Book Review: Akbar by Shazi Zaman

काफ़ी समय लग गया ये किताब पढ़ने में। बहुत ही बेहतरीन किताब लिखी है शाजी जमाँ साहब ने। अब इस किताब को ऐतिहासिक दस्तावेज माना जाए कि उपन्यास, इस बेमानी बहस में मैं नही पड़ना चाहता क्योंकि शाजी साहब खुद लिखते हैं, ‘यह उपन्यास इतिहास से कितना दूर है या कितना पास, इसका कोई आसान जवाब नहीं है।……इतना ही कह सकता हूँ की इस उपन्यास की एक एक घटना, एक एक किरदार, एक एक संवाद इतिहास पर आधारित है।’ किताब में लेखक द्वारा किया गया रीसर्च पूरी तरह उभर कर आता है। जहां तक मेरी व्यक्तिगत राय है, मेरे हिसाब से इतिहास इसी तरह लिखी जानी चाहिए, ख़ास कर अगर आप ऐतिहासिक किरदारों को केंद्र में रख कर इतिहास लिख रहे हों। अकबर को जानना हो तो ये किताब पढ़िए। आज के इस दौर में जब लोग नाम से मज़हब और मज़हब से ज़िंदा लोगों तक के बारे में अपनी राय बना लेते हैं, तो अकबर जिसका नाम ख़ालिस मुसलमान था, जो बादशाह रहा हो, जिसका दादा बाबर रहा हो, जिसका एक परपोता औरेंगजेब रहा हो, उसके बारे में एक क़िस्म की राय बना लेना कोई मुश्किल और आश्चर्य की बात तो नहीं… ये किताब इरफ़ान हबीब टाइप लोगों की लिखी किताब नहीं है जो मूलतः पोलिटिकल इतिहास लिखते हैं…बरक्स उसके, ये अकबर के साम्राज्य में मुग़लिया सल्तनत के विस्तार को बहुत संक्षिप्त तरीक़े से बताती है, ये रु व रु कराती है आपको अकबर – इंसान से, कैसा था अकबर, उसके दोस्त और अज़ीज़ कौन थे, उसका दरबार कैसा था, उसके अंतर द्वन्दों को…

अकबर के कई पहलू थे; बादशाह के किरदार से उसे देखें और समझें, तो वो मध्य काल के किसी भी बादशाह की तरह ही था, बादशाहत का दम्भ था उसके, राज्य का विस्तार चाहता था, ग़ुरूर था, शराब नोशि करता था, हरम में कई बीवियाँ और बाँदियाँ थीं, गाली भी बहुत देता था, गाँडू और हरामज़ादा भी…लेकिन ये सब चीज़ें ही अकबर को डिफ़ाइन नहीं करतीं क्योंकि ये तो हर मध्यकालीन बादशाह और राजा महाराजा की फ़ितरत और रहन सहन का हिस्सा थीं। अगर हर चीज़ को कॉंटेक्स्ट में देखें तो फिर, जैसे आज के राजनीति के कुछ तक़ाज़े हैं और जैसे एक राजनीतिक दल साफ़ सुथरी राजनीति करने आयी पर फिर तक़ाज़ों से समझौता कर ही लिया…. अकबर का बाहरी व्यक्तित्व ही उसकी पहचान नहीं हैं। तो वो फिर क्या थीं खूबियाँ जिसने कई इतिहासकारों ने उसे ‘महान’ का दर्जा दे दिया। इन में सबसे अहम थी उसकी जिज्ञासा, सच जानने और समझने की उसकी चाहत। मध्ययुग में इस्लामिक धर्म गुरुओं के ख़िलाफ़ जाना, जिसके चलते उसे ‘काफिर’ बादशाह तक करार दे दिया गया, उसके द्वारा मक्का को भेजे गया तोहफ़े लौटा दिए गए, जहां उसके सल्तनत के शुरुआती दिनों में अब्दु नबी ने इस बात पर उसे छड़ी तक मार दी थी कि उसने भगवा फटका पहना था, बाद में उसी अब्दु नबी को गाली देते हुए क़ैद की सजा सुनाना…अपने सुलह कुल के फ़लसफ़े को आगे बढ़ाने के लिए उसने हर मज़हब को सही तरह से समझने की भरपूर कोशिश की, चाहे वो हिंदू हो, जैन हो, ईसाई हो…उन सब से प्रभावित होकर उसने ऐसे रीति रिवाज अपना लिए की कई उसे मुसलमान मानने को तय्यार नहीं रहे…वो सूरज का उपासक बन गया, पुनर्जनम में यक़ीन करने लगा, गौ हत्या पे पाबंदी लगा दी, प्याज़ लहसुन खाना छोड़ दिया, जैनियों के प्रभाव में, मछली आदि मारने ओर कुछ तालाबों पे रोक लगा दी ईसाई पादरियों को पुर्तगाल से बुलाया, और जब बेटे मुराद ने किताब माँगी जिसको पढ़ कर राज्य और खुद का ज्ञान हो तो उसने उसे महाभारत थमा दी। हिंदू तो मानने लगे की बादशाह पिछले जनम में ब्राह्मण मुकुंद थे…पादरी जब बहुत कोशिश के बाद बादशाह को ईसाई नहीं बना पाए तो और उनसे जाने की इजाज़त माँगी, ये कहते हुए की हमारा आपके पास आना व्यर्थ रहा तो बादशाह ने एक काबिल ए तारीफ़ बात कही, ‘अगर आप हमारे इलावा किसी भी बादशाह के समय आते और ये कहते की अल्लाह सच्चा ख़ुदा नहीं है, तो आपका सर मुल्ला कलम कर चुके होते। हमारे रियासत में हर इंसान को अपने मज़हब मानने और अपनी बात रखने की इजाज़त है।’

