Monday, May 22, 2017

The shrine of Bhulbhulaiyan, Qutubuddin Bakhtiar Kaki, Mehrauli

Enjoy the Pictures First! Click HERE

Khwaja Qutubuddin Bakhtiyar was born in Osh (now in Kyrgyzstan), but came to India at the time when the Turks first founded the Delhi Sultanate, in the later twentieth century. He became a disciple of Muinuddin Chisti, who founded the Chishtiya Sufi order in India. Muinuddin Chishti, who had his seat in Ajmer, nominated Qutubuddin his spiritual successor and ordered him to go to Delhi. The latter came to Delhi most likely during the reign of Iltutmish. Delhi, under the protection of the Sultanate had become a major centre of Islamic learning, culture and spirituality after the destruction of Central Asian centres by Mongols under Chengiz Khan.

The work and popularity of the saint extended to non-Muslims too, and he and other Sufis won over many Hindu followers. Qutubuddin’s popularity meant that he received large donations from the rich, which were then expended on charity. The traveller Ibn Batuta, who visited Delhi about a century after the death of the saint tells us the story behind the nickname of the saint, ‘Kaki’. According to him, the saint was frequently visited by those in financial need, and he helped then out by giving them a biscuit or kaka, of gold or silver, and thus came to be known as ‘Kaki’. After his death in 1235, his shrine continued to be popular place of pilgrimage. It still is, and is visited by many, including, non-Muslims, particularly during the annual celebration of the urs. The urs of a saint, literally ‘wedding’ is the date of his death, the imagery of a wedding symbolizing the union with God.

Women are not permitted to enter the enclosure which contains the grave of the saint. They may look in through the screen windows set into the enclosing wall.” Taken from (pg 209 Delhi 14 Historical Walks by Swapna Liddle)  


Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Book Review: The Untold Vajpayee - Politician and Paradox

The 10th Prime Minister of India Credit HERE
Before I begin to say anything about Ullekh N P’s book, The Untold Vajpayee, Politician and Paradox, I have few things to say. These are:

(a)   The India – Pakistan politics is similar to Men’s Cloakroom Politics, that being, mine is bigger than yours. And this then is the cause of war, and moments of so called peace and bilateral talks, which are finally only preparation for the next war.
(b)   If at the rock bottom of one’s religious belief system, one hates a certain religion, it can never be wiped out, because it forms the ground on which the entire socio-political religious beliefs stand upon. So whether it is Ayodhya or Godra or the riots that broke out after that, it all springs from an uncanny  subconscious impulse that causes damage to the other.
(c)    This then sets to motion, an equal and opposite force of reaction which can only be silenced temporarily by a scapegoat. Kashmir, the valley of the gods is one such.
(d)   NOTE:  The above is my opinion, and nobody needs to agree or disagree with them.

In an extraordinary display of finely and exhaustively done research from Newspapers, Television, books, websites and academic literature, Ullekh N P, the author of The Untold Vajpayee: Politician and Paradox, draws upon all these to tell a story of a man, who exactly 21 years ago, became Prime Minister of India, on 15th May, 1996. He had arrived in his Ambassador with his son-in-law, Ranjan Bhattacharya, and a peon, and his driver, to Rashtrapati Bhawan, on being called by the then President, Shanker Dayal Sharma. After his meeting with the President, he returned with an envelope in hand. That was 14th May; next day, he became the 10th Prime Minister of the world’s largest democracy, India. He was already 70 years of age, a little wobbly on his knees but his sharp with and poetry, and his soft nature, made him the most respected to take on that role as a BJP (Bharatiya Janta Party, which he founded in 1980). This was his 3rd time in to becoming a Prime Minister, first for 1 day, second for 13 days and then between 1996 to 2004.

The author tells us that Atal Bihari Vajpeye was born on 25th December, 1924 to a school teacher in Gwalior and studied there. He was a good student and studied Political Science. He was attracted first to Arya Samaj but left it to become afull time worker in RSS, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. In 1980 he founded the Bharatiya Janta Party along with L K Advani.

Known to be an eternal bachelor, Vajpayee lived with his college sweetheart, Rajkumari, who was married to someone else in Delhi. Her daughter Namita and son-in-law, Ranjan Bhattacharya were very close to him, often too close even.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee was known for his soft skills and his avoidance of ‘confrontational politics’ which Ullekh N P tells us, he disliked. Also, Vajpayee could maintain silence for long durations and respond to a situation at the appropriate time. Yet, with his gentle demeanor, and his characteristic half smile, he could do things who many had avoided.

