Friday, July 01, 2016

My Lessons of History in School

I consider myself singularly lucky and blessed that the lessons in history - and poetry- started for me much earlier in life than for most people. I was myself, however, innocently unaware about all this at that time.

To begin with, take the case of the date of my birth. It was determined as 15th November, 1943 - perhaps, a year less - at the time of my admission, in October 1949, in the District Board (soon changed to be ‘Government') Primary School of the neighboring village, located in what was still called the Angrezi Ilaqa (British Territory). It was a school with one kutcha (made of mud) room; a small court yard which had low (less than three feet high) mud wall around it; two teachers and four classes. The school had about forty students from the surrounding villages.

The name of the village is Sohian, near the old town of Malaudh, about 30 Km from Ludhiana. I do recollect that the senior teacher Pandit Lachhman Dass Ji had asked my father whether he had thought for me a plan of higher education or putting me in some job soon after my matriculation. My father had replied, in a very polite but deeply determined voice, that he would like me to go for the highest possible education.

I was to come to know 55 years later - a few years after my own retirement at age of 60 - that this popular but strict disciplinarian teacher who had commanded deep respect among generations of students had served in the same school for his entire teaching career!

It was in this school, I had heard the couplets of the first folk poem by a senior student, Jagga Singh, praising Mahatma Gandhi to be clever enough to ‘outwit' the foxy white rulers!

The white Kothi (mini-palace) with high walls and surrounded by the thick lines of tall trees of a Sardar (petty chief, feudal lord) called Kaka Ji of Sohian was visible from the school. It was, however, more a like a mysterious fort for us, the young students- something like the complex buildings I was to see later in the horror films. I had, however, come to know that the Young Sardar-Kaka Ji has been recruited as a Poolas Kaptan (Police Superintendent) by the Government of Independent India. Later in life, my efforts to meet the then octogenarian, Sardar Narinder Singh Phulka, IPS (Retd.), could not bear fruit, in spite of the fact that one of his sons-in-laws, now retired in anonymity from the IAS, had been a friend from my college days.

The next historic turning point for me came in May 1951 when I was admitted in the third grade in the High School in Ahmedgarh, the nearby town. The family took some more time to shift there from the village. I felt quite at ease being exposed to a refreshing atmosphere of freedom, patriotism and nationalism surcharging this school named, soon after Independence, from Public High School to 'Mahatma Gandhi Memorial National (MGMN) High School'.

The eight years of the continuous studies in the school provided me with ample opportunities to look all around far beyond the lessons in the class rooms. I must thank Master Ashni Kumar, a senior teacher of English and Social Studies who had started mentoring me right from my sixth class.

The town of Ahmedgarh (named after Nawab Ahmed Ali of the tiny state of Malerkotla (1881-1947) had been founded in 1905 in the wake of the construction of the revolutionizing rail link connecting Ludhiana to the southern-eastern belt of Dhuri-Jakhal and beyond. The new look town regularly witnessed, as if it were a typical Greek city state, debates and dramas in the school which were often joined by the chaudhris (elders) of the town too.

The local wings of political parties - Congress, Socialists and Jan Sangh in particular - seemed to be vigorously competing to bring their national leaders to address the people in the Gandhi Chowk, in the miniature Connaught Place of the town, proclaimed to have been planned after Montgomery! The location of the town on the cross-borders of adjacent Riyasati (Princely) and Angrezi (British) pockets of territories had made it a favorite and strategic meeting place for freedom fighters playing grim games of hide and seek after daring protests and acts of defiance including an act of loot - at gun point - of the government funds in a train robbery between Ahmedgarh and Malerkotla!

In terms of history, I must refer to the tragically maddening times in the wake of Partition. My great grandfather Param Sant Vaid Bhushan Pramatma Nand Ji had passed away on October 19, 1947, a day after the death of Nawab Ahmad Ali of Malerkotla. I can vividly recall how the mourners at the Bhog ­- the last prayer - were cursing the kaliyuga (Evil Epoch) for the calamities befalling the nation and her noble people. I could later notice that many houses had been burnt down in my mother's village - apparently belonging to Muslims. The mosque had been quickly converted into a Gurdwara!

I was luckier as a child to be spared the trauma of witnessing the scenes of murders and violence. But what about the feelings of a ten-year-old boy who was witness to his father getting critically wounded when he fell down trying to board an over packed vehicle leaving Sialkot for India? He had been left behind as dead on the road. The boy turned out to be a brilliant student and rose to the highest professional position for an engineer in India. But how would the pain of losing a father in that cruelest way ever go away - even though in retirement, he became Director of Gandhi Museum, opposite the Raj Ghat!

I do remember that I was able to broadly read, when I was in the fifth class, the Golden History of India by Vishva Nath, M. A., B.T., and Jagan Nath Grover B.A., B.T., senior teachers of History, Arya High School, Ludhiana. It was a popular text book for high classes and belonged to my uncle appearing for matriculation.

I remember vividly how among brief sketches of the contemporary historical personalities: Winston Churchill was described as the plain and blunt speaker; Joseph Stalin was the son of a cobbler of Georgia; De Valera was a great revolutionary freedom fighter, and so on.

Among the teachers of history at school, Master Ram Kishore - in his typical Poadhi dialect of Punjabi - would become deeply emotional in praising Chanakaya, the great teacher and his gifted disciple Chandra Gupta Maurya. Then, he would blame all the current ills of the country on the lack of respect for the teachers! Kishori Lal Sahir would quote couplets of Persian and would turn the lesson into play - assigning the students roles of characters of history, e.g., showing Hemu getting wounded with an arrow in the eye by covering the eye of a student with the corner piece of his turban!

