Versions of history

107 days back, someone very close to me lost his life in the most unexpected way. Days were tough, nights tougher. I was, and still am certain that my outlook towards life, people and relationships will never be the same. Everything changed and became horrible in a flash.

105 days later, I start reading the book ‘India After Gandhi’ which notes that history in India has stopped being written after midnight of 15th August, 1947 (Independence day). And for those who wrote biographies on Gandhi have their history till 30th January, 1948 (Gandhi’s assassination). So the writer tries to explore what happened next in the contemporary India. Still it starts with 1940s.

Migration of 10 million people – 150,000 brutal deaths. These are the official numbers that are recorded attributing to partition.

The above two incidents, separated by 7 decades are interestingly connected by Joseph Stalin. I heard this quote years ago, but suddenly it started making so much sense. “The death of one man is a tragedy. The death of millions is a statistic”.

While reading the book, I was reminded of an old photograph and a heated conversation that I had with my grandmother after this photograph was taken.

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From left : Gurpreet, Abdul, me

The first character in this picture is 8 years old Gurpreet, my elder cousin, and probably my first friend. Since his dad (my father’s elder brother) was moved by the preachings of Sikhism, he changed his religion from Hinduism when he was 23.
The tall guy in the middle is Abdul in his teenage. He used to assist his dad in a shop in our neighbourhood when he wasn’t playing with us. Two of his many other tacit duties were to pick me up from school every day and to bring my favorite ice cream so that I keep my mouth shut as much as possible.
The third one, in the green sweater is me after 6 years of coming into the world.

If you are used to Indian names, you would get that the 3 people here are from 3 different religions – worshipping 3 different forms of God, going to 3 different holy places, though celebrating all festivals together. And how bizarre this fact sounds to me while writing. These people cannot be different. These are still inseparable!

But I do remember my grandmom advising me to stay away from Abdul. When a child aged 6 is asked to stay away from his friend who never fails to bring smiles to him, he is bound to retaliate. When I couldn’t find any sense in what she said, she showed me a deep scar on her back and narrated the day when at the age of 14 she saw her parents being killed and how she managed to get on a train to India from Pakistan, bleeding by the knife attack. No matter how much I am sure that she’s completely wrong, still I think I have no idea what she went through.

But the reason for writing all this is that I need to know the other sides of the story. I am sure there would be 4 versions to this history of partition – the Indian government version, the Pakistani government version, the British Raj version and finally, the truth.

One version’s villain is the hero of another. But I am curious to know what the people of Pakistan and British think about there versions. I sincerely invite everyone who is reading this to tell me what/who according to them was the reason of so much violence and their views about the partition of India. Also what image do they have of Jinnah, Gandhi and Nehru.

I am refraining here to give my opinion because I need to listen and learn, rather than speak, for a change ūüôā

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Mughal Home

Red Fort
Red Fort

Encouraged by castle queen Millie, and for the promise done to the wisest hermitage Beth a trip was made to the Red Fort in Delhi when the temperature was 40+ degree Celsius (104+ in Fahrenheit scale). Though I was already bathed in sweat even before reaching the fort, but I have to admit, the above sight was refreshing!

Before entering the premises let us talk about the history and see if something interesting could be found. This time, naming was not as lame as it seems (refer this post on Old Fort). Originally known as Quila-e-mubaarak (Blessed Fort), it was built by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, who is known for huge, beautiful and pointless structures like Taj Mahal (wonder of the world), Two red forts (in neighbouring cities) and Jama Masjid (biggest mosque). He was probably the Steve Jobs of that era. Making things that cannot be touched by ordinary people, are absolutely useless but are the benchmarks of “class”.

The construction began in 1638, when the capital was shifted from Agra to Delhi by Shah Jahan. (His grandfather and father of so many jokes, Akbar shifted from Delhi to Agra as he found his previous home, the Old Fort, unlucky! Little did he know that his wannabe real estate agent grandson will build a new ‘lucky’ fort in the years to come). Shah Jahan appointed the same architect who designed the Taj Mahal in the memory of the emperor’s first love and third wife, Mumtaz Mahal with whom he had 14 of his 16 children! So much inspiration to keep looking for true love, no matter for how long.

The home to the Mughals for nearly 200 years (till 1857), the largest monument in Delhi looks as mighty as ever. The circular podium built in the middle is the place where the Prime Minister delivers his address to the nation every year on Independence Day.
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Here is a closer look to the podium, along with the soldier doing probably the most boring job in the world, in a weather which is proving to be the ISIS of south est Asia.