“Scholars such as Andrew B. Kennedy of Australian national University have outlined the stages when India was on the brink of testing nuclear weapons in the late 1990s and held back because of economic considerations. When the BJP came to power in May 1996, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee made preliminary decision to proceed with testing, only to suspend it pending the results of aconfidence vote, which his government then lost. Deve Gowda then came to power at the head of the United Front coalition and he contemplated testing in early June but ultimately opted against it as well. Like Rao, Gowda seems to have been concerned about the economic fallout. Inder Gujral subsequently succeeded Gowda as the United Front prime minister in April 1997. Gujral later recalled that he, too, weighed the question of testing but was deterred by the thought of the ‘punishment’. (On Kindle Loc: 2473)

But, within a few days of his becoming Prime Minister in 1996, one afternoon, he went ahead with Pokhran II. As if it was some figment of his mind! Needless to say, the act was hugely berated both in India and internationally.

“The year 1999 saw attacks on Christians in tribal areas of various states. It began with Gujarat, and then emboldened by the fact that a Hindutwa party was in power at the Centre, suspected Hindu militants burnt to death an Australian Christian missionary, Graham Stains, and his two sons, ten-years old Philip and six-years old Timothy, while they were sleeping in their trailer. The gruesome murder of the fifty-eight-year-old Stains – who had been working among the poorest of the pooe districts in Odisha and among leprosy patients – and his sons made international headlines.” (On Kindle Loc: 2546-47).

While Vajpayee was shocked by the incident, reports began to emerge, showing that hardliners among BJP workers were behind these killings. He was unable to act on an eye-for-an-eye mode both in Gujarat and in Odisha.

Ullekh N P brings out in the book a face of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who with age had mellowed maybe too much, given the fact that he also suffered numerous physical conditions that made him quite ill to continue his Office, thus losing it to Congress in 2004 elections when Dr Manmohan Singh became Prime Minister.

Yet, one cannot remember Vajpayee only for his soft skills; he managed war and peace and an irate difficult CM in Jayalalitha with equanimity and patience.

The book did not give me the racy literature I love about journalists writing books, which are almost like murder mysteries. But for one time, when the yet again, show of power of my opening lines about Men’s Cloakroom Politics of mine is bigger than yours, when the Indian Airlines flight IC 814 from Kathmandu to Delhi was high-jacked, with 178 passengers on board right after the Kargil War where Pakistan had to surrender defeated by India. The four men who high-jacked the plane forced the pilot to take the plane to Islamabad instead, but were told that there was not sufficient fuel to do that so the plane had to force land in Amritsar.

Ullekh quote from Kanchan Gupta’s writing:

“Desperate calls were made to the officials at Raja Sansi Airport in Amritsar to somehow stall the refueling and prevent the plane from take-off. The Officials just failed to respond with alacrity. …. Exasperated Jaswant Singh grabbed the phone and pleaded with the official, ‘Just drive a heavy vehicle, a fuel truck or a road roller, or whatever you have, on to the runway and park it there….Get your bloody fingers out now. For heaven’s sake, do anything, don’t let the f…g aircraft leave Amritsar.’”(On Kindle Loc: 2791-92)

Our own Prime Minister was airborne at the moment of this high-jack and not for the last time, Deputy Prime Minister, Jaswant Singh had sprung to action once again, giving the reader the impression, that Atal Bihari Vajpayee could have not run the country, without his able right hand man, Jaswant Singh.

Nor could he have managed his private life, without his beloved adopted daughter Namita and his college sweetheart Rajkumari.


Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Book Review - Chandni Chowk – The Mughal City of Old Delhi by Swapna Liddle

“The royal mind…pays full attention to the planning and construction…the majority of buildings he designs himself, and on the plans prepared by skilful architects, after long consideration he makes appropriate alternations and amendments…..” Abdul Hamid Lahori, chief historian of Shahjahan’s reign. (p.3 Chandni Chowk)

Mirza Shahabuddin Baig Muhammad Khan Shah Jahan, third son of Jahangir, also known as Salim, and grandson of the great Mughal emperor, Akbar, ascended the throne on 14th February 1628 in Agra. Akbar had presided over some remarkable developments in arts, paintings and architecture, but his grandson Shah Jahan, was obsessed with monuments and architecture, like his great grandfather Timur, who built the city of Samarkand.

