Archive for January, 2010

If Wishes were Horses-Hitler would have been a Painter!

Posted in Books, Politics with tags , , on January 29, 2010 by salaamreaders

I am reading Hitler’s Mein Kampf- My struggle- these days. It is a thick volume and makes for heavy reading for it is packed with much obtuse political philosophy. However one can not but be struck by the rather humble beginnings, and common sense, of the boy who was to become the “Fuehrer” and a symbol of German nationalism.

He was born on 20th April 1889 in the frontier town of Braunan-on-the-Inn. His father was a minor civil servant and mother looked after the household and the children. He remembers his father, with respect, as a self-made man who became “somebody’ from a poor boy.

As a boy Hitler was not a ‘stay-at-home’ type as he gave ‘anxious moments’ to his mother for his association with the ‘roughest boys’ of their neighbourhood. He thought of himself as a ‘juvenile ring leader’, who had an ‘inborn talent for speaking’ and ‘learned well at school’ but was rather ‘difficult to manage.’ He was fond of reading and pondered deeply over what he read. He was good at drawing and drawn to geography and history. Even as a boy, he had a mind of his own and opposed his father’s plans for him to become a civil servant. He wanted to be an artist, instead.

After the death of his parents, he did odd manual jobs in Vienna to survive. After a while he made architectural drawings to meet both ends meet. His love for history and his experience in Vienna shaped his world view to a large extent. He fondly recalled his history teacher who could not only transport them magically in to the past but also to illustrate it with examples from the present and draw lessons from the past. Hitler was intelligent to realize at a young age that history was not merely memorizing dates and facts. It was tobe used to understand forces which cause historical events. As he delved deeper into history, he realized the pernicious influences of the then prevalent political system and became a staunch nationalist.

He was fond of reading. He realized that he was considered somewhat of an eccentric because he spent most of his free time reading. He did not consider reading as an end in itself. To him, it was a means to an end. He thought that the purpose of reading was to equip a person with the knowledge and skills necessary for his vocation and secondly to give a general knowledge of the world that he lived in. In that way, knowledge served a practical purpose to meet the demands of every day life. He thought that the general knowledge that one obtained from reading should make one interested in politics which was an obligation of every thinking man. He believed that those who had no understanding of the political world had no right to criticize and complain.

So far, his life was not different from that of thousands of other children. His ideas too could not be faulted with. How, then, did he eventually turn out to be a megalomaniac and a perpetrator of genocide-the like of which is unsurpassed in recent history? What if he had indeed become a painter as he initially wished for? Oh, how the world would have been saved a holocaust then!

Ghalib

Posted in India, poetry with tags , , on January 27, 2010 by salaamreaders

“Poochte hain woh ki Ghalib kaun hai!

Koi batlao ki hum batlayein kya?”

This verse, perhaps, best describes Ghalib’s own dilemma about himself. While the serious student of his life and works is likely to deify him for the deeper philosophical meaning of his shairi, the common man is more likely to treat him as the ‘lovable rascal’- a gambler who was fond of his drink and who could tug at his heart-strings with a neat turn of the phrase. Chuchha Ghalib is how Gulzar describes him!

Who really was Ghalib? Was he merely one of the best poets of all times or was their some other facets to his persona? He was a precocious child, a penurious householder perpetually in debt and a sceptic who always found himself questioning faith and dogma. He loved his wife and grieved for his seven children that did not survive. He cared for his brother and his family despite severe financial hardship. It shows that he was, essentially, a family man.

It is difficult to say how he felt at the vicissitudes of his life. He struggled to be appreciated for his works and for material success. He was not accepted easily by the court at Delhi and his rivalry with Zauq was legendary. He may have considered himself superior to his peers when he said,

“ Hain aur bhi zamane mein sukhanwar bahut achhe

Par kehte hain ke Ghalib ka hai andaaze bayaan aur”

But it is not that he did not acknowledge a master like Meer, of whom he said,

“ Rektah ke tumhi ustad nahin ho, Ghalib!

Kehte hain agle zamane mein koi Meer bhi tha.”

 He did not have any steady source of income and depended entirely on state patronage and money lenders. His uncle’s pension was the collateral against which he obtained credit. His efforts to publish his anthology were not very successful and he was unable to gain a foothold in the Moghul court. He must have been deeply disappointed for he says,

“Koi umeed bar nahin aati 

Koi soorat nazar nahin aati.”

To make matters worse, none of his seven children survived and he must have really been broken to say,

 “Jate huay kehte ho, qayamat ko milenge

Kya khoob! Qayamat ka hai goya koi din aur.”

His wife was deeply religious and he himself iconoclastic, for he says,

“Imaan mujhe roke hai, to khainche  hai mujhe kufr

Kaaba mere peeche hai, kalisa mera aage.”

He enjoyed gambling and was fond of his drink, against the tenets of his faith, for he says,

“Qarz ki pite the mae, lekin samajhthe the ke haan

Rang laegi humari faqa masti ek din.”

