Thursday, December 23, 2010

Jewel Box of Agra

These were not painted on paper or cloth….these intricate patterns were not designed in computer – all these were crafted in stone some 400 years back. Welcome to the stunning jewel box of Agra, welcome to Itimad-ud-daula, which you ignored last time you went to the erstwhile Mughal capital. Completed approximately three decades before the greatest monument of love, the tomb of Itimad-ud-daula is a breath- taking tribute to the first family of Mughal servants. And it was erected by the most famous lady in the history of Mughal dynasty – Nur Jahan. It stands as a testimony to the family’s standing and also as a turning point in the evolution of Mughal architecture, which culminates at Taj, hardly a few miles away on the other bank of the river Yamuna. Hidden behind these incredibly beautiful designs are unseen forces of this subcontinent’s history and an unparallel story of love and intrigue.
The story starts with an Iranian nobleman Khwaja Ghiyas Beg, who came to India on a fortune hunt. Ghiyas Beg’s father was a prime minister at Khorasan but cruel turn of fate forced him to abandon his homeland and flee towards the Mughal court in search of employment. His daughter Mehrunissa was born at a particularly difficult period during the arduous journey near Kandahar (1577). Her parents – under dire clutches of circumstance – were forced to abandon the baby. A caravan of merchants coming behind them picked up the girl child and handed over to the distraught couple a few days later. It was the leader of that caravan, who took Ghiyas Beg under his care and introduced him at the court of Akbar. By dint of his sheer hard work and talent Khwaja Ghiyas Beg and then his son Asaf Khan rose very fast through the rank of Imperial hierarchy. In 1605, Ghiyas beg was given the title of Itimad-ud-daula (Pillar of the State) and promoted to the post of diwan by Jahangir. Meanwhile, at the age of 17, Mehrunissa was married to a middling Iranian noble Ali Quli Istajlu, Sher Afghan (reportedly the match was arranged by Akbar himself). Everyone at the darbar was much impressed with the sophistication and taste of this highly educated Iranian family but the real turn in family’s fortune came through this daughter.

In 1611, Emperor Jahangir fell in love with     Meherunissa – then a widow of around 35 – and immediately married her (Meherunissa became Jahangir’s 20th wife). Soon her father (who was recently caught in a bribery scam and also arrested for alleged links with Khusru) was made the Diwan and brother Asaf Khan was made Mir Bakshi (Imperial Pay master); Nur Jahan’s extended family also held the governorship in 7 out of 12 provinces– this concentration of power in the hands of a single family was not only unprecedented but also would not be replicated till the dying days of the Empire. Meherunissa accompanied Emperor Jahangir everywhere and was equally adept in horse riding and big game hunting apart from her highly sophisticated taste in culture. Jahangir (whose formal name was Nur-uddin) renamed her Nur Mahal (Light of the Palace) and then Nur Jahan (Light of the Universe) – the name in which she was to become famous for posterity.

Nur Jahan’s daughter from her first marriage Ladli Begum was married to Jahangir’s son (from a concubine) Shahryar. Asaf Khan’s daughter Arjumand Bano Begum (future Mumtaj Mahal) was married to the most powerful of Jahangir’s sons, Prince Khurram. It has been alleged that this Nur Jahan Junta (Itimad-ud-daula, Asaf Khan, Khurram along with Nur Jahan) actually used to run the empire even as Jahangir went on increasing his daily intake of opium. Symbolically, the apogee came when Nur Jahan was portrayed alongside Jahangir in imperial gold coin (only instance during the entire Mughal history), implying that she was no longer a mere consort but a co-ruler.