Giani Romesh, known for punishing students with Bhrind - painful pinches, would often use the idiom, Dushmanan de Dand Khatte kar Ditte (leave a sour taste in your enemy's mouth).  It was not by making them eat tamarind, but putting up a brave fight.

The most reputed teacher of history / Geography and English in our school was, however, Master Ashni Kumar, a skeleton-thin person known for his razor sharp intellect and sharp satirical remarks. I was destined to be his favorite student and remain so for more than four decades till he breathed his last at a ripe old age in 1999.

In the tranquility of the years of my retirement, I have endeavored to reinvigorate my interest in the history of the select historical personalities and places-particularly in the more intimate region of the Punjab. My childhood interest in Sirhind was strongly reinforced when, during my posting to Pakistan in 1993, I had to facilitate the visit for a pilgrimage to the city by Prof. S Mojaddid, a former President of the Interim Govt. of Afghanistan after the Soviet withdrawal - the family claims 14 generations to have been buried there! The city with a significant strategic location has the most fascinating and absorbing history of the rise and fall of its rulers. The Ambala-Ludhiana-Sirhind section of the Delhi-Lahore railway line was opened on Oct.1, 1869.

Sirhind has turned a new page in its history with the recent establishment of excellent institutions of higher education including the Shri Guru Granth Sahib World University. A sort of personal history was made for me when, on 8th of November, 2011, the Acting Vice Chancellor, Dr Gurnek Singh, welcomed me to the University with a very special personal warmth and affection. He surprised me by telling me that he was my student in 1968 when I was a lecturer in the Govt. Rajindra College, Bhatinda. After the privilege of crisscrossing the continents representing India in distant alien lands, it is a very special soulful delight to rediscover the deeper eternal roots of friendship and love in the soils nearer home!

The learning - and teaching - of the History of India with a balanced and dispassionate approach is a great challenge. The average individual in society rightly seems to consider the past dead and gone; and the future all day dreaming! It is, therefore, all in the present and near future which is relevant for thought and action. But our battles in the present are often fought over the different versions the past and visions of the future. When I remember the school books and the teachers, so many live images flash before my mind's eye. Alexander, the great, impressed us as students as the most mesmerizing figure of the earlier era. Ashok and Akbar seemed to define the essence of India. Whatever may his later day critics say, for most of my generation Jawaharlal Nehru certainly qualifies to be called the architect of modern India.


The history is continuously in the process of being re-evaluated; the state-craft is such a gigantic entity ­- the search for the total and un-alloyed truth in the affairs of the state would remain a noble pursuit. The pursuit of power and the greed for riches would seem to know no limits - the truth for the cash loads for votes in the Parliament House gets more and more mysterious! The Right to Information has been emerging as an interesting search-light to illuminate deeply hidden dark spots in the files of current history.

Let us hope for better times ahead in terms of truthful history.

References to this article

  • This article was included in the collection "India of the Past, Preserving memories of India and Indians"

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Megha Rajdootam - December 2002

The following magazine, Megha Rajdootam - मेघ राजदूतम् - The Cloud Envoy, Vol. 1 No. 2, was published for the High Commission of India in New Zealand in December 2002.

Cover Page of Megha Rajdootam, December 2002
Cover Page of Megha Rajdootam, December 2002

Message from the High Commissioner

Opening Lines ... 'Runs' of Memories

If someone is asked, 'What is the connection between cricket and a High Commissioner?', the answer would be, 'Ambassadors are called High Commissioners in the countries where cricket is a popular sport.' A similarly intriguing question for an Indian cricket fan would be, 'Who was the English cricketer to be the High Commissioner of India to Australia and New Zealand in 1950-53?' Well, the gentleman was Prince K.S. Dilipsinhji, the nephew of legendary cricketer Ranjitsinhji of Nawanagar, who had played for England against Australia.

Looking back to my early years at school, I vividly recall how the climbing of the Everest by Sherpa Tenzing and Edmund Hillary on 29th May, 1953 had been one of the most impressionable event for me. Again, it was the visit of the New Zealand cricket team to India in 1955 which opened vistas of the great game for me. I can exactly recall the tall scores made by the legendary New Zealand opener Bert Sutcliffe and the brilliant all-rounder John Reid. The headlines in the sports columns of English and Hindi dailies flash before my eyes. I do remember how the young and old in my town used to be glued to the radio sets - the running commentary was almost inaudible due to the continuously disturbing sound similar to the thunders of the monsoon clouds! The interest in the game continued to multiply, thanks to the brilliant coverage of international cricket in the Indian press.

Cricket has been sought to be explained as a sport which is played much more intensely in the minds of the spectators and also its remarkable resemblance to human life. The five-day tests were indeed perceived to represent the whole range of agonies and ecstasies of a lifetime. There could always be a chance of a positive turn; one had to grab all the possible chances; the batsman had to treat every ball on its merit; the bowler had to be brave hearted and tactful enough to tempt the batsman to mistime a shot. Above all, it was always the team effort which brought victory. In the typical context in India, cricket proved a great social equalizer.

The one-day version of the game has imparted a new vigour, dynamism and an explosive character to cricket. The slogan, 'Hit out or get out!', by the fatigued and bored spectators of the five-day rituals has been finally accepted. Cricket has blossomed in the deserts of Dubai and more nations across the continents seem to be falling a prey to a game earlier described as, 'the British disease'.

