Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Kingdom of a single religion and many mysteries
FOR the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia blessed by Almighty Allah with 25% of planet's known reserves of oil, not to be in the news is the best news! But when a country is so fabulously rich and so sparsely populated is also the land of the Two Holiest Mosques of Islam hosting the largest annual congregation of the Muslim pilgrims from all over the world, friendly and envious international attention is impossible to be avoided. And to add, when the most luxurious dreams had been ordered and realized in the largest desert by the recognised 39 sons of King Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud, one can expect even the most realistic accounts to be the stuff of which dreams are made of. Even the sworn critics of Saudi rulers will, however, have to admit that children of Al Saud have proved themselves to be the most competent managers and custodians of their enormous wealth and that too in the most volatile region continuously rocked by seismic scale violent conflicts in the recent human history.
The Kingdom and its character were most unexpectedly interrogated on the last 21st November at the forum of International Conference of Jurists on International Terrorism and Rule of Law graced by the President, Chief Justice and the Law Minister of India. The interrogator was the eminently controversial and irrepressible lawyer & former Law Minister, Ram Jethmalani. The self confessed maverick, 86 year old veteran of many politico-legal battles, in his typical Jethmlanian blunt speak, Ram identified the source and financial strength of 'Islamic-Jehadi Terrorism' to the ideology of Wahhabism, patronised by the rulers of Saudi Arabia. The former Law Minister went on to say, 'India has friendly relations with a country that supports Wahhabi terrorism.' He castigated the jehadi doctrine which allegedly propagates the belief that martyrs would "get a place in the heaven and the company of the opposite sex there." Poking fun at this idea of God, he wondered at, "Almighty's job in heaven". This was enough to incense the Saudi Ambassador Faisal-al-Trad to go up to the dais to protest and stage a walk out - a spectacle rarely seen in meticulously organised such functions in India.
With the controversy ignited, Law Minister M Veerappa and the event organiser lawyer Adesh Aggarwala were quick to mollify the the Saudi envoy to come back and defusing the situation by stating firmly that the views expressed by Jethmalani were strictly his personal. Jethmalani himself attempted a damage control saying that all religions had their share of terrorist elements. Justice Awn S Al-Khasawneh of the International court of Justice cautioned the former Law Minister, 'against making sweeping comments...' President Pratibha Devi Singh Patil stuck to her prepared text referring to the "need to work towards universal ratification and full implementation of international conventions and protocols related to terrorism ... financing of terrorists ... money laundering ... regulation of charities ... circulation of fake currencies ... nexus between narcotics, drug trafficking, illegal gun running and terrorism". Delivering the Valedictory address, Vice President M. Hamid Ansari pondered over the the teasing aspects of the topic and elaborated, "that societies and polities differ on the purpose of Rule of Law and how the elite are able to subvert the Rule of Law with money ..." Some lessons for the aged Lawyer in diplomacy and decency of expression by some one a generation junior to him!
The venerable Jethmalani has, however, taken me to my own innings of posting of one thousand plus nights - September'89 to August '92 - in the Kingdom. Saudi Arabia would indeed initially arouse strong nauseating feelings among any non-Muslim and even liberal Muslims for its obsessive preoccupation with its own Brand of Islam. The put off reactions could, however, start cooling down in terms of comforts of different kind once one stops asking for what is not there for asking!
The people of Saudi Arabia - not long ago the roaming brave children of mountains of sands and hot winds sweeping during the day - have been witness to a transformation of their life at break-neck speed with centuries compressed into decades! All the miracles - from camel ride to Cadillac and from tent to the most audacious dreams in architecture - have become a reality in a single generation.
King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud(90) had been Crown Prince to half brother King Fahd for closer to a quarter century; the current Crown Prince Sultan(85) has been Defence Minister for 47 years; Prince Saud Bin Faisal should be the longest serving Foreign Minister since 1975 ... the Kingdom (2.2 ml sq km) was after all founded in only 1932 and it is still ruled at the top positions by only the second generation of the Founder! More than 40% of the population (24 million) is under 15 years; the GDP per capita is $20,500; of the 6.4 million foreign work force, India contributes the largest, about 30%; Saudis have been reliable suppliers of about 23% of India's oil imports; the number of Indian Haj pilgrims last month was more than 160,000.
As for the Wahhabi sect of Islam, named after Muhammad ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab (1703-1790) practised in Saudi Arabia, it need be understood in the typical overall local circumstances in Najd region of the desert Kingdom. The single dimensional interpretations, "to purify Islam by returning Muslims to what he (Wahhab) believed were the original principles of Islam" have been increasingly found incompatible with the running of a modern state by the Saudis themselves. The strict segregation of sexes & role of women in society (70% in universities but 5% in work force); the challenges posed by modern education; the questions of whole range of universal human rights; the enforcement of Shariat code (amputation of body parts for crimes of theft/public beheading - 102 in 2008 including 40 foreigners) but a section of extremists turning against the regime itself; the continuous fall out of 9/11 and imbroglio of Afghanistan - the richness does not offer ready made solutions to all such problems of Saudis!
The closer links of Saudi Arabia with Pakistani rulers, particularly since the flow of huge oil wealth and the Afghan crisis; needling of India in the forum of Organisation of Islamic Countries(OIC) and flow of substantial Saudi funds to select Islamic organisations have been under scrutiny in the Indian Media. The signing of Delhi Declaration by King Abdullah and PM Manmohan Singh on January 27, 2006 has been hailed as a historic landmark. The two countries have significant stakes in ensuring peaceful environment in Asia during an epoch widely predicted to be the 'century of Asia'.
As for my own 'thousand plus tales' of sojourn in Saudi Arabia, suffice to narrate only one here. It is never easy for diplomats in Riyadh to have Saudi officials at their parties. The religious police - Muttawa'an - could be lurking around anywhere 'sniffing scent of the forbidden liquid'. I was luckier in having a friend of great wit and wisdom in Hussein Marzouki, deputy Chief of Protocol, who was reputed to be the ever-smiling and ever-helpful face of an otherwise stern and cold Foreign Office.
It was late past mid-night of a lively dinner evening at my home when Ilhan Atink, popular Turkish counsellor who had served in Tehran before coming to Riyadh persisted in asking Marzouki, "When will we see Saudi women driving on the roads of Riyadh?" The ladies of American forces had indeed been a great sight in drivers seats during the recent days of war over Saddam's occupation of Kuwait. Marzouki got up with a full throated laughter, pointing at his Rolex watch. Ilhan was still pressing for his reply. Marzouki, again waved out his watch saying, "Anand, our Indian host, has got my answer," and asked me to speak. I, just intuitively said, "Ilhan, Mr Marzouki says that it is a matter of time." There was a loud laughter among all the friends gathered that night and Marzouki left, patting me on the back.
The journeys of all the Faiths of humanity on the path of the ultimate universal truth(s) would seem to be destined to be excruciatingly too long: there is, however, going to be no escape from striking equilibrium between the two planes - the earthly and divine. "The different people would always want different things out of life," to quote celebrated thinker Isaiah Berlin," that this was part of human condition, and we had better get used to it." Saudi Arabia too would deserve to take its time to 'get used' - and strike its harmony with the other religious harmonies!
Monday, November 02, 2009
Casting Caste on World Stage
IF the "shoonya" of "Ganit Shashtra" , the concept of "Zero" in the "science of Numbers/Mathematics" has been often hailed as most revolutionary contribution of 'ancient' India to the world civilization, the code of "Varna Ashram Dharma", popularly called "Jaati Pratha", ordained with scriptural Divine origins, has been castigated as the single social catastrophe that has indeed 'zeroed' and bedeviled the Destiny of India. This graded four fold division of Hindu social polity with the entire paraphernalia of pugnaciously dehumanising 'Untouchablity' towards a vast majority of those at the bottom of social order was translated in the 16th century as the 'Caste' System by the Portuguese missionaries. Instead of seeking some remedies to cure itself of the cancerous wounds of division in society against resurgent Islam and determined Christian colonists, the caste ridden Hinduism has been remarkably successful in 'polluting' the 'Foreign' Faiths too with notions of 'Purity' and 'Divine' discriminations!
The modern era of Independence in 1947 A.D. for this ancient land was heralded, most intriguingly, with the two "Untouchables" - the so called Hindu Shudras and the finest products of 'Firanghi' education ie Dr B.R. Ambedkar & Mr Joginder Nath Mandal, as the Law and Justice Ministers of India and Pakistan respectively. Ambedkar was instrumental in crafting the noblest document of governance of free India incorporating comprehensive legal provision to to root out the abominable caste based injustice to millions of Indians. Pakistan and later Bangladesh have followed different paths of their own in their governance and socio-economic development. The deeper civilizational wounds of Caste based discrimination have, however, continued to bleed across Indus, Ganges, Padma, Kaveri, Godavari and at the lofty heights of Himalayas. So when on September 16, during the session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Nepalese Foreign Minister Jeet Bahadur Gautam chose to break ranks with 'Hindu Consensus', saying that his country welcomed the idea mooted by the UNHRC document to involve, "regional and international mechanism, the UN and its organs" to complement national efforts to combat caste discrimination, the move by the UNHRC was denounced by the Hinduttva elements as, 'an irresponsible act of subverting Indian democratic and cultural institutions...smacks of Church influence to undermine India's Hindu heritage'! It was also interpreted as a blow to the official stand of India to block mention of caste in the category of, 'discrimination based on work and descent.'