Nur Jahan started building the tomb of her father in 1622 at the height of her power and it was completed in 1628, shortly after Jahangir’s death and Nur Jahan’s fall from power. It represents a great transition in Mughal architecture from its first to second phase. From pre-Akbar days, Mughal buildings - both public and military buildings (like mosque or fort) and funerary buildings (more personal) were built in red sandstone. From the days of Humayun’s tomb (built by Humayun’s sister Gulbadan Begum), Mughal artisans specialized in marble inlay within sandstone panel. But it was at itimad-ud-daula, we see for the first time a complete mausoleum made of marble. Itimad-ud-daula is also significant for two more architectural trends, seen for the first time in Mughal buildings – pietra dura or large scale stone inlay using precious and semi-precious stones and chiaroscuro or the use of light and shadow technique.

           The tomb, which actually houses not only the mortal remains of Itimad-ud-daula but also his wife Asmat Begum and some of the other members of Nur Jahan’s family, including her daughter Ladli begum (also named Meherunissa). Situated on a rectangular plot right on the banks of the river, the complex has four huge gates, built of red sand stone but decorated with marble inlays much like Humayun’s tomb or Sikandra. Inside, the rectangular marble mausoleum is set amidst lush green Mughal cheher bagh. It is a single story structure with four minarets. But the base of the monument is still in sand stone. Perhaps it was kept lower deliberately – they were Royal servants but not the Imperial family. Someone like Nur Jahan would have been acutely aware of this difference in status.

Even though at times it is called the baby Taj but what it lacks most is the symmetry of Taj. Over the structure’s flat roof rises a beautiful cupola, topped with foliated lotus like design. Inside the main hall lie the sarcophaguses of Nur Jahan’s parents in asymmetrical fashion. In rooms around the main hall other mazars are scattered (Nur Jahan herself is buried in a simple mausoleum at Shahdara Bagh in Lahore, next to Jahangir’s final resting place). The entire structure sits like a jewel box. Every side of the structure has three arched doorways with the middle one being the actual door. But the most impressive and elegant craftsmanship is to be seen on the panels and floors of the mausoleum.
Pietra dura – which originated in the Roman Empire and flourished in Italian cities like Florence in the 16th century, has sometimes been described as pittura per l’eternita or painting for eternity. It surely describes the panels and floors of Itimad-ud-daula best.  But the central Asian or Iranian stone inlay work was somewhat different from the European tradition as could be seen from the stunning Lotfallah mosque or other buildings at Nasq-e-Jahan square  at new Safavid capital Isfahan(built in late 16th century). Surely the craftsmen for Itimad-ud-daula came from outside India. The family’s Persian connection was perhaps directly responsible for that. Mughals began like titans and finished like jewelers – this is an oft-quoted statement, but the finish would not have come without the infusion of this Persian sophistication.

The other design trait or using extensive stone jali (screen) also started with this tomb. Inside the mausoleum, as the sunlight seeps in intricate pattern through this beautifully carved screens and falls on tiles of geometric design, it creates a serenely different world altogether. Both the craft heritage of pietra dura and chiaroscuro would be carried much further in Taj and royal buildings inside Lal Quilla and Agra Fort during Shah Jahan (Prince Khurram)’s time. His master builders had more confidence in using marble for the entire building, even at the base. But the sheer elegance of this first experiment provides the most beautiful interlude in the annals of Mughal architecture.
Eventually Khurram and Nur Jahan fell over and Khurram rebelled against his own father. Even though the rebellion was controlled, Jahangir died in 1627 and Khurram – with the help of his father-in-law and Nur Jahan’s brother Asaf Khan – easily triumphed over Nur Jahan’s choice Shahryar (her son-in-law). But the former partners reached an agreement. Nur Jahan withdrew from public life, dedicated herself to building the mausoleum at Lahore and to the art of perfumery, which she learned from her mother (according to Indian tradition, it was her mother, who invented rose ittar). Even amidst the clutter and congestion of today’s Agra once you are inside Itimad-ud-daula complex, the fragrance of her taste wafts through the morning mist set over the dying river.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Freddie n' Rohit

1st December is World’s AIDS day and a release by UNAIDS on this occasion strangely brought to my mind images of two odd-ball icons of our teenage years. New cases of HIV infections have come down by 50% in India between in last one decade (2000-2009) – this is very much in line with other HIV/AIDS hotspots around the world, like most parts of Africa. This is mainly due to increased awareness about this deadly disease. First documented death from HIV/AIDS was that of Robert R – an Afro-American teenager, whose death in 1969 baffled doctors as AIDS was not ‘discovered’ until 1981. But the first time American public came to know about the disease is actually when Rock Hudson became the first celebrity to openly acknowledge it shortly before his death in 1985. Death or infection of a few more celebrities made Americans more conscious about various methods, through which this disease can spread. For instance it was the shocking announcement that their famous basketball star Magic Johnson has been diagnosed with HIV made a whole lot of people aware that HIV may be contracted due to multiple heterosexual partners also (up until then it was thought to be spread only through homosexuals). At the same time Magic Johnson’s heroic battle against HIV/AIDS helped spread the message that HIV could be successfully combated.