It is indeed significant that India, with its formidable batting strength, arrives in New Zealand in time for the much needed practice before the World Cup championship in South Africa. The Indian 'tigers' have been notorious roaring more on the home turf - hope they maintain their recent form of displaying a highly competitive game. The two teams are expected to ensure the triumph of the game.

I and my family have decided to herald the New Year, 2003, watching the 3rd ODI in Christchurch. Let us hope, pray and dream that this match would be the pre-play of the World Cup final!

I may confess that it was the interest in Cricket ignited by the visit of the first ever Kiwi team to India that put a shy lad from a tiny town of India on a path that has taken him to the position of the High Commissioner of India to New Zealand.

The list of those to be thanked for their generous support for this publication is a tall score - NZ Cricket Inc. and NZ Museum for providing rare photographs; contributors of special messages; Prof. R. Guha and the prestigious Indian weeklies - India Today and Outlook - for authorising utilisation of the invaluable material/photos published earlier. M/s Thames have indeed experienced the pressure of an ODI in timely bringing out this issue of Megha Rajdootam.

Bal Anand
High Commissioner of India to New Zealand
Concurrently accredited to Samoa, Nauru and Kiribati

Table of Contents

Opening Lines... 'Runs' of Memory2
My Cricket 'Affairs' with IndiaJohn R. Reid, O.B.E.3
Cricket Encounters of the Indian KindR. Guha4-5
Maharajas of CricketR. Guha6
J.L. Nehru - A 'Complete' Cricketer7
The Spirit of CricketMartin Snedden8
The Square RectangleTimeri N. Murari9
Dev... Devil... DivinitySyed Kirmani10-11
India - New Zealand Cricket - An Overview12-13
John Wright - A 'Kiwi Dronacharya'...Don Neely, M.B.E.14-15
Tales and Travails of a Cricketer's WifeSukhi Turner16
An 'Indian-Kiwi' RemembersDipak Patel17
A Famous Kiwi VictoryAmit Paliwal18
India's Best of the Century19
India in New Zealand, 2002-0320

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Bharat Sandesh - January 2002

The following magazine, भारत सन्देश - The Indian HeraldԱԶԴԱՐԱՐ ՀՆԴԿԱՍՏԱՆԻ Vol. III No. 1, was published for the new Embassy of India in Armenia in January 2002.

Cover Page of Bharat Sandesh, January 2002
Cover Page of Bharat Sandesh, January 2002

Ambassador's Page

It is with great pleasure and satisfaction that the Embassy of India in Armenia releases the third issue of its Journal, Azdarar Handkastani, i.e. Bharat Sandesh. We have been immensely encouraged by the deep interest in and appreciative obervations on the contents and layout of the first two issues by the dignitaries and distinguished readers in Armenia and India. I may particularly quote H. H. Karekin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of  All Armenians who, in his inspiring message of blessings for the last issue, pointed out that, "The word Azdarar transports us to the close of the 18th century when one of the devotees of the Armenian Church, Priest Harutiun Shmavonian, published the first ever Armenian journal with the same title in India from 1794 to 1796. We are confident that the magazine, 'Azdarar Handkastani' will become the herald of centuries-old friendship and cultural interaction between the people of two countries".

It may be stated that the first issue released in December, 2000 underlined the various parameters of the historical friendship between India and Armenia culminating in the new epoch with the establishment of the resident diplomatic Missions in Yerevan and New Delhi. The second issue celebrated the silver jubilee of the memorable visit of friendship to Armenia in June '76 by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and also the release of Armenian edition of epic Mahabharat. The present issue, while further elaborating on the landmarks of historical relations of friendship between the two countries, particularly dwells upon the various significant events of the recent past.

As regards, various manifestations of India-Armenia relations, the second session of India-Armenia Inter-Governmental Commission Meeting/Foreign Office Consultations held in Yerevan on July 25-27, 2001 has been prominently covered. A comprehensive protocol identifying specific projects of various sectors of mutual interest including information technology, seismology, pharmaceuticals, micro-enterprises, health and biomedical research, etc. while signed during this institutionalised meeting. An Agreement on Standardisation and Metrology was also  concluded.

I am glad to mention that the scheme of Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) has proved a great success with 18 Armenian nominees attending various training courses in India during 2001. The Reception Function of the 10th anniversary of Independence of Armenia was celebrated was celebrated as an important event in New Delhi with the prescence of the Vice President of India and other high dignitaries. Armenian troupe of dance and music, 'Akounk' was in India in November and presented highly successful performances in Delhi, Kolkata and Mumbai.

Lastly, I would take this opportunity to mention that in March this year, the resident Embassy of India in Armenia will complete three years of its functioning. Looking back, the period has been full of such a satisfaction and pleasure for myself and the First team of my colleagues. Our tasks in Armenia have indeed been made so easier and pleasant by the deep feelings of friendship, warmth and admiration for India at all levels of the Government and people in Armenia.

