Friday, June 23, 2017

Let ‘Monsoon Asia’ be the New Clarion Call for India

Let ‘Monsoon Asia’ be the New Clarion Call for India   
Syed Ali Mujtaba

Monsoon has arrived in India and its great news for Indians because with it begins the season of joy in the country. Same is the case with many other nations of Asia that are dependent on the monsoon.

Well in this backdrop, it would be nice to remember the idea “Monsoon Asia” that was afloat in late 1950s as a way of regional cooperation among the nations of Asia that are dependent on monsoon. However, this vision was killed when India – China went to war in 1962 and now it’s almost a forgotten history.

Monsoon Asia was a visionary concept with far reaching consequences and had it fructified, it could
have changed the politico-economic structure of the South and Southeast Asian nations. The underlying idea behind Monsoon Asia was to make geography the basis of cooperation among nations and to undermine the political differences by bringing in economic gains for collective sustainable developmental activities.

However, the dream of Monsoon Asia based on shared geographical pattern of monsoon is now gone with the wind. What is left behind is its memoirs and hopes that if it could be revived, it may make tremendous impact on the lives of future generation.

This becomes more pertinent with Climate Change fanning its ugly head and calling for attention the importance the idea of revival of “Monsoon Asia” and forging alliances between nations based on such commonality is a talking point. 

The idea of Monsoon Asia if given a fillip can not only change the fate of large number of people but also may help in meeting the challenges of the problems posed by the issue of climate change.
It is therefore necessary to know what Monsoon Asia is.

The original idea was mooted in late fifties with as many as 23 countries of southeast and south Asia region coming under the fold of Monsoon Asia. The total population of this region was tipped to be more than 3.7 billion people (3,700,000,000) of which 64 percent living n the rural milieu.

The population growth of the Monsoon Asia region is still much faster than any other region of the world. China; India and Indonesia are the three most populated countries in Monsoon Asia region. In terms of land mass, Monsoon Asia occupied a huge geographical space with China being the largest land area followed by India.

In Monsoon Asia Tibetan plateau with its glaciers feed some of the greatest rivers of the region and is

lifeline for two billion people. Now, when its ice and snow are diminishing and the ‘Climate Change’ activists are raising concerns about it, reviving idea of Monsoon Asia of cooperation could be a great idea.

Himalayas is the most important mountain range in Monsoon Asia. The Himalayas are also source of many great rivers that are part of many counties of the region. 

The Mekong River is the longest river that starts in the Himalayas and flows through China, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam before emptying into the South China Sea. 

In India the river Ganges that is about 1,560 miles long, waters a huge area called the Indo-Gangetic plains. It is also a lifeline to millions of people. The Brahmaputra River, about 1,800 miles in length flows out of Himalayas and joins with the Ganges to form huge delta that makes the entire region very fertile for agriculture.

In China the Yangtze (Chang Jiang) river flows from the Tibetan Plateau accounts for much of the agricultural power in China. Yangtze combining with the ‘Yellow River,’ flow through the North China Plain that witnesses intensive farming activities.

Now when the ‘Yellow River’ is disappearing fast and ways and means of its revival is being thought out, cooperation under the banner Monsoon Asia could a bright idea to address this major environmental concern. 

Further, the Himalayas block the clouds that forms monsoon and is a major source for rains in the entire region of Monsoon Asia. The monsoon formation takes place in two cycles; one summer monsoons that last from May to October and other, the winter monsoons that lasts from November to April.

The most common climates in Monsoon Asia region is humid subtropical and tropical wet type of
climate. The most common vegetation zones in the region are broadleaf evergreen forest, rain forest and highlands.

Coal, hydroelectric power, and oil are the most common resources in Monsoon Asia. Farming, nomadic herding, fishing are the most common land uses in Monsoon Asia.

Monsoon Asia is known for production of coal and rubber. Manufacturing of cars and electronics, machinery, toys, clothing, and other items are done in the region. In Monsoon Asia, the most common religions are; Hinduism 28%, Islam 14% & Buddhism 12%.

One can go on giving any number of facts and figures to belt out the importance of Monsoon Asia that could regenerate interests in reviving this idea of regional cooperation.

In the same vein, it can be said that at a time, when India’s ‘Look East’ policy has become ‘Act East’, the idea of Monsoon Asia could provide the necessary platform of cooperation with the  Southeast Asian nations.

Further, with BRICS grouping India and China has come together on the same platform, the two neighbors can very well cooperate on the idea of Monsoon Asia.

Last but not the least, the revival of the idea of Monsoon Asia can be considered from the environmental point of view. This is because most of the Climate Change concerns are centered on Himalayas and the Tibetan glaciers and they need attention. If the idea of Monsoon Asia could be revived such concerns can be collectively addressed.         

 It’s ironical that for long politics has been setting the agenda for peace and development. Mostly the issues related to geographical considerations are being overlooked. This thought process needs to be changed and people should be allowed to shape their future on geographical consideration like Monsoon Asia.
Monsoon Asia provides a window of aspirations to large number of people who may be willing to collectively pursue their developmental goals. The commonality of monsoon pattern provides them a ready-made launch pad to reshape their future.  

