Archive for March, 2011

–My favourite book: History from a Story-teller Historian

A good writer takes you along his journey with the characters and settings of his story. Hence, with a historian like William Dalrymple you travel through history in its most enthralling form. “The Last Mughal” is about the Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar – II and the fall of the Mughal Dynasty in Delhi in the backdrop of 1857 revolt. My interest in history made me take up this book but while surfing through its pages began my affair with William Dalrymple’s narrations.

A person with an artistic bend of mind has completely different perspective of life than a person meant to rule. “The Last Mughal” brings out this dichotomy in Zafar’s existence as a ruler and as an individual with Sufism and artistic inclination. This book also weaved an intriguing narration of how a weak administration breeds deceit, treachery, chaos and all kind of corrupt practices within the administrative setup that percolates down to every sphere of life of commoners.

Zafar’s reign witnessed integrated religious existence but with administrative laxity and shortage of funds during revolt this thread broke, benefiting the Britishers. Zafar’s much younger queen Zenat Mehal Begum with her misplaced ambitions lead to many conspiracies and Zafar’s biases towards her showed the way to deceit within the household. Though Zafar tried to provide for his subjects but chaos in his personal and administrative sphere rendered his efforts fruitless and people of Delhi were left wandered in their own city. Revolutionary with lack of effective leadership turned into plunderers and ultimately Britishers became the rulers. This historical account can be churned out to be a good Masala flick and sounds fictional. But it is rightly said that truth is stranger than fiction. May be this is reason why Dalrymple has given all the necessary citation in details leaving no scope for the authentication of his narration to come under the cloud of doubts.

Reading the book and knowing the characters astonished me as those characters resembled the people around us in present time. I wondered what has changed in us and the answer that I got was nothing has changed within us but only exteriors are changing. Minds and hearts of human beings have remained similar and time has managed to change only the circumstances and the external shell. We react in same manner in a specific condition. Our morals change with the passage of time but they exhibit more of changed circumstances rather than changed emotions or altered thought process.

“The Last Mughal” and its setting of Delhi in pre and post revolt period come to forefront while drawing its parallel in recent times. A weak and corrupt administration leads to chaos at micro levels too. Today it seems everyone is involved in looting amidst atmosphere of mistrust and fear of being victimized is dominating our psyche. Everyone is confused on what to do and how to do. In these times I recall the lesson conveyed in the last line of the book in which Dalrymple quoted Edmund Burke “Those who fail to learn from history are always destined to repeat it”.


Differences Divide

Posted: March 12, 2011 in Politics, Society

We all are different and these differences start at individuals’ level. These individuals belong to a family. Then there comes, groups of people with same belief system or religion or region or race or a cause that brings together people to form a set. What belongs to me is good and I will work to make my lot better. I wish others too do the same and we all prosper. All we need to learn is to accept these differences. We work for betterment of the lot we associate ourself with. But at times we get off-tracked in our zeal to work for our people and biases creep in. These biases make us pull down other people who don’t fall in our group and get an illusion of uplifting our people. While doing so we forget that pulling others down reap similar reactions from others too. We all are interdependent and exclusive favours for a particular group breeds contempt and are not conducive to development and upliftment of any society.

Differences have always existed. Globalization has blurred many boundaries but differences remain. If some differences are done away with, many new differences have been created. With learning comes more thinking society and all have different belief system. Today some people ask to do away with pre-existing notions of religion or regionalism citing them as reasons for divisions in society. They overlook the fact that these things are not in themselves evil but it brings out evil when we consider ours is better than others’ and then try to force others to acknowledge so. People who consider these groups based on religion or regionalism as evil too are affected by the same syndrome of considering their own belief system of abolishing old as best.

How we treat other groups and how well we can respect their beliefs is the measure of how civilized we are. Last month on Mumbai trip I heard about Shiv Sena’s initial movement. In few years of creation of Maharashtra Shiv Sena came into existence. It sought preferential treatment for Marathis. But in doing so it victimized other communities. Had Shiv Sena not vandalized Gujratis and Marwaris businessmen to recruit locals and instead made their recruitment more conducive by making it mutually beneficial, it would have a bigger base. In initial years of Sena’s formation, instead of ransacking Udupi Restaurants it could have worked with South Indians to make them a part of Maharashtra’s growth. To grow its national presence instead of projecting its Hindutva’s ideologies and getting confused, it could have started with a call for inclusive growth for all in Maharashtra. Similarly, whether women must work or what one must wear or who to marry are issues that every individual can decide on his own. If there are fatwas on bettering education and health, they would be more welcoming. If Ram Sene and Bajrang Dal or any other group feel that people are attracted towards wrong, they may put forward their point of view. Everyone can decide on their own if they agree with them or not. Forcing others to believe what you believe will only alienate them from you.

This phenomenon isn’t a country specific phenomenon. Ku Klux clan is existing in America for more than 150 years. White League and Red Shirts were similar groups that were present in America. With development people started getting alienated from such groups and their presence started getting diminished. But hate crimes again broke open in America as aftermath of WTC terror attacks. Similarly in European countries such crimes were witnessed with tumbling job opportunities and migrant population were made target to vent ire upon. In developing countries such phenomenon are much more prevalent as there are many supporters for these groups. People living in misery look for reasons for their plight and when someone tells them that others are snatching what rightfully belongs to them, they readily agree. Adversities evidently colours the power of reasoning.

Solution to weaken the force of these divisive groups is thus inclusive development. One thing that everyone chooses is development and prosperity through good and effective administration. Everything other than that is different and diverse.