वैसे तो बादशाहत की बड़ी ऐंठ थी अकबर में पर भगवान/ख़ुदा के बंदों की इज़्ज़त दिल से करता था वो। एक बार भेस बदल कर गोविंद स्वामी को सुनने चला गया, जब पकड़ा गया तो गोविंद स्वामी बिफर उठे, तुमने इस राग को तुच्छ कर दिया, अकबर बोला मैं बादशाह हूँ, गोविंद स्वामी बोल पड़े, तू बादशाह सही पर तेरे राग सुनने से राग तुच्छ हो गया। बादशाह उठ खड़ा हुआ ये बोलते हुए, जिसे तीनों लोग का वैभव फीका लगता है, वो मेरे हुक्म में क्या रहेंगे। ज्ञान की चाहत इस कदर थी की 24000 किताबें ज़मा की हुई थी अकबर ने (मुझे प्रेरणा मिल गयी, मेरे से 4 गुना ज़्यादा किताबें रखी हुई थी महाशय ने, कॉम्पटिशन स्टार्ट्स…😁) और कई बार उन किताबों को पढ़वाया और सुना। पड़ने लिखने में उसे दिक़्क़त होती थी।

अपने आख़री दिनों में बेहद अकेले रह गया अकबर…अंतिम दिनों में एक दोहा याद किया उसने, ‘पीथल सुं मजलिस गयी, तानसेन सुं राग,हंसिबो रमिबो बोलबो गयो बीरबल साथ’ (पृथ्वी राज राठौड़ के साथ मजलिस चली गयी, तानसेन के जाने के साथ राग, हंसी। बोली और रमना गयी बीरबल के साथ’) अब राष्ट्रवादी सब समझ लें कि ज़िंदगी के अंतिम दिनों में एक मुस्लिम बादशाह किसको याद कर रहा था। और सेक्युलर सब जो इस का ताना देते हैं आज की ……ओ तुम तो ये राग अलापते हो की मुसलमान तुम्हारे दोस्त हैं…(कोई उनसे पूछे की सच्ची दोस्ती से उम्दा और क्या होती है रिश्तों में?)

ये किताब पढ़िए, और हो सके तो इरफ़ान साहब को भी पढ़ाइए…उनको शायद समझ में आ जाए के इतिहास को ट्विस्ट देना ज़रूरी नहीं…और आपको पता चलेगा के अकबर इंसान था…अकबर हिंदुस्तान था…अकबर महान था!

Book Review: Government as Practice by Dwaipayan Bhattacharya

Dwaipayan Bhattacharya, a Marxist himself and a professor in the famed university writes an excellent book about the Left front rule in WB. He does not theorise much and much of the book is written from an the perspective of one who seeks to understand the dynamics and the instrumentalities of how the Left front managed to rule Bengal uninterrupted for 34 long years and win seven consecutive elections. The paradigm invented and perfected by the left to achieve this he calls ‘Government as Practice’. Some takeaways;

1. The two main instruments through which this ‘Govt as Practice’ as was initiated by the Left was the implementation of land reforms and creation of Panchayati raj institutions with elections on party lines. While the land reforms helped in creating a solid mass of support for the left in the country side, especially amongst the downtrodden, the acquisition of political offices by the cadres of the Left helped them in gaining administrative experience, curbed the power of the bureaucracy and created the localisation of government. These cadres at the panchayats and local level also acted as intermediaries between the society and the party as well as the government mediating and attuning govt policy to societal aspirations and controlling social fissures. This in turn helped in stability of governance. However, in implementing the land reforms left dumped much of its radicalism for pragmatism, stressing class unity rather than class divisions in the rural areas. So the biggest beneficiaries in the power structure were the middle peasants and small peasants, not the landless.

2. This also led to the development of what he calls a ‘party society’ in WB. Party became the dominant mediating presence between the people and the govt marginalizing in the process other traditional institutions like caste or religious networks. This party society was fundamentally geared towards winning elections and was different from the political society in the sense that in a party society the winner takes all.

3. He highlights the role the rural school teachers played in augmenting the organisational reach and political prestige of the left in the countryside. This became more pronounced with the massive increase in their salaries and emoluments. What is not mentioned in the book is the role that these teachers played in furthering the scientific rigging that Left had mastered as an art with these teachers as presiding officers during elections. In course of time however, Bhattacharya writes, the role of these teachers got attenuated in the set up and they were replaced by petty contractors, traders, fixers etc who hijacked the leadership of the party at the grassroots level.

4. As is wont to be with any political dispensation which stresses too much on agriculture growth at the cost of other sectors, in WB too agricultural growth petered out by the 1990s with fragmentation of landholdings, limits to productivity growth and rising input costs, govt with a view to control rural unrest created new opportunities of livelihood in the tertiary sector like wholesalers, petty contractors, brokers etc who in course of time aligned themselves with the party and took over its local leadership. However their support to the party was not ideological but transactional and when the fortunes of the left declined due to Singur and Nandigram, these groups shifted their allegiance enbloc to the TMC.

5. Bhattacharya believes that the party failed to mediate and communicate with the population and since the local cadres too did not have an ideological but a tactical commitment to the party, the communication channels broke down jeopardizing the whole praxis of ‘Govt as Practice’. The whole industrialization exercise now looked imposed from the top and bereft of any credibility.