We all know well that to know Asia and its people, one has to understand the monsoon pattern that’s formed here. It is not enough to read about it, or see it in pictures; it has to be a personal experience to enjoy the bounties of nature. Monsoon in Asia is preceded by desolation; it brings with it hopes; it has the fullness of summer and the fulfillment of autumn.

Nothing short of living through the monsoon can fully convey all it true meanings. The coming of the monsoon is a source of life to millions of people and also their most exciting date with the nature.

As far as India, the revival of the idea of Monsoon Asia would we’ll fit into the current pattern of diplomacy pursued by New Delhi vis-à-vis China and Southeast Asian countries.

The idea Monsoon Asia definitely is a peace dividend. It can mitigate differences and establish peace in the vast region of Asia. So let Monsoon Asia be the new clarion call for India.   

Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at - This article's abridged version appeared in civil service India


Sunday, May 28, 2017

Witness to Municipal Election at Shiekhpura

Witness to Municipal Election at Shiekhpura
Syed Ali Mujtaba

I just witnessed a municipal corporation election at my native place in Shiekhpura, Bihar where my friend Pawan’s wife have won the election.  Today I got a call from Pawan saying he is huddled in Bhutan in a star hotel along with 13 other winners.

Pawan seem to be pleased with himself when he called me to break the news that I already had got from my contacts in Shiekhpura, along with the news that he was absconding from the place.

Its first i saw the electoral campaign of a municipal election from such a close quarters. It made me understand the working of the Indian democratic process at the grass root level and the way the electoral dynamics operate at the bottom of the Indian democratic pyramid.

Well Municipal Corporation is a British gift and each town or a city of India is divided into several wards. The bifurcation of ward is done based on the electoral size and normally each ward comprises of 25,000 or more eligible voters. Each ward covers few localities and a number of candidates contest from each ward.

The new trend in India is that most of the seats of municipal ward are reserved for female candidate, perhaps
it’s an effort by the government towards women empowerment.  However, in reality women are just for namesake candidates and it is the husbands of the women who actually call the shots and in reality contests the election in the wife’s name.

The second feature of such election is this is controlled by some heavyweight politicians of the city. He belongs to some political party, and he pulls the strings from behind, fielding his own candidate from each ward.

After the election is over and the head count takes place, the one who can get the maximum number of the winning candidate to its side, appoints a candidate to become the chairman of the municipal corporation. By doing so he actually controls the funds that come into the municipal corporation in the form of property tax water tax etc.  

No wonder there is a fierce competition to win the election and a huge amount is spent on the candidates and on the electorates to woo them to vote for their candidate. Those who pull the strings cough of all the expenses of the electoral campaign.

The electoral process begins with the filing of the nomination by the female candidate. The husband takes his wife for doing that formality and normally it takes place in a huge procession to reach the electoral office. It’s a big show of strength and the one who can get the largest number of volunteers assembled are expected to win. People are ferried in farm tractors, small trucks, cars jeeps and auto rickshaws to the electoral office.

After the nomination is over, the real candidate’s goes back to the house and remain indoors and monitor her campaign. It’s the husband who takes the driving seat and controls the election campaign.

Normally it could be about 500 volunteers’ surround the probable winning candidate. They are mix of juvenile boys, old ladies and middle aged men. They get wage ranging from 100 to 500 rupee daily, plus two square meal and unaccounted number of tea and cool drinks.

Their job is to report in the morning and go around in procession shouting slogans for the candidate and asking votes for her. They hold placards and distribute handbills and stick posters. Some places a vehicle accompany the procession and a pre-recorded tape is played asking for vote for the candidate.

In between the electoral message, the vehicle belt out a rocking Bhojpuri number and the young volunteers erupts into rustic dancing on its earthy tune. This electrifying moment is watched by many passers-by as they stand to watch the fun.  

 The polling day is very crucial and each candidate deploys its volunteers to get the voters to the polling booth. Lot of effort is made for this and at the end of the day of the voting, it becomes clear who will win the seat. The formality of announcing the results is done on the vote counting day, which is a big day for the wining candidate.

In Shiekhpra, its Vijay Samrat and Shambhu Yadav, the two emerging names in political arena are slugging it out to control the municipal cooperation election. Both belong to same locality and both fielded their wives against each other.

The latest news is; it’s Shambhu’s wife who has won the election and she is touted to be the chairman of Sheikhpura’s municipal corporation.  Shambhu Yadav in order to avoid any horse trading by his rival has huddled 14 of its winning candidate’s husbands into Bhutan. More than that, he has given each of candidates 5 lakhs rupees to keep their loyalty intact to him.

My friend Pawan who called me today was narrating his experiences at Bhutan. There was a sense of jubilation sparkle in his voice and he seems to be rejoicing at the place where he was staying.

I remember when I was talking to him during the campaign about where he will go after winning the election and what would be his asking rate, he just smiled and giggled at me then, I knew he will win anyway….    

Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He comes from Shiekhpura, Bihar and just returned from the election scene. He can be contacted at

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Autobiography of an Unknown Indian

Autobiography of an Unknown Indian  
Syed Ali Mujtaba

Life they say is a journey and each of us has been treading its beautiful path with its own twists and turns.  I am sure there are many who may have sketched their fascinating stories of life in words with great distinction, my attempt of doing the same is with a caveat that let it be a whimper tell-tale of an unknown Indian.

I lay no claim on Shakespearean prose or making an attempt to become a novelist, I am only trying to unburden myself, recalling the adventures of my life so far I have lived. My attempt is to weave a fascinating story about the trail and tabulation that I have undergone so far and the purpose is self-satisfaction recalling the lessons of life and remembering some of its bitter truths.

Essentially, my story revolves around the trials of getting educated, and then finding a job all by oneself. Beginning from village school and sitting on the floor on gunny bags and at one time being contemplated to be sent to religious seminary to become a cleric its hell of a journey.

It’s only an accident of fate that put me in English medium school from where I started my formal education journey. I started it from a convent at small town called Munger, Bihar and to be followed by further schooling at Delhi and then college at the AMU Aligarh and university at the JNU New Delhi.

In the educational journey I saw many high profile campuses like SOAS, Oxford, Cambridge and University of Hawaii etc. Every academic spot that I have seen has a fascinating story of its own.

My second trail was the struggle for getting a job and I realized that no matter how much one is educated or academically sound, there is little connection between education and job. The lesson learnt is getting a job could be chasing a shadow, if you do not have right connection in the right place.

My third trial was to find a match and arranged marriage again put me into hell of a trouble. The broken marriage left behind wounds wanting to be repaired. I was lucky to get them healed and found happiness with a new partner in life.

Finally, my current struggle is to get hold of my ancestral property on which many of my relatives are sitting like sharks attempting to dispossess me from my legal claim. I am waking up to this grim reality and fighting court battles to get back the property that is mine.  

My roots belong to in a farming family in Bihar and we are settled there since a century or more. My ancestral place is a village called Manay in Shiekhpura district that’s about 100 miles from the state capital Patna. My family owns landed property there and I got land records that dates back to 1800s.

My family has seen high level of education and members are engaged in professions like lawyer, doctor, engineer, administrator and professors etc. Some are settled abroad in England and America and their off springs are doing very well there. I feel pride that even with all this growth, farming still continues to be my family vocation.

I had my early education in the historical town called Munger, which is fifty miles from Shiekhpura. Then, at the age of 12, I was packed off to New Delhi for school education. I did graduation and post-graduation at AMU Aligarh and came back to Delhi for MPhil / PhD at JNU. After finishing studies it’s the job pursuit that brought me to South India, where I am currently located.

My first recollection of life’s journey is the dream of a becoming a famous footballer in the country. I have been quite passionate about this sport and can say that I did spend about 15 years pursuing this dream. I remember putting 8 hours a day, undergoing rigorous training schedule to become a professional footballer.
My efforts ended up with representing KVS at the 23rd school national games at Amritsar. There I met stalwarts like Milkha Singh, Ajit pal Singh etc.  I have the satisfaction of playing for the AMU team which became champion at the all India inter-varsity competition.

I played along with some top notch names like; Mahmud Khabazi, Majid Beshkar, Jamshed Nasari (all Iranians). They all became very famous footballers in the country. Besides I also played ‘A’ division clubs and travelled across the country to play in different tournaments.    

Suddenly, a withdrawal symptom developed inside me and I got withdrawn from the sports all together. This was when I was graduating at AMU when I felt it’s time to get serious with life. I realiz
ed that studies alone can fetch me decent living and this change of heart changed the course of my life. I totally changed my life style and from a sportsperson I became studious yogi! I was putting long hours in studies and the efforts resulted in first divisions at the graduation and post-graduation levels.

After that I set the target of becoming an IAS officer. I lived with this dream for quite some time and spent some of the most precious years of my life chasing this national hobby. It’s only those who have undergone the rigorous study schedule of this competitive exam will know what kind of grind is required to chasing such a dream.  I did made an honest attempt but my efforts were not good enough to cross all the hurdles of this exam, though I could manage to crack its two levels.

However, in the pursuit of my IAS dream, I did become reasonably educated. I extended my educational journey to gain higher academic degrees. I took pride in earning MPhil and PhD degrees and the consolation of getting field trip to England for pursuing doctoral research.

By the time I was closing my university years, I established myself as an emerging scholar. I had two books and several research papers on south Asian affairs. As a political commentator, I also contributed write-ups in many newspapers.

After that the job hunt was a killing experience. I did appear for interview at many Delhi colleges but then I realized its different ball game to get a teaching job. Eventually, it was job rejection in teaching arena that made me change the course of life once again.  I waited long enough and with such high academic credentials, I could have been adjusted in a decent academic institution if I had the right connections at right place.

 However, when nothing was coming my way and was contemplating to give it up, another twist in my life took place. I was offered a job at a newspaper in Hyderabad just based on my resume and so started a new journey in my life.

Life as a Journalist was quite a different from the world of academia. Meeting with people having larger than life size image was a colourful experience. Even though I spent about 15 years as a working journalist, again job played torrent to me very now and then. It was a snake and ladder story when it came to jobs as a journalist. However i had the satisfaction of working with print, web, and electronic media and all with distinctions. I ended this vocation being a Jefferson fellow that took me to several countries of the world.

