Wednesday, February 20, 2013
A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books The Prime Minister of Great Britain, the Rt. Hon'ble David Cameron was extremely gracious and this is not said in a condescending manner. He visited the site of the April 19th, 1919 Jallianwallah Bagh Incident and performed the parikrama and knelt down before the memorial in an apparent gesture of contrition and homage. I think this gesture was both sincere and a genuine expression of the fact that the Anglo-Saxons have finally come to the realization that the Empire over which the 'sun never set" is done and over with. Winston Churchill, then a liberal MP had condemned the Incident and within India the incident of 1919 sparked off fumes of outrage which the Congress party successfully used for its own political ends. There is a larger question: Why should the present Prime Minister of Britain, a man who was not even born at that time and who is not in any way connected to the event apologize for the Incident that happened nearly 100 years ago. Are we now seeing the Great Powers of the past making amends for the real and imagined crimes of the "imperial" rulers. Can we now expect the Commander in Chief of the British Army to come and apologize for the barbarism of General James Smith Neill in 1857. While such gestures are useful in terms of diplomatic and political relations, the historian must necessarily see things differently. The Congress Party gave a call for a public meeting at Jallianwallah Bagh to protest against the Rowlatt Act and the Governor of Punjab had declared Martial Law. The day chosen by the Congress was the day of Baishaki, a very important public holiday in Punhab when people go out and gather in open areas to greet people and generally exchange pleasantries. The cynical use of a public holiday by the Congress has not drawn the attention of scholars who do not seem to understand that for its own political purpose the Congress sought to hijack an innocent and a political gathering for its diabolical scheme of provoking a reaction from the Administration which would add fuel to the fire that had already started in parts of India. The Congress which was leading the movement was aware of the fact that the martial law in place would result in bloodshed and with cynical disregard for the lives of innocent people gave the call for a meeting in Jallianwallah Bagh. What does this decision represent? It means that the Congress wanted bloodshed so that its political purpose would be served. While the British Prime Minister has now been gracious to apologize for the Incident, it is time for the Congress to own up for its role in the Incident. The history of the freedom struggle everywhere is full of violence and it is time to lay to rest the ghosts of the past. 319 people were killed according to the official Inquiry Report and the real number will never be known.
Saturday, February 2, 2013
A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books The Life of Pi by Yann Martel is a novel set in Pondicherry, at least a part of it. Recently I read the book and being a historian by inclination and profession decided to locate the sights and scenes of the novel in the actual real context. The surreal echoes of the novel in some ways reflects the very real spiritual ambiance of the city, I had an earlier opportunity to research the history and built heritage of Pondicherry when Professor J A K Tareen requested me to do the Pages from History. Since then I have been interested in the past of this city where I have lived and worked for more than a quarter of a century, a city I now consider my home as my child was born here. The past creeps upon you in Pondicherry" the names of the streets, the town planning with is grid like pattern of streets and residential areas, the division of the town into a black town--ville noir-- and a white town--ville blanche--the churches and temples and above all the spiritual radiance from the Ashram which houses the graves of both Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. Any visitor to this city leaves a part of his soul behind when he or she leaves.Life of Pi is also a story of struggle, longing and memory making it a great piece of contemporary literature. The novel is a first person narrative of a boy,Piscine Moiltor Patel, named after a swimming pool in France. The French presence is still heavy in Pondicherry, The history of Pondicherry really began when the French East India Company in the late seventeenth century acquired a piece of land on which it buit Fort Barlong, perhaps the very site of the Government Park which stands opposite the Governor's Palace in the heart of the White Town. We know a good deal about the life and conditions in Pondicherry in the eighteenth centry due to the fortuitous survival of the Journal of a bi lingual trader and merchant of the town, Ananda Ranga Pillai. In the early centuries of the Christian era, when Rome was the most powerful empire in the world, the emporia of Podule is mentioned by the Roman geographer, Pliny. Perhps it sttod close to the placid waters of the Ariyankuppam River.