6. He also highlights the spectacular social failures of the left wherein though they derived substantial electoral support from the downtrodden, the govt remained mostly a Bhadralok govt with negligible representation of the downtrodden communities. Further the state performed dismally in health and education. WB’s literacy during the entire left ruled period remained unchanged in comparison to 16 states and in infrastructure for primary education it continued to rank third from bottom. In the HDI index it remained 9th amongst 16 major states with its health indices hardly anything to boast of.
(Now these are figures authenticated by an intellectual Marxist from the famed institute so don’t attribute motives to me or tell me how great social revolution communism brings)

In conclusion a very interesting book, I need to make extensive notes. This has now made me want to read a book on the way TMC governs Bengal. Any suggestions are most welcome pl!!

BJP people should read this book, helps explain the chinks in the armour of these parties and organisation, how counter narratives and organisations built and who are the marginalised caste, class or groups which do not have a share in govt and which can be targeted. The author laments that much problem exists in the neglect of caste by left brushing it under the carpet of class. 

Book Review: Nehru, A Contemporary’s Estimate by Walter Crocker

This book, a biography of Jawaharlal Nehru written by Walter Crocker, the Australian High commission, which was first published in 1966 by OUP. It was again reprinted by Random House, India in 2009. The first edition of the book was published with a foreword by Arnold Toynbee while the one re-published in 2009 has a new foreword was written by Ramachandra Guha.

Crocker had the opportunity to see Nehru from close quarter as the Australian High Commissioner to India between 1952 and 1955 and again from 1958 to 1962. Crocker writing about Nehru says, ‘had my job in Delhi been anything else I would still have watched him, out of interest, almost helpless interest. He was interesting because of his political importance but still more interesting because of himself. Mostly I admired him; occasionally he was disappointing; but always he fascinated me’.

My main takeaway from the book is that it reinforces with concrete example, the summary of the man ie. ‘A great and a remarkable human being but a failed policy maker and leader in government’. The brute reality is that India gave him 18 years of uninterrupted rule, with more or less unbridled and unchallenged power, but when he died, he had left India with nearly all its problems unsolved; food insecurity, poverty and illiteracy, low level of per capita income, frayed communal relations and communal riots, domestic insurgency and unfriendly neighborhood.

While he has many unabashed followers in whose eyes he could/can do no wrong, but what can you say of a leader under whose 18 years of uninterrupted rule, India could not even break the begging bowl that had become the defining character for the country (and the source of great humiliation too). It was only in his death that made the leadership set its mind to it, and when it did, it took less than a decade for India to become self sufficient in food grains!

For me the lasting problem that he left behind for this country was to convince them that thinking in ‘poem’ was more important than thinking in ‘prose’. Prose demands clear and rational thinking – thinking in first principle terms, not abstractions. Since it demands understanding an issue at the level of basics, it is surely pretty difficult, for even those who are educated..in contrast, in lyrical thinking everything goes… Prose asks you to list concrete steps how to maintain communal harmony, in poetry you can talk abstract like humanism, bhai chara and get away with it. Nehru got away with his lyrical speeches and abstract ideas…! His cunning ensured that all who could challenge his humbug abstractions were either sidelined, also no leadership was groomed who could pose a challenge to him…he was clear who would succeed him…

The book has many failings, it has an ethnocentric bias to it, but I guess the assessment of Nehru is pretty correct; a great personality but a mediocre leader (at best).

Vajpayee, The years that changed India by Shakti Sinha

As a scholar bureaucrat, Shakti Sinha Sir remains an inspiration for bureaucrats like me. Here, he writes an interesting book on Atal Ji, an insiders account.

My main takeaways from the book;