Keeping an eye
Army guarding the fort, doves guarding the tricolor

Now it’s time to enter the fort through¬†Lahori Darwaza¬†(Lahore Gate). This was named so because of its orientation towards the city of Lahore (now in Pakistan). The beauty of this magnificent main entrance to the fort was spoiled during Aurangzeb’s (Shah Jahan’s son) reign by the addition of bastions. Shah Jahan, who was in a jail at that time (Aurangzeb found old-age homes too mainstream for his beloved parents) wrote a letter to his son and described this as “a veil drawn across the face of a beautiful woman”. That man lost all his prized constructions, was jailed (and later killed) by his own son, and he was thinking about beautiful women. He was so desperate to take romance and idiocy to new heights! I wonder what would have been Aurangzeb’s reaction after (if) he had read the letter : “Pops! Your heart is as big as your testosterone levels. But you are about to die. It’s high time you get a life!”
On a completely unrelated note, Shah Jahan became the emperor on February 14 ūüėõ

Lahore Gate - 1
Lahore Gate – 1
Lahore Gate - 2
Lahore Gate – 2

Here we enter it and have a look at the high flying tricolor. Gives me goosebumps. Every single time!
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Though it was built according to Islamic prototypes, but Shah Jahan, one of the few secular rulers which India has been blessed with until today (pun intended) has his unique style of architecture that reflected the fusion of Timurid, Persian and Hindu traditions.

If you haven’t been here before, you’d be surprised to know, that the fort begins with a shopping¬†mall! You can buy the stuff from all parts of India at the rates hearing which you’d feel, “It will certainly cost me less if I make it rather than buy it”. Here are a few glimpses of the shops inside:

Jewellery and other decorative items
Jewellery and other decorative items
Handicrafts from Rajasthan
Handicrafts from Rajasthan
Beautiful pieces from Kashmir
Beautiful pieces from Kashmir

Upon crossing the small market, this is the view of Diwan-e-aam (Public audience hall) that welcomes you. This was used for state functions when the emperor found time for those from his wives and children.

Diwan-e-aam (Public Audience Hall)
Diwan-e-aam (Public Audience Hall)
Diwan-e-aam : closeup
Diwan-e-aam : closeup

Here was kept the throne that was used by the emperor. It is also worth noting that the Red Fort was the house to famous “Peacock Throne” and the¬†Kohinoor¬†Diamond (the world’s largest diamond) that were stolen by Nadir Shah who came from Persia to engage in a devastating battle with Mughals. The Kohinoor now resides in London and the Peacock Throne was lost. LOST? Was it an eraser or a pen? How can the most valuable throne be lost by such a fierce ruler! I won’t be surprised if it gets available on Ebay some day. Have a look at the other throne now. Can somebody please tell me how did the emperors took their lazy bums up there? It is at least 10 feet above ground. And the old-fashioned skirts that were worn by the rulers, jumping or climbing was not a good idea at all. Or probably some of history’s first wardrobe malfunctions happened here. Can you imagine this tagline for those spam links that float on Facebook : “OMG OMG! HOT UNSEEN PICS OF SHAH JAHAN” !

Emperor's throne
Emperor’s throne

It’s time to visit the personal palace of the egoistic kings now! This is the widest view I could manage by my phone camera. The palace consists of 3 parts surrounded by all types of scenic beauties.

Khas Mahal (Emperor's Palace)
Khas Mahal (Emperor’s Palace)

Finally some more images that were took while roaming around these massive structures. Hope you enjoyed the journey without stinking with sweat. Apologies for not visiting your posts lately. Had a very busy week but will try my best to get back here as soon as possible. ūüôā

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Laughing through centuries

On an average, how much time do you spend to think of a title for your blog post? I hope at least a few seconds? But we Indians have a shortage of time. So we call the oldest known structure of any type in Delhi as. . . ummm. . . “Old Fort“. Well it is old, and it is a fort. So ‘Old Fort’ it is.
I wonder how this might have happened. The person in-charge asks his employees : “Hey I need a name for this structure.”
Employee 1 : “Tell us more about this structure, sir”
Boss : “A magnificent castle of sandstones, it has 18m high walls which traverse a whopping 1.5km. It was renovated by two of the strongest rulers who walked on Indian soil in the 16th century and was first built around 2500 B.C.!”
Employee 2 : Oh I see ! So it is an old fort !
Boss : YOU ARE A GENIUS ! *grabs his cheeks and kisses the forehead* ! INDEED IT IS ‘OLD FORT’ ¬†!

Let’s have a look at its entrance before going into names further.

