Monday, December 26, 2011

Jana Gana Mana: 100 Years of Our National Anthem

Jana Gana Mana Adhinayaka jaya he……from your morning school prayer to moments of India’s Olympic glory, there could be nothing more inspirational for an Indian to sing these lines along with unfurling of the tricolor. Our beautiful national anthem completes hundred years of singing today. On 27th December 1911, on the second day of annual session of  Indian National Congress in Calcutta, this song was sung for the first time (first day at inauguration, as usual the song of choice was Vande Mataram).  Written in highly sanskritized (tatsam) Bengali, the complete song of five stanzas under the title of Bharat Vidhata was published for the first time in 1912 in the Brahmo magazine Tattvabodhini Patrika, which Rabindranath used to edit at that time.

Rabindranath wrote and set to tune more than 2000 songs – these songs together are known as Rabindra Sangeet and started a new genre of music in Bengali. He grouped these songs under a few thematic categories – Prem, Puja, Prakriti etc. This song was entered in Geetabitan (his collection of songs) under the category of Swadesh or patriotic songs. In 1919, while visiting Besant Theosophical College at Madanapalle (Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh), Rabindranath translated it in English. College Principal James Cousins’ wife Margaret, an expert in western music, wrote down the notation, which is followed till date. Framed original English translation in Rabindranath’s handwriting is still displayed at the institute. It was entitled The Morning Song of India.
Though the song was popular and sung at various Congress sessions, it was Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s Azad Hind Fauj (Indian National Army, INA), which first adopted it as the national anthem or what they called Quami Tarana. In fact Azad Hind Fauj adopted a simplified Hindustani version of the song – Subh sukh chain ki barkha barse, bharat bhaag hai jaga….It was translated by Captain Abid Ali and under Netaji’s direction, set to a martial tune, close to the original, by Captain Ram Singh Thakur (who is perhaps better known for INA's immortal marching song - Kadam kadam badaye ja, khushi ke geet gaaye ja). On 15th August 1947, when Jawaharlal Nehru unfurled the national flag at Lal Qila, Captain Thakur was especially invited with his band to play the anthem.
Captain Ram Singh Thakur playing violin
During the freedom struggle, the real battle cry of freedom fighters was however Vande Mataram, written by Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay. First published as a part of his famous novel Anandamath in 1882 and first sung at the Benaras Congress session of 1896 it became a clarion call since the Swadeshi days in Bengal. The song was however not really acceptable to the Muslims due to the idea of a mother goddess behind it. It was also not very easy to sing it.
Bankim Chandra: First graduate of Calcutta University:
 first serious prose writer in Bengali, single-handedly defined Bengali language
In 1947, the Indian delegation to the United Nations was asked to play their national anthem. They played the only such recording they had with them – a band version of Jana gana and the tune, in Pandit Nehru’s language “..struck the listeners as distinctive and dignified”. Since then, military bands and Indian embassies were asked to play this tune. Nehru highlighted the difference between Vande Mataram and Jana gana mana beautifully, “…Vande Mataram is obviously and indisputably the premier national song of India with a great historical tradition; it was intimately connected with our struggle for freedom……It represents the passion and poignancy of that struggle, but not so much the culmination of it." Finally on 24th January 1950, the Constituent Assembly adopted Jana gana mana as India's national anthem. This was the last resolution to be adopted by the Assembly before the new constitution was signed and came into force on 26th January, 1950.

In modern times, an independent nation is expected to have a constitution of its own, a national flag and a national anthem to define its identity. The concept of national anthems originated in late medieval Europe as modern nation states were coming into being. Dutch national anthem, Wilhelmus – written between 1568 and 1572 is generally taken as the oldest national anthem. Though a number of national anthems are quite famous but their creators are relatively lesser known. It is not even known who composed the British national anthem - God Save the Queen. Only two national anthems are created by world famous composers – Haydn wrote the music of German national anthem and Austrian anthem is sometimes attributed to Mozart. Apart from Rabindranath, the only other Nobel laureate to create a national anthem was   Bjornstjerne Bjornson of Norway.

