Hyderabad- A Glimpse into a bygone era

Cover of the book

I just  completed reading the book Hyderabad, British India, and the World subtitled Muslim Networks and Minor Sovereignty C.1850-1950 by  Eric  Lewis Beverley, published by Cambridge University Press- 344 pages and priced at Rs 1250.

  Now, why was I interested  in an ex Princely state  which had limited sovereignty and which had co-operated with the British  during the Mutiny or first Indian war of Independence – the view depending on which side you were?  Well, I  was curious to know  about erstwhile Hyderabad since my father was a Hyderabadi and belonged to a family which counted itself in the ruling elite of the state . His uncle had been Subedar of Aurangabad and the Inspector General Police or Kotwal of Hyderabad. My mother belonged to Berar — which had once formed part of the Nizam State but had studied in Hyderabad from 1946-51 the crucial years when India was being partitioned and Hyderabad was taken over through Operation Polo.  However I hadn’t lived in Hyderabad since my father was allocated to Maharashtra when the state of Hyderabad was bifurcated into Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra.  But we continued to visit our relatives in Hyderabad and kept hearing stories of the good old days and my interest in the erstwhile state remained .

Map of erstwhile Hyderabad state from the above book .

 So though this explains my interest, I was keen to know what interest  Eric Beverley Asst Professor of History at State University New York, had in such an unpretentious subject of Indian history . Beverley in the introduction, states that  he  considers the formally autonomous state of Hyderabad important in a global framework for it challenges the idea of the dominant British Raj as the sole sovereign power in the late colonial period  and that Hyderabad  exercised the  right to internal self government   and acted as  a conduit  for the regeneration of transnational Muslim intellectual  and political networks quite successfully.

  I was pleasantly surprised to read in the book the many ways in which in the officials and elite of Asif Jah worked for the welfare of the people and that their development of infrastructure was geared for the benefit of the masses. While famines raged in British India ,  the state response to the famine of 1876-78 in Hyderabad was based on a political ethics of state social responsibility as  distinct  from British India .The Famine Relief Committee  Chairman Mehdi Ali’s report indicates the   well managed agrarian system and as per the data on the grain stores,grains were not only distributed to famine  relief houses  but also exported to British India …According to Beverley ,research on rural social relations in British India suggest that by comparison Hyderabad and other sub-imperial states experienced little or no land alienation to money lenders during the lean times.  Moreover in Hyderabad, the Asaf Jah administration didn’t merely arrange to provide labor for the able bodied but also made distinction between if and how much  work the affected were expected to perform. And accordingly  developed multiple relief modalities and work schemes  besides setting up relief houses.  These relief houses indicate the cultural accommodations which envisioned relief  to “the poorest and most helpless classes.”It seems  that there were many peasants who migrated with their cattle from adjoining localities in British India into Hyderabad during the famine

I was impressed by the  details on development and remaking of the city of Hyderabad in the chapters titled: Remaking city,  developing state  and Improving urbanism :sanitation and power in Hyderabad and Secunderabad.  The city planners were remarkable in their sympathy and benevolence towards the working class ,- the poor Muslims and Dalits. Emphasis was given on providing open spaces , public gardens, public toilets, proper drainage, clean water supply, access to civic facilities etc. Economic planning  also gained momentum and Industrial and Commercial Hubs and  Markets were set up .

  After enumerating and describing the nature of the state, the author in the conclusion states that ‘Post-1948 national-level and Deccani regional movements have played on the notion that Asaf Jahi political culture was  particularly inclusive  when compared to that of the Raj …’ He further states that,  ‘Descriptions of Hyderabad ‘s shared Hindu-Muslim “composite cultures” emphasizes the accommodating and localized  character of Muslim rule in the sub continent.” In depicting the Asaf Jah State as a collaborative Muslim-Hindu endeavor and progressive regime  it projects Indian Muslims at the center of histories of co-existence.

 To me this well researched  book on the erstwhile state of Hyderabad  was quite an eye opener – specially the narrative of political ethics and patrimonialist discourse which the Asaf Jah’s followed which incorporated the concepts of civic virtue and good governance with the Islamicate notion of  political responsibility.  But  the integration of Hyderabad state in the Union and its later  bifurcation on linguistic basis into three states, with Hyderabad city as, the capital of Andhra, led to an influx  to the city, of professionals and agrarian capitalists from the ex-Madras ,formerly British ruled districts ,especially coastal Andhra Pradesh. This together with  the earlier outflow of elite Muslims and disenfranchisement of Asaf Jah officials and elites led to a transformation of its political culture which was characterized by a” polygot ,multi religious ,cosmopolitan imaginaries”.  

But then my father who nostalgically reminisced about the Hyderabad State admitted that we gained in becoming an independent democratic country which was the finest forms of government.

Freedom to express creates Art

 Yesterday, that is Sunday the 8th September, I read  in the  “Opinion”  page of The Indian Express ,in the space where Mr Chindambram’s articles were earlier published, Saeed Akhtar Mirza’s   article titled The Artist at the airport.  His gentle, conversational and  anecdotal style with  subtle comments on sensitive issues  was as apparent in it as it had been in his  recently published book Memory in the Age of Amnesia.

In the article he shows in his inimitable style how to differentiate between an artist and a painter. The episode is recounted in his easy, engaging manner. While waiting for a flight at the airport,  a young man ( who he  describes graphically ) introduces himself as a painter and a Saeed fan  expressing admiration for his  films. Then while  examining the young man’s  paintings on his mobile phone, we are made aware of the changes in creation of artworks ; artist have to paint not what they want but what is sale- able in the market. When asked who are the artists Saeed likes , he expresses his liking for the  the works of Ram Kumar,Akbar Padamse, Sudhir Patwardan,  Tyeb Mehta , Atul Dodiya,Nalina Malini , Ghulam Sheikh- artist who expressed themselves freely in their works , who had an individualistic style, painting what they wanted .