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Main entrance of Old Fort : Bada Darwaza

“Bada Darwaza” – that translates to “Big Door”. Please my lovely readers, observe two minutes of silence for the team who was assigned the task of naming this castle. I mean, what the fuck were they thinking? Did they think they did a very cool thing? Was that for publicity? Guess we’ll never know. Let’s enter the big door to see what’s inside now.

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So while walking down this lovely road let us know about the funny people who have lived here. The fort is believed to be constructed 5000 years ago during the period of Indus Valley civilization by a few fictional characters from the story of Mahabharata (Pandavas). Wait a minute ! Fictional characters built a real fort ! I am telling you there is something spooky with this place !

This was renovated in 1545 A.D. by Sher Shah Suri, the first Afghan emperor of India (also known as Sher Khan (Tiger Lord) because he once killed a fully grown tiger with his bare hands and took WWE to a whole new level). This was probably the time when the United States had no idea that Afghanistan had oil, so the Afghanis had the liberty to boss around its neighbours who were still celebrating the discovery of Zero and thinking of themselves as geniuses.

But then, the Hindu king ‘Hemu’ (also known as Vikramaditya. Shouldn’t it be the other way round? Why is the real name smaller and cuter than the nickname?) attacked Sher Shah’s son and became the king in 1556. But just after a few months, one of the greatest Mughal emperors, Akbar defeated Hemu and to create terror among Hindus, hung his torso outside this fort. WOAH Dude ! I could not bear the smell of a dead rat! You preserved a dead body outside your home? You must be having an eternally stuffed nose!

Now we reach the end of the above road and see this beautifully beautiful, perfectly perfect¬†Qila-i Kuhna Mosque – translated as ‘Old Fort Mosque’. No, I am not making any jokes on the name now.

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The backside
The front
The front
The inside - 1
The inside – 1
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The inside – 2
The upside
The upside
The view outside
The view outside

Now I’ll show you what is the more tragic than the Hemu’s death and its show off, and at the same time more funnier that Russel Peters. Please welcome the Sher-Mandal. Built by Sher Shah Suri as the “Pleasure Resort”. That man ruled India for 5 years! Less than most democratic parliamentarians do! He built a road from Bengal to Afghanistan and numerous other structures, defeated the mighty Mughals, supported the uprising in Bengal and got time for pleasure! Men were always men. There is more to it. But have a look at it first.

Sher - Mandal
Sher – Mandal
Sher - Mandal
Sher – Mandal

Yes, both the times, the clicking of couples outside the pleasure resort was co-incidental and have no relation with anything – living or dead ūüėõ

So the story goes like this – After the Mughals defeated the Afghans, Emperor Humayun who had earned the title of ‘Insan-i-Kamil’ (Perfect man) with his peaceful personality converted this pleasure resort to a library. One fine day, when he was having some me-time in his library, he heard the¬†Adhan (call for the prayer) and rushed to the staircase. Next – Humayun fell down and broke his crown, there’s no Jill to come tumbling after. And a great emperor died by falling from his staircase. That’s why they say – good guys really get heaven, while bad guys get the girls.

So that’s how I had a great day today talking to these walls and listening to their stories. I hope you too had fun. Please tell me you did because you don’t want to experience what Hemu experienced. (Just kidding).
Thank you for reading my longest post. Leaving you now with some more pictures of this marvelous castle standing through the ages.
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If you liked this, you’d love to read what the lovely Millie Thom¬†has to say about Castles in Wales¬†as this trip was inspired by her wonderful insight into history.

The misunderstood hero

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Watching these two images together is like witnessing a paradox. How could the Father of a nation, who spent his life fighting for equality all over the world, an inspiration for numerous world leaders even today, be blamed for one of the biggest evils that resides in India?

Also, there is a huge number of people, that blames Ambedkar and know him as the man who brought the idea of reservations that still prevents deserving candidates to achieve their goals in every sphere of life. So how did this most sought after lawyer, who laid the foundation of independent India by drafting the constitution became the biggest villain of modern India?

To understand this, let me take you 70 years back. India was burning in the fire of struggle for complete independence and all efforts by the British government to negotiate were boycotted by the Congress and thus, by the masses.

One such attempt was the infamous Simon commission which was greeted by Indians as shown here.
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It was shown black flags by all the political groups except the small group of Untouchables led by Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, the only Shudra by then who had managed to cross the barrier of primary education, earned a law degree and various doctorates from Columbia University and the London School of Economics. He was skeptical of the government that would form after independence and had understandably feared that the condition of untouchables might remain the same.

Amidst widespread protests and violent attacks on him, he also attended the first round table conference in London to express his concerns and became the biggest villain of the country.

