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Hindu Muslim Bhai-Bhai – End of an Era

September 1, 2011 1 comment

Urbane, educated, certain local and foreign elements served the British, Pakistani leaders, Indian princes, appealed to Hindus, Muslims using religion – and gained everywhere. But in each case, India lost.

Bhishma on the Bed of Arrows (image source and courtesy - http://www.harekrsna.com). Click for larger image.

Bhishma on the Bed of Arrows (image source and courtesy - http://www.harekrsna.com). Click for larger image.

My grateful  acknowledgments are due to His Highness the Nizam and His  Highness the ruler of Mysore for their princely donations. The  Nizam is a Mahomedan prince. Any contribution coming from him in aid of a work like the Mahabharata could not but  indicate His Highness’s enlightened sympathy for literature in  general, irrespective of the nation or the creed which that  literature represents.  As an administrator, Sir Asman Jah promises to rival the  fame of Sir Salar Jung. So long also as an officer like  Nawab Sayyed Ali Bilgrami is about the person of His Highness … (from the foreword of The Mahabharata of Krishna-Dwaipayana Vyasa (Anusasana Parva) Translated into English prose Published and distributed by Pratapa Chandra Ray Published 1893 by Bharata Press in Calcutta . Written in English).

What’s religion got to do with this?

Soon after the 1857 Anglo-Indian War of 1857, we had the remarkable instance of the Baroda Gaikwad commissioning a ‘Basra’ pearl carpet for the prophet’s tomb at Medina, which was recently auctioned for US$5.5 million.

And here we have the case of a Muslim king, the Nizam of Hyderabad, who partly funded the translation and publication of the Mahabharata in English.

Coming storm

But, this was soon to change.

In 1905, Bengal was partitioned along religious lines, by Lord Curzon. West Bengal, Orissa, and Bihar on one side and the erstwhile East Bengal and Assam were divided into the other part. All India Muslim League and All India Hindu Mahasabha followed. The official logic was that Bengal was too large a province to be administered by a single governor.

An India that seemed possible and probable was brokento two pieces - and a Kashmir legacy left behind.

An India that seemed possible and probable was broken in to two pieces - and a Kashmir legacy left.

This explanation did not account for communal boundaries – and did not explain Curzon’s tour of East Bengal in February 1904, where he promised a separate zone for Muslim Bengalis.

Protests against this partition in the form of Arandhan (no food was cooked across Bengal), boycott of British goods, and Tagore suggested that Raksha Bandhan would be observed in a spirit of brotherhood between Muslims and Hindus. Lord Minto’s ‘reforms’ in 1909, was the next major step in division of India along religious lines.

Simultaneously, soon after the publication of Tarana-e-Hind (Song of India) in 1905, of the sare-jahaan-se-achcha hai-hindustan-hamaraa fame, Iqbal was sponsored by British authorities for ‘modern’ studies in Europe in 1906. In England Allama Iqbal joined with Major Syed Hassan Bilgrami, ex-Indian Medical Service, to form and promote the Muslim League in England, in 1908.

The mechanics of divide et impera

Major Syed Ali Bilgrami wrote the text for Simla deputation, headed by the Sir Sultan Muhammad (the Aga Khan), who with seventy ‘representatives’ of the Muslim community, asked the Viceroy for elections along communal lines.

The immediate cause for the Simla deputation was the matter of language. Soon after 1857, at Benares in 1867, with the expanding role of the State, a case for using Devnagari script was made. This issue simmered and in 1900, the Urdu-Nagri Resolution was notified by Sir Anthony Macdonald, Lieutenant-Governor, United Provinces, in April 1900 giving parity to Hindi as a official-language along with Urdu in UP. Muslim paranoia was watered and nurtured by the British.

By creating claims and supporting counter-claims, responding to alternate parties, the British administration created frenzy around a simple administrative issue. Pakistani historians to this day see this as “the machination of Dr. Feelan, District Inspector of Schools and Anthony Mac Donald, then Collector of Muzaffarpur, the two bitterest antagonists of Urdu”.

Major Syed Ali Bilgrami wrote the Simla address - presented to the Viceroy on October 1st, 1906, calling for separate electorates. (Image source and courtesy - storyofpakistan.com).