  1. The book is a political journey of Atal Ji beginning with his electoral victory in 1957 from Balrampur to the year 1999, when his government fell by one vote in the Lok Sabha. The focus of the book however is on the period March 1998 to May 1999, when Vajpayee was sworn in as the PM for the second time, and provides an insider account of the government and the happenings during the period.
  2. India exercised its nuclear option in May 2018 becoming an overt nuclear weapon state. The book highlights the international and the domestic reaction to these tests. Americans were livid at the test as were the Canadians, Japanese and the Scandinavians. France, UK and Russians on the other hand were more understanding. The Americans completely overlooked India’s rationale for the test, disregarded China’s proliferation record in the subcontinent and the consequent threat that it posed it India’s security. Instead, President Clinton and his administration imposed sanctions on India, also seeking to create a G2 with China to manage South Asia. Domestically too the government was criticized by its political opponents with the Congress party under Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, arguing that there was no credible reason for India to have tested. She questioned the secrecy with which the tests were undertaken, which for her symbolized the lack of transparency. Ironically, the Congress manifesto of 1991, prepared under Shri Rajiv Gandhi’s leadership, had mentioned the need for India to exercise its nuclear option.
  3. Vajpayee’s opening to Pakistan, his Lahore Bus yatra and the events during the trip make for an interesting read. Reading those pages, the image of Vajpayee as a statesman repeatedly gets reinforced. The Lahore visit created conditions for communication lines to remain open between both the Prime Ministers even during the Kargil conflict, PM Vajpayee and PM Sharif having repeated telephonic conversations during the period. The back channel between RK Mishra and Niaz Naik also continued to remain active.
  4. The book should be a compulsory read for all those who keep extolling the virtue of coalition governments of myriad parties over a one party stable government. It clearly brings out the compromises that such a government is forced to make, the endless energy that the leadership has to spend not on meeting the actual challenges of governance but instead on managing the demands (more often than not for personal benefit of leaders), pulls, pressures and the blackmail of the coalition partners.
  5. What I found very interesting in the book is the role President Narayanan played first by creating difficulties in the way of Vajpayee in forming the government, and later when the government fell by one vote, trying to engineer an alternative government. The author quotes Natwar Singh who in his book had argued that President Narayanan, sent his Principal Secretary, Shri Gopal Krishna Gandhi to the Congress leaders, with a view to convince them to support Jyoti Basu as PM. The effort failed necessitating a midterm election. Reading it made me chuckle thinking of all those who shout from rooftops, as to how institutions have got all politicized today and are no longer nonpartisan.
  6. Personally, Atal ji was a person seeped in the Indian cultural and civilizational ethos, who was deeply influenced not only by classical Indian literature but also Ramcharit Manas. For him the word Hindu did not denote a religion or a particular mode of worship but an eclectic way of life. During the confidence vote of May 1996, he stated that India was inherently secular for it did not believe that any faith or system of worship had a monopoly over truth. Interestingly, he got a letter from Syed Sahabuddin who argued that he disagreed with his Vajpayee’s description of Indian philosophy and that he as a Muslim believed that his path was the only true path. Vajpayee ji let the issue pass and did not respond to him.
  7. On the issue of governance and politics, it was his firm belief that some issues like national security and national sovereignty were beyond/above petty politicking. So, when then Minister of Defense, Mulayam Singh Yadav announced that the Sukhoi deal had been concluded, Vajpayee to the shock of many congratulated him in Parliament. Explaining the role of government and opposition in India to a visiting Nigerian delegation, he stated, ‘the opposition should have its say, but the government must have its way’. On economic issues, he believed that the government should play the role of a regulator, the culture of ‘free’ should not be encouraged, instead user charges for services provided should be paid, more so by those who could afford it. He also called for the rationalization of subsidies.  

Sadly, considering the stature of Vajpayee, much has not been written about him, compared to other leaders of India’s cultural right. This book fills an important gap more so for people like me, who seek to understand and research on the cultural nationalists/right in India. A very interesting read.

Book Review: Religion and Secularities edited by Sudha Sitharaman and Anindita Chakrabarti

This book is based on the papers presented in a seminar held at the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, IIT Kanpur, in October 2014. The book basically deals with what I would call the ‘sociology of Islam’, ie. how Islamic praxis has influenced and has in turn been influenced by the Indian social milieu. The book thus is an inquiry of ‘Indian Islamic’ issues and practices arrived at through ethnographic studies conducted in the states of Bengal, Kerala, Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka. The super short summary of the chapters are as follows;

Chapter 1 deals with the issue of how Bengali Muslims negotiate their Muslim identity with their identity as a Bengali.

Chapter 2 deals with how Islamic laws interacted and refashioned the matrilineal traditions of Mappila Muslims of Malabar, especially after the advent of colonial rule and the socio legal changes it brought in this society.

Chapter 3 deals with the Hindu Muslim conflict about the control of the shrine of Bababudhan hills in Chikmagalur in Karnataka, which is a common place of worship for both Hindus and Muslims (much like the Babri dispute). What the essay brings out to the fore is the uniqueness of Indian secularism that the Indian state practices. This secularism is less a separation between religion and politics, but instead religion becomes an object of the state’s regulatory capacity; the state intervening in religion with a purpose to refashion and attune it to the requirements of liberal governance.

Chapter 4 deals with the divergent practices of Islam amongst the Mappila Muslims. The essay highlights as to how attempts are being to refashion society so that ‘genuine’ Islamic/Muslim virtues are cultivated, the revival of the Muslim community takes place and the Islamic community (Ummah) Is strengthened.

Chapter 5 deals with the civic and religious activities of the Solidarity Youth Movement (SYM), the youth wing of the Jamat e Islami in Kerala.

Chapter 6 deals with the question of Muslim personal law in India. The authors explore the process of dispute resolution in marriage, divorce and inheritance amongst Muslim litigants in a Dar ul Qaza (Sharia court), in a large Muslim locality in Kanpur.

Chapter 7 deals with the involvement of the Muslim reformist organisation called Mujahid Movement, in providing palliative care in Kerala and how in doing so they negotiate the boundaries between religious and the secular domains.

A collection of interesting essays.

Book Review: The Politician by Devesh Verma

Normally I read 3-4 books together, moving from one to another, but here was a book which once I picked up, I could not let go. It is simply unputdownable.

While it is classified as a work of fiction, as the by line says – ‘A novel’, it is only that, a work of fiction? As a novel what genre do we fit it in – historical novel, sociological novel, political novel or a novel dealing with gender and patriarchy? Frankly, it is all these and much more. In fact, it has a timeless quality to it, for while it does convey the ‘story’ of India from its early days since independence to the seventies, the issues/challenges/ideological debates that the novel grapples with are as much true today as they were in those days.