Why has India been evasive and in a mode of denial on the issues of caste based discrimination being raised in the fora of the UN? The statement made by the Indian Delegate on August 8, 2002 in the "Informal Discussion on 'Descent' in the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination" is indeed perceptively revealing of a mind set. Referring to 'the situation faced by a particularly vulnerable section of our society', the Delegate hectors, "Our Constitution recognises both the fact of this discrimination and of the imperative of redressing the situation ... one of the first acts of the Government when India became independent was to outlaw this abhorrent practice (Untouchablity) ... ' The disappointment of those who wish that 'our laws are better implemented' is shared adding, 'Transforming a society that has evolved its customs and practices over millennia, and has been shaped in turn by those practices, takes time.' It is emphatically added that term 'descent' in Convention refers to 'racial descent' and that the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes are unique to Indian Society and its historical process - and do not fall under the purview of Article 1 of the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (ICERD).
The eminent Indian and Western Sociologists and the increasing tribe of scholar-activists of "Dalitology" have seriously engaged themselves in 'unraveling' the roots and branches of this most puzzlingly unjust practice of condemning such a large number of people to 'an enslavement of soul, mind and body' attributed to birth in certain social groups. The systematic effort by the British colonial administration at categorisation and ranking of the entire Hindu population within the theoretical Varna Scheme for the purpose of decennial census since 1901 spurred a scramble for the reclaiming of the Untouchable Castes through reform movements by Hinduism, Sikhism and Islam and conversions by resourceful Christian missionaries. The emergence of leaders of the caliber and vision of E.V.R. Naicker, Dr B.R. Ambedkar, J.N. Mandal, etc. from within the ranks of so called Lower Castes, not to speak of the far reaching Harijan agenda adopted by Gandhi Ji altered the entire spectrum of the 'Jaati Pratha' of Hinduism sustained since ages. Dr Ambedkar had to wage single handedly the grimmest struggle to be the greatest emancipator in human history, whatever the motivated Brahaman-scholars of the ilk of Arun Shourie might write masquerading as historians. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has indeed been a man of honour and integrity to compare caste system to 'religiously' applied Apartheid.
Indians, beginning with Jawaharlal Nehru,have always had a fascination and magnetic attraction towards the UNO and other multilateral forums -the list of UN Pensioners bafflingly includes so many among the top who's who of the government of India. India's experience of J&K in the UN would, however, seem to have caused a deeper suspicion and a pathological allergy for any matter concerning itself to be raised in the UNO. Udit Raj of the Dalit based Justice Party has welcomed the UNHRC move stating that Indian Government should have courage to accept the reality of the problem and that global attention should lead to an increase in aid and government spending to improve opportunities for Dalits in India. The segregation of places of worship on the caste lines by the Indians settled abroad and the recent brutal murder of an 'Untouchable' 'Guru' Ramanand Dass in Vienna, the city of harmony in the heart of Europe, sadly reflect 'globalisation' of caste, calling for international efforts too to stem the tide of evil.
During the last two decades, the political fallout of the caste conundrum on the character of the much touted 'largest democracy' of the world, has been of nuclear proportions. The management of caste-divides with a just & fair deal for those who have been civilizationally demeaned and still remain woefully on the margins of 'shining India' has become the single greatest challenge for all those engaged in the realisation dream of an egalitarian and caste 'castrated' India. Ravi Dass, the celebrated medieval cobbler saint poet, has proclaimed:
Jaat paat ke pher Manh, urjh rahai sab log.
Manushta kun khaat huee, Ravi Dass jaat kar rog.
Jaat, jaat mein jaat hai, jiyon kelan ke paat.
Ravi Dass na manush jurh saken, jau tau jaat, naa jaat.
All are caught in the vice grip of castes.
Ravi Das, humanity has been finished, by the cancer of caste.
Caste, and caste within caste, like the barks of banana tree;
O Ravi Das,never would humanity be united, until the caste is cast out.
All those who love India to be united and strong would listen to what the saint poet proclaimed centuries ago!
[The writer is former diplomat]
Friday, October 16, 2009
Lala Har Dayal-an Enigma of a Revolutionary
I can vaguely recollect that name 'Har Dayal' had firstly got registered into the 'hard disc' of my memory when, soon after my joining the school in October 1948 I had started paying 'child-like' keener attention in 'overhearing' and somewhat incoherently 'co-relating' the conversations among the elderly of the family and their friends. I think that it was the reference to some 'supernatural gift of memory' - synonymous with intelligence and wisdom too - of an Indian 'who was got eliminated by the British out of fear of his 'divine' intellect!' The name of my father was also incidentally Har Dayal and he too was reputed to be a bit of an eccentric 'Vidwan', i.e. scholar, at a rather younger age, thanks to the strict discipline and dedication of Guru -grand father. This coincidence of a name inculcated a mysterious impression in my child mind that all intelligent and prescient persons, perhaps, posed some problems to the society and government! As education, modern as well the ancient has been mostly memory driven, the likes of Har Dayal - and my father - were rated to be the blessed ones.
It was in the winter in 1961 when I was a student of D.A.V. College, Jalandhar for my B.A. that I came to know about the 'real' Har Dayal. The college enormous reputation at that time for bagging top positions in the various examinations of Panjab University - the factor that made me cross over the Sutluj, to study at a distance of 80 km, without any adequate financial provsion my father could afford! I had taken up the newly introduced subjects of Sociology & Public Administration. A brand new lecturer who had just passed his M.A. in Political Science - standing Second (to the great dismay of college!) in the University was an amiable and friendly soul for a class of five - the select Panj Piare . The youthful Sikh professor, still more of a tudent and yet to cultivate the standard tricks of a seasoned - timber teacher, would try to inspire us to cultivate love of knowledge quoting from Lala Har Dayal's Hints For Self Culture. On my request, he was kind enough to provide me a copy of the book which I could read only in parts and found most of the contents rather complex!
It was in Bathinda in the summer of 1968, while teaching in a college that I could read Hints For Self Culture in its entirety. I could deeply appreciate the Olympian range and the vast perspectives of this spirited treatise of 'know all' - "to develop your personality as a free and cultured citizen". The author had invited, 'young men and women of all countries', in the preface datelined April 6934 A.H. - Anno Historiae -stating"...I may tentatively fix 5000 BC as the starting point of historical era...") ie 1934 A.D.,the year of publication of Hints For Self Culture by Watts and Company, London 'to follow the path of Rationalism' adding that if the book, "helps them in their efforts for self-improvement in the last degree, i shall be amply rewarded." I could note that the ideas of cosmopolitanism, humanism, rationalism and above all the scientific temperament were indeed the motivations behind Har Dayal's writing of this encyclopaedic Treatise. The book is available in paperback since late seventies and has run into several editions.
It was indeed a pleasant surprise for me to come across, on 2nd of September at an Open Book Stall during a Conference in Panjabi University, the edition in Punjabi, 'Swei-Vikas da Marg' translated by Prof. Achhru Singh, Nehru Memorial College, Mansa, Published by Lokgeet Prakashan, Sirhind. More surprising were the facts that the 1st edition had come out in 1991 and that the 4th edition of October 2000, 258 pages, was available at a resonable price of Rs. 100/-( P.B.) There was further a prominent report in the Punjabi Tribune on 13th September regarding the release at an impressive function at the Punjab Agricultural University , Ludhiana, attended by the Vice Chancellor & two former Vice Chancellors, of another translation in Punjabi of Hints for Self Culture. It is encouraging that the 75 year old seminal book on 'rationalism' and 'internationalism' should witness a fervour of interest in Punjab while the more open spiritual space so assiduously cultivated by Sufi Saints, Hindu Bhaktas and the Sikh Gurus has been continuously encroached upon by the practitioners of narrow sectarianism and religious hardliners!
As for my own further study of life and works of Lala Har Dayal, the book, 'Har Dayal, The Great revolutionary' by husband-wife, E. Jaiwant Paul & Shubh Paul (grand daughter of Har Dayal), Roli Books Pvt. Ltd., Delhi, 2003 was quite a revelation for me. The dazzling revolutionary and high priest of Ghadar Movement had taken a complete somersault in March 1919. In an open letter to a London journal, 'India', he publically avowed his conversion to, "the principle of imperial unity and progressive self-government ... within the Empire". This was followed by the more shocking booklet, 'Forty Four Months in Germany and Turkey', in which Har Dayal attacked the Germans as 'arrogant megalomaniacs ... unprincipled scoundrels' and praised 'British Character ... statesmanship ... historical mission in Asia'. The large circle of admirers of Har Dayal - 'a legend in India as an uncompromising revolutionary nationalist' - just could not believe all this. Frankly, I was not prepared to know from himl that, "The English are on the whole a truthful people ... England has a moral and historical mission in Asia ... British character and British statesmanship will preserve this structure for a long time ...". Har Dayal criticised the upper and middle class of India as, 'absolutely incapable and degenerate and unable to supply leadership.' There is no clear answer available to Har Dayal's strange change of mind except the conjectures of his concern for personal safety, failing health and the mention in a letter, 'I am despaired of the future of Indian nationalism; I want to work in other directions.'