Bal Anand
Ambassador of India to Armenia

Table of Contents

MessageH.E. Mr Vartan Oskanian4
Ambassador's Page5
Civilisations Never ClashPresident K.R. Narayanan6-7
A Vision for South AsiaP.M. A.B. Vajpayee8-9
Sarmad - an Armenian Sufi Poet of IndiaS.S. Hameed10-11
India-Armenia Relations: MilestonesManish Prabhat12
Events and Activities14
Highest Astronomical ObervatoryR. Rao15
Milk Miracle in IndiaDr. V. Kurien16-17
Nobel for NaipaulMadhu R. Sekher18
Land of AncestorsV.S. Naipaul19
Modern Indian AgricultureT.M. Chishti20-21
In Tune with Father's MelodyN.K. Sareen22-23
Indian Review24
Events and Activities25
India-Armenia Meeting in Yerevan26
India in 1700th Anniversary of Christianity in Armenia27
Events of Armenia in India28
Armenian Section
A Vision of Armenia in Madras; ԵՐԱԶԱՆՔՆԵՐՆ ԻՐԱԿԱՆԱՆՈՒՆ ԵՆ.David Zenian30-31
Armenians at Home in India; «ՀՆԴԿԱՍՏԱՆԸ ՄԻՇՏ ԷԼ ՀԱՅԵՐԻՍ ՀԱՄԱՐ ԲԱՐԵԿԱՄ ԵՎ ՀԱՐԱՁԱՏ ԵՐԿՒՐ Ւ»Sergei Yeritsian, MP32-33
Nutan - a Complete Actress; ՆՈԻՏԱՆԸ - ԱՆԶՈՒԳԱԿԱՆ ԴԵՐԱՍԱՆՈՒՀԻB.M. Malhotra34-35
India-Armenia Meeting in Yerevan36
When Dreams Dance; ԵՐԲ ՑԱՆԿՈՒԹՅՈՒՆՆ ԻՐԱԿԱՆԱՆՈՒՄ Է...Naira Shovgaryan37
Events and Activities39
An Evening of India in Yerevan40
Release of Mahabharat in Armenian; ՀԱՅԱՍՏԱՆԻ ՄԷՋ ԼՈՅՍ ՏԵՍԱՒ «ՄԱՀԱՊՀԱՐԱՏԱ» ԷՊՈՍԸ41
Gauhar Jan - Armenian Legend in India; ԻՄ ԱՆՈՒՆՆ Է ԳՈՀԱՐ ՋԱՆPran Neville44
Hindi Section
Ambassador's Page; राजदूत का पृष्ठ45
Gurudutt - A Talented Film Maker; गुरूदत्त - समर्पित और अतिसंवेदनशील फिल्मकारB.M. Malhotra46-47
Urdu - A Language of Love and Tolerance; उर्दू - प्रेम और सहिष्णुता की भाषाK.K. Khullar48
Gems of Urdu Poetry; उर्दू शायरी के रत्न49
Review - A Remarkable Repository of Ancient Texts; समीक्षा - प्राचीन ग्रंथों का एक उल्लेखनीय कोशHargulaal50

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Megha Rajdootham - August 2003

The following magazine, Megha Rajdootam - मेघ राजदूतम् - The Cloud Envoy, Vol. 2 No. 1, was published for the High Commission of India in New Zealand in August 2003.

Cover Page of Megha Rajdootam, August 2003
Cover Page of Megha Rajdootam, August 2003

Message from the High Commissioner

On Anniversary of Megha Rajdootam (August 2003)

It was with so much of circumspection verging on trepidation that this High Commission had ventured, on the last Independence Day Function, to bring out its maiden publication, Megha Rajdootam. The appreciative responses of esteemed readers have convinced us that the effort was worth undertaking.

The issue in your hands further dwells on the 'high' theme of the Himalaya to mark the Golden Jubilee of the First Ascent to Everest. The official visit of friendship to India by Sir Edmund and Lady June Hillary from May 20-22, 2003 indeed occasioned a festival of Himalayas.

The First Pravasi Bharatiya Divas in New Delhi on January 9-11, 2003 dealt with all aspects of the linkages of Indians abroad with Mother India. The material on this seminal subject would be of great interest to the Indian community, in the context of the institutionalization of the Divas as an annual event.

Recalling the activities of India-New Zealand friendship, I am glad to mention that Te Papa, National Museum of New Zealand, with fulsome involvement of the Indian Community, has put up a high quality exhibition, 'Indian Wedding'. We are privileged to devote a page in colour to this special event. Similarly, the Asia 2000 Foundation has adopted the festival of Diwali to be celebrated on a national scale. As if in a logical sequence, Ram Lila troupe of Shri Ram Bharatiya Kala Kendra, New Delhi is performing the epic drama in New Zealand this August/September.

A delegation of 23 members of Uttar Pradesh Legislative Council/Assembly, led by Hon'ble K.N. Tripathi, Speaker visited New Zealand in October 2002. Admiral Madhavendra Singh, Chief of Indian Navy, was in New Zealand in November 2002. Hon'ble K.R. Rana, Minister of Textiles paid official visit to New Zealand in April 2003. There have been important visits from New Zealand also including that of Hon'ble Peter Hodgson, Minister of Energy and Forestry. Though the performance of the Indian cricket team in New Zealand turned out to be grossly below expectations, the Indian Tigers fought back and roared in the World Cup of this game of glorious uncertainties.

New Zealand has become a popular destination for location shooting by Bollywood film makers. Christchurch, Queenstown and the scenic places of South Island have become familiar to millions of Indian cine-goers. We are sure to hear soon about possible joint ventures among the global dream merchants like Peter Jackson and Sanjay Leela Bhansali!

To quote figures, India and New Zealand interestingly settled on a balanced trade figure for the first time ever at $192 million each between July 2001 and June 2002. India has emerged as an important resource country of skilled professionals for New Zealand. The sector of Information Technology holds promise for both sides. More Indian students are choosing New Zealand for quality education.