Ananda Samarakoon
Amar sonar Bangla ami tomai bhalobasi – another famous Rabindra Sangeet from the Swadesh series and written at the height of Swadeshi and Anti-Partition Movement in Bengal (1905-11) is today the national anthem of Bangladesh. This is a rare and perhaps the only case in the world where one poet was behind the creation of two national anthems. In fact it does not stop here – few people claim Rabindranath also composed the national anthem of Sri Lanka – Namo Namo Matha, Apa Sri Lanka (words were later changed to Sri Lanka Matha, Apa Sri Lanka). But what is more acceptable that the song, written by Ananda Samarakoon, a Sri Lankan student of VIswa Bharati, was deeply influenced by Rabindranath. Rabindranath visited Sri Lanka thrice and was a major inspiration behind Sri Lankan cultural renaissance. Samarakoon, influenced by Rabindra Sangeet, pioneered a new form of artistic Sinhala music.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Making of New Delhi: Imperial Vision to Real Capital

The dome above the nation: Illuminated Rashtrapati
Bhavan with Jaipur Column in front
Capital was shifted in 1912 but the arrangements were makeshift. What is today the Delhi Vidhan Sabha (near Delhi University) was the first Secretariat and University Vice-Chancellor’s office was the first Viceregal Lodge. As Lal Qila was the focal point of Shahjahanbad, Viceroy’s House was supposed to be the central pivot in the lay-out of new imperial capital. The site of the Viceroy’s House was finally fixed at a village called Raisina (two other choices were north of Civil Lines and Malcha village, Chanakyapuri). Under the supervision of Edward Lutyens and Herbert Baker the new capital took shape between 1911 and 1931. Lutyens designed the glorious Rashtrapati Bhavan and Baker imposing North and South Blocks – a splendid mix of classical style with Indo-Saracenic features. Among the major contractors was Khuswant Singh’s father Sobha Singh (Khushwant’s father-in-law Teja Singh Malik, who rose to become the first Indian Chief Engineer of CPWD was another key person). The new city in many ways presented a seamless vista with the existing landmarks. They drew a straight line from the Rashtrapati Bhavan to Purana Qila through the War Memorial (India Gate). This road, called Kingsway (today’s Rajpath) - was the main axis. Around this came up palaces of great Kings (of Hyderbad, Jaipur, Bikaner – most of these buildings are in government’s hands today and quite poorly maintained, except for Hyderabad House) and to the south of Rajpath the elegant bunglow zone. When the great city wall of Shahjahanabad was partially broken down, affected people were shifted to Karol Bagh. Lot of institutions also came up there. Lodhi Colony and areas around Gole Market housed government servants. One of the offshoots of the shifting was founding of the Delhi University.
South Block
There were scenes of unprecedented jubilation in Delhi on 15th August 1947. Prime Minister Nehru unfurled the trocolour at Lal Qila. Since then flag hoisting on 15th August at Lal Qila and Republic Parade down the majestic Rajpath are two major annual events in Delhi.
Republic Day Parade
Independence also brought trauma of Partition. It was here at Birla House on 30th January, 1948 Gandhiji was shot dead by a Hindu fanatic Nathuram Godse. More than 3 lakh Muslims left the city in 1947 – more than the number, it was the profile of the emigrants, which created a gap in terms of economy, culture and leadership of the community. On the other hand, nearly 5 lakh Hindu-Sikh refugees came to Delhi. Population of Delhi increased a staggering 90% between 1941 and 1951 as refugees continue to pour in. This completely changed the profile of the city. “Mughal twilight” in the Old City came to an end and New Delhi, beyond the political-bureaucratic Lutyens zone, became a Punjabi city.
Future Perfect? Refugees near Purana Qila 1947-48
The refugees first lived in massive tent cities in different parts of the capital with the Kingsway Camp (Coronation Park) ironically being the largest of them. Some of them were settled in houses left by Muslims evacuees. New colonies like Lajpat Nagar, Malviya Nagar, Patel Nagar (all named after Hindu leaders and also notice "Nagar") and markets like Sarojini Nagar and Kamla Market were built for them. After independence, first official expansion was Chanakyapuri – the diplomatic enclave, followed by more government colonies with RK Puram being the largest. Soon Delhi was expanding on all sides - private developers like DLF developed areas like Hauz Khas and DDA built apartments in different areas. 
Lotus Temple: Delhi does not have a skyline, only impressive individual monuments
Delhi has always been a political capital but over the years it has evolved into an economic power house and hub for education and culture. Refugees infused new life into business. Small factories started coming up in and around the city. Some of these businesses like Ranbaxy went on to become great success stories. During the initial years, cultural activities were limited around state-sponsored institutions in Lutyens Delhi but today thanks to its diversity, presence of government agencies and embassies, today no other Indian city can match Delhi in terms of sheer variety of cultural events. Similarly, over the years, Delhi has become an education hub with premier institutions like Delhi University, IIT, JNU etc. Yet what Delhi lacks is social culture. There is no cohesive social identity of the city. A city of perennial immigrants, Delhi has within itself mini-Bengal, mini-Tamil Nadu and localities with different flavours....but there is no cohesive identity of either the city or its society. This reflects in its attitude to women, apathy for downtrodden and a general lack of involvement. Very few cities in the world can claim to have such a rich legacy yet most Delhites remain completely ignorant of their heritage and see the city only as a provider of their livelihood.
Height of Delhi Punjabi cuisine: Butter Chicken at Moti Mahal
 Emergency was a difficult time for Delhi, especially for the poor as Sanjay Gandhi embarked on his twin schemes of bulldozing all shanties and sterilization of poor. Legacies of that period are resettlement colonies like Seelampur, Mongolpuri and in a way better communication between the city and its peripheries. 1982 Asian Games helped to upgrade city infrastructure and brought in first flyovers. In 1984, assassination of Indira Gandhi sparked off terrible riots against the Sikhs. This was an image of barbaric Delhi. Then there were waves of agitations –Bofors, Mandal and Ram Janambhoomi. Since then Delhi has also been routinely scarred by terror attacks – including several serial blasts and an attack on Parliament in 2001.
Metro Man E Sreedharan: Nothing has changed Delhi more than the metro
Post- economic reform Delhi became posh. New economic opportunities started attracting talent and labour. Now there are substantial populations from UP, Bihar, Bengal as well as from the South and North East. Presence of so many ethnic groups with their varied culture, language and cuisine has helped Delhi to emerge as a true capital of India. Recent introduction of metro and infrastructure development due to the Commonwealth Games have made at least parts of Delhi world class.
Gurgaon Skyline
Delhi of new millennium is to a large extent a story of superb suburbs. Gurgaon has emerged as a global back office destination. Faridabad, established as a small scale industry hub, has reinvented itself as a middle class paradise. Noida, once labelled as a retirement hub of babus, has got a swankier twin in Greater Noida and is staging F1 race now. Their collective story is that of Delhi’s new found economic might and global ambitions.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Birth of New Delhi: Coronation Darbar 1911