The fascinating world of media generated academic interest in me and my media distinction made several colleges invite me to lecture on journalism and mass communication.  This prompted me to take full time vocation as a media trainer. Now I am close to spending 10 years in this profession and I am enjoying this twist of my life as a part of a beautiful journey.

 Now life looks to be settling on a flat surface here at Chennai. Currently, I am handling two jobs, one as head the department of visual communication at Guru Nanak College, the other with a digital company as its content head.

The academic in me continues to live alongside with both the jobs. I am invited to national and international conferences by various institutions across the country due to my past work. As a panelist I share the platform with some high profile academicians and journalists.

Well this not all. Off late life my life is undergoing yet another twist in its chequered tale. My long holiday at the college is taking me to my ancestral place in Bihar and I am developing keen interest in farming activity there. However, as I mud my hands in farming, I find myself in a quite a mess being created there. My long absence has made my relatives emboldened to dispossess me from my own property. I am struggling to come to terms with this grim reality and fighting seven court cases to get hold of my own property.

Well, this part of life’s journey has just begun and even though I am reluctant farmer, I have no other go than to fight it out to get what is due to me.  I am seized of the situation there and getting ready to undergo another round of struggle for a rightful cause. I have faced earlier such challenges and I am once again ready to slug it out as I move ahead in my life.

There is nothing pitiable about my journey of life. I have enjoyed every bit of it and there are no regrets as I look back. I hope my story inspires those who may be undergoing similar hardship in their lives. My only word of wisdom to them is, never give it up it’s only those who fight can win the battles of life.
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at
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Friday, March 31, 2017

Idea of India is not dead; it’s undergoing pangs of rebirth

Idea of India is not dead; it’s undergoing pangs of rebirth
Syed Ali Mujtaba

The rise of Prime Minister Narandra Modi, a Hindu nationalist leader in 2014 and rise of Yogi Adityanath, a Hindu priest as Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populist state, screams from the roof top that the Hindu religious nationalist vision has won the day and it is the true representation of the majority of Indians aspiration.

These pointers also suggest that India’s vision of Nehruvian secularism based on unity in diversity, peaceful coexistence, and no preferential treatment any religion is dead. What has now replaced  is equating Hindu religion with Indian nationalism and its supremacy over the rest of the identities and the denominations in the country.  

 If this is a fact, then what could be the future trajectory of India? As it appears it could be the consolidation of Hindu religious nationalism model of governance and the subversion other religious and ethnic groups in the country.

In such case, this political trajectory may follow the rule of transition, and the next course could be the rejection of the religious nationalist political forces and the establishment of the caste matrix model of governance as conceived by the British government through the Government of India Act of 1935.

The third trajectory could be the religious nationalist model would be again replaced by the Nehruvian model of governance  after undergoing systemic correction.

Well what future has in store only a soothsayer can say, right now, the Laurel (Modi) and Hardy (Shah) are rejoicing at the fact they have changed the trajectory of Indian history and have buried the vision of India that was conceived when the country was making tryst with destiny.

If such is the case, it can be argued that why India took seventy years or so to come out of the secular slough to don the saffron apparel the mascot of which is the UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.

This can be answered with views that at the time of independence, India rejected the idea of being a religious society or a caste based society because doing so the loss to Hindu religion may far outweigh the gains. As a result secular identity was dished out as a facade to outmaneuver the two nation theory and to keep caste and religious groupings under the secular umbrella.

Now when India has become politically and economically strong and militarily powerful, and when there is no threat to Hindu religion, then the secular mask has been taken off and replaced by the religious nationalistic identity. As of now this reflects the correct aspirations of the majority Indians and earlier idea was just a velvet glove.

In fact around such ideas the case of Pakistan was contested. Muslim League that saw the unfolding of the Indian nationalism character from 1909 to 1936 argued that the idea of secularism preached by Congress was humbug and its core motive was to establish the supremacy of the Hindu religion. It therefore pleaded that religion alone should be the criteria of political formation in India and best way to run the country would be to get organized on religious lines.

 However, the two nation theory was rejected by the Congress and it accepted the partitioning the country on religious lines. It would be an interesting scenario if that call may be taken by the RSS or the Janasang or their current avatar the BJP, when India was gaining independence.

Well that’s a hyperbole and the fact is, India chose the ideals secularism and socialism as the future model of governance. Both, left and right forces were amalgamated into such ideological paradigm and steered the future course of governance.

In such world view unity in diversity among the religious community and socialism and secularism were the pillars of statecraft. In this model of governance religious interference in governance was abhorred. As such this idea had great appeal to the masses and it remained a dominant force for the next seventy years or so. 

However, since 1970 when the society has moved from modernism to postmodernism that is characterized by consumerism, the ideas of socialism and secularism, started becoming weak.  The failure of the secular and socialist forces to live up to the people’s expectations and floundering in performing political duties were the main reasons. Their ways of governance were filled with so much of incongruities that it paved way for the clamor to bring alternate model of governance.