From paintings and artists they digress to Kashmir.Actualy it is the painter who brings up the topic and says he is troubled, confused and sad about it   and wonders if it is right to feel so .And Saeed in his characteristic style assures him “Its’ absolutely okay to be this way…you are not just a painter …you are an artist.”

And it is these  thought provoking insights ,eloquent  comments  , that mark his book Memory in the Age of Amnesia which is a memoir  as well as a commentary on the historical  happenings which took place from the time Saeed was growing up in Mumbai then Bombay to the present times .He describes his life in the fifties and sixties : his childhood in Fonseca Mansion , his college days and the impact on his sensibilities of the Vietnam war and the courage of the Vietnamese . He visited the country a few years ago to pay homage to Ho Chi Minh .

Saeed also gives his opinion  on the Middle East crisis .. the Iraq take over by American forces and offers new insights on controversial leaders like Gaddafi and  Bashar ul-Assad ….and pays   his tribute to all those he considers courageous …who try to speak up. 

 It is an engaging and thought provoking read .  One realises why and how Saeed Akhtar Mirza made those sensitive and artistic films.


Illuminated Mumbai on Republic Day

We are in the 2nd week of September . It is the last leg of the Monsoon.But the way it has been pouring in the last few days , it seems the Monsoon wants to depart with a bang and a parting kick .The rains, this monsoon had been unpredicatble and incessant – long dry spells followed by continous and heavy to very heavy rain for a week flooding the city , the drainage system of which is already under heavy strain . The metro constructions has already created enough road blocks and traffic jams. They say the city is upgrading Who knows . As I sit huddled inmy flat as I am unable to go out due to the water logging on the road in front of mybuilding . I am also apprehensive that the local trains may stop runnning due to flooding of the tracks . So I browsed through some pictures of Mumbai – to remember the better times… and was elated whenI came across the Heritage monuments of the city illuminated to celebrate Republic Day .It made me feel good . Hence I put them on the blog.

The Power of The Written Word- Books

In times of overpowering social media, there are books which can still hold our attention and invigorate the mind. This week  I  read two such extraordinary books – Manu Pillais much-acclaimed REBEL SULTANS  and  Amitava Kumar’s literary masterpiece   Bombay London New York{ a literary Journey}.

I had been eager to read Manu Pillai’s REBEL SULTAN’S ever since  I  heard him at the Times Literature festival.  Articulate and sagacious  beyond his years – at 29 he was able to engage the audience in the story of the Deccan which unfolds with Khilji and ends with Shivaji   giving  some rare glimpses  into  the life and times of the  Deccan Sultans, the Kings of  the Vijaynagar Empire   and  the rise of Shivaji which belies the many assumptions of  medieval history being a Hindu- Muslim conflict and the Sultan’s being religious bigots and  out of sync with  Indian culture.

REBEL SULTANS impressed me not only by the research that Manu Pillai had done to recreate the medieval world of the Deccan with its immense wealth and unique culture that had been shadowed by the overwhelming glamour and magnificence of the Mughal Court but also by the vividness of description of the 400 hundred years of history. He is able to demonstrate through racy and engaging prose that in reality, the cultural ethos of the Deccan was as rich as that of the Mughals because it drew its inspiration from the indigenous culture and local languages. Marathi and Telugu were commonly used and patronized by the Sultans and there was considerable mobility among the elite from one patron to the other irrespective of religious affiliations. Hence many Muslim nobles were employed by the Vijayanagar Kings while the Sultans had Marathas fighting for them in the Battle of Talikota against Vijaynagar. Shivaji’s grandfather served Ahmednagar and his father the Sultan of Bijapur.

And in telling the story of 400 years of the  Deccan, Manu Pillai emphasises the lessons it teaches us. It demonstrates the great height that society can scale if it cooperates and unites but divided and broken it can be doomed.  He states that the  ” history of the Deccan is a mosaic  of enduring wisdom,  a collective experience  that is as much the Indian peoples’ inheritance as those ruined edifices that amaze and astound…”



Amitava Kumar’s book   Bombay London New York is, however,  is a totally different cup of tea. I found it a   veritable literary treat. A riveting read, first published in 2002  by Penguins   Random House India, it meanders through a40 year journey of the author. It  begins with the  recreation of   an  India from the point of view of a boy growing up in the sixties ,in feudal and caste-ridden Patna ( though the picture may not be very different now ) who  then  sees   it  through the lens of various writers ,  RK Narayan  ,Arundhati Roy ‘s writings  ,Pankaj Mishra’s Butter Chicken in Ludhiana, Raj Kamal  Jha’s The Blue Bedspread ,etc . Then when he arrives in London, he is reminded of Gandhi, Qurratul Ain Haider, Mulk Raj Anand, the few Indians who had made it to England in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.   And yes, I forget he mentions another writer, a Patna born  Dean Mahommed, ( 1759-1851) who migrated to Ireland at the age of 25 and then in his forties to London. After a stint as a Medical practitioner and then restaurateur, he shifted to Brighton where he started a business in “Indian Medicated Vapor and Shampooing Baths”. Perhaps it was he who introduced the word shampoo in the English language. His business didn’t prosper but he is better known to have published a book titled The Travels of Dean Mahomet which was the first book written by an Indian author in English.