I feel that life and times of Har Dayal need be understood in the more appropriate perspective. He was born on October 14, 1884 in the heart of old i.e. Mughal Delhi, near Chandni Chowk, next to what is still called Parathan Wali Gali. He was the sixth of the seven children of Gauri Dayal Mathur, a reader in the Delhi court & Bholi Rani. After schooling in Cambridge Mission School, he graduated from Saint Stephen college obtaining the second position in the Panjab University. He did M.A. in English from Government College, Lahore topping the University and followed it by doing M.A. in History. He was considered a rare phenomena for his extraordinary memory and excellence in scholarship. He was awarded state scholarship - Pound 200 per year for studying in England. As per practice at that time, he was married in 1901, while still a student, to Sundar Rani, daughter of Lala Gopal Chand,a wealthy Session judge in state of Patiala. Har Dayal left for England in 1905 to join Honours courses in Modern History in St John's College in Oxford. He impressed his teachers but also started visiting London to attend political meetings of Indian nationalists including Dadabhai Naoroji and Shyamji Krishna Varma, an associate of Bal Gangadhar Tilak. Meanwhile his wife had joined him and Har Dayal tried seriously but unsuccessfully to convert her into a political missionary. He became a close associate of Vir Savarkar & Shyamji.The 50th anniversary of 1857 was hailed by Savarkar as War of Independence and Har Dayal worked out a document , 'A Sketch of a Complete Political Movement for the Emanicipation of India'. Har Dayal resigned his state scholarship in mid 1907 and 'freed' himself by refunding voluntarily to the India Office 'the tainted money' - Rs. 485/- representing the amount the government had spent on on his passage to England! He gave up wearing English clothes and started moving about in Kurta and Dhoti, catching pneumonia and frequent bronchial disorders - "we are helpless before the fantastic obstinacy of Har Dayal", said Vir Savarkar. Har Dayal returned to India in January 1908 with the sick and pregnant wife by promptly encashing the single second class ticket sent by her father and instead buying two third class tickets!
During his seven months sojourn in India, Har Dayal met Bal Gangadhar Tilak who predicted that, 'he will soon develop into a major nationalist leader'. Based in Lahore, he tried 'to develop a broad base of political missionaries ... to carry on nationalist and revolutionary work'. He expressed disagreement with Lala Lajpat Rai over Arya Samaj stating that, 'our only religion is service of mankind ... either be a reformer or a revolutionary'. Though he never met - or even wrote about him - he was forerunner of Gandhi ji in stating, 'A nation ceases to maintain its entity and integrity if it begins to ape the manners ... of its masters ... the British educational system is one huge octopus which is sucking out the moral life blood of the nation'. It would appear that, 'in his quest for disassociation from the British, some of Har Dayal's actions bordered on the eccentric'. He had also turned anti-Christian and 'refused to see (Indian) people in European dress or communicate in the English language.' The British C.I.D. had put him & his group under strict Vigilance, particularly in the wake of killings by Khudi Ram Bose and P.C. Chaki in April 1908. Meanwhile, he was disowned by his father-in-law 'for destroying the life of his daughter' but remained closer to his brother Krishan Dayal. He was also in good relation with Dr Tara Chand (an eminent historian later), who was married to Sundar Rani's sister and acted as guardian of Sundar & daughter born on 8th of August. Though unwilling, Har Dayal had to leave India suddenly on 3rd August; slipping to Colombo, he managed to sail on an Italian ship to Naples.
Har Dayal reached Paris, where he met Bhikhaiji Cama; headed back to Oxford for over six months and was again in Paris to edit Bande Matramin in September 1909. He briefly went to Algeria and later moved to Martinique, a French island colony in the Caribbean. Bhai Parmanand, his old friend and fellow revolutionary from Lahore, went all the way to Martinique to meet Har Dayal.He could persuade him to go to Harvard University and make it centre for his work. Har Dayal reached the USA in early 1911, planning to study Buddhism at Harvard. Bhai Teja Singh, a prominent Sikh missionary, came down from California and was able to convince him that '... huge number of Indians needed leadership ... not only for social acceptance and economic equality in the U.S.A., but also as a force for India's national cause'. Har Dayal, however, headed for Hawaii to live an austere life of renunciation and 'preoccupation with Gautam Buddha and Karl Marx'. It was again Bhai Parmanand who reminded Har Dayal of the task awaiting him on the West Coast. The 'moody, needy and unfriendly Har Dayal', according to Emily Brown,the author of,' Har Dayal,A Hindu Revolutionary', found 'a compatible milieu in a university community in the United States ...' becoming friendly with with various celebrities lke Jack London, Irving Stone and Sanskritists like Dr Arthur W. Ryder.
Har Dayal, still just twenty eight year old, had a brief affair with a Swiss student and co-worker, Freida Hausworth but it was no diversion from the cause of 'Indian Nationalism'. The news of the bomb attack on the procession of Lord Hardine on December 23, 1912 made Har Dayal ecstatic and he wrote in Yugantar (New Era) calling bomb, 'Harbinger of hope and courage ... our resurrection ... triumphant cry of freedom on the Soil of Hindustan'. The founding of the Ghadar Party and the saga of Komagata Maru and Har Dayal's activities in the U.S.A. till July 1914 are well documented. After bitter experiences of 44months stay in Germany and Turkey during the war, he stayed in Sweden for nine years from October 1918. Based on an assurance by the Home Member that Har Dayal would not be prosecuted (for crimes on other soils), he, accompanied by the long live-in-companion Agda Erikson, arrived in London on October 10,1927. He steered clear of any political controversy and 'the man who had twenty years earlier spurned the state scholarship', studied for and obtained Doctor of Philosophy degree in 1930 for his thesis, The Bodhisattva Doctrine in Buddhist Sanskrit Literature.
Hints for Self Culture followed three yers later. Har Dayal's friends including Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru were still working hard for his safe return to India though Har Dayal himself had never requested for a trip to India. Finally, on October 25,1938, a letter was sent to Har Dayal granting permission to return to India. He and Agda were travelling to the U.S.A. for a series of Lectures by him and were scheduled to return in April 1939. Har Dayal died in sleep on March 4,1939, aged 55 years ... 'the evening before, he had ... concluded (his last lecture) with the words, 'I am at peace with my self ''.
For me, Jaiwant and Shubh Paul's book has long last put at rest many myths and doubts about the cult figure of Har Dayal. After my retirement, I had mentioned to my Professor of D.A.V. College days referred to earlier that time has indeed come to bring out an updated, New Hints For Self Culture. My class fellow of D.A.V. vintage and dedicated scholar of lives of revolutionaries of india, Prof Jagmohan Singh, enlightened me how Har Dayal had become a votary of 'Hindutava Nationalism' and a 'comrade in arms' of V.D. Savarkar. I also came across a lengthy quote of 1925 attributed to Har Dayal in B.R. Ambedkar's article on Pakistan declaring, "that the future of Hindu Race, of Hindustan and of the Panjab rests on four pillars: Hindu Sangathan; Hindu Raj; shuddhi of Muslims and conquest and shuddhi of Afghanistan and the Frontiers ... At present English officers are protecting the frontiers; but it cannot always be ...". Bhai Parmanand had talked much earlier of a separate area for all Muslims of India beyond river Sindh with Hindu population coming out from there! Why so much fuss over Jaswant Singh's book on Jinnah - the Question is much larger than lives of Gandhi, Patel, Nehru, Jinnah and Rajagopalachari or Ambedkar! The distinguished modern historian Shahid Amin calling Har Dial, "The Good Terrorist" asks: how do we reassess our "our good terrorists of the colonial period? He himself says that 'the power of successful nationalisms explains it all!
Let Har Dayal, once a volcano of ideas about future of India, rest in peace in the distant Swedish soil of Agda! My father Har Dayal, no lesser a proud scholar and tragic figure in his own right, had also successfully courted death at the age of 58: all human brilliance ultimately gets reckoned in the balance of Destiny !
Thursday, October 01, 2009
Revisiting school - Five decades later
It is indeed so interesting to recall how an unusual happening had brought me to the attention of Ashni Kumar, a senior teacher, when I was a student of fifth class. Sohan Lal Joshi, a much younger teacher, considered bit of a maverick, had become a popular figure in our town by playing the role of Gandhi Ji in the drama staged in the school. He had awarded me 75 out of 75 in the paper of Geography in the December House Examination in 1953. This became a talk of the school because full marks were generally considered possible only in Mathematics.