Mir Nihal headed towards Chandni Chowk early morning on 7th December, 1911. After a long wait, the five mile long royal procession slowly emerged out of Lal Qila. From a distance he could not even identify the firangi King (the new queen told the officials flatly that neither she was going to sit atop an elephant nor would allow the King). But the great pageantry with guns booming in the background reminded him only of India’s servitude. Sitting in front of Jama Masjid, Mir Nihal remembered how in 1857, the British forces after re-capturing the city thought of blasting away the great mosque. As Nihal – a member of the fading Mughal elite - sat there, images of Delhi’s past glory flashed before him. On his way back home, he met a lame beggar, said to be the youngest son of the last emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar – these haunting scenes from Ahmed Ali’s classic Twilight in Delhi are difficult to forget.

Coronation Park
Five days later, on 12th December, at the Coronation Park George V was anointed the Emperor of India. A new crown was designed for the occasion at a cost of 60 million pounds – a matching tiara (now called Delhi Darbar tiara) was presented to the Queen on behalf of the ladies of India. After the royal couple was anointed, all the reigning Kings of British India were trooped in to do their salaam – this included the lone lady, Begum of Bhopal, who was modestly attired in a traditional dress but wore a pair of tennis shoes! Maharaja of Gaikwad Sayyaji Rao II appeared without any jewellery and turned his back on the King after a simple bow – this enraged the officials as a sure sign of rebellion by the independent-minded Maharaja.