But it is with   Naipaul that he finds the most affinity and the fact that Naipaul’s ancestors came from  Bihar too adds weight to it. And in his analysis of  Naipaul’s writings, as also his insights into what factored into the writings, Amitava is marvellous. While writing about  A House for Mr Biswas, Amitava is able to graphically depict the anguish and frustrations of Naipaul’s father Seeprasad whose dreams of success as a writer had not been realized. But it was  from his father that he, Naipaul learned “ about the writer’s craft: the less confined world of the writer’s imagination; and, most important of all, the redeeming power of the word .” The book A House for Mr Biswas was in Naipaul’s words “ very much  my father’s book .” The book redeemed the failure which had haunted his father …

Besides the insights into the literature of the Diaspora what impacted me most in Amitava’s book, is an excerpt from an interview given by Naipaul on seeing a portrait of Shahjahan; and the lesson on mentoring and social nurturing which he got from his mother.

First to Naipaul’s remarks on Shah Jahan’s portrait in the interview which has been quoted by Amitava in the book.

“I think the most important thing about the portrait is the condition,” Naipaul said.     “The eyes, the lips. The ears- very fine. But then it’s so damaged around the head. And it’s awful to say that within a hundred years of that picture being done and being locked away in the prince’s library, it was plundered. And it was because that prince hadn’t created a state. He hadn’t created institutions to protect the painting,  and, in a similar way, he hadn’t protected the people. All that art, all that training, all that talent, and it’s for the prince alone. It doesn’t educate the country – it’s part of nothing else because the prince has provided nothing that will remain when he has been wiped away…”

Hence mentoring, social nurturing, institution building is necessary for civilization and art to thrive.

And the lesson in mentoring which Amitava got from his mother was how individuals can bring about change and empower the weakest through education and the power of language. His mother had after her children moved away in search of their futures, started free classes in a room next to her kitchen for homeless children. The children learned to write and Amitav hopes that the children would grow up to be literate citizens and demand their share from society and the state.

A deeply reflective book – a must-read.





Garry Wills author of “Why Priests?” and “What Jesus Meant “ is considered by the Chicago Tribune as “America’s greatest public intellectual.” So when I found he had written a book “What the Qur’an Meant “subtitled,” And Why It Matters “, I was curious to know more about and decided to read it.

For those who have not read the books by Garry Wills – Here is a brief intro:

Gary Wills is a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and the author of the New York Times Bestsellers, What Jesus Meant, Papal Sin, Why I am a Catholic and Why priests? He studied Priesthood- which explains his interest in Jesus and Priests as well as his qualification to write on those subjects. He lives in Evanston, Illinois and is presently  Professor of history emeritus at North Western University.

But why did he think of writing on the Qur’an?   Was his interest inspired by what Pope Francis wrote: “Authentic Islam and a proper reading of the Koran  are opposed  to every form of violence .”  I am sure most intellectuals and even the general public who have been subjected to Islam phobia, and have seen the atrocities committed by Al Qaeda and  ISIS would be amazed to  hear,  that” Authentic Islam is opposed to every form of Violence.” And how does one learn about Authentic Islam  – the Pope states by ‘proper reading of the Quran .’ And that is what   Garry Wills ventured to do so as not only to understand Islam but also inform those- the general American public-  who were ignorant of true Islam. He feels that it is imperative for the American public to know about Islam, the reasons being  :

America has blundered into the longest pre-emptive war in American history without knowing the basic facts about the Islamic civilization they were dealing with.

There is much misinformation about Islam especially regarding the claims that it is essentially a religion of violence, that its sacred book is a handbook for terrorist.

But reading the Qur’an is not easy. Initially, he finds it difficult to follow – it does not have a  proper organizing principle – it is not a gripping read. The titles given to chapters are not helpful.

He finds certain things in the book off-putting – slavery, patriarchal attitude towards women, religious militarism- which he feels has its own parallels in biblical Torah. But as he dutifully plods on he notices other things like “the book’s pervasive sense of dessert culture, or the voicing of a dialogue with nature that is the way Allah communicates with his creatures or the way every prophet’s message is linked to every other prophet’s message, or the casting of spiritual transactions in commercial imagery, or the various ways some women found to oppose patriarchal oppression…” He realizes the spiritual sustenance that people derived from the book and it is these areas he decides to explore in the book.

While doing so he also finds and clears some of the misrepresentations of Islam and the Qur’an. These are:

Did the Quran tell the Muslim about the duty to kill infidels?

No, he says he didn’t find any such instruction.

The  other is  that the Quran  is   Sharia Law

Sharia he finds is mentioned  only once in the Quran  Surah 45.18  and it is not used as a legal term . It means ,”clear path” shown to the Prophet Muhammad. The Quran is not law but the source of law or guidelines which were formed through a compilation of Sunna – the way of the Prophet, The Hadith- which is the sayings of the Prophet and Ijma- discussion and decision of the scholars. He discusses different schools of law in Sunnis and the different sects in Shia and therefore concludes that there is no one Sharia.

As for Jihad or Holy War –  he discovers that there is no such word as Holy war in the Quran and Jihad means striving .

Besides clearing the common doubts non-believers have of Islam, he also explores the parallels between the three Semitic religions – the people of the Book and underlines the importance given to Jesus and Moses in the Qur’an while describing the ways in which the Biblical stories differ from the stories of the same prophets in the Qur’an.

What I really found very engaging in Gary Hill’s exploration of the Quran  is  the way he  depicts  the following :

the pervasive nature of dessert and the presence of life-giving water in the Qur’an which is inventive in the different ways it describes heaven as anti-desert. It contrasts so vividly with the description of Hell which is desert heat and thirst to the nth degree.