In India of early 1990s, AIDS was still a taboo subject to be mentioned in general newspapers or magazines let alone in family dinner table. Infections and subsequent death of two very odd-ball Indian celebrities from AIDS forced the mainstream media to at least mention it. I keep on saying odd-ball because we do not have much right to claim Freddie Mercury (1946-1991) - as an Indian celebrity and I doubt, how many Indians have actually heard of the other celebrity victim - Rohit Khosla (1958-1994). First time I learned that AIDS is a deadly disease and there is no cure for it is when I read that Freddie Mercury’s death (he acknowledged it only a day before his death that he had AIDS). I am never a regular music buff and my knowledge of all genres of music is very limited. But as a Bengali in Calcutta one is bound to be surrounded by all types of music aficionados and it is this passive listening which made me aware of Freddie Mercury’s existence as one of the leading rock stars of that time (he continues to be rated as one of the greatest singers ever even 20 years after his death).
Freddie Mercury was born Farokh Balsara in Zanzibar in a Parsi family from Balsar(Valsad), Gujarat. He spent his early years in Panchgani, where he studied in a boarding school and Bombay. When his family shifted to England, young Farokh at the age of 17, also joined them. For the rest of his life he remained a British citizen. A singer and musician since his school days, Farokh – who liked to be known as Freddie – became famous when he formed the band Queen with Brian May and Roger Taylor in 1970. It was then he changed his name from Freddie Balsara to Freddie Mercury. As the song writer and lead vocalist for Queen, Freddie became world famous. I did not know about his flamboyant stage performance then but what we all knew were his super hit songs like Bohemian Rhapsody, Little Thing Called Love and We Are The Champions. Later on I learned that Freddie Mercury was bisexual – don’t remember that being mentioned in newspapers and magazines I used to read. I also learned that not only for me or my friends, in the global history of AIDS awareness Freddie Mercury’s death was an important event as he was the first rock star to have died of AIDS.
               Today’s generation will laugh at us but as teenagers we were greatly excited when a second channel of Doordarshan – DD2 or DD Metro was launched in late 1980s. There used to be a programme on fashion once a week around 7.30 PM in DD Metro– unfortunately I have forgotten the name of the programme - which much like Pop Time (Sunday evening) opened our window to high fashion. A number of fond memories are associated with this programme, not the least of which was seeing Aishwarya Rai as a ramp model in her initial days. It was in this programme I came across Rohit Khosla for the first time.
Rohit Khosla was India’s first fashion designer in the modern sense. He launched India’s first modern fashion store Ensemble (1987) along with Tarun Tahiliani and a few others and they were the first to launch their own names as a brand. Before them there were costume designers or anonymous shop-owner-tailor designers but haute couture had to wait till Rohit Khosla came back to India from the UK in mid-1980s. I hardly know anything about Rohit Khosla’s personal life apart from the fact that he studied at Doon School and went abroad for further study and a possible career there. As he told an interviewer in that programme, when he launched his fashion label the most frequent reaction from people used to be, ‘see this guy, he went to Doon School and abroad only to become a tailor!!’ Today as I search internet there is hardly any information on the life on India’s first fashion designer – there is a book by his sister, ‘Rohit Khosla, Vanguard’ – but the book is apparently not very easy to find. Not only he was a pioneer in terms of launching his own label, he also nurtured at least two generations of Indian fashion designers – Ensemble launched Tarun and Sal Tahiliani, Amaya, Abu Jani and Sandeep Khosla. First batch of NIFT graduates also trained under him and the list includes, among others J J Valaya, Ranna Gill, Sonam Dobal, Aparna Chandra. As I said I don’t know anything about his personal life but I was stunned to know that he was dying of AIDS. There was hardly any detail or discussion about it. Rohit Khosla passed away in 1994.
