12 April, 2021
Letters | Jul 17, 2006

Rising, Falling

Peeking, Poking

Jul 17, 2006

William Dalrymple’s was a really beautiful article (Rising, Falling, July 3). I have yet to find a person more in love with Delhi, and certainly no one writes about it with such feeling. Like him, I adore the capital city. But it’s hard to look at the ruins of Lal Kot and not feel the pain that went into creating that minar. Delhi is not easy for those whose roots go deep in its soil. I could never write about this city without a sense of despair at the violence embedded in it. Some of those ruins mark insufferable insults that still sting. Only the most magnanimous can forgive, and none can forget. Perhaps it is easier for Dalrymple. And I am thankful for that fresh perspective.
Bhuvan Satri, Gurgaon

There’s no denying Dalrymple’s happy knack of picturing history, especially Delhi’s. Yet one detects a pronounced pro-Islamic—if not anti-Hindu—bent in all his writings on India’s past. It’s as though Hindu traditions had nothing redeeming or worthy, and only Islam had those qualities. Perhaps Dalrymple is himself like one of those Englishmen during Zafar’s reign who converted to Islam, and thus can’t see anything wrong in the destruction of Hindu temples. He denigrates Naipaul’s contentions on these, even goes to great lengths to quote ‘eminent’ American authors to prove that no destruction ever occurred.
Bodh Ramdeo, Springfield, US

How rude of Dalrymple to call the sepoys "rebels", pretty much like modern-day apologists of the Iraq war who are using the same language to describe Iraqi nationals battling against the misconduct of the American soldiers against the civilians. There’s no excuse for what he himself concedes the British had done and the way they had positioned themselves well before 1857. Anybody who rose up then against British misconduct cannot logically or ethically be held up now as miscreants lacking in authority to act on their own or the nation’s behalf.
Amrita Douglas, New York

The massacre of its denizens after the fall of Delhi makes one shudder. Zafar was kept captive in a dingy room of the Red Fort and for days not given anything to eat. His 16 sons were also tortured and slaughtered. Zafar, on the verge of collapse, asked his captors for something to eat. Grotesquely enough, he was served the head of his beloved son, prince regent Jawan Bakht. Years later, the story moved Urdu poet Josh Malihabadi to write, "Teen faquon se ik girte hue ko thamne/Kiska sar laaye the tum Shah-e-Zafar ke saamne (To prop up one who was starving/Whose head did you serve to Shah Zafar)."
H.N. Sinha, Delhi

For a multitude of reasons, it’s possible to believe 1857 could not have been a war for independence. The idea of a complete Indian nation could hardly have come to the petty chieftains and landlords of those days. They were no visionaries. There was clearly an absence of a pan-Indian force. It’s plausible that it was a war against religious intolerance as Dalrymple has observed. For, the British might have tried to impose their religion through laws, in the process helped create an air of intolerance similar to the early Muslim period. Though his analysis on the subject is convincing, the general tone of Dalrymple—known for his strong views against the state of Israel and the ongoing war in West Asia—is sympathetic to, in fact wholly admiring of, the Muslim persona.
K. Sethumadhavan, Thane
Excellent piece. However, I wonder if we would really be a nation-state now if the mutineers had won!
B. Purkayastha, Shillong

I’m no anglophile though I work at a British university. I feel we would have been oppressed whoever won in 1857. Thank god, the lesser of the two evils won. Today, after 150 years of the mutiny, when we have some freedom of action in terms of foreign or economic policies, we have little options. The choice is to live under American/Christian ideals or Arabic/Islamic ideals. Thus, we can’t walk away saying we chose to pursue an independent course. Overall, we made a bad choice in 1947.
Anurag Banerjee, Eastleigh

Indians disclaiming 1857 should be ashamed of themselves; not just because this was the Indian nation’s first great surge, but also for those brave souls massacred in Delhi, Meerut and other places. It’s arguably misleading to say we Indians lost the war. We didn’t, the revolt, as it were, wasn’t against the British, as much as it was against the most powerful corporation the world has ever known: the East India Company. Given that it virtually broke the company’s back, we could contend that the revolt was a success, however pyrrhic it might have been.
Akshay, Hyderabad

I like the British for their deep appreciation of common sense as a guiding principle that can be used to govern all aspects of life. It’s not something you learn from a master-servant relationship, which only produced anglophiles like Nirad C. Choudhary. I won’t go into negating all arguments that Indian anglophiles offer, but will consider one: that the British gave India its railways. Assume India were not under British rule, but one Indian ruler went to Britain and saw the railway there and its wonderful benefits and decided to build one. Do you think any British, American or European company would have refused to build railways in India in return for Indian gold?
Prasanth Sankar, Kochi