The incongruities were being, preferential treatment towards certain group and specificity, appeasement policy with an eye to build vote banks etc.  Empirically this may not be true, but such political discourse at the grassroots took assertive form and the BJP sprung up as a religious and nationalist political party to replace the secular model of governance.

Now when the BJP has come to acquire power both at the center and several other states in India, how the future political discourse would pan up in the country? Right now its honeymoon period for the BJP and its fortune is on the assent. After it pass through the motion of accumulation of power and pass the test of delivering the promises made it can cling to power.

They face the challenge to control the assertive Hindu sentiments against the minorities and the deprived castes and to deliver of development front benefiting of all the segments of the society. If they flounder on such tests, they too would undergo a systematic correction for a political change.

In such case they would either be replaced by the secularist nationalist or the caste matrix, the core of Sanatan Dharma’s identity. In fact the second option was provided by the colonial rulers that thought about such framework in the Government of India act of 1935.

In this framework, Sanatan dharma was treated as an amalgamation of caste categories with each caste having separate identity and getting representation in the governance according to their numerical caste strength. The other religions categories were treated as a block and were to be represented as such in the political formation.

This idea was tooth and nail opposed by the Congress party and it provided a united front wearing the secular cloak. The Poona pact between Gandhiji and Ambedkar was a part to counter the British design to organise the political future of the country based on caste and religious identity.

In the end, such ideas were defeated and the vision of secular India prevailed at the time of independence and Nehruvian secularism, was born as the idea of India. Now it appears that this idea is on its last leg and is poised to be replaced by the religious nationalist vision of India.

The way the religious nationalist have rose from the ashes of the secular frame work and trying to supplant it and establish its supremacy, the fear is the caste matrix which is now lumped under religious umbrella may rebel leveling the same acquisitions that Modi and Adityanath are leveling against the secularist.

Such fears are not unfounded because the history of Indian civilization caste matrix has always remained restless in the deep belly of Hinduism. Ask a Hindu if he is a Brahmin first or Hindu first, one may get the answer to the core of Indian identity.

The caste identity that has been bottled up under the religious nationalism is a civilizational fact and so is their restless to break free.  Just like Modi, a tall leader from the caste group is needed that can come from behind and uncork the bottle of religious nationalism and organise the Indian politics on caste matrix.

The coming of the religious nationalists’ forces to power has opened that the floodgates for caste groupings to assert their identity and the  possibilities looms large that the religious cloak will be overthrown just like the same way the secular cloak has been shed.

This is a very disturbing scenario and the much better option for the country would be to uphold the socialist and secularist credentials. This is only possible if all such forces unite against the religious nationalist group and save the country from the disruption of peace and tranquility to ensure the path of progress.

In sum, the idea of India a secular democratic republic may have died as of now but it could be momentary phase and the fact is its rebirth remains imminent. This is because the layers of Indian social structure are so complex that it can only be protected through the Nehruvian secular ideals.
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at

Wednesday, January 25, 2017


By William Dalrymple

"Fibs," said Mir Moazam Jah. "That's what everyone of your generation thinks I'm telling, at least when I talk about Hyderabad in the old days. You all think I'm telling the most outrageous fibs."
The old man settled himself back in his chair and shook his head, half-amused, half-frustrated: 

"My grandchildren, for instance. For them, the old world of Hyderabad is completely inconceivable: they can barely imagine that such a world could exist."

"But what exactly can't they believe?" I asked.

"Well the whole bang-shoot really: the Nizam and his nobles and their palaces with their zenanas (harem) and the entire what-have-you that went with the Hyderabad state."

Born 6 October 1933 in Nice, in France, Prince Moazam Jah was the heir to possibly the world's biggest private fortune.  The scion of two great dynasties, his maternal grandfather was the last Ottoman Caliph ('Abdu'l-Mijid II) and his paternal grandfather the 7th Nizam of Hyderabad (Osman Ali Khan), widely considered the richest man in the world during his lifetime, amassing a fortune
worth a staggering US$210 billion in today's money. 

Mir Moazam is a sprightly and intelligent 84-year-old, with a broad forehead and sparkling brown eyes. "Take the palace I grew up in," he continued. "It was by no means the biggest but it had a staff of 927 people, including three doctors. There was even a regiment of African women who were there just to guard the zenana. But tell that to my grandchildren. They've seen how we live today, and they just think that I'm making it up. Especially, when I start telling them about my grandfather, Fakrool Mulk... He was a remarkable man, a great servant of the state, but he was also - how shall I put it - a larger-than-life character."

"Tell me about him."

"Well, where shall I start? You see, although my grandfather was deputy prime minister in the Nizam's government, his real passion was building. Over the course of his life, he built this great series of vast, rambling palaces, but he was never satisfied. As soon as he had finished one, he immediately began to build another. Sometimes he would just give an entire palace away. Of course, he built up enormous debts in the process."
"Was he a trained architect?"

"Well, that was precisely the problem. No, he wasn't. But every evening he would go out for a walk, and with him he would take his walking stick and this great entourage of his staff, which always included his secretary, his master mason, his builders and a couple of his household poets - some 30 or 40 people in all.