In the chapter,titled’The Conversing with the Cosmos ‘he describes how the Qur’an is abuzz with conversation.  For Allah the real meaning of creating is conversation . He writes,”  God speaks a special language, in which mountain and winds and spring s are the syllables. Everything is a sign. Even the light is just a pointer to a light beyond light. God’s light shines through everything, including every lower light :

“God is the light of the heavens and earth. His light is like this {parable} :there  is a niche , and in it a lamp, the lamp inside a glass, a glass like a glittering star, fuelled from a blessed olive tree from neither east, nor west, whose oil almost gives light even when no fire touches it – light upon light – God guides whoever He will to His light .(24.35)

All creatures speak in sign language about their maker

“The seven heavens and the earth and everyone in them glorify Him. There is not a single thing that does not celebrate His praise. (17.44)

It is these aspects of the Quranic  verses which I found has the power to lift you to spiritual heights , provide succor during harsh times , as also the message of Peace which resonates time and again, which Gary Wills emphasis while analyzing the more complex verses of the Quran which are read out of context by some militant Muslims and many Non- Muslims.  He also explores the Quranic verses on women and the veil The book is, therefore, a must read to both Muslims and non-Muslims.

An engrossing read, the slim book of 226 pages is published by Viking and available on Amazon for $12.


TRAVEL MEMOIRS of TWO BENGALI’S- Nearly A century Apart

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Last month I read two Travel Memoir. Both by Bengalis, one as far back as 1927 and the other of 2010-11 –nearly a century apart.  The 1927 Travel Memoir   titled In a Land Far  From Home, by Syed Mujtaba Ali  was  written in Bengali, and was   published in 1948 as Deshe Bideshe  sub titled A Bengali in Afghanistan .The present  one is a  translation  in English by Nazej Afroz   and is  published by  Speaking Tiger.

The other one is by  the Bangladeshi journalist  Zeeshan Khan’s Rights to Passage- Travels through India, Pakistan and Iran published by Sage and Yoda Press.

Both writers, intrepid  travelers ,truly cosmopolitan in their world view , present an  unbiased perspective of the countries   in a riveting and compelling narrative .

When  I  picked up,  In a Land Far from Home and read the Blurb  stating , “ A vivid new translation of the Bengali Classic Deshe Bideshe , Syed Mujtaba Ali’s riveting and delightful account of travels in Afghanistan in the1920’s”,I was skeptical .Afghanistan in the 1920’s: what could be so exciting about  a place  with no proper roads or transport ?No entertainment, no cinema, no plays. None of  the facilities available in Calcutta.  And was it safe? Perhaps more than it is now. But what I under estimated was  Mujtaba Ali’s power of description  of  a   cast of fascinating characters across the spectrum of society in Kabul  and of  the  Europeans and    Russians  with whom he interacted, with  compassion and rib tickling humor   ; of the landscape ,life and culture ,the gossip and rumors circulating in the  bazaars .  I was fascinated by   his language, his rich repertoire of anecdotes and familiarity with  religious texts and lore of almost all religions  and felicity with Bengali, Urdu and English prose and poetry. Mujtaba. a polyglot who knew 15 languages, besides Bengali,  his mother tongue  had mastery in Urdu, Arabic , Persian French  and Germen, which enabled easy access to various embassies in Kabul.

Further the time in which he was present, (1927-1929) as a teacher in Kabul, was  a critical moment in the history of Afghanistan and   his account  gives  an absorbing and first hand insight into events during that period.  It was the period when King Amanullah having won independence from the British tried to steer his country into modernity by introducing girls education ,adoption of western attire and giving women a choice to decide  on wearing a the burqua .For his modernity measures, he was branded  a Kafir and the Mullahs supported and blessed the bandit Bacha-e Saqao in ousting him and  plunging the country in chaos and anarchy . The mayhem in the town of Kabul and the sufferings of the people including his and his   Afghan servant Abdur Rehman’s as also  of  his colleague the  Maulana and the Frenchman Benoit  are poignantly  graphic. But he is scathing  in his criticism  of the indifference and hypocrisy of the English who live and luxuriate on Indian money but offer no benefits to the Indians in Kabul,  when they are stranded and suffering .    Mujtaba Ali’s Memoir is  so  liberally peppered with  derision of the English and their exploitation of the country,  that one can understand the reason for publishing  the book in 1948 .

But what was most painful to me was reading about   the plight of women-who having breathed some fresh air, had to return to their claustrophobic lives and girls were  forbidden to attend school. The Bandit King   Bacha  in his proclamation declared Amanullah as a Kafir  and decreed that “… all the foreign teachers and professors who helped Amanullah in his efforts are hereby dismissed .Schools and colleges are being closed down.”

But what stands out in the narrative  is the   resilience of the Afghan people , in the face of so much hardship and the endearing loyalty of  Mujtaba’s servant Abdur Rehman and of course MujtabaAli’s delightful anecdotal style which made him a path breaker in Bengali Literature .

Mujtaba Ali ( 1904-1974) Had an interesting trajectory. He graduated from Vishwa Bharati University , and did his PhD from Bonn. When East Pakistan was formed he became Principal of Azizul Haq College  and an activist for Bengali language resisting the imposition of Urdu and wrote an Essay advocating Bengali as state language of East Pakistan for which his explanation was called by the Pakistan government .Mujtaba Ali resigned and returned to India where he worked in various capacities: as Secretary in ICCR , as Director in AIR in New Delhi, Cuttack and Patna and as Professor in Vishwa Bharati  from 1956 -64.After the formation of Bangladesh he  joined his family in  Dacca .

Zeeshan Khan, born in UK,  raised in Bangladesh, lived for some time in Mauritius ,studied  in Canada and Australia and worked in America before returning to  Bangladesh. He is  currently  working  in communications with the International Organization for Migrations  carries no colonial or linguistic baggage .Though based in Bangladesh, and proud of his Bengali lineage , he is curious of other cultures , religions and world views . In Rights to passage Zeeshan Khan gives Afghanistan a miss .Maybe it is untravelable now. But his journey through Pakistan and Iran is an eye opener though he spends only 45 days in these two countries

The book traces his journey of 60 days from Dacca , through India ,Pakistan and to   Iran . It’s a journey  both in time and place, and  his keen observation and eye for detail as well as his  interest in a variety of  subjects ranging from history, languages , religions ,cultures imbue  the travels   with a depth and  astonishing complexity, making it highly enriching experience for an armchair traveler.