Let me recall that the British governor of Punjab during 1857 was C.F. Andrews. He had hanged over a thousand mutineers, ten to a tree, and later co-founded the Indian National Congress! For all the Gandhian tactics, the Brits wouldn’t have loosened their grip over India but for Hitler. He died defeated but had crippled England enough for it to bring an end to empire.
Natranjan A. Wala, on e-mail

This was how Chandar Bhan Brahmin, a historian, described Delhi in the 17th century—one of the golden ages of Delhi when Shah Jahan ruled his vast Mughal empire from the Red Fort: "Its towers are the resting place of the sun. Its avenues are so full of pleasure...like roads of paradise." Cut to the late 1950s, a Japanese team surveyed the 336 major medieval buildings of Delhi. It returned 40 years later to find that 30 per cent of the monuments photographed and described in their work were no longer standing. Delhi’s past is indeed irreplaceable but how many future generations of South Asians will look back at the conservation failures? I am eagerly looking forward to reading The Last Mughal.
M. Nauman Khan, London

I wonder how Dalrymple rates ‘Bahadur’ Shah Zafar’s struggle against the Britishers vis-a-vis the Rani of Jhansi’s heroics that took place almost parallely in Indian history.
Ashok Mathur, Delhi

Anatomy Of A Cover-Up

Wise Not To Clog The Vein Of Truth

Jul 17, 2006

Going by your revealing write-up Anatomy of a Cover-up (July 3), it seems more skeletons are waiting to tumble out of the cupboards of Apollo Hospital. The under-dealings were shocking. Shameful that a man like Dr Prathap Reddy can discard all ethics of a noble profession. The Rahul Mahajan episode also proves that the affluent class and politicians can together do anything in a democracy like India.
Philip Ariel, Secunderabad

The whole piece was a sumptuous work of criticism aimed at Apollo. Whichever way you describe this hospital, Apollo is undoubtedly one of the country’s best healthcare institutions today. It has inspired many other players in the field to graduate to Apollo’s level of facilities. My father was admitted to Apollo several times in the past and I must say whatever we got from there was nothing short of good treatment. I don’t think your write-up is going to change my perception.
Ritu Mehra, Ahmedabad

This is mere sensationalisation. Giving such a twist to the Rahul Mahajan drug episode shows the media’s dexterity in relating the unrelated and unrelating the related. The value of news these days is based on exaggeration, accusation and sensation. Far from acknowledging Reddy’s role in laying the foundation of Indian healthcare, the piece makes accusations against him—all backed by unproven facts. Every story has several angles; to highlight one and hide others is simply unethical and unacceptable.
Vikram Shukla, Delhi

Dr Reddy, during his medical school days at Chennai, was known more for his organisational skills than clinical acumen. His colleagues and collegemates say it was an ordeal for him to clear the exams; some are even surprised he managed to qualify as a cardiologist. He is more of a politician-clinician. One need not be a fine doctor and abide by the Hippocratic oath to be in the hospital business.
Capt M.A. Raipet (retd), Secunderabad

While posing several questions, aren’t we missing a curious point? That’s, why did Pravin Mahajan kill Pramod?
Daniel Francis, on e-mail

A Coloured Sunshine

Just Scan Their Past, The Difference Is Vast

Jul 17, 2006

Comparing South Africa with India is like comparing apples to oranges (A Coloured Sunshine, July 3). Both have very different history. If apartheid prevailed only for a couple of centuries in South Africa, casteism in India is several millennia old. It’s deeper here, that’s why it’s going strong even 60 years after B.R. Ambedkar scripted our Constitution.
R.J. Chandra, Phoenix, US

SA is an excellent reference point for India, particularly in understanding the range of the AA programme (not limited to higher education), the milestones and the pitfalls. Without wanting to get into the semantics of racism, apartheid and casteism, I think the SA’s social situation is closest to India’s. However, political power in India has always showed leanings to the underprivileged, while it’s more recent in SA. Malaysia, where reservations were given to Malays over Malaysians of Chinese/Indian origin, offers another interesting case study. The reservation programme there has run its course, there is debate on phasing it out.
V.G. Prakash, Sydney

The Nyet Flight To Kabul

Stop Being Spokesman

Jul 17, 2006

Prem Shankar Jha is totally deluded and has some obsession with the so-called Muslim opinion in India (The Nyet Flight to Kabul, July 3). Agreed, most Indian Muslims are a backward people under the sway of even more backward mullahs. That doesn’t mean their views must not be considered. Surely there should be some balance. Jha seems to be a minority appeaser, overly sensitive to Muslim opinions and not at all moved by Hindu deaths. India should do what its core national interests demand and not give undue attention to the views of any one community over the rest.
G.N. Seetharam, Melbourne