"Anyway, on these walks - when the inspiration came - he would begin to draw in the sand with his walking stick; maybe a new stable block, or a new palace, according to how the fancy took him. The draughtsmen he had brought with him would jot it down on paper and then draw it up when they got back. Well into his seventies he was still adding new wings to his palaces."
"Did he have a favourite palace?"

"The one he lived in the longest was Iram Manzil. It wasn't the largest, but the reason he really loved it was the stuffed tiger."

"The stuffed tiger"

"You see, after building, my grandfather's other great love was tiger shooting, and the season for shooting tigers was only a few months each year. So, on the hill outside Iram Manzil, he built this railway track and on the track he placed a stuffed tiger on wheels. It would be let loose from the top of the hill and we would all line up and let fire with our double-barrels: bang! bang! bang! All of us aiming at this wretched tiger as it careered down the hill. By the time it reached the end of the track it was blown to bits, poor thing. So the men who were employed to look after the tiger would patch it up and pull it back up, and off we'd go again.

"But, like my grandchildren," added Mir Moazam, looking me in the eyes, "you probably find it difficult to conceive the life I'm describing. And why shouldn't you? This entire world was almost completely uprooted years before you were born."

But I did believe Mir Moazam, for I had long heard equally fantastical stories about Hyderabad, which was, until 1948, a huge, autono-mous princely state in central-southern India.

YEARS AGO, Iris Portal, an old friend of my grandmother, had told me how, one day in the late 1930s, she had been taken to see some of the Nizam's treasure. One of the Hyderabadi princesses had led Iris to a series of open-fronted sheds in the grounds of one of nine palaces, past a group of Bedouin Arab guards all lolling about half-asleep in a state of dishabille, and there at the back of the sheds was a line of trucks. 

The trucks were dusty and neglected, their tyres rotting and sinking into the ground, but when the two ladies pulled back a tarpaulin, they found that the trucks were full to the hilt with gems and precious stones and pearls and gold coins. 

The Nizam apparently lived in fear of a revolution and had equipped the lorries so that, at short notice, he could get some of his wealth out of the country if the need came. But then he lost interest and left the lorries to rot, quite incapable of being driven anywhere, but still full of their jewels.

For all the fairy-tale quality of these stories, I soon discovered that they were confirmed in every detail by the most sober history books. The Nizam, Osman Ali Khan, did indeed possess the largest fortune in the world: according to one estimate it amounted to at least Pounds 100m in gold bullion and Pounds 400m in jewels, many of which came from his own Golconda mines, source of the Koh-i-Noor. For the first half of the 20th century, the Nizam ruled 15m subjects and a state the size of Italy as absolute monarch, answerable (in internal matters at least) to nobody but himself. Nor was Hyderabad a poor country: in its final year of existence, 1947-8, the income of the state rivalled that of Belgium and exceeded that of 20 member states of the United Nations.

Fragments of this lost world still survive as you drive through the city today. New buildings are mushrooming everywhere, often built over the old Indo-Islamic bazaars and the colonial town houses. But look a little further and you soon discover that many small pools of the old Hyderabad are still completely intact.

The Falaknuma Palace is one such place. A huge complex of white classical palaces raised above the town on its own acropolis, the Falaknuma was the principal residence of the sixth Nizam. But, today, it is subject to a bitter legal dis-pute and the entire palace complex lies empty, locked by court order, with every doorway sealed by red wax. Wipe the windows and peer inside and you see cobwebs the size of bedsheets hanging from the corners. 

The skeletons of outsize Victorian sofas and armchairs lie dotted around the parquet floors, their
chintz entirely eaten away by white ants, so that all that remains is the wooden frame, the springs and a little of the stuffing. Beyond are long, gloomy corridors, leading to unseen inner courtyards and zenana wings, mile upon mile of empty, classical arcades and melancholy bow fronts, now quite empty but for a pair of lonely chowkidars (guards) shuffling around with their lathis (long sticks) and whistles.

That this fairy-tale extravagance has always been part of the culture of Hyderabad is demonstrated by the Qutb Shahi tombs, a short distance to the east of the Falaknuma. They are wonderfully ebullient monuments dating from the 16th century, with domes swelling out of all proportion to the base, each like a watermelon attempting to balance on a fig. Above the domes rises the citadel of Golconda, source of the ceaseless stream of diamonds that ensured that Hyderabad's rulers would never be poor. Inside the walls, you pass a succession of harems and bathing pools, pavilions and pleasure gardens - a world that seems to have jumped straight out of the pages of the Arabian Nights.

This oddly romantic and courtly atmosphere infected even the sober British when they arrived in Hyderabad at the end of the 18th century, and the city became the location of one of the most affecting of Anglo-Indian love stories. The old British Residency, now the University College for Women, is an imposing palladian villa that shelters in a fortified garden in the south of the town. The complex was built by James Achilles Kirkpatrick, who, shortly after arriving in Hyderabad, fell in love with Khair-un-Nissa (Excellent Among Women), a great-niece of the dewan of Hyderabad, whom he married in 1800 according to Muslim law.