Jharokha Darshan of English King: Lal Qila 1911, minor Indian princes were used as Royal Ushers
Just as the official function got over with the national anthem God Save the King, George V surprised everyone – “We are pleased to announce that......we have decided upon the transfer of the seat of the Government of India from Calcutta to the ancient capital of Delhi.......”
This was the defining moment in the modern history of Delhi. In 1857, Delhi was the nerve centre of revolt and British reprisal was most severe here. After 1857 Delhi was in terminal decline – a large number of Hindus and Muslims left the city - both to escape from possible reprisal and in search of better opportunities. In 1911, Lahore was more important than Delhi and Lucknow to the east was the largest city in North India. But history was on Delhi’s side. At least since 1000 AD, mostly this had been the capital of North India. Situated at the end of Indus basin and Punjab and at the mouth of Ganga-Yamuna plains; equidistant from the Northern Hills and deserts of Rajputana, this had been the most preferred location to rule the sub-continent. Also, the annulment of Partition of Bengal was viewed as a step against the Muslims, the choice of Delhi – the traditional seat of Sultanate and Mughal power - was a means to assuage that feeling.
In 1911, Delhi was a decaying old town. There was none of the cosmopolitanism or huge urban sprawl of capital Calcutta or the biggest city, Bombay. Total population of the city was just around 4 lakhs – there was serious dearth of modern professionals like doctors or engineers. Economic opportunities were extremely limited. Outside the walled city, there were only villages and some clusters - at Qutab and around Nizamuddin’s dargah. Even in the 1930s, there was nothing but agricultural fields between Safdarjung’s tomb (southern boundary of Lutyens Delhi) and Qutab. In the walled city, old Muslim and Hindu elites dominated. Kayasthas and Bengalis dominated government service and socially there were some tensions between them. Sahibs lived at Civil Lines and Daryaganj. Railway station brought some business. Mir Nihal’s neighbours were excited as the Coronation and then the shifting of capital brought more business.

A huge tent city was erected at the Coronation Park to accommodate visiting dignitaries and officials. This in many ways was a precursor to the imperial New Delhi that was going to come up. Coronation Darbar brought telephone for the first time in Delhi, substantially augmented power supply through a new power plant, led to establishment of elaborate street lighting and sanitation systems.
As the King finished his announcement, there was pin-drop silence for a moment then there was a huge round of applause. Old Delhites like Mir Nihal were not much impressed but businessmen were happy. People from neighbouring areas, particularly Punjabi traders were excited about upcoming opportunities. People in Calcutta were absolutely dismayed – on the other hand, humbling of its great rival made Bombay quite happy. The wheel of fortune turned once again in Delhi’s favour.

PS: A film was made on the entire ceremony - this was one of the earliest films made on a public event in India. This movie recorded in Kinemacolour was the first colour recording of an imperial event outside Britain. It was a great hit in New York next year. In YouTube, you can also see what exactly Mir Nihal saw on that day plus what he was not privileged to see five days later at the Coronation Park - that bit available in black and white - has got the footage of Begum of Bhopal and Maharaja of Gaikwad too.
Rare photographs of the event are preserved in Ebrahim Alkazi collection in New Delhi

Friday, December 9, 2011

Seven Capitals of Delhi

Indraprastha – the capital of the Pandava brothers – was built by Moy danav. The palace left Duryadhona absolutely awe-struck – unable to make out the difference between glass and water, he finally ended up falling in water. The scene prompted Draupadi’s contemptuous laugh. Duryodhana decided to take revenge for this humiliation – thus proceeds the story of our greatest epic, Mahabharata. According to traditions, Indraprastha was located at the site of present Purana Qila (Indraprastha or Indrapat was at the centre of five pats, the other four – Sonepat, Panipat, Baghpat and Tilpat – are located around Delhi). Excavations at Purana Qila have revealed different layers of habitations stretching backwards up to the Maurya period, though not beyond that. Scattered findings of Painted Greyware have been interpreted by some scholars as characteristics of Mahabharata period (before 1000 BC).
Remnats of city wall: Qila Rai Pithora
 In the historic period, Rajput Tomar King Anangpal established the first capital city Lal Kot around present Mehrauli in 1020 AD. Signs of city life were however visible around present Surajkund area from 8th century onwards. Tomars and following them the Chauhans expanded this city and  surrounded it by a wall – remnants of this wall could still be seen near Saket. This came to be known as Qila Rai Pithora in memory of Chauhan King and hero of many a legend, Prithviraj Chauhan.