Headmaster Hari Krishan Dutt, a staunch Gandhian and President of the Congress Party of Tehsil Malerkotla, had introduced the social service day on Saturdays for students from fifth to tenth classes along with their teachers. All used to work on a project of leveling and earth work of a 5 km stretch of a path to be linked to the main Ludhiana-Malerkotla road. It was during one of this work and fun session that my class-in-charge teacher Baldev Singh Maudgil asked Master Ashni Kumar if a student can be awarded full marks in subjects of social studies like Geography. Ashni Kumar unexpectedly asked, "But who is the student?" I was soon located and presented before this skeleton-thin bespectacled man who had a reputation in the area as a strict but most competent teacher of English & Social Studies. He asked my name and advised me to meet him later, when I would be in the sixth class, studying in the other building of the school used for higher classes.
As to the secret of my full score in the paper of Geography, I might explain that I had happened to read some parts of the text book of Geography belonging my uncle, a student of tenth class. The topics about the Himalayas, the ocean, sea ports, the land surface of India, forests, etc were the same as of my class. I had written my answers in greater detail than what teacher had dictated to us in the class notebooks! Ashni Kumar invited me to join the Literary Circle in the school, started by him. He guided and encouraged me to participate in the programmes of the school on Republic Day, Gandhi Jayanti, Children's Day, etc. In my eighth class, I was selected to participate in a debate in the school broadcast programme of the All India Radio, Jullundur. It was a uniquely joyful and significant experience for me. To my great surprise, I was paid Rupees 7 and 50 Paise by All India Radio for my two and a half minute participation! The amount was presented to me at school function on 14th November, 1957.
Ashni Kumar became my teacher of English & Social Studies for ninth & tenth classes. I was awarded Two Rupees by him for obtaining the highest marks in English in the very first test, the September Test, of ninth class. When he later asked me what did I do with the money, I told him that I had bought a book of general knowledge. He asked me to show it to him. It was a large and well bound - Gyan Sarovar (pool of knowledge) - brought out by Publication Division, Government of India. He glanced through the book, kept it, and at once gave me a note of Two Rupees saying, "You may buy another one", which I did. Later for many, many years, this book remained my favorite gift item for friends, with price continuing to soar as high as Rupees Fifty!
I remember how he had given special coaching to us - a group three select students - during one month of the long summer vacations. He taught us how to read 'The Tribune' newspaper; the word 'coup d'état' was added to our vocabulary on 15th July 1958 in the context of the bloody overthrow of monarchy in Iraq! He guided me, as a class monitor, to write a letter to the publisher, requesting supply of Test Papers by VPP - explaining what Value Payable Parcel implied! When in the tenth class I was selected to play for the District Cricket Team and was required to attend the ten day coaching camp, he arranged that I could appear in the December Test later at his home provided I did not 'see' the question papers - and I complied with his instruction!
My Matriculation Examination over in March 1959, he would call me to his home to recheck the totals, etc of the university papers of Geography that he was evaluating. He made me read a few of the best attempted papers asking if I had also written similar answers. Incidentally, I obtained 50 out of 60 in Geography, 83.3 % - quite okay by the standard of those days. Since I was never a top scorer in Math, my score of 660 marks (79.8%) was considered commendable. It required a lot of courage of conviction on my part to opt for pursuing the stream of Humanities in college. I think that Ashni Kumar, and also my father, approved knowing my over all interests - distant dream being woven around academics, and of course the Administrative Services.
It is interesting to recall that Arun Kumar of D.A.V. High School, Gurdaspur had topped the list of successful candidates with 751 marks out of a total of 850. Usha Anand of Alexandra High School, Amritsar had stood first among the girl candidates obtaining 724 marks. As per the result declared on Tuesday June 16 1959, the total number of candidates who appeared in the examination was 123,287, out of which 68,406 had passed. One would wonder where the two toppers are today. Kanwal Sibal and Ashok Bhan of the Punjab University Matriculation class of 1959 have respectively occupied the prestigious positions of the Foreign Secretary of India and Justice of the Supreme Court of India.
I should mention that I had started my schooling in September 1949 joining the District Board (soon named Goverment) Primary School in village Sohian situated in what was then still called Angrezi Ilaqa, a couple of kilometres from my native village falling in Riyasati Ilaqa of erstwhile state of Malerkotla. It was a two room kutcha-mud-structure with two teachers for the four classes, with about 60 students. At the time of my admission, the head teacher Pandit Lachhman Dass had asked my father, "Vaid Ji, do you want the boy to pursue higher education or you would prefer him to take up service sooner?" I recall distinctly that my father had politely replied, "We wish that he should go for as much higher studies as he can." The practical wisdom - or trick - perhaps, was that if someone was keen on seeking a job soon after Matriculation, his date of birth could be put in a year that would make him closer to eighteen years, the minimum age for entry into Government service! In my case, I think that I have to be beholden to the wise head teacher of the village for bestowing an extra year of service at one of the highest levels of the Government of India!
I had joined M.G.M.N. High School, Ahmedgarh in May 1951 in the 3rd grade. The town seemed to me to be surcharged with an atmosphere of patriotic fervor in the wake of recently won freedom of India. The school was indeed the playground for local politicians and also the centre of cultural activities of the town. The Kavi Darbars by the local Sahit Sabha, Ram Lila, and regular discourses/Kirtans by visiting saints & Munis, etc was mostly held in the school ground. A number of new teachers were migrants from Pakistan and students found their accent of Punjabi quite alien and even funny; they would often imitate their styles. A young socialist leader, Tek Chand Diwana, had used the Gandhian weapon of fast unto death in October 1955 over his demand that the committee for managing the school should be democratically elected. The Deputy Commissioner of Sangrur, Satya Dev Bhambri - slim and in simple dress - resolved the problem by conceding the demand and offered a glass of juice to the fasting Gandhian! My father, pointing towards him, had told me that he had qualified the examination of Independent India's new top service called IAS and that his father was a small-time shopkeeper!!
When I look back in 'Wordsworthian' tranquility and reflect over memories of my magical school times, millions of, 'diyas' - tiny earthen lamps - get lit up… The morning of my IAS, etc result … my name among the successful candidates … I come home and touch the feet of my father who says, "Bal, please do go to Master Ashni Kumar Ji, before you get busy." I reply, "I have already visited Master Ji before coming home to you."… "Well done, my boy … when a tree grows taller and bigger, many would come to rest under its shade and many would appreciate its fruit … but the tree must remember the gardener who nursed and looked after it when it was a tiny plant!"
Thursday, September 03, 2009
Meeting with Justice A.D. Koshal
The following playlist will play 5 videos in sequence, total of 51 minutes.
Monday, August 31, 2009
Folk fair: Mela of Chhapaar, Mythology & Memories
This was also published in the monthly publication Identity, September 2012
THE civilization of India has been characterised by a uniquely vigorous and ingenious celebration of human life in complete compatibility with all the attendant elements of nature, more particularly the cycle of seasons with the most merciful 'Monsoon Rains' in the prominent focus. The ancient traditions of religious and spiritual domain; long linkages of mysteries of history and mythology; conflicts and co-operation of divides communities; process of continuity and renewal in the realm of folk music & dance; popular entertainments and pastimes in their ever transforming modes including technological developments; the folk fast foods; apparels proclaiming people and commercial wares in their infinite varieties - folk fairs & festivals of India have always encapsulated them all! If the fair of Pushkar attracts people in hundreds of thousands in a rainbow extravaganza amidst the grandeur of beauty of a vast desert, the 12 yearly Maha Kumbh at the civilizational confluence of the trio of sacred rivers has the distinction of being the largest congregation of people for a festival on the planet!
The legendary Panjab, the shield & sword of the ancient land of Bharat and the granary of modern Republic of India, has a proud and rich heritage of fairs & festivals. According to official records, the pre-partition Panjab boasted more than 7,000 fairs; the number was counted 4561 in 1961 for the Indian Panjab. The truncated present Panjab has been left with 2,027 popular fairs. District of Hoshiarpur has the largest - 311 folk fairs followed by Sangrur & Ludhiana, with 136 & 135 fairs respectively. The encouraging trend is that more fairs are getting institutionalised commemorating local heroes and cultural aspects including sports festivals. The generous patronage of rich and famous Panjabis living beyond the seven seas from the soil of Panjab has been imparting a new vitality to the culture of folk fairs. It is also a healthy situation that 750 fairs are held in the rural areas of the state.