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This was the time when the first official meeting happened between the two pillars of Indian struggle at Gandhi’s ashram. There, they agreed to disagree on all the proposals. Ambedkar aggressively called Gandhi’s fight for equality as¬†fake and Gandhi coldly refused Ambedkar’s demand of separate electorate for Harijans (for initial 10 years), though he had earlier agreed to give the same to Muslims, Christians and Sikhs. The meeting ended with the historical statement that Ambedkar gave. He concluded, “I have no homeland”.

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It is difficult to fight for people who are against you. Still, Ambedkar continued to fight alone and attended the second round table conference (Gandhi also attended this) and convinced the British government that it is much more essential and logical to give separate electorate to Harijans than other minorities.

After this, Gandhi played gathered the masses by a simple but effective measure Рhe started his fast unto death.

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Though Ambedkar was celebrating his win, he didn’t know when the whole nation (Hindus and Muslims were united for the first time in this measure) including his own wife turned against him because he was the reason that Mahatma Gandhi was dying. It is heartbreaking to spend a lifetime for others, achieve your goal, and see your own stakeholders so determined to shatter what you got for them. Finally, Ambedkar had to negotiate with Gandhi which gave birth to the¬†Poona Pact. This is where Congress ¬†leaders suggested the alternative of Reservations in government schools, colleges and jobs and forced Ambedkar to accept it. Ambedkar, broken and deceived signed the pact and became the scapegoat for allegations from generations to come.

This is the story of a tussle that never ended. Gandhi was of the view that giving separate electorates would divide Hindus and it would be a disastrous measure when the whole country was united. He wanted to get independence first and then slowly eradicate all the evils including untouchability. Ambedkar on the other hand, had experienced the inhuman behavior by his fellow countrymen and wanted political power to get quick results.

A still from the play to depict the mental state of Ambedkar during Poona Pact
A still from the play to depict the mental state of Ambedkar during Poona Pact

We are often misunderstood by those for whom we are always ready to anything. They may or may not acknowledge it, but it is solely our decision to carry on the efforts or not. I recently did a stage play called “Gandhi vs Ambedkar” based on the above story (I played Ambedkar) which can be watched here.

The play is in Hindi so if you need any explanation in English, or any background if you are not aware with any of the above events, please do not hesitate to ask in comments. Also, I would love to know any views or additional information you have on this tussle.

All in one

This was in December last year, during vacations and amidst lot of free time. It was Christmas day and I have no idea why, but I wandered off to the busy streets of old Delhi (also known as Delhi – 6) because that is one place which has the potential to surprise you each time you visit there. The only reason being that it has so much to show you that you just can’t get all of it, ever ! I hope you too realize this as we go further with this post.

The first stop was a small¬†Church because one, it was Christmas (smart you are) and two, it was the closest stop to my home. Thanks to my very less knowledge of Christianity, I was somewhat disappointed as I couldn’t hear any Christmas Carols on 25th December’s morning :/ But still, the place was crowded and deserved a few pictures. So here are a couple of them.

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On moving further I yet again realized why I haven’t made much frequent trips to this area. It is because you have to crawl your way through this.

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But as they say in theatre, there always is a comic relief. I understand that this is a place to get screws and is run by some Tayal. But “Screw India” ? That is really cheap marketing ūüėõ

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And then you realize how evil it would be to ask an engineering student to apply Kirchoff’s Law here ūüėČ

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Anyways, I moved forward and came across this man, who bragged about this garbage here was a brand new vehicle a few hours ago. It gets stolen, brought here, torn into bits and pieces, and all the profit that can be made will be made in the next few minutes. Just fabulous !

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So enough of all this randomness. Remember it is still Christmas. So let us go and see some religious places? What about Jama Masjid? The largest mosque in India? Again, remember God is one. Now before entering the grand old mosque where more than 25,000 devotees can pray at a time, this is required:

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Now that you have done that, let us see the mesmerizing place :

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But see what was visible from there? Yes, that’s the Indian Tricolor on the mighty Red Fort.

251220131807So let’s go there and see the palace of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan who stayed here after moving his capital from Agra to Delhi.251220131830251220131831

As the sunset approached, it was again time to celebrate the spirit of Christmas. This time, it was the oldest Church of India, St. James Church. Yes, there is more to old Delhi than just old houses and old people. You can see how many times the word ‘oldest’ has been used in this post.

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And finally, after visiting the worship places of Christians and Muslims, this Hindu went to that of Sikhs. This is the Sheeshganj Gurudwara, built in 1783, at the site were Guru Teg Bahadur was brutally martyred. The environment for Christmas (Bada Din) were enchanting but sadly I couldn’t click pictures as it was, umm, not allowed.

So that was all about old Delhi – all that I could manage to see in one day. Signing off for now. Will be back soon.