After Pritviraj was defeated by Mohammed Ghori in 1192 AD, Ghori and then Qutubuddin Aibak ruled from the same Mehrauli area. It was here that Aibak and then Iltutmish built some of the earliest Islamic monuments in India, including the Qutb Minar. Remnants of destroyed Hindu mandirs, which were used in this construction, could still be seen at the Qutab complex.
Siri Fort
 Alauddin Khilji founded the next capital at Siri – some two miles north of Lal Kot (present Siri Fort area). It is rumoured that this was the scene of a great massacre of Mongol prisoners – since their heads (sir) were strewn here thus the name Siri! Within this city was located his famous palace – Hazar Situn or the Hall of Thousand Pillars.  Alauddin not only defeated the Mongols but also the Rajputs and invaded South India. He also built the great tank at Hauz Khas, though his ambition of building a pillar bigger than the Qutab (in the same complex) remained unfulfilled.
 Facing the Mongol menace once more, Ghiyasuddin Tughlak built a fort capital with huge sloping wall and bastions at Tuglakabad. Built on a rocky outcrop and suffering from immense heat and lack of water, the city had to be abandoned in just 15 years. Legend has it that after a difference of opinion between Saint Nizamuddin Auliya and Ghiyasuddin, Saint told the King, who was returning from Bengal that jackals would roam in his new capital and “Dilli” will always remain “door ast” for him. Ghiyasuddin was soon murdered by Mohammad Bin Tughlak just before entering the city.
Bin Tughlak’s story of shifting capital is well known but when he finally settled down in Delhi, he encircled the entire area between Qutab and Siri in a new city called Jahanpanah (Refuge of the World). Iban Batuta saw this sprawling city with its huge mosque (Begumpuri mosque) and royal palace (known as Bijai Mandal today) and commented that this was the biggest city in the Islamic world.
Firoz Shah Kotla
 Firoz Tughlak, Mohammad’s successor, was happy to give up military ambitions but was a great builder and the first conservator in the history of Delhi. He founded a new city – a fortress palace in fact, called Firozabad – today’s Firoz Shah Kotla. He also built a number of great mosques and cut the Western Yamuna canal, brought to Delhi two Ashokan pillars and repaired famous mosques and palaces of earlier periods. Today his capital is better known for the cricket stadium next door. Next came the Saiyyids and the Lodhis – some of the Saiyyid Sultans are buried at the Lodhi Garden – and it was during the time of Sikandar Lodhi that the capital was shifted to Agra.
Qila-e-kunha mosque, Purana Qila
After the victory at Panipat in 1526 AD, Babar headed straight to Agra, the Lodhi capital but left Humayun behind. It was Humayun, who founded the next capital city called Deenpanah at the site of today’s Purana Qila. Sher Shah, who also ruled from here after expelling Humayun, expanded it further. Humayun managed to come back after Sher Shah’s death but soon fell to death from the stairs of library building here. Humayun’s tomb, built nearby is the first major Mughal monument. Akbar after spending the first few years in Delhi shifted the capital back to Agra.

Humayun's Tomb: First Great Mughal Monument
No other city in Indian history evoked so much passion as Shahjahanabad. It was in 1638, Shah Jahan decided to build a new capital in Delhi after merchants of Agra did not agree to his proposal of widening main roads there. The great walled city with Qila-i-Mubarak (Lal Qila) at the centre of it and Chandni Chowk as the central axis was built in 10 years time.
 From here the Mughals ruled the entire subcontinent, it was here seating on the Peacock throne, Shah Jahan felt, if there was any heaven on earth then it had to be here! Here assembled caravans from all over the world and it was the seat of great learning and culture, including North Indian classical music; Persian and then Urdu poetry; Mughal food, dress and tehjib.
Jama Masjid
With a series of weak emperors and great nobles fighting among themselves, political Delhi started declining in the 1720s. In 1726, fed up with darbar intrigues, Nizam-ul-Mulk, perhaps the most capable noble of his generation, finally left for Deccan – this was a symbolic end of Mughal political system, which sustained the great empire for two centuries. Nadir Shah’s plunder in 1739 robbed Delhi of its treasures and prestige. Since then successive armies of the Afghans, Marathas, Jats and Rohillas ransacked Delhi routinely. Marathas provided protection for some time and then in 1803, as Lord Lake marched on to the city, the British took Delhi under their protection. From 1803 to 1857, Delhi enjoyed a rare peace, sparking sort of a cultural renaissance, best represented by Mirza Ghalib. Not only that peace was shattered in 1857 but the repression that came after the hard-fought English victory in 1858 wiped out much of the old city and its tradition.