Mela of Chhapaar, associated with ancient tradition of 'Naag Poojan' i.e. the worship of the deity of Snakes, could be linked to Hindu mythological belief that planet earth is supported by millions of hoods of 'Shesh Naag' - the gigantic snake - whose soft curvaceous body also forms the resting spread of Lord Vishnu, the Lord of Preservation of the entire support system of life in the universe. The process of ploughing, sowing, watering and finally harvesting of crops have all been preceded by 'Naag Poojan' in some form according to ancient traditions of all faiths of India's heritage. The ritual worship of 'Googa Pir' - symbolising human dimension of snake - seems to have developed in North India as a secular tradition in the medieval times. So many intricate tales have got woven around the persona of 'Man-Snake-King' that sifting of reality from myth has been rendered impossible. Interestingly, folk lore even links the place of the fair to the Mahabharat era, being Capital of a powerful Queen, namely Chhapa. Kaul Basanti, the fiance of Arjuna's brave son Abhimanyu, is mentioned to belong to this place. The river Sutluj, it is pointed out, was flowing quite near by in those times. The ancient name of Chhapaar is also mentioned as 'Damrhi Shehar'.
The verifiable references about the Chhapaar Fair indicate that it was in 1833 A.D. that devotees of Googa Pir brought the soil & bricks from the ancient Googa temple in Dadrewa, near Bikaner to construct the present shrine. As the time rolled on, the sand dunes around the shrine were levelled to be brought under plough. The founding of new town of Mandi Ahmedgarh in 1903 at a distance of less than 4 k.m. to be followed by Rail link next year between Ludhiana-Dhuri-Jakhal opened up a whole new world in the region. There is also a reference that in 1914 Maharaja Jaswant Singh of Nabha provided funds for construction pukka shrine and also donated 25 bighas of land to it. The Mahavir Dal has done a lot in recent years to develop the area around the shrine. The two grand statues, one of Googa Pir mounted on his legendary horse and another of Lord Shiva, in his full regalia, riding Nandi Bull have been installed. The devotees offer prayer by splitting soil seven times in a dug up semi circle area in front of 'Marhi' i.e. shrine invoking protection against snake bite. The offerings inside the shrine consist of puffed rice, sugar balls-Patashas-Gur cakes, grains, cash, etc. According to the 1889 District Gazetteer of Ludhiana, more than 50,000 people of all faiths enthusiastically attended the fair - consider,that population of Ludhiana at that time was just 44 thousand (present 35 Lakhs), Malaudh 2889, Kaunke 3,608 & Bassian 2,9621!
I was luckier to experience directly the gusto, colorfulness and pulsating character of the Chhapaar fair when my family shifted residence to Ahmedgarh from our neighbouring village and I was put in the school there in 3rd grade in May 1951. For the next 20 years till 1970, I was a keen witness to the fun fare & splendid spectacles of this land mark fair. The passage of time with attendant socio-economic changes has been transforming the nature of the fair too. The traditional folk singers, rhymesters, minstrels of heroic ballads, artists of 'jinda'-live- dance; jokers, tricksters, tattooists - all have been plying their trades in the best traditions of their skills. The make shift shops selling amazing variety of wares; mechanical swings; Circuses (Gemini & Romon come to mind) with lions, elephants, horses, bears, male/female gymnasts; wells of Death; tented cinemas - all that presented, as if, a mix of Disney Land and Fairy Land - the on-off illuminations were indeed an other-worldly sight for people before introduction of electricity in 1956! My first film 'Koday Shah', shown by my father in company of his friends when I was in 6th grade, still remains my most favorite for delightful comedy in Panjabi and haunting songs. The lyric, 'Jagg wala Mela yaro, thori der da/ hansdia raat langhe, pata nee saver da!' - Fun-fare of the world is too short/ A night full of laughter; morning, we might cease to be! - sung in the soul-ful voice of Mohammad Rafi filled the atmosphere with message of an eternal truth by Sufi saints!!
After Independence, the conferences at the Fair by the political parties have become an interesting integral dimension of the fair. The Congress & Panthic Parties have been vying with each other in putting up larger Shamianas & ensuring that top leaders do come to address this popular open forum of people. It was, however, the make-shift stage of the Communist Party (when it was united) under the starry and moonlit sky that used to exercise a magical magnetic pull for the people. The gifted and dedicated group of Party's artist-activists including Joginder Bahrla, Balbir 'Mast', Narinder Dosanjh and many more inspired a generation of masses of Malwa region to adopt progressive ideals. When CM Captain Amarinder Singh failed to attend the Fair twice, in 2005 & 2006, while P.S. Badal was thundering there, the verdict of elections of Feb 2007, according to Fair loving Panjabis, had become a forgone conclusion!
It was on 21st October 1997 that as Indian Ambassador to far off Panama - the bridge land between the two mighty oceans - I persuaded visiting eminent thinker-dancer Sonal Man Singh to go to the annual folk fair at the church of Black Christ in Portobello, an ancient port city in mid-Caribbean. The fair, representing African connection of Christianity, simply overwhelmed Sonal who said, "It was such an impressive spectacle of devotees, dressed in purple and maroon colors, dancing all the way...that my Krishan Kannahiya would appear in this way before my eyes, I had never imagined this to happen in Panama!" Perhaps, similar mystical experiences are blessings of those who, purged of all pride & ego, mingle themselves among the multitudes of people brought together by feelings of love and friendship, in Mela Chhapaar or in any other similar folk fair!
Saturday, August 15, 2009
India's Muslim Question
MY search for answers & explanations to, 'India's Muslim Questions' had, as if, begun very early in life. I can recall, with all the profound innocence of a four years old, the strange atmosphere of the summer of 1947. The red covered 'Vahi', also called 'Chaupatta', i.e. the double-folded long-paper-sheets, family-record-book, confirms, "July 26: Rs 7/- spent on the materials for 'Amrit-paan', i.e. the Sikh Baptism ceremony". The partaker was my father who had added, 'Singh' to the given family name and also started sporting the Sikh 'Kachhehra', i.e. long pair of breeches extending up to knees instead of Dhoti. He also gave up sharing the 'Hookah', i.e. the traditional 'hubble bubble' with his grandfather. He was exactly 27 year old at that time, well read and well travelled, his spiritual journey from from a 'Sahajdhari' to 'Amritdhari', I may now say, reflected the spirit - 'Garam Hawa' - of the fast changing Time! The 'Vahi' has also on record that my great grandfather, a renowned physician-scholar and Guru of my father, passed away on 19th October - a day after the death of long ruling popular Nawab Ahmed Ali of Maler Kotla, the only Muslim state in the east of Sutluj.
It was on 29th October 1947, at the Bhog Ceremony, i.e. the last prayer for my departed great-grandfather after the complete recital of the Sikh scripture, Shri Guru Granth Sahib, that I overheard - and half understood - Pandit Barkha Ram, a learned Brahmin and close friend of the departed, saying "Ghor Kali Yug -the worst of the epochal ages - has indeed arrived; the noble people can no longer endure witnessing the brutal killings and the grossest injustice being heaped on humanity...". The first 100 days of the long awaited freedom of ancient Hindustan and birth of a brand new nation, Pakistan - the land of the Pure - had indeed witnessed the worst kind of violence against innocent people, in the name of religions!
The emergence of Pakistan had been considered an inevitable historical and political necessity by the retreating British empire; hailed as the ultimate solution to the Muslim 'Question/Problem' of Hindustan by the separatist Muslim League led by a determined lawyer, Muhammad Ali Jinnah and an avoidable most tragic blunder by Maulana Abul Kalam Azad & the Indian National Congress. The unprecedented situation was seen by many as the culmination of a process of churning, for centuries, of the waters of the civilization of the great Indo-Gangetic plains - containing both the Amrit, the heavenly liquid & also the worst poison. The Shiva like figure, Mahatma Gandhi, who could have swallowed the 'poison of raging communal hatred' was soon eliminated from the scene by elements interested in only the relentless pursuit of Power.
The majority of my school teachers were 'the refugees' from the other side of the Radcliffe Line. One of them, the erudite Ashni Kumar, remained my, 'friend, philosopher, guide & Guru Extraordinaire' till he breathed his last in 1991. He belonged to the town of Gujarat, the home of legendary folk heroine, Sohni. He had studied in Lahore in the early thirties and used to tell me proudly that he was taught English by Prof. Madan Gopal Singh who was killed in the communal riots (like another brilliant Prof. Brij Narain of Economics) and great Sanskrit scholar Dr. Raghuvira who had later become President of then Bhartiya Jan Sangh. We exchanged regular correspondence often dealing at length on issues relating to religion, politics education, literature, particularly in Urdu, Hindi, Punjabi etc. He was, with his clearly progressive leanings, always so eloquent on themes of communal harmony referring to the deepest reservoirs of goodwill in all religious texts-and the ghashtly gaps in practice by the followers! When I had joined the college in Maler Kotla, he would ask me about the atmosphere of studies and the attitudes of Muslim Students. He would tell me that majority of his friends in college in Lahore were Muslims who used to tease him saying 'the real communalist is your Gandhi who is always indulging in strange religious practices in public; our Jinnah never goes to any mosque, nor does he observe any other Islamic rituals ... loves 'good' things of life!'. They would add that Jinnah mostly talked of the economic backwardness of Muslims and their lesser than legitimate share in the structure & system of the prevailing, and would be, governance of the nation.