He was a man, mostly under the weather who kept a facade of cheerfulness even at the cost of being misunderstood, for he says,

“ Unko dekhe se jo aa jati hai mounh par rounaq

Woh samajhte hain ke beemar ka hal achha hai.”

 That he was human, like all of us, is all that we can safely say and wish him,

“Tum salamat rao hazar baras

har baras ke hon din pachas hazar.”

Chittorgarh-Home to the Brave

Posted in History, India, Travel, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on January 25, 2010 by salaamreaders

Jaya Stambha or the Victory Tower is to Chittorgarh what Eiffel Tower is to Paris. It is the most recognizable face of this quaint and medieval fort, perched on a hill which rises abruptly from the surrounding plains. The fort itself is huge, spread over many miles and enclosed by high  walls, watch towers and other battlements, once formidable but now lying in ruins. 

The Victory Tower was built by Maharana Kumbha to commemorate his victory over Mahmud Khilji, the Sultan of Malwa in 1437. This nine storeyed tower stands tall at over 37 metres and is accessed by a 157 step staircase from within the center of the tower. The staircase is almost vertical like a spiral staircase and one has to feel his way as parts of it are quite dark. Both the external facade and the  internal walls are covered with sculptures of Hindu Gods and Goddesses depicting stories from the Mahabharata and Ramayana. The images are all defaced due to depredations of medieval marauders.

The Victory Tower

But Jaya Stambha is not the only tower in Chittorgarh. There is another –Kirti Stambha or the Tower of Fame-which is much older(12th century) and dedicated to the Ist Jain Tirthankar, Adinath. This was reportedly built by a Jain merchant. It is also intricately carved with the images of various Jain Tirthankaras. It is an amazing contradiction-a tower to commemorate victory in a battle and a tower dedicated to an epitome of non-violence, both within the same fort!

The Tower of Fame

   

But these are not the only reasons to visit Chittorgarh. The place has been immortalized by the bhakti  of  Meera Bai, the sacrifice of Panna Dhai, the romance of Padmawat and the indomitable bravery of the Rajputs. Meera  was of royal blood who had found eternal love in Krishna. Undeterred by the disapproval of her family, she renounced the material in favour of the sacred. Her bhajans are still sung all over India.

A Temple  

Panna Dhai’s story of sacrifice is also unparralleled.  She was the foster-mother  of  Prince Udai Singh, son of  Rana Sanga, the king of  Chittor. After the death of the king, his brother  wanted to kill the infant prince to usurp the throne. Panna Dhai replaced Udai Singh with her own son who was killed by the brother of the dead king. Udai Singh was thus saved and he eventually became the king and founded the beautiful city of Udaipur.

 

Mallik Muhammad Jayasi, a sufi poet composed Padmawat  in 1540. It relates the story of how Rana Ratansen of Chittor, having heard of the incomparable beauty of Padmawati, wooed her only to lose both her and his life to the lust of  Sultan Allauddin Khilji of Delhi. The Sultan, too, had heard of this beautiful damsel and laid siege to Chittor to carry her off. To save the city, the Rana consented to the Sultan having a glimpse of the beautiful  Padmawati  in a pool of water. Treacherous that he was, the Sultan apprehended the Rana and sent word to Padmawati ( also known as Padmini) that her husband would be released if she joined his harem. The Rani pretended to consent and went to the Sultan along with warriors concealed in litters supposed to be carrying her maids. The Rana was rescued but the enraged Sultan  assaulted the fort. Defeat was inevitable for the Rajputs in the face of an overwhelming enemy. Disgrace and pollution would have been the lot of their women at the hands of their aggressors. But they preferred death to disgrace. The women immolated themselves on a funeral pier and the gallant men rode out, to the last man, to embrace death on the battlefield.  When Allaudin entered the fort, all he found was a smouldering funeral pyre which had already consumed hundreds of women. A general massacre was ordered and the city was put to the torch. The story depicts the ideals of love, bravery, courage, honour and chivalry which were so dear to the Rajputs.

A Ruined Palace

Similar tales of valour were enacted countless times, for the fort controlled the gateway to Gujarat for the Delhi Sultans and the Moghuls. And the Mewar Rajputs were not the ones to give up their freedom without a fight. Now the fort is deserted but for the tourists. A new town has sprung up below on the plains.

A view of the town from the battlements 

 

Chittorgarh though not on the usual tourist itinery is well worth a visit. It lies about 310 KMs from Jaipur on the Delhi- Mumbai national highway (NH-8). It is 120 KMs from Udaipur on the same highway. It is well connected by rail and road. The nearest airport is at Udaipur. For local transport, auto- rickshaws and local taxis are easily available.