I found a battered token of Kirkpatrick's love for his wife surviving today in the garden at the back of the residency. As Khair-un-Nissa remained all her life in strict purdah, living in a separate bibi ghar at the end of Kirkpatrick's garden, she was unable to walk around the side of her husband's great creation to admire its wonderful portico. Eventually, the resident hit upon a solution and built a scaled-down plaster model of his new palace for her, so that she could examine in detail what she would never allow herself to see with her own eyes. The model survived intact until the 1980s, when a tree fell on it, smashing the right wing. The remains of the left wing and central block now lie under a piece of corrugated iron, near the ruins of the Mogul bibi ghar , buried deep beneath a jungle of vines and creepers, in an area still known as the Begum's Garden.

Another legacy of Old Hyderabad to filter down to the modern streets is a fondness for witchcraft and sorcery. In the Lad Bazar, a short distance from the Charminar, I found a shop that sold nothing but charms and talismans: silver ta'wiz blessed by Sufis, special kinds of attar that deflected the evil eye, nails worried into the shape of a cobra to protect from snake bites. On one side of the shop were piled huge bundles of thorns: "Put them at the entrance of your gate along with a lime and a green chilli and it will take on any bad magic," said Ali Mohammed, who ran the shop.

"Do you really believe they work?" I asked.

"Definitely," said Ali Mohammed. "I have seen it for myself. The murshad (sorcerers) of Hyderabad are very powerful. They can kill a man with a look if they want to."

"Magic? Oh yes, there was no shortage of magic," said Mir Moazam's wife, the Begum Meherunissa, when I told her about my conversation in the bazaar later that afternoon. "In the time of the Nizam, there were many such stories. On summer evenings, the womenfolk of my family would go for a stroll in one of the gardens. One day, after we had returned, my aunt began to behave very oddly, and there was this smell of roses wherever she went. Luckily, my grandfather realised what had happened. He called a murshad, who questioned my aunt. Quite suddenly, she started speaking with a man's voice, saying, 'I am the djinn of the rose garden and I am in love with this woman.' The murshad performed an exorcism and the djinn was sent off. After that, the murshad became a regular visitor. 

He could work small miracles."
"You saw him work miracles?"
"Many times. Or rather not him so much as his djinn"
"He had his own djinn?"

"That's right. To master a djinn you must first fast for 40 days. Very few succeed. But this man succeeded and the djinn gave him the strong powers. The children of Hyderabad all knew him as Misri Wallah Pir (the Holy Man Who Gives Sweets) and they would run after him and shout, 'Pir, sahib, give us sugar.' So he would bend down and pick up a handful of mud and throw it and, before it reached us, midway in the air, it would turn to sugar. It was delicious: clean and white, with no sand or impurity. My mother was very angry when I told her I had eaten some of Misri Wallah Pir's sugar, and said that it would become mud again in my stomach. But it never did me any harm."
"So you saw him turn mud into sugar more than once?"

"Often. We children would follow him around and spy on him. Once, my friend asked Misri Wallah
Pir for some biryani. Pir sahib said, 'I am a poor man, how can I afford biryani?' But we pleaded with him and eventually he called his djinn - ' Idder ao Mowak hal !' ('Come here, spirit!'). And, within seconds, a delicious biryani appeared before us out of the thin air.
"Another time, a sick man begged him for grapes. It was not the season, but the djinn brought them all the same."

"But, you see, everything changed after the independence," said Mir Moazam, who had listened to his wife's story. "After the Indian army invaded and toppled the Nizam in 1948, that whole world collapsed. I left for Paris to work with UNESCO and barely recognised Hyderabad when I returned 20 years later. Almost all the great houses had gone. The aristocracy lost their status and their income after the fall of the Nizam, so they sold everything - land, houses. They knew nothing about business, selling their heritage was the only way to make ends meet."

The old man took my hand: "My children tell me you mustn't live in your memories. And they are right, of course. That is why I never go back to the old palaces where I spent my childhood. At every step there are fragments of history. And, frankly, it breaks my old heart to see them as they are today."

For centuries, the Nizams of Hyderabad had ruled over an area the size of France in southern India, initially governing on behalf of the Mughal Empire but later becoming independent rulers. Eventually, they became closely allied to the British, and were accorded the status of premier princely state in all of India.

* William Dalrymple travelled to India as a guest of Greaves Travel (0171-487 9111). This is an excerpts from his new book, The Age of Kali: Indian Travels & Encounters, is published by HarperCollins

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Bliss and Heaven Feel at Jallikatu Protests

Bliss and Heaven Feel at Jallikatu Protests
Syed Ali Mujtaba

 “Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, but to be young was very heaven!” What William Wordsworth said about French Revolution in 1888 can aptly describe the mood
of the protest against ‘Jallikatu’ ban at the Marina beach in Chennai.

Chennai’s Marina beach has become the epicenter of protests against the Supreme Court’s ban on ‘Jallikattu’, a traditional bull-taming sport popular all over Tamil Nadu conducted during ‘Pongal’ harvest festivities in mid-January.

Thousands of youngsters are squatting on the Marina sands, defying Supreme Court’s order to register their support to the traditional bull-taming sports that represents Tamil Cultural identity.