The first halt from commencement of his journey from Dacca is Patna. Here he searches for the ruins of the ancient city of Pataliputra on route to Bodh Gaya ,Rajgir  and Nalanda to experience Buddhism in the land of its birth. While describing these cities, he recreates their past depicting their   religion’s  trajectory ,  their  rise and decline, their  contribution to art ,philosophy , spiritualism etc.  But despite great appreciation of Buddha’s spiritual legacy and having felt his living presence in Bodh Gaya , he is “ put off by  the level of veneration on to Siddhartha’s physical form.”

His next  halt is  Amritsar where he visits the  Golden Temple, the Holy Seat of the   Sikh religion   and the Jallian wallah Bagh which changed the dynamics of India’s freedom struggle  and Wagah –the Indo Pak border where he attends the Closing ceremony and finds the theatrics quite charming, reminding  him of the complex mating ritual of certain birds.

Though he mingles freely and doesn’t experience any prejudice as a Muslim, he  isn’t permitted to travel by   train  via Wagah to Lahore and has to return to Delhi to catch a flight to Lahore  .

As a Bangladeshi, he is apprehensive of  his reception in Pakistan  and is surprised to hear  a young  Pakistani army guy  tell him “Bohot badi ghalti  ho gayi aap logon ke saath, bhai .”

As he travels, he starts feeling sorry for Pakistan – a country fighting for its survival.   He finds  military presence, tension and  security concerns as  the Pakistanis battle the Taliban  in Peshawar and North West Frontier Province, sectarian tensions and  insurgency in Baluchistan and   rogue fiefdoms within its borders , a Saudi funded Wahhabi movement  leading to increasing fanaticism and violence  ,uneasiness of India’s growing power and clout, the violence ,drug trafficking and refugee problems -a fallout of the Al Qaeda American political imbroglio; besides , corruption ,nepotism, illiteracy- the bane of most South Asian  countries .  But he finds the people hospitable and friendly and the countryside and cities quite clean.  Their train services however are awful and   one travels at ones risk specially on the route to Quetta in Baluchistan where murders and killing of   Hazara Shia’s or Punjabi travelers   is a regular occurrence.  Pakistan is a hard country to travel. Yet there are wonderful sites   –bringing to mind the glorious past of undivided India.There is Taxila  dating back 3000 years back- when settlements arose between the Kabul  and Indus rivers -stone age implements and some bones   have been found .  Taxila’s also had an  ancient university   –known as  the Oxford of India specializing in Buddhist studies the ruins of which are well preserved ,so also the artifacts ,coins ,sculpture dating to the Greek  and Persian period ,in the  Taxila Museum.

Islamabad , the capital , he finds ,well developed  with perfect tree lined freeways ,neat , clean and well planed buildings , but  soulless – a veritable Clerkistan  .  But on Day 16 he is in Peshawar which also figures prominently in Mujtaba Ali’s Travel Memoir,   which  he finds  fascinating  but is saddened by the violence  and their reaction to it. He writes “I can’t decide which  is sadder –  the fact that this charming  city ,with its beautiful, smiling faces  and cheerful energy  should have to suffer violent tears in its otherwise harmonious tapestry, or the fact that it happens frequently  enough for them  to have accepted it as a part of life ,like blackouts and load shedding.”

On Day 18 in Multan, the Manager of the hotel says on learning that he is from Bangladesh, “Ah, but so cultured the Bengalis are, we lost a lot of intellectual substance when we lost Bengal.” Amused at the remark , Zeeshan has a dig  at his countrymen, stating:  “This rumor is very popular in Pakistan it seems. I don’t think they’ve met too many of us lately.”

After Multan he moves to Quetta, the troubled town in Baluchistan where his experience and observations on the insurgency give the reader an insight into that troubled land .  On Day 25  he  flies from Quetta  to Zahedan in Iran  as the land route is closed after the massacre of 12  Hazara pilgrims on route to Mashhad.

It is his months sojourn in Iran which opens up a fascinating land before the reader. He visits ancient sites of Kerman  ,Elam, Shush and  Persepolis; the Zoroastrian city of Yazd ; the holy city of Mashad  where Imam Reza is buried ; Neyshapur  ,Omar Khayams city; Tus where lies Firdausi ; Shiraz ,the city of Hafiz Shirazi ,and the wonderful medieval city  of Ishfahan and finally to Tehran , the modern capital of Iran  on Day 50   .

And he is impressed by the country’s infrastructure, such as the trains, freeways, taxis–all are world class and places are neat, clean, well maintained. But most important are the people who are exceedingly cultured, hospitable and friendly –perhaps an intrinsic nature of Iranian society with their Persian sense of tameez tor decency which governs their public behavior. Of course they have occasional fault lines such as their pathological dislike and contempt for the Arabs.  He is relieved to find none of the stereotypes he had heard about Iran, apart from the fact that the women covered their heads and there’s a tendency towards propaganda.

But what gladdened me was  the confidence  with which women conducted  themselves  unlike their counterparts  in many  Muslim countries  ,where there is  low presence of women in public space. They are bold and assertive and seem to be able to command the sort of respect they need and quite a few of them drive and run independent establishments.

50 films which need viewing

 Film Critic Deepa Gahlot’s     50 Films That Deserve a New Audience


Take -2–   is the title of the book published by Hay House Publishers India an Imprint of Penguin Books

Criteria in choosing the films: Films from the past –from 1933 to 1990 -First of their kind, or obscure films of well known Directors, some by Directors whose contribution to Indian Cinema is forgotten.