I have enjoyed my innings of 64 'over-weeks' to contribute to the scoreboard of India-New Zealand cooperation. I thank my colleagues for their valuable support towards realizing the goals of the High Commission.

Finally, in the context of this issue, I place on record my gratefulness to my distinguished friends - Judge Anand Satyanand, Prof. W.H. McLeod and Prof. Theo Roy - for their contribution of articles. The High Commission is grateful to the prestigious Indian weeklies 'India Today' and 'Outlook' for the permission to utilize their material and photographs. Similarly, thanks are due to the Hindi monthly 'Aajkal'. To Sir Edmund Hillary, words would not suffice to fathom our deepest gratitude, 'highest' inspiration and fullest access to photos from 'A View from the Summit'. I thank Indian Mountaineering Foundation for photos of Sir Edmund Hillary's latest visit to India. Thanks are, of course, due to M/s Thames Publications Ltd,. for quality and timely printing of this third issue of Megha Rajdootam, under the usual stresses and strains that go with the realization of such a creative endeavour.

Bal Anand
High Commissioner of India to New Zealand
Concurrently accredited to Samoa, Nauru and Kiribati

Megha Rajdootam, August 2003 - Table of Contents

More on Megha Rajdootam2
Vision for 2020Dr A.P.J. Kalam3-4
Ever-Evolving Canvas of IndiaA.B. Vajpayee6-7
India and the DiasporaYashwant Sinha8-9
Kailash - the Ultimate Himalayan PilgrimageT.S. Tirumurti10-11
First Ascent of Mt. EverestA.B. Vajpayee12
Welcome to India, Sir Edmund!13
Celebrating Indian Marriage14
At 'Home' among Friends15
India, More I Seek, More I FindVinod Khanna16-17
Truth - a Tangled WebShiv K. Kumar18-19
Punjab - Discovering Faith in HistoryW.H. McLeod, D.Litt.20-21
Garden of Delights - LucknowProf. Theo Roy22-23
Reflections on India's IndependenceAnand Satyanand24
Independence Day, 200225
Events in Pictures26
Glimpses of Indian Cricket Stars27
Meetings - Exploring more Co-operation with India28
In the Shadow of a SuperpowerManu Joseph & Sandipan Deb29-30
Devdas - Mystique of Tragic LoveB.M. Malhotra31-33
Esteemed Readers Write34-35
Books in a Nut-Shell36-37
Twinning of ArtHemant Sareen38
The Pathfinders39
Institutions of the Community40
Export-Import Policy 2003-4Arun Jaitley41-42
New Zealand Seismic Technology for India43
Tender NotesChild Poets44
Hindi Section
Indians Abroad; प्राक्कथनJ.C. Sharma; जे.सी. शर्मा45
Everest - An Eternal Challenge; कई ग्लेशियरों से उभरता विशाल पिरामिडीय आकार एवरेस्ट को अव्दितीय भव्यता प्रदान करता हैSuman Dubey; सुमन दुबे46
Let's Lit the Lamps Again; अटल जी की काव्य वानगीA.B. Vajpayee; अटल बिहारी वाजपेयी47
The Buddhist Heritage of Indian Art; भारतीय कला के प्रेरणा पुरुषJ. Chandrikesh; जगदीश चंद्रिकेश48-49
Earth, How Beautiful! इतनी तो प्यारी लगती है धरतीR.S. Prajapati; रविंद्र स्वप्निल प्रजापति50
Epitome of a Folk Song; एक लोकगीत का उपसंहारPrakash Manu; प्रकाश मनु51
A Distant Dawn - Poetry of Sahir Ludhianvi; सुबह का इंतजार कौन करे - साहिर लुधयानवी की शायरीR.S. Tiwari; राधेश्याम तिवारी 52

Friday, July 31, 2015

Missile Man - No more! May he rest in eternal peace

The finest product of the Syncretistic Culture of India.

I had firstly heard of Dr APJ Abdul Kalam some time in 1981 from my school time friend Dr CR Jagga who had then joined the Dept. of Chemistry, IIT Delhi.

After listening to Dr Kalam at some conference,  Dr Jagga was enthusiastically talking to me about this amazingly simple soul scientist - with a saintly serenity and a total dedication to his mission of  missile technology...

Dr Jagga - then 36+ had been simply mesmerised by an 'indefinable' magnetic charm of this 'gentleness personified' magician!

I had the privilege of 'Darshan' of this Maharishi of Vigyan from close proximity at the Republic Day reception in honour of President Putin in 2007.

At that reception I had also been privileged to talk to Marshal of Air Force Arjan Singh. Marshal had called his wife to talk to me when I had said, "Sir, on meeting you I feel as if I have met an incarnation of Arjuna of Mahabharat!"

I was also delighted to meet former Olympic hockey captain Zafar Iqbal & Swami Agnivesh the reception.

Long live an India of Kalam, Arjan, Zafar & Agnivesh !

I am glad that my letters of credentials as High Commissioner to Kiribati & Samoa - while resident in New Zealand - had been issued under President Kalam's signature.

I have the pleasure to attach a copy of the document

Salam to Kalam of India !!!
Credentials signed by Dr APJ Abdul Kalam
Credentials signed by Dr APJ Abdul Kalam

Thursday, July 02, 2015

A Life Enshrined as a Pilgrimage of Love

This article was published in the July 2015 edition of Identity magazine.