Major Syed Ali Bilgrami wrote the Simla address - presented to the Viceroy on October 1st, 1906, calling for communal electorates. (Image source and courtesy - storyofpakistan.com).

The rest of the story, most of us know.

Behind the man

Major Syed Hassan Bilgrami, an academic from Lucknow, was also from the same family as Sayyed Ali Bilgrami. Sayyed Ali Bilgrami was selected for employment by Salar Jung, one of the nobles in Nizam’s kingdom.

Syed Ali Bilgrami (Image source and courtesy - themuslims.in).

Syed Ali Bilgrami (Image source and courtesy - themuslims.in).

Designated as Imud ul-Mulk Bahadur, he presided over the setting up of Dairatul-Maarifil-Osmania, Hyderabad (or the Osmania Oriental Publications Bureau) in 1888. For some time, he was the tutor to the future Nizam of Hyderabad,

Connections everywhere

Sayyed Ali Bilgrami donated his own collection of books, manuscripts and texts to form a core for the Asafia State Library (1891). Of the initial nearly 24,000 volumes, nearly 16,000 were Persian, Arabic or Urdu. Some 7600 were in English and other European languages. There was, of course, no place for any books in Hindi, Telugu, Sanskrit, Marathi, Kannada – which was the languages used by more than 95% of the Nizam Kingdom’s population.

Sayyed Ali Bilgrami studied at Kolkatta where he also learned Sanskrit – and later translated the Atharva Veda. That possibly explains Sayyed Ali Bilgrami links to Kisari Mohan Ganguli and the publication of Mahabharata by Pratapa Chandra Ray – and funding through the Nizam Government.

Soon after 1905, Sayyed Ali Bilgrami became an activist in affairs of Urdu and Muslim affairs. Another member of the family, active academically, was Syed Asghar Ali Bilgrami who published Ma ‘athir-i-Dakan (Hyderabad, 1925) in Urdu and another study in English, called Landmarks of the Deccan (Hyderabad, 1927).

Collaboration Chronicles

Urbane, educated, the Bilgramis served the British, Pakistan, Indian princes, appealed to Hindus, Muslims – and gained everywhere. Post-independence, some of the Bilgramis moved to Pakistan. A few members of the family chose to remain in Hyderabad, and other parts of India. Today, they can be found in the UK, Germany, UAE – and many emigrated to the US.

This translation of the Mahabharata, by Kisari Mohan Ganguli and publication by Pratapa Chandra Ray, for which one of the Bilgramis arranged funding, remains the most popular and accessible work of the last 100 years.

Below are book extracts from a rather revealing and well-researched work on British colonialism in India.

Chronicles of Collaboration. Excerpts from Jinnah, Pakistan and Islamic identity: the search for Saladin  By Akbar S. Ahmed, pages 56 and 64). Click to go source at books.google.com

Chronicles of Collaboration. Excerpts from Jinnah, Pakistan and Islāmic identity: the search for Saladin By Akbar S. Ahmed, pages 56 and 64). Click to go source at books.google.com

Shyamchi Aai – Bringing up children

Shyamchi Aai - Book Cover from edition by Pune Vidyarthi Gruh Prakashan. Image courtesy - prashantb.wordpress.com. Click for larger image.

Shyamchi Aai - Book Cover from edition by Pune Vidyarthi Gruh Prakashan. Image courtesy - prashantb.wordpress.com. Click for larger image.

Spare the rod

There is an exceptional story from Indian पौराणिक pauranik texts on bringing up children.

Yashoda-ma, Krishna’s foster-mother, angry with Krishna for some prank, asks him to open his mouth, to see what he was eating. After some threats by Yashoda-ma, Krishna finally opens his mouth. And what Yashoda-ma sees is the entire creation in Krishna’s open mouth.

The shadow of Satan

Children, in Indic society, are seen as nandlala नंदलाला and balagopal बालगोपाल. On the other hand, in the Desert Bloc, naughty children a result of Satan’s influence. In Christian theology, children are born in sin. Children in Urdu are admonished for शैतानी shaitani – meaning behave like Satan.