A Matter of Faith

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on January 20, 2010 by salaamreaders

We are all products of our circumstances. I was born in a middle class Hindu family and therefore my world view of religion is that of a typical person of this class. I mean I grew up with images of a pantheon of Gods and Goddess, all capable of delivering me from my miseries if I believed in them and prayed hard enough. So I prayed to Lord Hanuman, my favourite, mostly on the eve of examinations, to somehow let me pass. And mostly, I passed-whether through divine benediction or otherwise, I can not say.

The need to ask God for various things has not stopped since then. In fact, as life became more and more challenging, the list of demands also grew commensurately. It is now difficult to fit all of them in the limited time that is available for prayers now!

Seriously, what makes even well-educated and seemingly rational people to believe and have faith in someone or something they have never even seen? After all, how many of us have seen or are even likely to see Him? There are no simple answers, I guess. But, maybe, it has primarily to do with how one has been brought up. A childhood full of religious rituals, prayers, temples, festivals etc is likely to induce a sense of belief and faith. But it has something to do with age also. An adolescent is more likely to be iconoclastic. A young adult is, perhaps, agnostic. But as we grow older, our responsibilities increase many fold and things are mostly not under our control. It is at such times that one looks to some force which might solve our problems. If nothing else, it gives us the much-needed peace, solace and hope that things may turn out right, eventually. It is this faith that keeps us going under in the times of adversity.

So, have faith. All will be well.

The Pre-historic Indian

Posted in History, India with tags , , on January 4, 2010 by salaamreaders

One look at the average “Delhiwallah” negotiating traffic is sufficient to give an idea about how pre-historic man lived in India! He followed the law of the jungle where only the fittest survived! But seriously, have you ever wondered who were our ancestors and how did they live in times which are now shrouded in the haze of history?

The first question which comes to our mind is since when has man been living in India? The answer is not simple because early man did not write about his life and the only way to know about him is to find out the surviving remains of any thing that he may have used. Fortunately we now have archaeologists to search for and study such objects. Naturally, these objects have to be very durable to be able to survive for long time for the archaeologists to find them. And what can be more durable than stones? Yes, some pebble tools used by early man have indeed been found in Punjab and in the South. The age of these tools has been estimated by scientific methods  to be about 100,000 years ! Wow, one lakh years- that is a long time indeed! So man lived in India about one lakh years ago. But what about the time when he did not use stone tools? Sadly, since no remains have been found we can only speculate, that, even before he learnt to use stone tools, he must have been living in India for thousands of years. But he may not have even looked like us then. This period is known as the prehistoric period simply because there is no historical record of that time- i.e. in the sense in which history is understood today.

 A thousand questions spring to our mind if we close our eyes and try to imagine what it would have been like to live in those days. We know that like us he would have required food, clothing and shelter to survive. So what did he eat, wear and where did he live? The pebble tools that have been discovered could have been used to hunt animals and dig up roots. So he must have been a hunter and food gatherer. He would have lived in jungles and forests as he was more likely to find food there. But he could not have lived in one place as he had to  follow animals in search of food. He would have lived in small groups too as it would have given him more mobility.  And he would have used bark, animal skins and leaves to protect himself from the weather. By and by, he would have also learnt to kindle fire to keep himself warm and to protect himself from animals.

He lived in India for thousands of years like this. But he was always learning new things. He was constantly improving upon his little stone tools and his control over natural forces. The process must have been very slow as he had to learn by trial and error.  It took him several thousand years but then a great change occurred. He learnt to grow food crops. He also learnt to domesticate animals. Can you think of the change it would have brought in his life style if he was to grow crops? Yes, to be able to do so, he would have to settle down and not be nomadic as he was earlier. That would have given him some free time too because growing of crops required certain things to be done at certain times only and he would have been free at other times. He learnt to make pots and weave clothes in this time. The quality of his stone tools also improved considerably and he was now making finely polished implements. Slowly but surely, small agricultural villages came to be set up as his groups became larger. Archaeologists have found remains of such villages in Baluchistan and Sind, which are now in Pakistan. These people lived relatively comfortably in mud houses. They made various kinds of painted pottery and even copper implements. They were religious too. They worshipped some kind of a Mother Goddess whose figurines have been found. Bulls were also venerated for their figurines have also been found. Some of these people also traded with people in the Middle East as some of their artifacts have been found there also. All this happened about 12000-6000 years back.

Thus, we see that man has been present in India for more than one lakh years. He was then, naturally, quite primitive and different from us. But he was improving slowly and eventually came to be in greater control of the elements about 6000 years ago when his life was not very different from the lives of some of our tribal communities in the 19th century. You would have seen by now that our knowledge of early man in India is quite sketchy and conjectural too. This is only to be expected as interest in knowing about him started only about 250 years ago. Before that the only sources of history were scriptural, in which facts and fiction were often blurred. However, when the British gained control over India, they started delving in our history, perhaps to understand us  to control us better; with the unintended but fortunate result that many discoveries of far reaching archaeological significance were made.

So the next time you are in Delhi, you know whom to thank for introducing you to the pre-historic Indian!

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