Amrita Pritam
An enigmatically popular and proverbially ‘pretty-petite-poet’ of the partition-poisoned five rivers of the historic Punjab, Amrita Pritam - b. Aug. 31, 1919; d. Oct. 31, 2005 - had indeed enjoyed a larger than life image as one of the most prominent literary personalities of modern India. She was widely recognised as a pioneer, powerful and an authentic voice of feminine protest in expressing the horrors of the Partition of her beloved Punjab and the eternally atrocious gender discriminations in the globally patriarchal social orders.

She had subtly succeeded in cultivating and nourishing a significant constituency of readers and a large circle of influential individuals surpassing divides of languages and national boundaries. She had been conferred the most sought after honours including the Padma Vibhushan and the membership of Rajya Sabha, not to speak of Jnanpith Award and dozens of honorary Doctorates and other prestigious distinctions in India and abroad. She had indeed been deservedly hailed to have lived her life to the fullest as the ‘grand lady of letters’ - on her own terms - both in her literary accomplishments and the ultimate fulfilment of her socially unconventional love.

And, yet there were deeper perceptions among both her ardent admirers and determined detractors of an apparently vast void in her life. It was something of the agonisingly soulful kind - her wounded and bleeding feminine destiny and an unfathomable anguish over implied disapproval of her way of life among her dearest and nearest. Amrita’s life could certainly be categorised as the ‘mysteriously volcanic and an eerie dreamy stuff’ of which strange tales of romance, triumph and tragedy are made of. Her enormously large literary output - 21 anthologies of poetry, 10 collections of short stories and, surprisingly, 25 novels, not to speak of three titles of autobiographical writings, have all been hugely interpreted in terms of their excruciatingly experienced personal emotional overtones.

Amrita had indeed played a uniquely inspirational role for decades in spotting and grooming so many budding and promising Punjabi writers, providing them the forum of her popular monthly Nagmani - Serpent’s Jewel. The Punjabi Lekhak Kosh, 2003 - A Directory of Punjabi Writers, edited by the venerable scholar Prof Pritam Singh - has more than three pages of the entries of her writings in original Punjabi and translations in dozens of Indian and foreign languages.. Her abode for decades - K-25, Hauz Khas, New Delhi - had remained an extraordinary literary pilgrimage till her last for her dedicated readers, fraternity of writers, fellow travellers, sisters in sorrow - from India and abroad - and plain ‘Darshanarthis - the onlookers of her magnetically pretty looks!

I do vividly recall how, as an elementary school - child, I had chanced to read her poem - a pretty picture of her adorning it - in a Punjabi monthly ‘Veer Bhumi’, sometime in 1950. Then for a several years in the mid-1950s, her measured and soft voice as an anchor of the 15 minutes program in Punjabi on All India Radio, Delhi had become captivatingly familiar, as if in uniting the two sparring, grieving and singing Punjabs. It was, however, on 22nd November 1970 that there was an opportunity for me to listen to her live. It was during the Mushaira of the Golden Jubilee of my college - Govt. College, Ludhiana - Sahir’s own proud alma mater.

Sahir Ludhianvi
The Mushaira, compered by the legendary Kunwar Mohinder Singh Bedi, had started on a note of an absolute disaster of ‘Band-o-bast’. The restrictive arrangements of entry tickets had crumbled in no time in total chaos. Anyway, the huge and roaring audience, by then more in a rebellious mood to hoot than to listen, had consolation of having glimpses of shining star poets like Jan Nisar Akhtar, Mohan Singh and Amrita Pritam doing the empty ritual of recitation of their poems. Even Shiv Kumar Batalavi, the prince among new poets, had to be cajoled to recite her poem after an initial hooting. However, Sahir - the ‘old- boy-hero’ of the College in 1930s - had mesmerised all with his poem titled, ‘Ae Nai Nasl - O, New Generation’, dedicated to Principal Pritam Singh and addressed to all the past and present students. Sahir was indeed at his magical best when he poetically pierced into the hearts of the Ludhianvi audience with the lines:

Naam mera jahan jahan pahuncha / saath pahuncha hai iss dyaar ka naam.
Main yahan mezban bhi, mehman bhi / app jo chahen dijie mujhe naam.
Nazar karta hun in fizaon ko / apna dil, apni rooh, apna kalaam...
Kal jahan main tha, aaj tun hain vahan / Ai, Naee nassl! Tujh ko mera Salaam!
My golden College of that day, now named after ‘old-boy-scientist’ Satish Chandra Dhawan and with the main Hall named after Sahir, is struggling to breathe - and survive to celebrate its Centenary due in 2020!

My ‘real and historic’ Amrita moment was, however, destined to be on August 31, 1992, just on the eve of my departure for Pakistan, as India’s Deputy High Commissioner. Pandit Krishan Ashant, the poet-philosopher turned Jyotishcharya - astrologer - an intimate good old friend of my family had kindly taken me and my wife Aradhana to pay a respectful courtesy call on her. I had asked Amrita about some Pakistani writers whom I might meet.  She had mentioned a few names including some of women friends based in Lahore and short story writers Mansha Yaad and Mazhar Khan who was Director of the popular Pakistani Folk Art Museum, Virsa. Imroz, an incarnation of serenity and sincerity, was around and had kindly served us the famously mandatory magical tea. We had felt privileged that we had the good luck to preserve forever the precious memory of Mulaaqat with an iconic figure, a veritable literary queen of her time!