Set in the state of Uttar Pradesh, more specifically in the Awadh region of UP, the main protagonist of the novel is Ram Mohan, a backward caste Kurmi who uses the opportunity (how so ever limited and constrained) that the newly independent India offers to him to acquire education and rise in the social and political hierarchy. An eternal optimist, a character that makes him blind to problems and the pitfalls, (I found it totally understandable this optimism, it is the only defense mechanism that the non-dominant caste groups possessed to chip at the fetters, that the weighty caste hierarchy imposed on them – thus becoming a habit for many), not only is he extremely driven but also uses the power of cunning and guile (along with ‘lathi‘) in pursuit of his ends. There is a part of him though which is an idealist, and rebels at the idea of using primordial identity like caste in election, but gives in, when given a lesson in ‘realpolitik’ by his friend and associate Tiwary ji. Ram Mohan succeeds, though only partially, in his political endeavors (till the 70s when the novel ends, but I wait eagerly for the sequel, the real rise of OBC politics was a factor of late 80’s! So may be….)

The book is part fiction and mostly reality. Anyone having even a limited historical understanding of Indian polity since Independence can surely relate/understand to the novel. It mirrors the events and the trajectory of Indian politics since independence. Devesh Sir keeps it simple and straight. While some protagonists are real – Nehru, Gandhi, Sampoornanand, Kamlapati Tripathi, Indira Gandhi etc, others have their name changed, but you can easily understand who they are modelled after – so Chaudhary Baran Singh is actually Chaudhary Charan Singh, his party the Bhartiya Kranti Dal is India Revolutionary Party, the Jana Sangh is the People’s Union etc. It is historical reality disguised as fiction; history from the eye of the subaltern. There is nothing fictional about the support of the social coalition that the Congress party enjoys, neither the gradual rise and organisation of the intermediate castes against the Congress and into the fold of the Lohiaite socialists represented by leaders like Chaudhary Charan Singh (and Karpoori Thakur in Bihar). The fun part is that the book not only deals with high politics but also the games that is played at the level of constituency, the intrigues, back stabbing and compromises that political actors indulge in. It also shows a mirror to how Indian political system, though a parliamentary democracy, had since the beginning, has had a strong foundation of presidential style personality cult built into it.

The book also reflects the complexity of the Indian society of those times. The idealism and unity that characterised the national movement, the belief that all challenges and problems that India faced, would somehow evaporate had started dissipating and the ugly reality of caste and community consciousness had stated rearing its head. The novel in its very first chapter has the leader of the Kurmi community pleading for unity amongst the Kurmis, so that they acquire a share in the political pie. However, there are others even amongst the upper castes, like Tiwari ji, who challenge caste exclusiveness, and not only empathise but actively work for people of other castes, much to the chagrin of their fellow caste-men. The upper castes find the challenge from the subalterns disconcerting, the novel brings out an interesting secret note that Baran Singh shows to Ram Mohan, wherein the progressive and socialist CM, Sampoorananand argues that radical redistributive politics of the Congress is not helping the party for while it alienates their traditional supporters, it does not guarantee that those benefitting from these policies will actually support the Congress.

The novel also highlights the deep patriarchy that infused the Indian society – Ram Mohan being a torch bearer of it – but also the challenge that women were subjecting this patriarchy to. Actually, I found the women characters in the novel most fascinating, mostly those whom the elites would (even today) classify as the helpless (bechari).  Reflect and you understand how strong these women are, how they keep their struggle going and the robust common sense that they possess. They choose their battles wisely, stand up where they need to, and make compromises where they have to. So while an idealist may find women like Sughhari, Gayatri or a Malti morally compromised, but I found them possessing a will of steel. Ram Mohan’s wife and daughters might appear weak allowing him to have his way, but never without a fight, a fight which sometimes becomes physical leading to them being beaten black and blue. But fight and resist they do!

Without doubt, this has been one of the best works I have read of late. What scale, what canvas and what historical and political understanding Devesh Verma Sir displays. Kudos Sir, and eagerly waiting for the sequel. As it is, I could not get enough of the character Deena (the son of Ram Mohan) in this novel – the super sensitive, book loving, money stealing, insecure but happy Deena…!! Waiting for more of him….

Book Review: An unusual honeymoon by Mamta Kashyap

At the outset I must confess that when I picked up the book to read, I was skeptical about finishing it. I am not much into English fiction, and surely not into the genre of romance and comedy. Frankly, I picked up the book because it was written by the daughter of one of our senior colleague Praveen Kumar Singh, but once I started reading it, all my skepticism disappeared and I really started enjoying it. Mamta Kashyap, the author, is a natural story teller and her book kept me engrossed. Once you pick up the book, you will not put it down before you finish it. About 200 odd pages, it should not take you more than a couple of hours to read, and at the end you will be left feeling warm and happy!

The book revolves around Mahashweta, an independent career women, who arrives at this strange sounding Inn called Cowboy, for her honeymoon – ironically alone, because her fiancee ditched her for her best friend. There she meets Rahul, who offers her a business deal she can’t refuse, the only catch being she has to get married to him for six months as a part of this deal. A solo honeymoon thus becomes an adventure. The story has the (un) usual Nani, usual mother in law, brother in law, sister in law and other family members who carry the story forward. There are family intrigues, love, heart breaks and usual insecurities. The best part of the novel is that all characters and situations appear natural and not contrived.

A lovely read and congratulations to Mamta for writing such a lovely book. Looking forward to many more.

Prof. DN Jha, Cow and a commonsense critique!

The passing away of Prof. D. N. Jha marks the end of an era in the Marxist historical school in India. He along with D.D. Koshambi, R.S.Sharma, Romila Thapar and Irfan Habib were considered to be the ‘Big five’ of this school. As a historian, the two greatest controversies that he generated was his argument that (a) Babri Masjid was built on virgin land and not on a destroyed temple and (b) cow was not a sacred animal in India, and beef was consumed regularly in ancient India. This was elucidated in his book, ‘The myth of the holy cow’. In this article, I concentrate on the second argument, that of widespread prevalence of cow slaughter and beef consumption in ancient India, since on the first issue, archeological evidence unearthed under the Babri Masjid had proved that the Masjid was not constructed on a virgin land.

