nasrin in Hyderabad

Dear All (apologies for cross posting on Kafila.org and the Sarai Reader List)

The recent attack on Taslima Nasreen has again shown how fragile the freedom of expression is in India today. It breaks whenever a sentimental reader or viewer has their ‘sentiments challenged’. Are all these worthy gentlemen who go about obstructing screenings and readings suffering from some early childhood trauma that makes it difficult for them to countenance growing up and acquiring the ability to listen to contrary point of view? How long are we to be held hostage to their infantile suffering?

What is worse is the fact that the people who attacked her, and have made public threats to kill her – activists and elected representatives belonging to MIM, a leftover of the Nizam’s hated Razakars, were arrested and then let off on bail. So, the message that the state sends out to these goons is – “threaten to kill, be taken to a police station to have a cup of tea, have your picture taken, be splashed in the media, go home and make some more threats.”

see – http://www.expressindia.com/fullstory.php?newsid=90746

Continue reading The Attack on Taslima Nasrin in Hyderabad

Lahori topi

I was going to Lahore for the first time, and took a taxi to the IG International airport in Delhi. My local taxi stand had sent a driver whom I didn’t know, and there was another lad in the front seat with him. At some point, as the driver swerved to avoid a vehicle that overtook from the right, he said to me – “Madam, aap bahar ja rahi hain. Bataiye, hamare desh mein aur bahar ke deshon mein kya farak hai”.

It was probably an opening gambit for a diatribe on how uncivil hamare log are as compared to gore log, but I replied – “Vaise main Pakistan ja rahi hoon, mujhe nahin lagta hai ki koi khaas farak hoga.”

At this, he responded, “Pakistan ja rahi hain? Hamare liye ek topi le ayengi?”

Me: “Zaroor. Lekin koi khas kism ki topi chahiye kya?”

Him: “Nahin, hamare musalmanon wali topi. Mere dadaji pehnenge.”

Continue reading Lahori topi

‘Kalbela’, Naxalbari and Radical Political Cinema

Gautam Ghose’s Kalbela is a film set against the background of the Naxalite movement. Based on a 1980s novel by Samaresh Majumdar, the film sets itself up, quite self-consciously, within a certain tradition of films, namely radical political Bengali cinema of the 1970s and 1980s. It thus establishes an intertextuality and a certain connection with them.

The casting sequences take us through a rapid tour of some of the more emblematic moments of that cinema and that time:

  • The shot from Mrinal Sen’s Calcutta 71 of the young man on the run jumping off a wall, running through the lanes, pursued by the police and finally shot in an open field. You can almost hear Akashvani’s signature tune as it begins its news bulletin to announce the discovery of yet another anonymous dead body in those troubled times.

You are barely through with it and in quick succession you see two, now somewhat iconic, scenes representing the 1970s angry young Bengal:

  • Ranjit Mallik in the final sequence of Interview, flinging a stone to break open the showcase of a shop. He would denude the mannequin and remove the suit it is wearing, and take it for his interview the next day. It is a stylized ‘trial’ of this character for the offence of disrobing the mannequin that becomes the opening sequence of Sen’s ‘Chorus’.
  • The other sequence is also equally iconic: Dhritiman Chatterjee ‘turning the tables’, literally, as it were, on his interviewers. This is a sequence from Ray’s Pratidwandi. Satyajit Ray, who has all too often been accused of ‘evading politics’, however captures, in this sequence, an important mood of rebellion that marked the 1970s.

Continue reading ‘Kalbela’, Naxalbari and Radical Political Cinema