It was in the above background that the title, 'Muslims in Indian Economy' First Edition, September 2006, caught my attention at the book sale counter on 1st January 2009 at the annual day long cultural congregation organised in memory of playwright political activist Safdar Hashmi 'martyred by hooligans of Congress Party in 1989'. The book has been published by Three Essays Collective in its series focusing on 'issues of contemporary concern ... to familiarise readers with current debates ... '. The reference to the similar questions above by my school teacher - debated during the decade following the adoption of the Resolution of 'Sampooran Swaraj' i.e. Complete Independence on 26th January 1929 and preceding 'The Resolution of Pakistan' on 21st March 1940 in the same city on the Banks of river Ravi. This comparatively slimmer paperback - 240 pages, Rs 275 (India) elsewhere $15 - volume by Omar Khalidi, 'an independent scholar and a staff member at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology' poses all the relevant questions in the Introduction of the book, "What is the economic condition of the Indian Muslims at the dawn of the twenty first century? ... How does the economic profile of the Muslims compare with the majority Hindus, Dalits, and minorities like Christians, Sikhs & Parsis? ... Does Islam, or Islam as interpreted or lived, have anything to do with it? ... What is the record of the post-independence central and state governments? ...". Prof. Khalidi rightly points out that 'answers to these questions require a dispassionate reading of contemporary history ... it is also necessary for the appropriate corrective measure that need to be taken, both by the community leadership and by the state'.
The writer refers in the Preface and Acknowledgement that the Indian Muslim Council USA has funded the research for this book. The readership targeted - 'audiences' according to him - is "India's movers & shakers: legislators, administrators, politicians, leaders in business & industry, and the like". The theme of the book, stated in the introduction by the author, demanded treatment in manageable components in terms of regions or sectors of 'the 130 million Muslims in India ... the second largest Muslim population in the world'. The chapter titled 'Medieval and Colonial India' hurriedly traces the contours of the Muslim society as it evolved c.1200-1800 with three broad categories: the aristocracy and nobility, both secular & religious, the artisans and the cultivators. The Muslim peasants and cultivators, like their counterparts in other religions, remained economically active in agricultural production, fishing, herding and other manual work. Independent professionals among Muslims were few, except the traditional doctors or Hakims. The pattern of Muslim economic life did not change radically during the Mughal period of northern India (1520s-1720s) .The steady growth of the authority of East India company eroded the position of Muslims in law courts and in 1835, the introduction of English as the language for official governmental and legal business further marginalised the Muslims. The disaster, according to author, was "the Mutiny of 1857, which though commenced on caste grounds by Hindus, was blamed on the Muslim community as an anti-British revolt".
The Muslim exclusion from from the British dispensations took time to be rectified and the process was greatly facilitated by Sayyid Ahmed Khan of Delhi & Aligarh and Qazi Shahabuddin of Bombay. The book is replete with figures from the Colonial records to highlight how Muslims had regained their share in the rank and file of bureaucracy when the movement for Independence from the British rule under Mahatama gained full momentum. The Chapters titled, Independent India; Delhi., Uttar Pradesh (78-120), Bihar, Deccan & Andhra Pradesh (139-177), Karnataka, Maharashtra provide richly analytical information on the profiles of the Muslim communities in these regions. The Indian Muslims - in practice, the educated - had the option of migration to Pakistan till 1971. The opportunities in the oil rich Gulf countries during the last three decades have played a significant role in the evolution of the community. The ever strained Indo-Pak relations have continued to cast shadow on the morale and psyche of the community.
In Summary and Conclusions, the author has referred to the progress of the community in the southern states and how lack of education and training in professional fields has continued to negatively impact the Muslims of India. The author has tried to steer clear of politico-religious controversies stating, "the improvement of (Indian) Muslims' economic condition can only be a part of the general programme of poverty alleviation of all (the people of India)".
Syed Shahabuddin, formerly of Indian Foreign Service, an ex-MP & Editor 'Muslim India' observes in Editorial of June, "in 2004, 38 Muslims were elected to Lok Sabha; in 2009 the number has gone down to 30 ... on the basis 2001 census Muslim representation should be 72 ... in the 15th Lok Sabha, the Muslims will largely be voiceless: questions will not be asked...". We may, however, like to listen more attentively to Today's Akbar (M.J.), "Pakistan was only ever a very partial answer to what the British called the 'Muslim Question' ... they (Indian Muslims) are convinced now that 1947 was a mirage; but there is too much fog between them and the next horizon ... Economics has flattened the world into a race track, and not every community is in the race ..."
The most crucial question is: should only the Indian Muslims be feeling concerned over the issues pertaining to them? Should not the Indian Muslims also be deeply involved in the matters pertaining to the Majority Hindus & other minorities in the secular Republic of India and vice versa? I would strongly recommend Omar Khalidi's book to all who think themselves that they are 'Indians First' and also to those who prefer to prefix their religious identity to being Indian.
Friday, July 31, 2009
A Homage to a Historian of Faith
When I was at school in the final 10th class, a missionary teacher from far off New Zealand had arrived in Punjab in the hot summer of 1958 to teach in a school located at less than 100 km from my school - wish I had known him then! The Destiny, surely, keeps its own mysterious calendar and scheme of events to happen!
It was on 22nd January, 2002 that I received a phone call in Yerevan, capital of Armenia, where I had spent more than two years as the first resident Ambassador of India. The call was from Director in the office of Foreign Secretary, Mrs Chokila Iyer. He conveyed to me, in an excited tone, that 'she has been successful in getting me posted as High Commissioner to New Zealand' and that I should 'coordinate with Wellington to reach there as early as possible'. I was, in fact, getting reconciled to brave extra period in Armenia. I had, of course, represented to the Foreign Secretary putting on record that I had been given to understand by the Ministry that my posting in ' that tightly-locked-mythological-land of Noah's Ark ' would be for two years. The news was indeed most welcome and a hugely pleasant surprise. It was not that I was feeling miserable in the legendary land of Koh-e-Kaaf but it was the tyranny of Time for me: the date of retirement had started staring me in the face! The three names I should be privileged to meet in New Zealand flashed in my mind - the Everest hero Sir Edmund Hillary; the architect of new India-New Zealand relations, former Prime Minister David Lange and a relatively lesser known to me, Professor William Hewat McLeod, the once-upon-a-time teacher in Kharar - now a prized suburb of Chandigarh - who had earned international reputation as as a historian of the Sikhism, the religion of my people of Punjab. I may, however, admit that I have always felt quite confused whenever I have to fill the column of 'religion' in any form. Though never a strict practitioner of any rituals, I have always felt deeply solaced with the 'spirit' of the Gurubani of Sikhism and have also been drawing an inner comfort and wisdom from broader cosmic tenets of the heritage of Hinduism as per tradition in my family of free thinking scholars with saintly pretensions.
McLeods impressed us as 'the made for each other' couple and gentle persons who had genuinely fallen in love with the Punjabis and their dynamic faith. They appeared eager to know more and more about Sikhism and culture of Punjab. Incidentallly, while talking about the social divides among the Sikhs, I mentioned that I had recently read that Professor Puran Singh was an Ahluwalia and that his community had arranged for his going to Japan for higher studies. I noticed that Professor McLeod had immediately noted it down! As an avid collector of books autographed by their authors, I was privileged to receive from Hew copies of, 'Punjabis in New Zealand - A History of Punjabi Migration,1890-1940, GND University, 1986 '; 'Guru Nanak And the Sikh Religion, Clarendon Press, Second imp. 1978' and 'The Evolution of the Sikh Community - Five Essays, OUP, Second Edition,1995 '. The first book contains, a hardly ever known, touching case study of Dr Baldev Singh, a highly qualified medical practitioner and son of eminent Sikh scholar Giani Ditt Singh. Dr Baldev Singh was imprisoned for several years and deported in 1931 under a false case cooked up by the racist local rivals.
Thus began a mutually fruitful and long lasting dialogue between Hew and I. The first one was an almost possessed and indefatigably painstaking scholar scouting all over for impeccable sources of references on Sikh religion; an ever willing listener and keen to cross check with any one interested in the subject. And the other one, myself, is committed to remain completely unencumbered with a burden of any one faith but feeling perfectly at ease with all the faiths of mankind; ever ready to borrow wings of ecstacy offered by the Vedic hymns; Sufi's songs; Bhajans of the Bhakatas; chants in a Buddhist Monastery or a Church of any Christian denomination; serene Silence of Baha'i Lotus Temple and, of course, the rarified musical harmony emanating from the precincts of the Gurdwaras of the faith founded by the Sikh Gurus, sung in the supposed tongue of my mother who had been summoned by Akal Purukh - ' the One Beyond Time ' - before I could learn to utter any syllable!