This starkly brings out Indic attitudes compared to Desert Bloc. Reading Jane Eyre (on Adele Varens) or Charles Dickens children, one can see this negative attitude towards children. This was subdued, in modern West, partly and possibly, due Maria Montessori’s avant-garde  ideas on teaching children. Montessori taught the West that children learn during play. Play is part of the learning process, Montessori opined.

English speaking India

In modern times, in India this theme was explored by the Marathi writer, Pandurang Sadashiv Sane (better known as Sane Guruji) in his best-seller, Shyamchi Aayee – Shyam’s Mother.

Except for the fresh coat of oil paint, nothing much has changed in the 8×10 feet cell of Circle 4 in Nashik Road Jail, where Pandurang Sadashiv Sane (better known as Sane Guruji) wrote Shyamchi Aayee – one of the most moving and inspiring works in Marathi literature.

The book deals with his childhood in the Konkan with special emphasis on his mother’s influence on him.

The dimly-lit cell and high prison walls may not be the ideal settings for a writer, but for Sane Guruji (1899-1950) it was just fine. He finished writing the classic inside his prison cell (Circle 4) in just five days, between February 9 and 13 in 1933.

Sane Guruji was sentenced to jail for around one year after he participated in the Civil Disobedience Movement in 1930. (via Sane Guruji gets lost in the details, Lifestyle – Sunday Read – Mumbai Mirror).

Still from film - Shyamchi Aai (Image courtesy - http://default19in.blogspot.com). Click for larger image.

Still from film - Shyamchi Aai (Image courtesy - http://default19in.blogspot.com). Click for larger image.

Spreading ripples

Translated into Hindi, Japanese and English, the book was also made into a film. It won the first national award for Best film. Later on, the film version, triggered a satire, on how a ‘modern’ Shyamchi Mummy behaves.

With such an ideological inheritance, to see India top in female foeticide, makes me search for the external ‘stimulus’ behind this behaviour.

Shakti goes to Hollywood

May 21, 2011 4 comments
Publicity poster for Shakti.

Publicity poster for Shakti.

Going Hollywood

Shakti, a 1982 film, directed by Ramesh Sippy (of Sholay, Seeta aur Geeta fame), was an acclaimed commercial and critical success. In the India of the early 80s, with chronic shortages and near-zero opportunities, Shakti was about the interplay between ethics and expediency. The climax scene became a legend with the fugitive son (Amitabh Bachchan) dying in his cop-father’s arms (Dilip Kumar) – shot by the father.

Imagine my acute feeling of déjà vu, when a similar story, with a similar scene was recreated in a Hollywood film Heat. Al Pacino an upright policeman kills the escaping criminal Robert De Niro. Apart from minor changes in the script, the plot follows Shakti lines – right to the casting level. Even the length of the movie is Shakti-like – three hours for a Hollywood film?

Unheard of.

Interestingly, this film also did very well on the international circuit – and not as well in the USA.

At the same time, any movie with Pacino, De Niro, and Val Kilmer is bound to be a commercial success. Heat had a budget of $60 million, and ended up grossing over $170 million worldwide. $107 million of the box office revenues came from non-US audiences, as the movie was particularly successful in France, where 1.3 million tickets were sold.

Am I the only one

My first reaction was to assume my judgement as biased. But then Monsieur Google prevailed. A 30 minute trawl yielded excellent catch. One of the first comments that I could track back came in 2005. When Humble Rafi pointed out

Did you know HOLLYWOOD copied this movie as “HEAT” ?

AL PACINO is there.

Read this chat on Youtube on this same scene two years ago (extracted below).

Search for “dilip kumar kills amitabh bachan” in youtube videos to see the original inspiration of this scene shot way back in 1982 at Bombay Airport, India! (sunnytravels 2 years ago)

this ending scene is copied off 1982 indian film shakti starring dilip kumar and amitabh bachan search shakti dilip kumar kills amitabh bachan (qezza22 2 years ago).

haha it kinda is copied isnt it (secretlover12 2 years ago).

You are right . . the inspiration for that scene came from that movie Shakti made in 1982 at Bombay airport.. so either Michael Mann just loves Shakti or it was an incredible coincidence! :) (sunnytravels 2 years ago).