The love legend of Amrita, particularly her self-confessed decades-long passionate attraction for Sahir, has been one of the most written about and celebrated affair in the popular literary imagination in India. The year 1960, according to Amrita’s own account, was the saddest time of her life. She mentions how the report in the ‘Blitz’ about ‘a new flame of love in life of Sahir’ had totally devastated her, plunging her into dark despair. This development had, perhaps, as if in a rebound, made it possible for Amrita to attach her destiny of ‘life-lasting-soulful-love’ with the younger painter friend, Inderjit. He was soon assigned the metaphorically popular name, ‘Imroz’ - the Persian word meaning ‘today’. This unique ‘undefined’ partnership of ‘understanding’ lasting more than 45 years proved to be the most intensely enduring for the mutual esteem, affection and awesomely creative in terms of Amrita’s literary output and picture perfect of ‘made-for-each-other-soul-mates’. Such supposedly ‘idyllic’ life would only be waiting to be sung and celebrated about, not only in sweet, sentimental and eulogistic notes but also to be written about in a plaintive and poetic mix of fiction and reality.

Ek Janam Tumhare Lekhe
The lives of writers and artists have indeed been a source of immense fascination everywhere -  not only for readers and audience but also for fellow writers and critics and commentators. In the case of writers, ‘aside from their works, there are even autobiographies, letters, diaries, and memoirs of those who knew them best... others have taken  it a step further, painting a  portrait of a literary genius through those who knew him / her best’. Enters here, Gurbachan Singh Bhullar (b. 1937), an eminent short story writer, editor, and columnist, Sahit Academy Awardee in 2005, with roots in Malwa region of Punjab. He had been an alert insider in the various forums of the Punjabi writers since arrival in the capital in 1967 to work in the Soviet Information Department. He would have been privy to all the literary intrigues, factional feuds, scramble for awards and personal rivalries that always plague the atmosphere of community of writers and artists everywhere. He enjoys reputation as one of the select writers in Punjabi who are well read in literature of other languages and are painstakingly diligent in paying attention to the most appropriate vocabulary and idiom in Punjabi. It is indeed very interesting how my most favourite short storywriter and columnist decided to be a novelist. Please permit me to quote from his own 11-pages declaration, ‘How and Why I wrote the novel, Eh Janam Tumhare Lekhe - This Life I lay at thy Feet’:

“18 of March 2014 was my 77th birth day... this juncture of life can often make a person sad, even frightened... but I had felt full of enthusiasm. I had conceived the woof and warp of my maiden novel and had started designing, naturally, the flowers and petals and even the thorns... Friends had often advised, ‘A short story writer attains perfection only by writing a novel... you have plenty of stories and experiences of social life and an appropriate idiom to tell them, you must write a novel’.”

Gurbachan S Bhullar
Bhullar quotes at length many foreign writers and critics to highlight the subtle points of crafts of short story and the novel. He cites examples from the narrative traditions of epics of India and folk tales of love and how human life revolves around Arth — subsistence, Kaam - sexuality and Dharam - morality. The four word title of the novel, according to Bhullar, was decided at the very beginning. It is taken from the hymn of celebrated Dali poet Bhagat Ravidas in the Granth Sahib, “Bahut Janam bichhure the Madho, eh janam tumhare lekhe - Separated since several births, O lord, this birth is solely dedicated to thee”. How the characters of the novel would stand up to the test of this dictum of total surrender was going to be challenge for the novelist. Bhullar asserts that there are no conventional individual hero or heroine in the novel: the moral restraints prescribed by society at large and their clash with the feminine way of thinking about freedom constitute the crux of the thematic world of this novel.

The protagonist of the novel is Jagdeep - a poet, does not pose much of a difficulty to be identifiable as Amrita Pritam. It is also, interestingly, the name of a character in her novel, ‘Ek Savaal - A Question’ who has a shade of Amrita in losing her mother an early age. The names of poet Mohan Singh (1905-1978) and Sahir Ludhianvi (1921-1980) have been retained in the novel along with the use of their select poetry. To keep the fictional façade of Jagdeep intact, Bhullar has composed some poems himself and used some of the verses of Sukhvinder Amrit (B. 1963). The other characters - easily recognised among the ‘who is who’ of all the prominent friends - some turned foes - and relations of Amrita. They have been assigned meaningful names: Imroz as Inderjit-Charanjit-Navrang; her husband Pritam Singh becomes Gurmukh Singh; Bhapa Pritam Singh of Navyug Press is named Harprit Singh ‘Hiteshi’; Balwant Gargi is Kulwant Bani; Devinder (of AIR) as Harvinder, etc. The chapters about Editor of ‘Shamma’- name in novel ’Chiragh’- provide enjoyable comic and witty relief in enlarging character of Imroz’s earlier life. The cover design by artist Satwant Singh Sumail is indeed attractive in symbolising the theme of the novel - the feminine flutters for freedom of choices and the social constraints of moral behaviour.