Prof McLeod paid his last visit to India in December 2002 in connection with the release of his long researched book, 'Sikhs of the Khalsa, A Study of the Khalsa Rahit (The Code of Belief & Conduct of the Khalsa)'. Khushwant Singh, the unique ' human monument ' of the capital of Hindustan, who wears his Sikh faith in all the hues Vahiguru (Praise to the Guru) has created this universe for 'Sarbatt ka Bhala' i.e. Welfare of the Whole Humanity, had addressed the function. Among his other public engagements, Mcleod had delivered the 3rd Bhai Chanan Singh Memorial Lecture on ' Sikhs in New Zealand ' at the prestigious Sikh Centre, Bhai Vir Singh Sahit Sadan. It is worth mentioning that this lecture has been endowed by late Prof Pritam Singh of Patiala in honour of his father who had fallen a victim of a clash, near Peshawar, of hatred prevailing in 1920's between the Sikhs and an aggressive group of Arya Samajis. A thought provoking condition of this annual lectures is that it would be delivered by some 'non-Sikh' scholar on a subject relating to the Sikhs! When I was invited to deliver this lecture in 2005, I felt like asking myself, 'Am I a non-Sikh?' - the answer was an emphatic 'yes', according to the official 'Rahit', i.e. code of conduct for the Sikhs adopted by the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee! It was, of course, an immensely soul-satisfying experience for me to speak on the topic, ' The Dynamics of the Sikh Diaspora Since Independence ' before an extremely learned audience,mostly the Sikhs. McLeod had appreciated my presentation which I had concluded with a couplet of Urdu:
'Iman bhi hai khatme nabuwwat pe hamara
Mehsoos bhi karten hein payambar ki zaroorat.'
Believers we are in the finality of Prophets
Also we feel the necessity of a (new) Messenger!
I had a great satisfaction that I could arrange, during this visit, McLeod's meeting with Mr Navtej Sarna, an erudite Indian Foreign Service colleague and most promising author who was then spokesperson of Ministry of External Affairs (Presently India's Ambassador to Israel). I do hope that this encounter of two different generations of highly scholarly minds must have been a deeply mutually rewarding experience. I hope Navtej would one day be be able to steal time to write about McLeod as a Historian of Sikhism. My innings in New Zealand was of limited 20-overs kind, cut shorter by the 'rain' of calendar. I could meet the McLeods for the last time on 29th June, 2003 when I visited Dunedin to participate in a Seminar called, '38th University of Otago Foreign Policy School, The Ethics of Foreign Policy'. Hew & Margaret invited me for an evening meal at their lovely home located next to the Dunedin Gardens, with a stream flowing by. I was pleasantly surprised to be served with the typically homely Indian preparations. During my tenure as High Commissioner in New Zealand, I had launched - the first ever and also to be the last till date - a publication of the High Commission titled, 'Megh Raajdootam i.e. The Cloud Envoy'. McLeod graciously accepted my request for contribution of an article which I was glad to publish in the August 2003 issue of Megh Raajdootam under the title, ' Punjab - Discovering Faith in History ' dwelling on their stay in Kharar and Batala between 1968 - 1969, later to be a part in his forthcoming book, ' Discovering the Sikhs - Autobiography of a Historian '. I took the liberty of editing half a sentence of this article!
After retirement from Indian Foreign Service in December 2003 which involved a consecutive stay abroad for the last more than 21 years, it took some time for us to settle down in Delhi to do what I had told my old friends, 'All is in the hand of the Hidden Hand ... but I would try to do in the remaining silver years of life what I had always wanted to do i.e. the three R's - reading, reflecting and hopefully writing too!'. The contact with Hew was renewed in the context of an interview by him titled, 'Demanding Work Seeking the Sikhs' carried by Otago Daily Times, Weekend, February 26-27, 2005, sent to me by a mutual friend, Dunedin based young Indian lecturer of Management Studies, Mr Anupam Shailaj. The interviewer had observed that, "However careful they are, when historians attempt to separate historical certainty from enveloping religious traditions they find themselves embroiled in a hornet's nest". McLeod had spoken about 'a life time of research and analysis into the history of the Sikhs and the controversy it sparked', adding, "I insist on the necessity of finding sources that are reliable ... Sikh have been brought up on tradition ... tradition is not historical ... it is upsetting to believers, but what does one do? ... What I have done and what I am saying, it is in print not personal..". Referring to McLeod's 16 books and numerous articles, and editing and translation of many works on Sikhism, it was stated in the interview that 'the campaign to discredit his work - led by a small group of Sikhs, escalated after 1984 ... this campaign of abuse now appears to have mostly died down ... '. Honestly, I had not been exactly aware of the nature and the Sikh diasporic dimensions of any controversial elements attributed to McLeod's writings - and that his work has been raised to the level of 'McLeodian', an adjective, used by one of his critics!
I had noticed Hew's frail physical appearance, but his robust intellect and alertness of the mind did not reveal any sign of a failing health. It was in a message of 19th March, 2006 that Hew wrote about his being diagnosed with multiple myeloma ' which is incurable bone morrow cancer '. He had added, " the fact that it is incurable does not mean, however, that I have to bid good bye to this life immediately. ... and in the last two three years the treatment has taken large strides ... I am now on regular thalidomide and I feel absolutely normal. My aim is to last at least 15 more years which will make me 88!" Hew & Margaret, in a communication to friends on the eve of Christmas of 2006, further revealed, "There's nothing much to tell you this year. Margaret is fine and in Hew's case, the cancer appears to be under control ... We lead a quiet and regulated life, walking down to our favorite cafe for coffee every afternoon ... and that is how things are for us. It's not a bad life, really quite good in fact."
I continued to exchange occasional messages with Hew on matters relating to Panth ( Sikh Community ) and other notable developments in Punjab. When I did not receive any response from him to my messages of news reports on the recent tragic violence in a Ravidas Temple in Vienna and its reaction in Punjab, I thought he might have been busier with the family or lazier during strong southern winter. Then came the message from Margaret & family on 21st July that, ' Hew passed away peacefully last night .' The funeral took place on 24th July at Ross Chapel at Knox College where Hew had set out on his epic journey in search of a meaningful research in the world of History ... destined to make history of a vibrant and uniquely distinct microscopic minority - the Sikhs of Punjab - the work of his life time. Rest in peace, O child of history, amen!
Hew would have loved the following to be quoted to him:
Falsehood gets dissipated, O Nanak,
And, Truth ultimately prevails.
- Guru Nanak, Ramkali Var,13.2 Shri Guru Granth Sahib, p. 953
Further reference on Prof. McLeod:
- National Library of New Zealand
- OCLC WorldCat
- Google Books
- Megha Raajdootam, August 2003: Punjab - Discovering Faith in History, by W H McLeod
- Asia Downunder documentary on Hew McLeod, Sikh Historian
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Indian Foreign Service - Pride & Fall
The announcement on the 30th of June that Smt. Nirupama (Menon) Rao, the topper of 1973 Batch of IFS, will be the next Foreign Secretary has been receiving a wider media coverage in the context of 'Women on Top' in India in the 1st decade of 21st century. Interestingly, Smt. Meira Kumar who had emerged earlier during the month a surprise but a competent choice to be the first woman Speaker of Lok Sabha also belonged to the same batch of IFS. It is also worth recall that Sh. Mohammad Hamid Ansari who, as Vice President of the Republic, is the Chair Person of Rajya Sabha had a distinguished career joining the IFS in 1961. It is indeed a rare credit to the IFS that, perhaps, for the first time in the history of the service Washington, London, Moscow, Paris Canada, Bonn, Brussels are all currently headed by the serving IFS officers.
The winds blowing from Raisina Heights towards India Gate whisper that the former Speaker Somnath Chatterjee will succeed High Commissioner Shiv Shankar Mukherjee in London ('71 IFS) who is due to retire next month. Born on 1st Aug 1949, Shiv Mukherjee,the topper in the IAS, has the distinction of being the youngest ever to join the service - a candidate has to be at least 21 years on 1st of August in the year in which he appears in the IAS Etc. Examination!
Smt. Nirupama Rao, the 17th Foreign Secretary - the second to be a woman - from the regular IFS Examination, will serve till December 2010. The posts of Cabinet/Home/Defence Secretaries have been given, a couple of years back, a fixed minimum tenure of two years. The Ministry of External Affairs has been luckier, after short spells of just thirteen, seventeen and eight months respectively by the three consecutive Foreign Secretaries, to have Shri Shyam Sharan and Shri Shiv Shankar Menon - the two most decent individuals & outstanding diplomats of proven professionalism - at the helm of affairs with clear tenures of two year plus period. The IFS fraternity hopes and prays that Nirupama will be able to provide an understanding and inspirational leadership to her colleagues during the challenging times which also offer a range of opportunities for India as a significant player in the recession ridden international arena and a troubled neighbourhood.