     Today a lot more people know about the disease and that has brought down the rate of infection – surely it is healthy sign and a tribute to NACO. But I cannot help thinking that had our media and society been open enough discussing these unfortunate deaths then Indians would have come to know the reality faster – much like what happened to Americans following the demise of legendary stars like Hudson or Arthur Ash or detection of Magic Johnson.
In 2007, India Fashion Week paid a tribute to Rohit Khosla. One of Rohit’s favourite models, Nafisa Ali – who famously modeled for his posthumous collection with a shaven head – today runs a home for HIV/AIDS affected people and she, according to her own admission, was moved by the memory of Rohit. Remaining members of Queen founded a trust in Freddie Mercury’s memory – Mercury Phoenix Trust - which has raised millions of dollars for AIDS charity.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Memories Metaphor and Modern India

Nearly three decades (Published 1983) after its first publications, Sumit Sarkar’s Modern India remains the best summary of the most tumultuous period of Indian History (1885-1947).  Formal students of History have spent countless hours guided by this masterful survey of Indian nation and nationalism; non-History students preparing for Civil Service or other exams, on the other hand, grumbled about this “difficult” book. But both the parties did not have any other option. Well, there are options – and one of the most recent of them, Sekhar Bandopadhyay is quite good – but then, if you want to understand the complexities of Modern India (today it seems more like Emergence of Modern India) Sumit Sarkar is irreplaceable.
Sumit Sarkar was born in an illustrious Brahmo family of Calcutta in 1939. His father Susobhan Sarkar was a legendary Professor of History at Presidency College. Prof Sarkar was also one of the leading lights of Santiniketan under Rabindranath and played an important part in spread of communist thoughts. Sumit’s maternal uncle was P C Mahalanobis. Sumit Sarkar’s sister Sipra has been a renowned Professor of History at Jadavpur University.  He studied at St Xavier School, Presidency College and Calcutta University. His doctoral thesis on Swadeshi Bengal was his first major research work. He taught at Calcutta and Burdwan University before moving to Delhi University in 1976. His wife Tanika (daughter of another famous Presidency Professor Amal Bhattacharya of English Department and Sanskrit scholar Sukumari Bhattacharya) is also a well known historian – in fact Modern India is dedicated to Tanika. Marxist thoughts had a deep impact on Sumit Sarkar and he was one of the founders of subaltern studies, who later mourned the decline of subaltern in subaltern studies. He has written extensively on politics, society and historiography of modern India. But his most famous work has been Modern India.
I have spent many a lazy afternoon and warm midnight with Modern India. I am – like million others – sort of addicted to it. Once in a while, I like to open the book and read about a particular movement or a particular incident – almost every time I realize the value of a particular information or analysis all over again. I do not think it is an easy book for any student. He writes very long sentences with hyphen, comma and semicolon holding multiple pieces of information together. His analysis presupposes a certain degree of familiarity with historiography of modern India and at times with British or World History. Yet the more you read more you get drawn into it. Long after your examinations are over and you try to teach or talk or write about any particular phase, you realize you are unknowingly following Sumit Sarkar’s scheme of presentation. I suppose that is what happens with most of the college and university teachers across the country.