Besides a synopsis of the films there are also Thumbnail sketches of the directors, actors, writers, composers, cinematographers who worked on the projects. Unfortunately quite a number of them have disappeared and there is very little info about them in the archives . A must read for any film buff.

A list of the 50 films is given below with the names of Directors,lead characters and noted features:


  • Karma-1933- By Himanshu Rai-Devika Rani’s first as an actor and Himanshu’s last after which he concentrated on movie making .It was known for the longest screen Kiss which forms the cover page of the book.
  • Amar Jyoti-1936 By Shantaram-starred Durga Khote as a rebellious justice-seeking pirate Saudamini. The composer was Bal Gandharva.
  • Dushman-1939 By Nitin Bose-Starring KL Saigal and Najmul Hasan(the actor with whom Devika Rani eloped creating a scandal and Leela Desai with music composed by Pankaj Mullick.
  • Roti -1942 By Mehboob Khan -. A montage of starving poor with music from AnilBiswas. It was Begum Akhtar’s only film and also introduced Sitara Devi. Both made their mark, outside films.
  • Muqabla 1942By Baruk Bhat or NanuBhai Bhat, the father of Mahesh Bhatt. First film with twin sister role and introduced Nadia or Mary Evans, the Australian trapeze artist, best known for her role as stunt queen Hunterwali.
  • Prithvi Vallabh-1943 By Sohrab Modi an unusual romance between two very different protagonist. Durga Khote as Mrinalvati an aging princess against marriage as loss of independence and Sohrab Modi as Prithvi Vallabh- the king defeated by Mrinalvati. The movie introduced KN Singh who became one of Hindi Films topmost villain.
  • Rattan -1944 By M Sadiq was musical hit and attained stardom for Music director Naushad.
  • Hum Ek Hain 1946 By P.L Santoshi .It is known as Dev Anand’s debut film as also for introducing Rehman, Rehana and Kamla Kotnis  and is a message for unity and communal harmony. It has an item dance by Cuckoo and music by the composer duo Husnlal-Bhgatram which brought a Punjabi feel into their music.
  • Ek Thi Larki– 1949 –By Roop Shori written by I.S Johar, a hilarious comedy much ahead of its time with music score of Vinod and lyrics by Aziz Kashmiri was a hit
  • Dillagi-1949 –By R.Kardar starring Shyam, one of the handsomest heroes of Hollywood who died aged 30 during a shoot in1951 and the singing star Surely.
  • Jogan -1950 By Kadar Sharma had a dreamy looking Deli Kumar and an exquisite Margi’s with the melodious  sung by Geeta Roy later Gaeta Dutt.
  • Jaal -1952 By Guru Dutt  with Dev Anand and Geeta Bali  a hit with some hummable songs sung by Hemant Kumar .
  • Shikast-1953 by Ramesh Saigal with Nalini Jaywant giving a stellar performance opposite Dilip Kumar.
  • Patita- 1954 directed by Amiya Chatterjee,deat with a sensitive subject of  depicting rape and its  acceptance – starring Dev Anand and Usha Kiron.
  • Chandni Chowk-1954 by BR Chopra depicts a Nawab background starring Meena Kumari.
  • Bandish-1955-By Satyen Bose a comedy starring Ashok Kumar and Roop Kumar the earlier screen name  of Daisy Irani and Meena Kumari .Daisy Irani  is called Tomato – an orphan who is  able to get a family by forging a relationship between Ashok Kumar and Meena Kumari.
  • Miss Mary-1957 -by L.V Prasad starring Meena Kumari and Sivaji Ganesan –A bold plot for its ties in which an unmarried young woman pretended to be the wife of a stranger ,for the sake of a job.
  • Paying Guest -1957-by Subodh Mukherjee starring Dev Anand and Nutan and Shoba Khote –a delightful film with wonderful musical scores by SD Burman.
  • Gateway of India -1957-by Om Prakash with the beautiful and vivacious Madhubala playing a role of a runaway heroine with gumption and élan  ,with Pradeep Kumar in a negative role and Bharat Bhushan, who plays the poet and her love interest.
  • Solva Saal-1958 by Raj Khosla inspired by Frank Capra’s It happened One Night starring Waheeda Rehman and DevAnand . An entertaining movie in which the chemistry between the leadpai was obvious.
  • Sone Ki Chidya -1958 directed by Shahed Latif and written by his wife Ismat Chugtai.Starring Nutan depicts how young woman from under privileged backgrounds were pushed into show business to be exploited by both men and relatives .It introduced Talat Mehmood  as a manupalative lover and Balraj Sahni as the redeemer with wonderful  songs  the lyrics written by Sahir.
  • Char Dil Char Rahen -1959 by KA Abbas in which three distinctive stories connect to deliver Abbas’s message of social reform. -The first omnibus film made in which RajKappor and Meena Kumari are paired.
  • Chhalia- 1960- A partition drama by Manmohan Desai starring RajKapoor and Nutan with Rehman. Music composed b Kalyanji Anand and lyrics by QamarJalalbadi are wonderful.
  • Parakh -1960 by Bimal Roy starring Sadhna, Nasir Hussain, Motilal and Vasant Chowdhry with dialogues by Shailendra and some gt songs sung by MannaDey.
  • Apna Haath Jaganaath-1960 by Mohan Sehgal starring Kishore Kumar, Sayeeda Khan,Nasir Hussein and Leela Chitnis, a delightful film with  the social mess sage of dignity of labor. Music by S DBurman.
  • Dharmputra-1961 by Yash Chopra in which he take up the issue of communalism in which a child of one religion is reared by a foster parent of another faith.It was ShashiKapoor’s first film as an adult in which Mala Sinha playing his mother. The film won the National Award.
  • China Town-1962 by Shakti Samata, a crime  thriller starring Shammi Kapoor in a double role, who  steals the audience hearts ,so do the musical numbers penned by Majrooh Sultanpuri and composed by Ravi and a lively night club item number  by Helen as Suzy.
  • Godaan 1963 –Munshi Premchand’s novel was made into a film in 1963Trilok Jetley with RajKumar, Kamani Kaushal and Mehmood depicted the plight of the Indian farmer.
  • Mujhe Jeene Do– 1963 directed by Moni Bhatacharya starring Sunil Dutt and Waheeda Rehman was a hit and the official selection for the Cannes Festival. The songs by Jaidev were brilliant.
  • Door Gagan Ki Chaon Mein 1964 by Kishore Kumar was inspired by Satyajeet Roy’s Pather Pancheli centers on the story of a childRamu played by Kishor Kumar’s son Amit who loses his voice in a traumatic incident.
  • Mr X in Bombay -1964 by Shantilal Soni stars Kishore Kumar in the lead role as a Kavi with KumKum his love interest ,a dancer.  Entertaining and with excellent music by Lakshmiikant Pyarelal was a hit.
  • Johar Mehmood in Goa-1965 directed by IS Johar was a crazy comedy by IS Johar with Simmi- a one of its genre.
  • Choti Choti Baten -1965- the only film produced and directed by Motilal which depicts the contrast between the greed of sophisticated city   and kind simplicity of ruralfolk ,flopped at the box office but won a number of awards for Motilal.
  • Oonche Log-1965 a complex film based on a Tamil play called Major Chandrakant by Tamil writer director K .Balachander and directed by Phani Mazumdar. It starred Ashok Kumar ,RajKumar and Feroz Khan an won a National Award.