The prologue of the two tributary paragraphs brings us,ironically, to an intriguing and seemingly baffling situation concerning the IFS. It came out in the open with a report in the Hindustan Times on 23rd of June. The report quoted Sh. Ajai Chaudhary, the Dean of the Foreign Service Institute, that out of the 19 IFS probationers of 2008 batch, six had made the cut at the civil service exams with Hindi as their first language and having answered their papers in Hindi. The Dean added that, for the first time, arrangements were being made to teach English to those probationers who were weak in English. The report has ignited a lively and fiery debate among the past and present IFS colleagues about several overall aspects of the IFS, foremost being the steep sliding down of the service among the preference of the candidates in the higher bracket of merit list. In 2008 batch, out of the first 20, only two - ranked 16 & 17 - have opted for IFS; only 7 have opted between 18 to 138 ranks. The ranks for the OBC (4), SC (4) & ST (1) have ranged between 139 to 511. To add insult to the injured pride of the IFS, a couple of candidates are understood to have represented to the UPSC that they should be permitted to reappear in the civil services examination to 'improve upon' their allotted service i.e. IFS! Some thoughtful seniors are convinced that time has indeed come that a separate examination should be conducted by the UPSC for the IFS like the other specialised services
All this brings back the memories of my batch of 1971 - numbers 1, 2, 4, 6, 7, 10, 12, 13 out of a list of 84 had opted for IFS. The folklore of IFS being considered 'superior & sought after' include two cases of those who qualified for IAS in '66 but did not join and competed successfully again to join IFS next year. The celebrated case is that of Hon. Minister Kapil Sibal who twice qualified for IAS but but did not join because his heart was set on IFS. The IAS as the inheritor of the ICS & IFS having a partial functional linkage with the political/external wings of the ICS had their initial grooming respectively under the indomitable Sardar Patel & a more enduring role of Jawaharlal Nehru. The evolution of the entire culture of functioning of the institutions bureaucratic structures of the nation has witnessed over the years stresses and strains born of a continuous decline in values of political morality and accountability. The IFS has been viewed comparatively lesser exposed to certain types of undesirable pressures .The other services are understood to offer to those interested a net work of opportunities for, what could be euphemistically called, 'to feather ones own nest'. More on this complex & larger issue later.
Let me return to my own story of the IFS. I received a letter dated 7th May '71 from Under Secretary B. Narasimhan, Department of Personnel, Cabinet Secretariat stating that, 'on the results of the Combined Competitive Examination held in 1970, you have been recommended by the UPSC for appointment to the IAS/IFS ... you are requested to inform this Department immediately ... whether you would accept an offer of appointment..'. I immediately sent my letter of acceptance, Registered A.D. and anxiously awaited the next next communication of the GOI. Came the last week of June ... a friend in the neighbouring town who had qualified for the IAS told me that he had received a letter to join at the National Academy of Administration in Mussourie on 10th of July; he innocently added, "may be you are to be posted abroad and it would take some more time!".
In the first week of July, I decided to visit Delhi to make a personal enquiry. I was told that the 'Police Clearance' from all places where I had stayed for the last five years was still to be received. I recalled that a Police Sub Inspector had visited my father some days back to congratulate him and was offered Laddoos. I could speak on phone to my IAS friend who had been transferred from Bathinda to the Home Department in Chandigarh. He assured me that he would have clearances sent for my stay in Jalandhar and Bathinda. All sorts of thoughts crossed my mind...started thinking that I used to be friendly with comrades of Nawan Zamana in Jalandhar & Naxalite Prof Harbhajan Singh in Bathinda. I had also once given five Rupees donation to Comrade Harnam Singh 'Chamak', a popular elderly Communist leader of my area. I had told him that I have become a Lecturer in Govt College Bathinda and he, taking me in his affectionate embrace, had said, "Barhi Khushi hai; Pher tan Party di vi kujh chande naal madat karo ... [I am so happy; then you must help the Party with some donation ...]". The 'CID' was certainly the first abbreviation learnt by my generation of school children!
On 9th July 1971, I could speak again, with the help of my school friend who was engineer in the Telephone Department at Ludhiana, to Under Secretary B. Narsimhan. He said that all the Police Clearances have been received and that I should talk to Sh. Sethi, Under Secretary (FSP), in Ministry of External Affairs. Sh. Sethi told me that I should immediately depart to join the Foundation Course in the National Academy of Administration, Mussourie. The next morning, I submitted an application to the Principal, Goverment College, Karamsar to relieve me to join the duties in Mussourie as per the telephonic advice. Principal RG Bajpai,a proud product of early forties of Allahabad University remarked that I should have got myself relieved much earlier .He wished me good luck saying,'You would do well in your job..., but would be very, very cautious in your work'. The same evening I had to rush to board a train at Ludhiana for Hardwar ,on way to Mussourie via Dehradun. My father came to see me off at Ludhiana & a school teacher friend accompanied me upto Hardwar.I was feeling overwhemed with complex & contrasting emotions ... on way to a whole new world, strange and exciting but also full of anxieties of the unknown ... to be reflected upon in the next column.
Tuesday, June 30, 2009
An Unusual Entrant in the Indian Foreign Service
I have narrated in the previous column how I had undertaken my maiden journey to the capital of India in June 1969 primarily to equip myself for the preparation of Indian Administrative Service Etc., Examination, now more popularly called the Civil Services Examinations. While going around in Delhi, I 'discovered' that the route to the realization of the IAS Dream was physically located via Shahjahan Road, one of the eleven roads terminating at (or emanating from) the outer circle of India Gate.
The address of Dholpur House, the Office of the Union Public Service Commission, Post Box No 186, New Delhi-11, an impressive annular shaped building, which once belonged to the rulers of a smaller state of Rajasthan, had got registred in my mind more than a decade earlier when I had filled up the form of the National Defence Academy Examination in February 1959. It was a great satisfaction for me to qualify the written NDA Examination with excellent marks in General Knowledge. I had, however, a greater satisfaction resulting from my being able to defy and convince my father and his friends that I did not feel myself to be cut out for a career in the military service and, therefore, it would be better for me not to attend the interview to be conducted in Meerut Cantt. by the Services Selection Board!
It was an altogether different experience, with all the attendant hopes and fears, that I arrived in Dholpur House in the morning of 25th of March, 1971 "to present myself at the Commission's Office ... for the purpose of Personality Test to be coducted by the Union Public Service Commission". We, a group of four candidates, were welcomed by a smiling and polite official who escorted us to fill a few forms including the one for reimbursement of 'journeys by rail ... restricted to single Second Class (Mail) railway fare by the shortest route to the place of interview ... '. We were also shown a circular of information about the Indian Foreign Service that the candidates considering to opt for the Indian Foreign Service must be prepared to serve in any place in the world and that facilities for English medium education for children might not be available in a large number of places of posting. I was the second person to be called in for the interview. I was wearing a cream colour trouser, tucked-in white shirt and a cream colour tie having a small bluish design at the knot This tie was given to me by a friend who said that he had spent Rupees 1.50 to buy it!
It may be mentioned that we,the candidates, had been explained that Shri R.C.S. Sarkar was presiding over the Interview Board and that he was assisted by four other members, namely, Major General (Retd) P.C. Gupta & S. Balbir Singh IP(Retd) on his right, while Sh R.G. Rajwade IFS(Retd) and Prof K. Venkatachari were seated on his left side. The conversation, during my interview, started with reference to the news of the previous day ie the address by President V.V. Giri to the joint session of the of the Indian Parliament. I recall that I had referred to the 'stentorian' (the word Maj Gen Gupta had liked) voice of the President who had underlined the high expectations of the poor people. Chairman Sarkar had further asked me about the case of dispute over election symbol between the two groups of Congress to which I had replied that in a mature democracy issues to be fought for should be about policies and not symbols. He also asked me about the consecutive extensions of provision of reservations for Scheduled Castes & Tribes. I think that I had replied saying that the progress in over all social development particularly education was more important and had quoted the example of Dalit leader B.P. Maurya who had recently defeated a poweful Jan Sangh candidate Prakash Vir Shastri from the general seat of Hapur. S Balbir Singh asked me about the college in Karamsar where I was a lecturer and this brought the references by me to reformer Sikh saints Karam Singh of Hoti Mardan & his disciple Sant Ishar Singh of Rarewale. The latter had been instrumental in having the college estabilished by facilitating donation of building and land. There was also a reference to the Nawabs of Maler Kotla and I was glad to dwell on the history of the only Muslim state in East Panjab. I could not reply to a few questions asked by Sh. Rajwade about the recent political developments in Fiji.
I thought that I had done reasonably well in in the written as well as in the interview. The result placed me in the range high enough to opt for Indian Foreign Service. It was on the 10th day after the declaration of result that an old school friend who had become an engineer in the telephone department at Ludhiana made it possible for me to speak to another old friend who had joined IAS and was posted as Additional Deputy Commissioner at Bathinda. When I asked about his advice about IFS, he said that I should opt for it without a second thought. He explained that pressures and interferences of third rate politicians were fast destroying the administration. I immediately sent a telegram revising my 1st preference to IFS from IAS - the rest became, what they say, history! That extraodinary run of events would be shared with the readers in the following columns!
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
Views from India Gate
"I can tell you that there is as much to love about the city as there is to loathe."