In an interview published in the Frontline magazine on 30th October 2015, titled ‘The cow was neither unslayable nor sacred in the Vedic period’, he stated, ‘In my book, ‘The myth of the holy cow’ I have tried to show that far from being the ‘baneful bequeathal’ of Islam, beef eating was common in the Vedic period’. To justify the argument, the book quotes verses from the Rig Veda, Taittiriya Brahmana, Gopatha Brahmana and Brihadaranya Upanishad. While reading the book (had done when it was published) the following points came to my mind;

First, arguing that cow slaughter and beef eating was ‘widely’ and ‘commonly’ practiced during Vedic times based on selective quoting of verses from texts, is hardly convincing for the same texts contain verses which forbid the killing not only of the cows, but all animals. Here are a few examples;

Manusmriti (5.51) states that ‘Those who permit the slaying of animals, those who bring animals for slaughter, those who slaughter, those who sell meat, those who purchase meat, those who prepare dish of it, those who serve meat and those who eat it are all murderers’.

Atharvaveda (10.1.29) states that ‘It is definitely a sin to kill innocents. Do not kill cows, horses and the people’.

Yajurveda (1.1) states that ‘Animals are not to be killed. Protect the animals’.

Seeing such verses, which clearly prohibits the killing of animals, including of cows, to argue that the practice of cow slaughter and beef eating was widespread in Vedic times appears slightly farfetched. Common sense should suggest that even if the practice existed, it was contested and not commonly practiced.

Second, in the same interview in Frontline he concedes that available evidence suggests, that from the post Mauryan period (now that is from 200 BCE by conservative estimates) onwards, the Brahmanical attitude towards cow killing began to change, and sacred texts started repeatedly stressing that cow killing was not permissible in the Kali age. These texts accorded the cow a special status and forbade its slaughter. So the learned Professor does concede that in India, for thousands of years, cow slaughter has faced a religious taboo amongst the Hindus. This fact however does not prevent him from twisting the issue and projecting it as a conspiracy that has recently been created by the Hindu right.

Societal norms are never static and keep changing with changing times. Let us take the taboo that Islam places on alcohol. A reading of the Holy Quran (I quote from The Holy Quran by M. Pickthall here) clearly reveals that alcohol ban was imposed gradually for the Muslims. The first reference to alcohol is found is Chapter 2 (Al-Baqarah) verse 219 (2:219) which states, ‘They question you about strong drink and games of chance. Say, in both is great sin, and (some) utility of men, but the sin of them is far greater than their usefulness.’ As we can see here, the Quran does not prohibit the consumption of alcohol in this verse. Hadith has it that one day one of the drunk led his companions in the Maghrib (sunset) prayers and mixed up the ayats in the recital. Thereafter, a stronger message was sent in Chapter 4 (Al-Ni’sa) verse 43 (4:43) which states, ‘O you who believe! Draw not near to prayer when you are drunk, till you know that which you utter, not when you are polluted..’ Alcohol was finally prohibited in Chapter 5 (Al-Ma’idah) verse 90-91 (5:90-91) which states, ‘O you who believe, strong drinks and games and chance and idols and divining arrows are only an infamy of Satan’s handiwork. Leave it aside in order that you may succeed…’.

Now how logical and rational would it be to ignore this verse in Chapter 5 of the Quran, which declares alcohol as haram for the Muslims, and write a book titled ‘The myth of alcohol as haram in Islam’ by selectively quoting verse 2:219?

Third, the argument that the acts done today are justified, for they find mention in ancient texts is fraught with serious moral hazard. Texts like Vajasaneyi Samhita (Yajurved), Taittriya Brahmana, Kalika Purana etc mention Purush Medha (Human Sacrifice), (though I must add that the sacrifice of Purush here is symbolic (the sacrifice of human ego) than of his body), but can a literal interpretation of these references in these texts be used to justify say the recent killings by a mother of her two children in Andhra Pradesh, wherein she justified the killing saying the children would come alive in two days?  

Four, now to the role of the defenders of secularism and protector of Indian Muslims that these leftist historians, our learned Professor included, have self-appropriated for themselves. In doing so, (a) they illogically conflate and seek to establish a relationship between today’s Indian Muslims and the Muslim rulers of the medieval era, which has no rational basis, (b) try to sanitize history with a view to airbrush the religious atrocities carried out by some of these Muslim rulers. Their approach was to create a ‘selective amnesia’ about these events of the past, but what these professional historians of the leftist school fail to understand is that history is not only a subject matter of text books, but also has an oral tradition to it. This history based on an admixture of facts and folklore are passed from generation to generation. Seeking to justify cow slaughter and beef eating linking it to Vedic texts, with a view to somehow protect the Muslim rulers who indulged in these acts, was not only childish but extremely disingenuous. Not all Muslim rulers who ruled India disregarded the Hindu sentiments about cows. Many amongst then imposed restrictions, banned cow slaughter and gave up eating beef voluntarily. While we have references in Al Baruni’s work about Muhammad bin Qasim getting cows killed and defiling idols with cow meat during the conquest of Multan, historical evidence of an Ahmed Shah Durrani, getting the sacred pool of Golden Temple with the blood of cows, Aurengzeb defiling Chintamani Parasvnath Jain temple by getting cows killed inside it, on the other hand we also have references of the ‘Wasaya’ (Will) of Babur where he warns Humuyun against cow slaughter (some however argue that the will is forged). In the book Tezkerah-al-Vakiat written by Gouhar, a domestic help of Humuyun (translated by Major Charles Stewart of East India Company), Humuyun opposed cow slaughter, and when he was offered beef after driving out his rebellious brother Kamran from the city of Kabul, he refused to consume it. Akbar is said to have banned cow slaughter during his reign.