It is after gap of many years that I have been able to read a novel in Punjabi running into exactly 400 pages. I had been presented the signed copy - ‘with intimate affection’ of the novel by Gurbachan Ji on March 16 and could finish it at my enjoyable pace on April 11, 2015. The seventeen parts of the novel, further subdivided into 3 / 4 chapters in each, make an engrossing reading with the ebb and flow events of a real life legend. Necessary liberties of the fictional kind have been taken here and there as required to enhance an atmosphere of verisimilitude. We get introduced to a gallery of unforgettable characters, majority of them ‘recreated’ after the real life dignitaries of Punjabi community of Delhi who had been closer to Jagdeep-Amrita!? - the protagonist of the novel. Since my first arrival in Delhi on June 16, 1969 and then 16 years - 11 of them consecutively now - of stay in Delhi, I have been witness to a procession of passing away of the pre-partition generation of so many distinguished Punjabis. They had been instrumental in shaping the contours of Punjabi literature and culture. The mindless violence for decades in Punjab; the 1984 anti-Sikh riots in Delhi and the consequently continuously ‘shrinking’ role of the present truncated Punjab in the national life has posed serious new challenges to the traditionally imagined values of Punjabi literature and culture. Amrita, a purely Punjabi phenomenon, had passed away proclaiming herself, perhaps, as more popular ‘original author of Hindi’!

Gurbachan Ji had brought to my attention on November 15, 2014 his masterly article on Amrita Pritam published in the September-December issue of prestigious Punjabi quarterly, ‘HUN’ (Now) dwelling on the touching theme of ‘The Triple Death Tragedy’ of the ‘Priestess of Love’ in Punjabi literature. Apart from the natural death after a protracted sickness and a long confinement to bed, her abode of ‘love-nest’ so artistically adorned by ‘love mate’ Imroz was soon got torn apart brick by brick by Amrita’s ‘emotionally-conflicted’ son - he had once questioned his mother if he was indeed the ‘biological’ son of Sahir! He was mercilessly murdered on September 20, 2012 in shady circumstances in the mean world of Bollywood. I did not know at all - nor could imagine - that this article was a subtle precursor - curtain raiser - to Bhullar’s ambitious maiden novel on the eternal theme of human conflict: the fate of femininity fluttering for freedom against the gravitational forces of patriarchal social order. She was born as the only child of a reclusive and religious couple and married at sixteen in a closely related orthodox Khatri Sikh family. Amrita, according to Khushwant Singh, “was a pretty girl with almond shaped eyes, fine features... petite... barely five feet tall... she became the toast of Punjabi literary circles (of Lahore), largely because of her stunning good looks... Ode to Warish Shah was her defining work. Much of the rest was sheer atmosphere”.

To quote from Bhullar’s elucidatory article, Amrita had once put, in her peculiarly poetic way, “In all, I have had one and a half love affairs - one with Sahir and half with Jeeti... but his half is equal to Sahir’s one full!” Amrita had written, in Punjabi, her autobiography - rather disjointed chapters - titled ‘Raseedi Ticket - Revenue Stamp’ in 1976 - which has run into a dozen editions - three after her passing away. The Hindi editions might be even more. The translation in English - apparently a hurried and poor job - by Krishna Gorowara may still be quoted, “Imroz is six years my junior... God grants too brief (a) period of youth to one and all; to me He has, in His greatness, granted two! Mine petered off; Imroz’s came on! After fourteen years... I have no regrets about the path chosen by us”. Further, Amrita says that “Imroz’s personality is like the flow of a river uncontrolled by locks and sluices... a relationship with him can last only so long as there is nothing to bind it. Unfortunately, in life there is not much natural freedom. There is society and there is the law... My suffering is the lesser truth when weighed against the greater truth of happiness of life with him...”

Bhullar has proclaimed in the blurb of his novel-in its 2nd edition within six months of the 1st - exactly a similar dilemma with the  heroine representing “feminine-way-of- thinking, the centrality of which is the longing, the desire and an attempt to live a life according to the dictates - full freedom - of her mind”. He further adds that, “the feminine thought process, in majority of the cases, gets reconciled to the 'circumscribing limits' accepting them as 'Destiny' and suppressing the urge to 'fly' - but in stray cases there are revolts too...According to science, the astronauts, who break the sphere of the gravity of the planet earth, undergo a process of powerful effects on their body and mind, Whether, according to psycho-processes, the women who dare break the circle of 'social gravity' also undergo a similar transformation of their bodies and mind, is the moot point of this novel”.

Long, long ago, while studying for my post-graduation in English literature, I had immensely enjoyed the recommended slim book, ‘Aspects of the Novel’ by EM Forster. Originally published in 1927, it has remained my favourite book till today. Discussing at length the aspects of Story, People, Plot, Fantasy/ Prophecy, Pattern / Rhythm, the Nobel novelist elaborates on the themes of birth, food, sleep /dreams, love / marriage and death as the essential elements of the structure and craft of novel. Forster points out that love and marriage - the most defining event of human destiny turns out to be the most unpredictable development. The modern science has been hugely impacting our entire approach to love and sex but the scientists are still wondering to know, ‘what fosters long-term attachment... what, really, is this thing called true Love.’ The much used – rather abused - terms like romance, attraction, bonding, passion would seem to defy all reason and logic - that is the unique beauty, as well as the inexplicable tragedy in as many cases, in every culture and civilization.

In 2019, the literary and academic institutions in India would be gearing up to celebrate the birth centenary of Amrita Pritam. Bhullar’s novel has lit up the first candle for a really enlightening revaluation of the literary output of this dear daughter of Punjab. The debates would need be as broad based as the human reason and imagination can be stretched in the multidimensional contexts of the era she had belonged.

Blessed with Punjabi as my mother tongue, I may conclude quoting the following lines of Amrita - they have been my favourite since I took the first fearful and hesitant step into the imagination of my youth:

Pher tainun yaad keeta, agg nuun chumian asan;
Ishq piala zehar da, ik ghutt phir mangia asan …

Your memory has descended on me again, and I have kissed the flame;
I have asked for a sip again, out of the goblet of poison of love!