35) Teesri Kasam 1965 by Basu Bhattacharya starring RajKapoor and Waheeda Rehman was hailed    as a masterpiece.

36)   Akhri Khat-1966 by Chetan Anand which introduced  Rajesh Khana and centered around a 15month toddler Master Bunty wondering in Bombay  had great musicby Khayyam and lyrics by KaifiAzmi

37)   Amarpali 1966 – by Director Lekh Tandon is an epic drama of the famous courtesan Amarpali played by Vijaynathimala and the great Prince Ajaatashatru by Sunil Dutt. The period costumes were by Bhanu Athaiya and the music by Shanker-Jaikishan. Amarpali was India’s entry for the Oscars.

38)  Anupama-1966- by Hrishikesh Mukherjee was an artistic film in the mainstream cinema, starring Sharmila Tagore and Dharmendra and Shashikala. The dialogues were by Rajindra Singh Bedi and the haunting timeless songs written by Kaifi Azmi were set to musicby Hemant Kumar.

39) Baharon Ke Sapne-1967 , a film scripted by Rajendra Singh Bedi directed by Nasir Hussein starring Rajesh Khanna and Asha Parekh depicts the  bleak and harsh life of workers .Though it had a strong social message and a realistic depiction of their life ,it bombed  at the box office.

40) Anokhi Raat -1968 –by Asit Sen starring Zaheda and Sanjeev Kumar had drama and suspense and an unusual love story and great songs written by Kaifi Azmi and composed by Roshan. It fetched Hrishikesh Mukherjee the film fare award for the best screenplay.

41)Sadhu Aur Shaitan -1969- A hilarious  comedy directed by  A Bhimsingh(Tamil Film Director) with Mehmood ,Pran and OmPrakash and Bharati.

42)Tere Mere Sapne– 1971 –directed by Goldie Anand starring Dev Anand ,Mumtaz, Goldie Anand with Hemamalani. The film was a huge success as Mumtaz was then at the height of her popularity.

43) Parwana-1971 directed by Jyoti Swaroop, was one of the best thrillers made starring Amitabh Bachchan, Yogeeta Bali, Navin Nishchol and Shatrugan Sinha. But despite Agha Jan Kashmiri’s brilliant dialogues , lyrics by Kaifi Azmi and composed by Madan Mohan ,an item number by Helen ,the film didn’t do well at the box office.

44) Reshma Aur Shera -1971 directed by Sunil Dutt, is a story of star crossed lovers starring  him with Waheeda Rehman ,Vinod  Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan, shot in the picturesque locations of Rajasthan depicting its life and culture .Sensitively portrayed with stellar performances. Iit did not do well at the box office.

45)Piya Ka Ghar-1972-directed by Basu Bhatacharaya, it brought out humorously and gently without grit and glamour ,the life of the  lower middle classes in Bombay ,in the tenemants and chawls.Starring Jaya Bahduri and Anil Dhawan-the film was quite a hit.

46) 27 Down -1974, the only film directed by AK Kaul and it was considered a cinematic masterpiece. Starring M.KRaina and Rakhee it was shot in black and white and examined a characters inner life and depicted a changing India.

47) Chakra -1981 Directed by Rabindra Dharmraj, it is an iconic film which depicted Bombay’s underbelly with all its warts and sores. Smita Patel, Nasiruddin Shah and a host of stars from theatre and parallel cinema gave wonderful performances. Scripted by Javed Siddiqi and Shama Zaidi and based on a famous Marathi novel by Jaywant Dalvi- the film was brilliant.

48) Namkeen -1982 .Directed by Gulzar, it stars Sanjeev Kumar, Waheeda Rehman, Sharmila Tagore, Shabana Azmi and Kiran Vairale  and is set in a remote village in Himachal Pradesh. The story centering around four women portrays the hardships. poor women without men in their life, have to undergo in rural areas.

49) New Delhi Times -1986The only film directed by Romesh Sharma, starring Shashi Kapoor and Sharmila Tagore ,the film explores the politician-media crime nexus .The film won three National Awards.