At a movie forum, on 28-11-2008, Guillaume P pointed out

Re: Heat (Michael Mann,1995)

Before “Heat”,there was “Shakti”:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RfxemtLGGZE

The next day, at another forum,

Mannfan – 29-11-2008, 13:37 said,

Before HEAT there was SHAKTI!:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RfxemtLGGZE

Hollywood Cartoon - Courtesy - http://www.bagagedrager.nl/. Click for larger image.

Hollywood Cartoon - Courtesy - http://www.bagagedrager.nl/. Click for larger image.

DesiMusicClub hesitantly says that Shakti (1982)

reminds me of the Hollywood movie ‘Heat’ – also a cop movie that put together 2 legends in one movie (DeNiro & Pacino).

Satya, in another film-review site pointed out in 2009

Amitabh bachan and dilip kumar starrer Shakthi (1982 ) had exact same climax as Heat !! I still wonder if for once the hollywood copied from bollywood ?!. please see for yourself to confirm.

SearchIndia.com Responds:

Will do.

Now, wouldn’t that be something – a Robert De Niro/Al Pacino movie being a lift of a Bollywood film.

In 2009, a fan of Amitabh Bachchan also commented in Amitabh Bachchan’s blog, how Heat was so similar to Shakti.

a full 13 years ahead of the Pacino vs De Nero face of in Heat, looks like Micheal Mann must have seen Shakti as ending is too similar!

The same fan (probably) of Amitabh Bachchan followed up with a review. A few months ago, in a webzine he linked the films together saying, Shakti was a “highly recommended film to watch for all real Hindi film fans and yes the film is so much better than the clash between Pacino and De Nero in Heat!”

Michael Mann’s muse?

Michael Mann’s first claim to fame was a short film, that won him awards at Cannes, Melbourne and Barcelona film festivals – a film with a ‘succession of hypnotic images and colours are cut to haunting Indian jugalbandi music.’

Name of the movie – Jaunpuri.

Related articles

Shahaji-I – a Prolific Music Composer

October 31, 2010 4 comments
Shahaji I (1684 - 1712).

Shahaji I (1684 - 1712).

Shahaji’s compositions don’t figure in music concerts, a lesson worth learning for all who seek to create a culture. Great music, created by him and his royal successors, died with the short-sighted abolishment of the Devadasi community in the early 20th century. They never thought of popularising their music to a larger group nor did their descendants fund musicians to learn it. Among a constellation of royal composers, Shahaji I stands unsurpassed. His magnificent operas and padams that focus on the heroine seeking merger with the lord are soaked in metaphor and elegance, and must have had very creative deployment of the ragas. Sadly, all of this is relegated to dusty corners of the Thanjavur library in palm leaves that are rarely touched today. We have one tantalising glimpse of the music in an opera the king wrote, to be danced in his favourite temple for Siva as Tyagaraja in Tiruvarur. For this we need to thank that redoubtable musicologist Prof. P Sambamoorthy. (via The Hindu : FEATURES / SUNDAY MAGAZINE : Songs of a forgotten genius.).

Not in my dreams

In all my life, I was not prepared for Shahaji-I being a music composer.  A Maratha king, who composed poetry and music in Telugu and Tamil! I am still not quite able to accept this magnitude of achievement.

But then Shivaji’s dynasty, though short-lived were possibly the last great Indic rulers. Can anyone point out one palace that Shivaji or his immediate successors built. Or the erudition or learning displayed by Sambhaji or Shahaji! Instead look at the opulent palaces of the Holkars, Scindias, Gaikwads – who finally divided Shivaji’s legacy amongst themselves.

Another writer a lawyer-admirer, Anant Darwatkar is writing a book on  Chhatrapati Shri Sambhaji Maharaj, a job that a specialist should have done a long time ago. Shahaji-I’s descendant,

Sambhaji even wrote books— Boodhbhushanam in Sanskrit and Saatshatak, Nakshika and Nayika Bhed in Hindi. “While Boodhbhushanam talks about politics, governance and defence strategies, Nakshika and Nayika Bhed are based on how women have been perceived and idolised over the centuries. Unfortunately, even these authentic works have never been translated,” mentions Darwatkar.

I wonder why is it that Indian history does not bring out this part of forgotten history.

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