Protests erupted in support of ‘Jallikattu’, after the Supreme Court on January 12 refused to pass an order allowing the sport to conduct before the ‘Pongal’ festival.

The apex court had outlawed ‘Jallikattu’ in 2014 and the state government's review petition was dismissed last December.

The spontaneous protest has shades of Arab Spring, where all sorts, of people have joined the bandwagon at the seafront.  After a pall of gloom that was set in the city due to ‘Vardha’ cyclone, it’s a season of protest festivity in Chennai. There is defiance in the air and arguments are flying thick and fast in its support.

The ‘Babri Masjid’ demolition case is cited as the most recent example of the defiance of court order supporting the traditional sports having emotive significance in the history culture and tradition belief of the Tamil society.  

While talking to a few ‘Jallikattu’ protesters at Marina who has turned out in massive numbers after coming to know about it through the social media, one can get a sense of their anger against the Supreme Court ban.

“When the ‘Sangh Parivar’ and the BJP can defy court order, then why can’t others do the same?  Can there be two parameters; one for the North Indians other for the South Indians, one for the Aryans and other for the Dravidians, one for the Fair Skins and other for the darker ones,” said a belligerent protester, holding a torch light vigil on the breezy evening at Marina on Thursday, January 19, 2017.

The charged souls further argued; “even as the cases were pending before the Allahabad High Court, the ‘Sangh’ outfits had defied all bans, and demolished the contested mosque, without caring about its consequences.”

“What is the result of that defiance of the court ban, one asked and answered, even 25 years has elapsed, nothing has happened so far and the cases are still pending before the court.”

“Perhaps same will be case in Tamil Nadu too for defying the court ban. Who will be there to see what happens after 25 years from now,” this never ending argument stopped for a pause.

Here is a case where a huge section of people want to defy the court order and organise their cultural event that has a larger traditional, cultural and emotional significance.

The protesters want a clear cut assurance from the government to hold their traditional sports as before. Their core demand is to conduct ‘Jallikattu’ without any delay, amend Sections 22 and 27 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, scrap FIRs filed against protesters and ban the animal welfare organisation PETA in Tamil Nadu.

The situation on the ground suggest that any attempt by the government to carry out the court order, ignoring the public sentiment will only lead to worsening of the law and order situation. In such case the challenge before the government is how to defuse the situation and placate the protesters to call of the protests.

The only option before the state government is to come out with a special resolution to lift the Supreme Court ban. This can be introduced in the Assembly session that is to begin on January 23.

The special resolution can be couched with wording of   precautions against any cruelty towards animals and allow the traditional sports to continue as per the wishes of the people.

‘After all, our laws are meant for the people to address heir genuine aspirations and sentiments. If the court can give primacy to the animal’s welfare, the government of the day can make laws for the popular sentiments.

This kind of special resolution can provide a huge relief to the people and the current band of protesters can be placated and the situation could be defused without the use of any force,” goes another argument in support of ‘Jallikatu.’

However, this resolution is likely to be challenged and again could be stayed by the Supreme Court. In such case the state government will be heavily reprimanded for defying the court’s orders and should be ready for the maximum punishment.

As the pressure is mounting, the government has no other option than to take this calculated risk.  Right now the priority before it is to resolve the law and order situation, it can face the contempt of court later. Perhaps one day Jail for OPS, like it was for Kalyan Singh!

Meanwhile, the crowd at Marina is not ready to listen to anyone and they are in a defiant mood to resist any move that would endanger their heritage and identity.

It is happening elsewhere in the state too. Students and youngsters are seen on the roads and public places demanding the conduct of ‘Jallikattu.’

After the Anna Hazare protest touted as second freedom struggle in 2012 in New Delhi, this is the most significant protest movement that has happened in the country.

The notable feature is the democratic nature of the protest movement and the spontaneous nature of people mobilization. Apparently there is consensus among the protesters to keep away from all known political forces and there is complete absence of any charismatic leader to lead the protest.The capacity of the protesters to self-motivate and self-organize reminds of 2015 Chennai floods, where standing together for a cause was much evident in this protest.

The protesters is adhering the principals on ‘nonviolence’ and ‘satyagrah’ and there are no hoodlums and rowdies among the protesters.  The protest is by and large peaceful and even though there are large numbers of female participants, there is no incidence of eve teasing activities,.

The most interesting part of this protest is even though the Supreme Court order does not impact normal life of any individual, this issue has caught the imagination of the people and they have come out in large numbers to defy the ban.

Even though this protest is not being articulated or dictated by any political mandate or through written campaign material, there is a human emotional appeal in this protest that is beyond the established political and ideological narrative.

This narrative is deifying the human - animal relationship within the cultural matrix of Tamil Nadu and this is reflected from almost the entire participant's banners and ply cards and speeches.. This is the most unifying element of this protest.

The role of social media in coxing the youngsters to come out of their homes and offices, schools and colleges to join the protest is commendable.

The emergence of such massive movement in a city like Chennai that goes by the adage; ‘mind your own business’ is astonishing. Here the free spirits are quite excited about this struggle while other others like me are anxiously struggling to comprehend its complexities and its future trajectories.

Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at