Tere Liye Saat Rang Ke Sapne

Dancing Lyrics On The Grand Gramophone

Jul 17, 2006

Your film music special (Jun 26) was a rare edition indeed. Nothing in India soothes its people like this, still there’s no permanent page for it in our magazines—which think nothing of devoting whole issues to the politics of dwarfs. Even in our remotest village, which might have no power or even a post office, they’ll have Bhoole Bisre Geet or Chhaya Geet. They may not know who the Broadcasting Minister is—or even the PM or President—but surely they can tell between Rafi, Manna and Hemant or Geeta, Suman and Shamshad. When Rafi died in ’82, dailies gave it half a column (such restraint deserts them when it’s someone like Lady Di). Once again India sees his genius—better late than never.
Ramadas T.R., Trivandrum

Fabulous! I almost agree with your Top 20. Only, disappointed to find the great O.P. Nayyar couldn’t make it. Was it ignorance, or lack of taste?
A.N. Paranjape, Bangalore

No one has ever been so presumptuous as to pick 20 pieces from a heap of diamonds—you have dared to blunder. A ‘high-powered’ jury of Sonu, Shaan, Adesh and Himesh adjudicating on the greats! Ask them to focus on whatever it is that they do for a living. Some small-timers missed by your lofty radar: Saigal, Mukesh, Talat, Hemant, Shamshad Begum, Noor Jehan, not to speak of composers. A piece of advice: film music is a medium of the masses, and they love each pearl in that ocean. You listen to your 20.
Gurbir S. Grewal, Noida

Funny how your jury found Kal Ho Naa Ho worthier than the whole oeuvre of Talat, Mukesh! No offence intended towards Sonu Nigam or Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy. I’m sure even they agree it’s pretty audacious.
Manas Bharadwaj, Noida

It was a beautiful, highly readable issue. Only, looking at the number of grievances on the Top 20 (to which I too could have added), maybe you could include the aam admi on your jury the next time!
R. Vasudevan, Tarapur

Hindi films sans songs would be a bald, barren country. But the genre has not evolved with the times. Almost all your Top 20 are old classics.
K.C. Kumar, Bangalore

No C. Ramachandra? No Shankar-Jaikishen? It’s gratifying that at least our talent contests show more taste than you.
Jayant Karnad, Mangalore

Don't Call The Cavalry

Righteous Rage, Up To The Gills

Jul 17, 2006

M.S. Gill blames the cpwd for the sad condition of heritage buildings in Lutyens’ Delhi (Don’t Call the Cavalry, July 3). As a bureaucrat who worked almost two decades within "the 1 sq km of the capitol complex", he should know better. It’s the ministries occupying these offices that are to blame—cpwd, whose thankless job it is to keep this space in prime shape, is constantly begging with them not to overload services beyond designed capacity. It’s at their behest that wooden cubicles are created, building quadrangles cramped with ugly structures, ACs and coolers fitted. As for the "horrible curtains, upholstery and shiny furniture" of Rashtrapati Bhavan, Gill better tread with care: cpwd only executes the work, the selection of material and design is the privilege of the First Citizen (and/or officers of the President’s secretariat). It’s also wrong to say that all the leaders who walked these corridors never noticed the decay—Rajiv Gandhi, during his premiership, took personal interest in the condition of heritage buildings. He appointed a panel headed by P. Chidambaram. Within the constraints of its budget, cpwd has done its best to maintain structures as designed by Lutyens and Baker for a 1930s world—though sensitive to the changing needs of its occupants. It is actually to the credit of cpwd that Gill is unable to make out the replacements from the original in public features subject to normal wear and tear.
Harendra Shankar, Ex-cpwd Engineer

Having grown up in Delhi in the ’50s-60s, my eyes rocked in sympathetic resonance with Gill’s elegantly composed plaint. Slowly the paradox that is India came alive in my mind. Gill has himself been a bureaucrat who had the power to do something when he was pushing files inside Lutyens’ majestic ramparts even as lesser citizens waited in the sultry reception for an appointment. His successors too don’t seem to be breaking out in a rash over the issue either. Perhaps there will come a new breed of bureaucrats who will combine internal poetry with external action before retirement prompts them to muse on what should be.
M.S. Chandramouli, Liege, Belgium

Like Father, Like Son

Misplaced Vigil

Jul 17, 2006

It’s time the journalist in Krishna Prasad shook off jingoism (Bangalore Diary, June 26). Why would a Karnad or U.R. Ananthamurthy jump to the defence of a sinking media house, and fight against takeover by a more profitable, business-savvy one? In any case, does the colour of the management make its products (be it a magazine or a newspaper) less interesting? The writer is resorting to third-rate vigilantism. His concern for Kannada is appreciable, but to extrapolate it to ridiculous lengths only underscores his shallow intelligence.
Poorvi & Sandeep, on e-mail

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