From the point of view of a professional historian there may be a number of problems with the book. Today, in certain aspects, it has become dated as well. Perhaps the most important of all, the inelastic boundary of Modern India – 1885-1947 – today appears unacceptable. I have always wondered why Sumit Sarkar never thought of writing a second volume of his Magnum Opus. But today my growing unease about “Modern India” is not so much on account of its time period but for its near complete focus on the Political part of Modern India. Agreed, that Sumit Sarkar made a significant departure from personality-centred history of high politics, yet, the main focus is on how political consciousness spread to different geographies and social layers, ultimately culminating in partition and independence.
Once upon a time, economic history of India was a craze among the brightest of research scholars. Unfortunately not only it has lost its glamour for researchers, graduation student is also still stuck at old notions of one dimensional Drain of Wealth or how commercialization of agriculture impoverished Indian peasantry. Recent researches (of last three decades at least) into regional variation of agrarian economy, small-scale industry and entrepreneurship have gone totally unnoticed. As a result, the obvious linkages between economic development and political movement – particularly at regional level – are not visible. A good point to start here could be Tirthankar Roy’s Economic History of India.
In last two decades or so, Social and Cultural history has, on the other hand, generated a tremendous interest among scholars, journalists and performers. Some of the greatest themes of Indian history during this time period – emancipation of women, emergence of middle class, caste mobility, mass entertainment - definitely fall into the realm of socio-cultural history. I have seen interesting books/ write-ups on various aspects of socio-cultural history but cannot think of a single volume survey or general introduction. The volume edited by Prof Dilip Menon may be taken as an interesting introduction to socio-cultural stirrings of this period but it is not comprehensive in its scope.
How long is it going to take for a new Modern India to be written with equal emphasis on political, economic and socio-cultural developments? That cannot totally replace Sumit Sarkar but will definitely produce a more comprehensive picture of how modern India took shape and will be far more interesting to general students. Again teachers in India stubbornly refuse to make History teaching a more multidimensional experience. Why can’t we prescribe a few novels and autobiographies as part of our modern India syllabus? Movies and digital photo archives can provide another wonderful medium to connect History with today’s generation.
I like to read whatever I can lay my hands on - novels, autobiographies or watch movies or exhibitions – but finally it is Modern India, which helps me to link my new piece of information with the grand narrative. These days often I feel social mobility or cultural movements are inadequately covered but still the voice of gentle Professor remains my best guide. It never occurred to me that I have not been his direct student.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The First Cut

                 A few days back Sri BM Kankanwadi Ayurvedic College in Belgaum was suddenly in the eye of a global media storm. In this little known college, 40-year-old Dr Mahantesh Ramannavar gave his students an extraordinary lesson in anatomy, by dissecting his father’s dead body. His father BS Ramannavar passed away at the age of 89. Senior Ramannavar donated his body to science but he also stipulated that if a dissection was to be performed, it should be carried out by his son. On November 13, 2010 – exactly two years after his father’s death, Mahantesh performed the dissection. Alongside his students, his family members and others watched the spectacle from a distance and it was broadcast live on many channels. Soon – as it happens these days - the video went viral on YouTube and everyone had something to say about this extraordinary event.
                          Reading about this news event, I thought about the most important dissection in the history of modern India. On the morning of 10th January, 1836 fifty gun salute was fired from the ramparts of Fort Williams as Madhusudan Gupta entered the dissection room of Calcutta Medical College. What happened next is best described by a contemporary account “…at the appointed hour, scalpel in hand, he followed Dr Goodeve in the Godown where the body lay ready. The other students deeply interested in what was going forward but strangely agitated with mingled feelings of curiosity and alarm crowded after them but durst not enter the building where this fearful deed was to be perpetuated; they clustered around the door, peeped through the jilmils, resolved at least to have ocular proof of its accomplishment. When Modusuden’s knife, held with a strong and steady hand, made a long and deep incision in the breast, the lookers-on drew a long-gasping breath, like men relieved from the weight of some intolerable suspense” (John Drinkwater Bethune, pioneering educationist, started first girls school – today Bethune School and Bethune College). The heavy weight of many centuries was lifted with this single incision and as a later day scholar tried to freeze the moment in history – it was that precise moment in time when western knowledge of medicine symbolically entered Indian body.
