Tuesday, April 21

Enchanted by the 'White Mughals'

Last evening we watched an episode of Seinfeld where George in this special Georgian way says, "I would like to be a Civil War buff." Absurd as it may be, there couldn't have been a better way of putting what I felt reading William Dalrymple's White Mughals: Love and Betrayal in Eighteenth Century India. I am no history buff, but if someone can make history as engrossing and beautiful as Dalrymple does, it would be hard to not be one.

The book could have been a romantic non-fiction about James Achilles Kirkpatrick and Khair un-Nissa's love story set in 18th C Hyderabad, and still be a good read. But Dalrymple transcends that to make it an exploration of the society of those times, the symbiosis of British and Indian (mostly Islamic) cultures, the inevitable romantic liaisons, the attempts at increasing tolerance and understanding between the two, and the gradual decay of the white mughal era as British dominance spread across India. It paints a vivid picture of that part of history left out of history books, a part that humanizes both sides. At a time when the 'clash of civilizations' rhetoric is dominating policy attitudes and people's mindsets, Dalrymple's book attempts to prove otherwise. The concluding sentences of the book display his belief in the incorrectness of the rhetoric.

"As the story of James Achilles Kirkpatrick and Khair un-Nissa shows, East and West are not irreconcilable, and never have been. Only bigotry, prejudice, racism and fear drive them apart. But they have met and mingled in the past; and they will do so again."

Apart from the lessons to be learnt, the book awes us with the depth and breadth of its research. It is not a romanticized version of what might have been, but a factual referenced representation of those days. The numerous footnotes add significantly to the story and provide tit bits that should not be missed. Even for those who have never been to India or Hyderabad, it wouldn't be difficult to picturize the city. His writing does justice to the details he provides and continues to engross all through the 400 odd pages. The chances of falling into a boring account of Indian society in the 18th C are many, and instead he converts them into something exciting. Kirkpatrick and Khair un-Nissa are absent from a large part of the book as Dalrymple talks about the Nizams, other British officials, Calcutta, Poona, Lucknow. But you can always feel their presence. Those descriptions seem essential parts of their story, and as a whole they are important to understanding and appreciating their romance.

Each character, no matter how insignificant is etched out in great detail such that you 'know' everyone. Dalrymple's personal opinion about the character never seems to prejudice his descriptions. Each character is an individual and you are free to form your opinions. He doesn't force you in any particular direction. This I think is a crucial quality in presenting historical accounts. At the same time his admiration for the white mughlas and Indian culture are evident through every sentence. But that admiration is definitely no juvenile infatuation. It is the admiration of a careful observer, a student and researcher. There are numerous books about India by non-Indians that repel with their patronizing and/or condescending tones. And others that blindly romanticise a exotic land. This book does neither.

No matter if you enjoy love stories, history, beautiful language, or simply books, 'White Mughals' is a must read. Even in its tragedy it is a feel good story; in its antiquity, contemporary.

Saturday, April 11

Fine, I have a demented mind.

But can you really help not think about the Akshay-Twinkle fiasco when the first thing you see on TOI screaming at you in bold is...

"It has become a fashion to open fronts: Sonia"

Maybe it is the ongoing "tea bag" drama in the US that is wreaking my brain. That is torture for a tea lover like me. Someone really needs to reconsider and revamp vocabulary, or who knows how many more will go nuts.

Vote for SP!

I was under the impression that our political leaders were over this crap. But of course, considering that it has great men like Sanjay Dutt on board the manifesto seems to be really progressive. My advise to them would be to get Muthalik too. He already has the infrastructure in place to go after the "mall culture." And then maybe Manyata could be their women's wing leader and could lead by example. What a glorious day it would be when they come to power and bring order back to our degrading society!

Friday, April 10

Chappleni marala pahije!

What's with all the shoe hurling in India? [Link] [Link] When that guy threw it at Bush it was funny, or maybe even made a statement for some people. But dear copycats, it doesn't really make any statement. And neither is it cool. Of course the old school teacher is too far advanced in years to care for it, and I doubt if it even came out of his own head. Jindal is definitely not the worst politician he has encountered. There must have been many before him who deserved to be dignified with a similar action.

I can understand that chappal kadhun marane is a very demeaning thing, and you really got to be angry to do that. I have seen construction workers do that to each other on more than one occasion. But a journalist? You have various other means at your disposal to express your anger. PC is a rather decent man. It doesn't really do much to attack someone like that. Try attacking any of the Thackerays instead. Maybe then some might think of you as 'brave.'

Wednesday, April 8

Another traffic management effort

Pune will soon get an Intelligent Traffic Management System (ITMS) that could help bring order to its traffic problems. The projects looks promising and might work too. But unless a good 'traffic culture' can be created in the city I fail to see any hope for any traffic management plans. Of course 24 monitoring could turn out to be the starting point, the fear of punishment method...but aren't the original traffic rules based on the same idea? No one fears punishment for traffic violation, not even embarrassment. They all end up being anecdotes, and learning tools for new drivers passed on from one generation to the next. Driving license is a privilege which we take to be a right. And maybe because other basic rights are violated on a daily basis by governments and leaders, we consider it our duty to violate and abuse this "right" ourselves.

In a related story, the city's Police Commissioner has lashed out at the RTO's license issuing process. And I agree with him. My driving test was just another typical day at the Pune RTO... scared 'kakus' driving with one foot hanging down and my 17 year self scared as hell, scores of 'agents' hovering over the policewala, a dump of a parking lot with tea stalls and ogling creatures...And then my driving test in the US which I partially passed, sweating from nervousness sitting next to a fierce looking policewali who almost killed me with her smirk as I messed up my parallel parking. Of the ten people who came out before me only a couple were smiling and got their licenses. There were no agents, only friends or family members.

While the traffic situations in terms of vehicles, speeds, infrastructure etc. are different for both countries, there is a basic driving etiquette in this country that never fails to impress me. And it saddens me that the same people who drive like nobody's business back home, follow rules and become polite here. This means that these people are capable of decency and traffic discipline in principle. So why not do it back home? I guess it is just a matter of 'when in Pune do as the Puneris do.'