50) Disha -1990 Directed by Sai Paranjpe is about Mumbai’s mill culture and the poverty of Mahrashtra’s villages and stars Om Puri Nana Pateka,r  Raghuvir Yadav and Rajshree Sawant.














The Republic of Imagination

The Republic of Imagination – A world without borders.
Just finished reading, a fascinating book, The Republic of Imagination by the Iranian émigré Azar Nafisi. And I am simply overwhelmed. Nafisi wrote her bestseller, Reading Lolita in Tehran in which she weaves memoir with teaching Lolita and Gatsby and underlines the importance of fiction in totalitarian regimes as it enables an individual to escape into an alternative reality .In The Republic of Imagination she emphasizes the importance of literature through review , and literary criticism of three books : Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, Sinclair Lewis’s Babbitt and Carson McCullers’s The Heart is a Lonely Hunter with an epilogue on James Baldwin with a number of other greats like Salinger, Faulkner interspersed in it to demonstrate that the idea of America cannot be separated from its fiction. But what is most engaging is the way in which fiction ,personal narrative, the political and social life ( the period from 2007 to 2012 –the Obama election and first term ) ,the education system, science, technology, seamlessly blend and the reader senses and empathizes with the poignancy and loss the writer feels in a world where the power of humanities ,arts and literature is declining as libraries and museums become irrelevant in a techno savvy materialistic world with its obsession of the state of the art I-pods and I-phones.
Both Mark Twain and James Baldwin would never have dreamt that America would one day have an African American president, nor envisaged the reaction to it in the 2016 election just as Nafisi didn’t at the time of publication of the book in 2014 by Windmill Books. She bemoans the lack of importance to teaching of the liberal arts in the universities of America and her dissatisfaction with the Common Core Curriculum. She states: “we should be teaching our students that there is a difference between individualism that encourages self-confidence and independence , and narcissism, in which everything and everyone becomes a reflection of ourselves ,preventing us from growing……”
SoThe Republic of Imagination is a “true homeland without borders and few restrictions….The only requirement for entry is an open mind, a restless desire to know and an indefinable urge to escape the mundane..”


TO SAVE OUR LIVES is the title of a chapter of A.L Kennedy’s On Writing -a book I borrowed from the Asiatic Library. I had never heard about A.L Kennedy, but her book was there when I searched under the subject – On Writing.I flipped through it. And what do I find.Surprise.Surprise. She is a celebrated writer: she has written 8 Novels,7 short story collections and quite a few non- fiction books and won several prestigious writing awards. And an ignoramus like me hadn’t heard of her, leave alone read any of her books. I also pondered on the question :why none of the literary festivals I attended in India had invited her –or at least none did in 2016-2017. She is as per her blogs, in and out of literary festivals in great Britain.
Alison Kennedy who is also part time lecturer in Creative Writing at Warwick University spends her time when not writing, talking, at various festivals and taking writing workshops and of course blogging her activities. The book contains a compilation of various such blogs. I flipped through 250 pages – describing her writing life ,against the back drop of the social and political life of UK(she stays in Glasgow) in hotels ,on train journeys in America( she has a phobia of flying ) and didn’t make much sense . Her writings –blog style -are supposed to be funny but didn’t draw any laughs from me at least.I decided to give up. And then just by chance,thought that let me read this chapter, the title of which had caught my attention –“To Save Our Lives”..perchance it may provide a clue to why Vintage Books had published this book and the Sunday Times had praised it .
The chapter was really enlightening.It gave rare insight into a writers or to use a larger phrase an artist’s world and tried to make sense to a layman what does an artist do when he /she creates. She writes :“We offer something of ourselves ,to others.We allow and encourage a miracle –one human being can enter the thoughts of another.We can be the other: the king,the foreigner, the wino,the superstar, the debutante,the murderer, we can experience a little of the large, strange,wonderful, horrible thing which is human experience.”
I am over whelmed by reading it ,but then a tiny voice nags: and what is the result of these experiences? I had been to the Jaipur festival.Great writers , thinkers political analysts all debated, discussed,condemned- all that had happened in Iraq: they squarely blamed the Western powers for the mayhem –the chaos. But this blame game may have served the purpose of making people aware, making them understand, but has it mitigated the suffering of the people of Iraq?
This is exactly what a friend remarked when I recounted the list of literary festivals I had attended : “What affirmative action do literature festivals take except to make one think ?Is that enough?” I thought she was right.Kennedy however did have some answer to it.She mentioned an incredible writer, the lawyer Raphael Lemkin who changed the world by inventing a word: genocide. Lemkin defined genocide –which is now in the Webster’s dictionary.But he didn’t stop at it –he thought of the different aspects of genocide which are not confined to just ‘murder’ but also include cultural annihilation.She puts his ideas cogently in the following words :”…..before I can oppress you ,hurt you, kill you ,I have to silence you. I have to silence your dreams,I have to destroy them in order to weaken and demoralise you, make you deaf and invisible to yourself, and to let myself forget your humanity ,to rehearse the silence into which you’ll disappear.”
Therefore she surmises that the writer has to use imagination to enter into the suffering of strangers. She adds :”And producing art in which humans are shown to be human keeps us all safe.It steers a panicky,self obsessed,easily led,fearful and fragile species towards light.”
And I would also like to reproduce her view of Good Journalism. It is worth consideration and debating upon .
“Good journalism,good nonfiction writing ,the proper and fastidious presentation of fact can help us to understand what is incomprehensible: 100 dead ,1,000 dead,100,000 dead,200,000 . I believe that to understand many deaths we have to understand one, the absence of one life …. We do not need to have known the dead to mourn them, to mourn a life turned to silence, a loss of our shared delights.”
Well I thought, burrowing through 250 pages to reach such a gem had been worth the effort.