It is surprising that the learned leftist historians ignore these exceptions and tar all the Muslim monarchs as beef eaters (thereby needing to defend them doing so), it is rightist and nationalist historians like Dharampal (completely ignored by the leftist cabal) who in his work ‘The British origin of cow slaughter in India’ argues that by 1700s beef eating was an exception rather than rule amongst the Muslims in India. This was because most of the Indian converts to Islam still carried the Hindu tradition of treating beef as taboo. Cow slaughter and beef eating was actually promoted by the British as an important instrument of their policy of divide and rule. Much of the demand for beef in India was not from the Muslims but from the British. In her letter dated December 8, 1893, Queen Victoria wrote to the Indian Viceroy, Lord Lansdowne that, ‘Though the Muhammadan’s cow killing is made a pretext for the agitation, it is, in fact directed against us who kill far more cows for our army than the Muhammadans.’ The demand for a ban on cow slaughter was not only raised by the Hindus, but also by many in the Muslim community. In 1919, many nationalist Muslims like Maulana Md Ali, Hakim Ajmal Khan, Shaukat Ali among many others, openly called for the Muyslims to give up beef eating. Khwaja Hasan Nizami, a leader of the Sufi Chistia Silsila wrote a book, ‘Tark-e-gaw-kashi’ (Refrain from cow slaughter) in 1921, calling upon his followers to give up cow slaughter.

Unfortunately, instead of writing and recording history as had happened, the leftist historians tried being too smart by half, instrumentalised history so that ideals like secularism could be promoted. However, since this approach clearly militated against facts and (also) commonsense, it produced exactly the opposite results in the long run. Communal differences got aggravated, conversation between communities broke down, legalese triumphed over common sense.

I conclude by paying my respects to the departed Professor. As it is with all the big names of the leftist historiographic school, his scholarship can never be doubted, but their intellectual dishonesty and instrumentalization of history, did more harm than good. May Bhagwan grant sadgati to the departed soul. Om Shanti!  

सरकार सब कुछ बेच देगी..’वोक’ की बकैती

मेरे मित्र हैं, सुबह उठ कर दातुन या मिसवाक नहीं करते, जो हमारे जैसे छोटे क़स्बे में आज भी आसानी से मिल जाती है, कोलगेट के ब्रश और टूथ्पेस्ट इस्तेमाल करते हैं, बाथरूम में हर फ़िटिंग हिंदुस्तान पैरीवेऑर का है, मुँह भी उसी के बेसिन में धोते हैं, टट्टी भी उसी के कमोड में बैठ के करते हैं! फिर नहाते हैं डव के साबुन से…बाहर निकल कर बॉम्बे डाइइंग के तौलिए से शरीर पोछते हैं और रेमंड का चकाचक शर्ट और कलर प्लस का पैंट पहन कर दफ़्तर जाने की तय्यारी करते हैं। अच्छा कुर्ता, पैजामा और बंडी रखे हैं, wardrobe में, सब Fab India का। सरकारी खादी ग्रामोद्योग की दुकान बग़ल में है, पर वहाँ कभी तसरीफ ले जाने की ज़हमत नहीं की…

घर का सारा फ़र्निचर डूरीयन का बनवा रखा है और स्कूटर भी डिज़ाइनर वेस्पा। साथ में गाड़ी भी है सुज़ूकी की! मोबाइल खूब इस्तेमाल करते हैं, सैमसंग का, और अब वही इस्तेमाल करते हैं, BSNL की landline कब की कटवा डाली, की अब कोई क्या करे landline का, जब मोबाइल है ही। मोबाइल में कनेक्शन जीयो का डलवा रखा है और जम के इंटर्नेट पेलते हैं, addiction की हद तक, सोशल मीडिया में खूब ऐक्टिव हैं…

पिछले साल चाइना वाइरस के आने पे पहले माँ बाबूजी को इंडिगो हवाई जहाज़ से जम्मू ले गए और फिर वैष्णोदेवी…माँ बाबूजी ज़िंदगी में पहली बार बैठे थे हवाई जहाज़ में! जब सिर्फ़ air India उड़ता था, टिकट इतना महंगा था की मेरे मित्र तक सोच नहीं सकते थे उड़ना, तो बाबू जी कहाँ से सोचते। ऊपर से हवाई अड्डा तो इतना साफ़ सुथरा की लगता था विदेश में हों, बाबू जी excited हो के बोल रहे थे…मित्र मेरे सोच रहे हैं, अगली छुट्टी में Singapore हो आएँ, अब टिकट सस्ता कर रहा है इंडिगो।