It is during his reign that Shah Jahan commissioned a number of buildings, best known among them the Taj Mahal for his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. Once the Taj Mahal was completed, Shah Jahan’s attention went on to build another monument like the Agra Fort, but at a much larger scale. A mission was sent around to find the next spot and Delhi, by the Yamuna River was chosen to be where the Red Fort was to be constructed. On 12th May, 1639, the foundation stone was laid, exactly 368 years ago!

In her book, Chandni Chowk, author and historian Swapna Liddle recounts with vivid detail the making of the historic, now an UNESCO World Heritage Site from 2007, Red Fort , and the growth of the area around it to be known as Shahjahanabad, which is now called Chandini  Chowk.  The book has borrowed from her unpublished Ph.D thesis in some chapters like 4 and 5. The scholar and historian of the 19th Century, Delhi, has in this book, covered the entire period of Shah Jahan’s reign in Delhi and the final take over by his own son Aurangzeb, when Shah Jahan fell quite ill and died on May 9, 1666. Mayhem ruled thereafter, as Aurangzeb beheaded Dara Sikoh, the eldest son and heir apparent of Shah Jahan much to the grief and disgust of the people of Shahjahanabad. Then until 1809, a reign of instability continued till the British take over in 1809.

What I especially liked in the book, is the ‘feel of Shahjahanabad’ and it gave me a taste of the culture of the place and although the Mughal women were much in pardah then as well, when you look at this fact that  the area called Chandni Chowk, was designed mainly by Shah Jahan’s favourite daughter, Jahanara.

All the important mosques in the city were built by members of the royal family. Somewhat to the west of Fatehpuri mosque…which was built by Fatehpuri Begam, was Sirhindi Masjid, built by Sirhindi Begam. At the northern end of Faiz Bazar was the Akbarabadi Masjid, built by Akbarabadi Begum. All the ladies were wives of Shahjahan, and were known by appellations that referred to the towns where they came from, instead of having their personal names taken in public.” (p.17, Chandni Chowk)

There was a general hustle bustle around Shahjahanabad, alive from morning to night with activities – jewellery, elaborately embroidered clothing, horses, horse-cart, entertainment halls, rich men’s havelis, and the like. As the Mughal empire weakened over the years more people came from outside and made their living quarters there. It was however, Nadir Shah, who traveled from Turk and decisively defeated the Mughal force. Since Shah Jahan, it really never was the same. Gradually, in 1809, the British wanting to increase their territory came into Red Fort and took the last Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah and put him in exile in Burma. After many years of ups and downs, an era of stability reigned under the Company’s Rule, to be disturbed by the 1857 Mutiny, which started in Meerat and continued briefly in Delhi at Chandni Chowk. Soon the British were to make their new Capital City in Delhi and they would put a cover on Shahjahanabad as ‘unfavourable’ for their Imperial capital city.

The author, Swapna Liddle, has packed in a lot in this one book and really it must be read, if you love Delhi. But more so, if you want to preserve in your mind and on your bookshelf/Kindle, the history which is fast erasing out as new politics spread across the country.

I quote from a review which best describes what has gone into the book, “Swapna Liddle draws upon a wide variety of sources, such as the accounts of Mughal court chroniclers, travellers’ memoirs, poetry, newspapers and government documents, to paint a vivid and dynamic panorama of the city from its inception to recent times.”(Ref: HERE )

Parting lines, I would so much love to quote from the book –

A famous courtesan of the times was Nur Bai, who enjoyed a rich lifestyle ….Apart from being an accomplished singer; she had a critical taste for poetry, brilliant conversational skills and an extremely sophisticated manner… It is rumoured that many had squandered their fortunes for the pleasure of her company. Those less talented could rely on sensationalism. One courtesan was notorious for her style of dress, for instead of wearing any garment on her lower limbs, she would have her skin painted to mimic fabric. This would then show through her sheer outer clothing, and until closely scrutinized, would give the appearance of a garment.”   (p.59, Chandni Chowk)

Just imagine! She had set up a fashion we are following now, 368 years later!

Publisher: Speaking Tiger 
Pages: 176 with Notes
Price: Hard Cover: INR 300