                  Calcutta Medical College - India’s first medical college - started medical teaching on 1 June, 1835 with 49 students but very soon a practical problem cropped up. It was unthinkable for high caste Hindu students to defile a dead body. Not only for the students even for the society it was unacceptable. But without basic knowledge of anatomy further progress was hampered. Today going by the evidence of advancement in surgery in Ancient India, it can be said without any doubt that they were familiar with cadaver dissection. But for centuries Ayurvedic students did not practice human dissection. Both the authorities and concerned local elites worked together to find a solution to the problem. It finally fell upon Madhusudan Gupta, the Chief Native Teacher of the school to break the taboo and at the same time to provide religious sanction for such an act. Even as the government hailed his heroic act, his own society promptly ostracized him. Later in an open debate – organized by some British educationists with government support – he quoted Sanskrit texts to persuade conservative Brahmins of Calcutta to accept cadaver dissection. His shastric knowledge finally helped him to end his social boycott and more importantly, paved the way for his students to acquire modern medical knowledge.

Madhusudan Gupta (1800?- 1856) was a remarkable person. He was born in a well established family of Ayurvedic doctors (Vaidyas) in a place called Baidyabati (residence of Baidyas i.e. Vaidyas), some 50 kilometres from Calcutta. We have no information about his early life but apparently he did not show much interest in studies. In 1826, he joined the newly started course on Ayurvedic medicine in Calcutta’s Sanskrit College (Company government started two courses for native medical students – Ayurvedic course at Sanskrit College and Unani course at Calcutta Madrasa). In 1830, for his exceptional talent Madhusudan was made a student-cum- teacher in the same college. After finishing his formal education at the college, he was appointed as a full-fledged teacher. When Calcutta Medical College was established in 1835, he was appointed the Chief Native Teacher there. His primary responsibility was to translate and guide first generation of Indian medical students. While being a teacher, he was persuaded to appear for MBBS exam, which he cleared with distinction in 1840. Very few people could actually pass MBBS in first few years. As the government needed many more Indian doctors – particularly for the Army – they started a shorter course for Indians through Hindustani and Madhusudan was made the Superintendent of that course. Later in 1852, a course in Bengali was introduced and again it was Dr Madhusudan Gupta, who was asked to be the head. Already in 1849, he was made a First Class Sub-Assistant Surgeon. He also translated a number of English text books into Sanskrit and Bengali and in that process coined some of the first medical terms in Bengali.
We know almost nothing about his personal life or how he felt as a professional. In a deposition before a government appointed committee on the condition of medical facilities in Calcutta in 1837, we catch a glimpse of this extraordinary doctor: he outlined the need for compulsory vaccination of children for small pox and pointed it out that in the previous 20 years how the number of such cases have come down due to the effort of native vaccinators. Even more remarkably he insisted on providing midwifery training to Hindu women, so that they can save precious lives. He said that the main problems of native quarters of Calcutta were unhealthy living conditions – narrow streets, contaminated drinking water taken from public ponds, lack of ventilation, garbage lying on the street and rotting fish and vegetables in open markets. He mentioned Barabazar, Mechua, Kolutola as some of the most unhealthy localities of the city. 180 years after his observations, Calcutta continues to be the same unhealthy city of narrow roads with garbage lying on the street and Barabazar and Mechua continue to be the unhealthiest parts of the city! That is perhaps the biggest disservice to this pioneer of public health.
