Monday, March 27, 2006

From the Other Side of The Glass...

"The rude arch of yellow basalt thrusts its haughty form into the city's skyline just above a little promontory lapped by the waters of bay of Bengal. The bay's gentler waves barely stir the sullen green sludge of debris and garbage that encircles the concrete apron sloping down from the arch to the waters edge. A strange world mingles there in the shadows cast by its soaring span: snake charmers and fortune tellers, beggars and tourists, disheveled hippies lost in torpor of sloth and drug, the destitute and dying of a cluttered metropolis. Barely a head is raised to contemplate the inscription still clearly legible, stretched along the summit: "Erected to commemorate the landing in India of the imperial majesty's, George V and Queen Mary on the 2nd of Dec MCMXI".

Yet, Once the vaulting gateway of India was the arch of triumph of the greatest empire the world has ever known. To generations of Britain's, its massive form was the first glimpse caught from a steamers deck of the storied shores for which they had abandoned their midlands villages and Scottish hills. Soldiers and adventures , businessmen and administrators , they had passed through its portals come to keep the pax Britannica in the empire's proudest possession, to exploit a conquered continent to take up the Whiteman’s burden with the unshakeable conviction that theirs was a race born to rule , and the their empire an entity destined to endure. All that seemed so distant now. Today the gateway of India is just another pile of stone , at one with Nineveh and Tyre, a forgotten monument to an era that ended in its shadows half a century ago.
"

And thus begins "Freedom at midnight". Written by Dominique Lapierre and Larry Collins, it is the best piece on Indian history that I have come across. Such vivid, powerful narration!!!!!! They beautifully draw out the pre-independence India...a picture I never knew existed.... the description of people, places, events, attitudes.... I am sure I’ll remember more from this book than I ever did from my voluminous history books from school. It’s the perfect guide to understanding this nation of diverse cultures, beliefs, languages... to understanding what others saw in us...

The Indian Dream: The Dream of the Brit Youths Then...
"The India of those men was that picturesque, romantic India of Kipling's tales. Their's was the India of gentlemen officers in plumed shakos riding at the head of their turbaned sepoys of districts magistrates lost in the torrid rays of the Deccan; of sumptuous, imperial balls of summer capital of Shimla; cricket matches on the manicured lads of Calcutta's Bengal club; polo games on the sun burnt planes of Rajasthan, tiger hunts in Assam, young men sitting down to dinner in black ties in a tent in the middle of the jungle, solemnly proposing their toast in port to the king emperor while jackals howled in the darkness around them; officers in scarlet tunics pursuing rebellious pathan tribes in the sleet or unbearable heat of the frontier.


It represented challenge and adventure and its boundless spaces and arena in which England's young men could find a fulfillment their islands more restricted might deny them. They arrived in the docks of Bombay at 19 or 20, barely able to raise a stubble on their chins. They went home 35 or 40 years later, their bodies scarred by bullets, by disease, a panther's claws or a fall on the polo field, their faces ravaged by too much sun and too much whisky but proud of having lived there part of a romantic legend. "

Punjab...
"The Punjab was the crown jewel of India. It was a land of rivers and golden fields of wheat, great rich fields rolling down to a distant blue horizon, an oasis blessed by the Gods in the midst of India's arid face. "

Shimla...
"The most bizarre product of the British raj, a strangely anomalous, consummately English creation planted in the Himalayan foothills, the little town of Shimla. Five months out of every year, that miniature Sussex hamlet 7300 feet high tucked just below the roof of the world, ha become a great imperial capital, the site from which the British ruled the Indian empire and its associated satellites fro Red sea to Burma. "

The Maharajas...
"It had once seemed to Rudyard Kipling that providence had created the maharajas just to offer mankind a spectacle, a dazzling vision of marble palaces, tigers, elephants and jewels. Powerful or humble, rich or poor, threes was an extraordinary breed whose members had fuelled those legends of an India now on the brink of extinction. The accounts of their vices and virtues, there extravaganzas and prodigalities, their follies and their eccentricities had enriched folklore and entranced a world hungry for exotic dreams. There day was ending, but when the maharajas of India were gone, the world would be a duller place. "

2 comments:

TaRuN said...

The lender of the book should get some credit here :) And I totally agreee with you - this book should become mandatory history reading. Though our government would probably not like everyone to know about who actually was instrumental in helping us defeat Pakistan in the 1948 war.

Ms.N said...

hey.... yea.. the lender mr.somani gets the credit.....and i still havent come to the 1948 war~ :D :D