और यही मित्र आज ज्ञान भी दे रहे थे बजट सुनके की सब बेच देगी सरकार। जब मैंने उनसे पूछा की दातुन क्यों नहीं करते, सरकारी NTC मिल का कपड़ा क्यों नहीं ख़रीदते, BSNL की landline काहे कटवा दी, जब जीयो नहीं था, कितना इंटर्नेट पेलते थे? (उन किसानों की तरह जो परसों तक जीयो का इंटर्नेट टावर तोड़ रहे थे, और कल इंटर्नेट बहाली की बात कर रहे थे), सरकारी scooter India का स्कूटर क्यों नहीं ख़रीदे, (जैसे किसान सरकारी कम्पनी HMT का ट्रैक्टर छोड़ कर प्राइवट कम्पनी का ट्रैक्टर ख़रीद कर उसको बंद करवा दिए – क्यों नहीं ख़रीदे HMT का ट्रैक्टर ये कॉर्प्रॉट विरोधी?), ख़रीदते तो बंद नहीं होती कम्पनी। क्यों उड़ते हैं इंडिगो से, सरकारी air India छोड़ कर? मित्र जी नाराज़ हो गए। 😂😂😂

Air India नहीं बेचें? 30,000 करोड़ रुपया झोंक चुके हैं उसमें, ज़बरदस्ती ज़िंदा रखने के लिए इसको…और ये एक कम्पनी है। कितने स्कूल खुल सकते थे इससे, कितने बच्चों को खाना दिया जा सकता था, कितने सैनिकों को अच्छा समान। पैसा पेड़ पे नहीं उगता जनाब, वो गरीब जो बीड़ी और माचिस ख़रीदता है, वो भी टैक्स देता है उनपर और उसको आप झोंक देते हें ऐसे खर्चे में जो प्राइवट कहीं बेहतरीन तरीक़े से चलाती ही नहीं, नए रोज़गार भी देती हैं। पता करिए पिछले दस साल में जीयो ने कितने लोगों को रोज़गार दिया है!

दिमाग़ तख़ा पे रख छोड़ा है इन लोगों ने। और इतना दोगलापन की खुद सरकारी कुछ इस्तेमाल करते नहीं, लेकिन सरकार ग़रीबों के टैक्स का पैसा बर्बाद करती रहे। क़ानून तो ये होना चाहिए की जो भी leftism बतियाता है वो क़ानूनन सरकारी छोड़ के कुछ और इस्तेमाल ही नहीं कर पाए। strategic sector समझ में आता है, अब सरकार ब्रेड बनाए, होटेल चलाए, वो भी टैक्स पेअर का पैसा झोंक कर…क्यों भई?

PS: अभी पूरी दुनिया में भारत का डंका जिस वैक्सीन के बदौलत बज रहा है, वो वैक्सीन जो रेकर्ड समय में बनायी गयी, जो दुनिया की सबसे सस्ती वैक्सीन है, जो करोड़ों भारतीय लोगों की ही नहीं, विश्व भर के लोगों की जान बचाएगी, वो सरकार बना रही है?

Death of Pakistani film star Neelo

With much going on in India and this cold weather, (that I hate from the bottom of my heart, makes me thoroughly lazy) in the past few days had not checked on the happenings in Pakistan. It was only when I started checking today, that I came to know that Pakistani actress Neelo, who was a mega star of the Pakistani film industry in the mid 60s and early 70s, had passed away recently.

Born Cynthia Alexander Fernandes, rechristened as Neelo in films, she gave the first diamond jubilee hit of Pakistan, the movie called Zarka, where guess what, she plays a Palestinian liberation fighter wreaking havoc on the Israelis (no wonder despite all their desire by the Pak army Generals, it is not going to be that easy for the politicians to reconcile with Israel). And if I remember correctly, the movie was released in the year 1969, so the demonisation of the Jewish state has a long history in Pakistan.

Now for the YouTube video I post here and the story behind it….

When the Shah of Iran was visiting Pakistan in 1965, he was hosted by the Nawab of Kalabagh, who was then the Governor of United Province of West Pakistan. He wanted to entertain the Shah and demanded that Neelo come and dance at the event. When Neelo refused, he sent police to forcefully bring her to the event. Realising that she may be forced to go, Neelo took sleeping pills and had to be rushed to the hospital to save her life. When the famous poet Habib Jalib heard of the incident, he wrote his famous Nazm, “Neelo”, as a dedication to her…

तू कि ना-वाक़िफ़-ए-आदाब-ए-शहंशाही थी

रक़्स ज़ंजीर पहन कर भी किया जाता है

तुझ को इंकार की जुरअत जो हुई तो क्यूँकर

साया-ए-शाह में इस तरह जिया जाता है

अहल-ए-सर्वत की ये तज्वीज़ है सरकश लड़की

तुझ को दरबार में कोड़ों से नचाया जाए

नाचते नाचते हो जाए जो पायल ख़ामोश

फिर न ता-ज़ीस्त तुझे होश में लाया जाए

लोग इस मंज़र-ए-जांकाह को जब देखेंगे

और बढ़ जाएगा कुछ सतवत-ए-शाही का जलाल

तेरे अंजाम से हर शख़्स को इबरत होगी

सर उठाने का रेआया को न आएगा

ख़याल तब्-ए-शाहाना पे जो लोग गिराँ होते हैं

हाँ उन्हें ज़हर भरा जाम दिया जाता है

तू कि ना-वाक़िफ़-ए-आदाब-ए-शहंशाही थी

रक़्स ज़ंजीर पहन कर भी किया जाता है

Riaz Shahid, who directed the superhit Zarka, and later married Neelo, used this Nazm in the movie. He however changed the word ‘आदाब ए शहंशाही’ to ‘आदाब ए ग़ुलामी’ in the first line, and also simplified the Nazm. The Nazm was beautifully sung by the maestro Mehdi Hassan, and I must confess, it remains one of my most favourite Nazms.

Rest in peace Madam!

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