On 15th November 1856, Madhusudan , a diabetic patient died of diabetic gangerene of hand, an infection contracted during a dissection.  On his death, the Director of Public Instruction wrote, “…to him a debt of gratitude is due by his countrymen. He cleared a jungle of prejudice, into which others have successfully pressed.” Pandit, Kaviraj, Doctor Madhusudan Gupta was an example of extraordinary moral courage against prejudice of centuries.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Judge Pal: A Japanese Hero

“….if not for anything else, we shall forever remain grateful to the country of Justice Pal” – concluded one senior Japanese journalists, after a long analysis of India-Japan-china strategic relations. A group of senior Indian journalists looked baffled. Hardly 40 years after his death, Justice Radha Binod Pal is a forgotten hero in his homeland, even though he continues to be a deeply venerated figure in Japan. Justice Pal –like Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose – provides an important emotional link in an otherwise fast growing strategic and economic relations between two prominent Asian powers.
Born in Kustia( now in Bangladesh) in 1886, Radha Binod Pal studied mathematics at Presidency College and then Law at Law College of Calcutta University. He also taught at Law College from 1923 to 1936. In 1941, he was made a Judge of Calcutta High Court. From 1944 to 1946 he was also the Vice-Chancellor of Calcutta University. But his moment of glory came in 1946, when he was sent by the Government of India as one of the Judges for Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal. Why he was chosen it is difficult to say – for Justice Pal had clear sympathy for the nationalists, including Subhas Bose’s INA. But apparently he was chosen by his chief Justice, an Englishman.
One among the 11 international jurists, he delivered the lone dissenting judgment at the trial. He believed that the Tribunal itself was a farce and nothing more than victors’ justice imposed on vanquished Japanese. He refused to accept that only Japan provoked the war. He, in fact concluded that USA had provoked Japan into war. He found defendants not guilty of Class A war crimes and refused to apply (newly coined) charges like crime against Humanity. He said exclusion of Western Colonialism and use of Atom Bomb from the list of charges is unacceptable. However it would be wrong to assume that Justice Pal was unduly favouring the Japanese. He found Japanese wartime conduct as ‘devilish and fiendish’; he also found overwhelming evidence of atrocities committed by the Japanese Army during the war. Yet, he believed strongly that the Tribunal itself was an act of retribution and as such incapable of producing any balanced verdict or contributing to any lasting peace. His judgment since then has been a landmark in international law for its reasoning.
Justice Pal’s 1200-odd page judgment was banned by the Allies. In 1952, Japan was forced to sign San Francisco Treaty and accept the verdict of Tokyo Trial. As the American occupation of Japan ended Justice Pal’s dissenting judgment came out as a book. And it provided the basis for neo-nationalist movement in Japan that Tokyo trial was a sham and Japan was not guilty of war crimes. In subsequent Japanese political and popular discourse, his criticism of Japan was forgotten and only the positive part was highlighted.
After the Tokyo trials, Justice Pal was elected to United Nations’ International Law Commission, where he served from 1952 to 1966. He passed away in 1967. One of his sons, Satyabrata Pal was recently India’s High Commissioner to Pakistan and is currently a member of the National Human Rights Commission. Another son Pranab Kumar Pal was also a famous lawyer. Noted lawyer and India’s former Junior Finance Minister Debi Prasad Pal is his son-in-law.
After 1952, Justice Pal visited Japan a number of times and was always showered with great degree of affection – both by the Japanese government and ordinary people. In 1966, Japanese Emperor conferred him the First Class of the Order of the Sacred Treasure. Even in recent years scholarly works have been written on him in Japan and Japanese National broadcaster NHK has made a number of documentaries on Justice Pal. In 2007, the then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe came to Calcutta and met Justice Pal’s son Prasanta. Abe’s grandfather Nobusuke Kishi was one of the prominent Japanese leaders, famously pronounced “not guilty” by Justice Pal at the Tokyo Trial.
Leaders and top diplomats from both countries routinely mention Justice Radha Binod Pal’s contribution in building Indo-Japan relationship but not only in his country, even in his home city, Justice Pal is a forgotten figure. There is not a single road or park named after him or any other mention of this great man anywhere in public life in Calcutta. In Japan, he is venerated by nationalists even today and a monument dedicated to Justice Pal stands on the sacred grounds of Yasukuni shrine (picture) in Tokyo.