Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Indian Bohras: Muslim sect's emergence as a vibrant community

A huge gathering of Bohras at Burhanpur recently in Madhya Pradesh
The Bohra Muslims have successfully carved a distinct identity among Indian Muslims.

For long considered a close-knit community largely engaged in business, the Bohras are now emerging fast as a more visible minority.

Until a few years back, Bohras were seen as a small sect mostly concentrated in Gujara, Maharashtra, Western Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. And it was common to label them as Muslim banias.

Though there was praise from different quarters about their honest trade practices and the fact that they stayed away from politics or agitations. But it's not the situation anymore.

Bohra youths are now becoming doctors, chartered accountants, hoteliers, writers, artists, software professionals and they are also getting active in social work, which is important considering the lack of social groups run by Muslims.

[Courtesy: Beyondmountains.wordpress.com]

Currently, the Dawoodi Bohras are more in the news. As events being organised to mark the celebration of the birth centenary of their spiritual head or 'dai al-mutlaq' Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin. The programmes show the vibrancy of the community.

Either it was Bohra women's Athletics championship, youths participating in motorcycle race or the Feed a
Sparrow competition, all such events show the community in positive light.

Nearly 5,000 bird feeders were distributed as part of Save the Sparrows campaign. Newspapers and channels are also covering these events extensively.

Bohra women's Athletics event

When women in colourful burqas thronged the stadium, it was a unique sight for non-Muslims, many of whom consider burqa as a sign of oppressive dress. But here the burqa clad women were taking part in 100 m and  200 m sprint competition [along with other sports] with elan.

It is not healthy when a community gets the image that it is on street only for a protest or for demands. There are numerous other facets of life. It is in this context that the events either for awareness regarding environment or sports competitions, organised by Bohras should be praised.

Like other groups Bohras also have their own internal and internecine issues. There are often accusations of harassment and the Bohra leadership is also under attack at times. Frankly, religious beliefs are an individual's personal matter while with regard to social or community related issues, there are various forums available in a democratic society to air your grievance and seek redressal.

Sects among Bohras

Bohras are also not monolithic though the overwhelming majority in India belongs to Dawoodi Bohras. There are also Sulemani Bohras and the small Alvi Bohra sect other than Udaipur group, who call themselves Progressive Bohras' and the Nagpur-based 'Atab-i-Malak jamaat' amongst others.

The Bohras have a number of shrines including the tombs of their former spiritual heads [dai] in the country. But we don't get to read or hear much about them in media. What is more surprising that even Urdu newspapers hardly print anything about them.

Once in a while you might find the Bohra Biryani's recipe in English newspapers' magazine section, however, there is little about them in English journals brought out by Muslims also, let alone Urdu newspapers and magazines.

However, the recent events and their attempts to engage with media in the last couple of years are a positive sign. This indicates that the Bohras are no longer going to stay aloof, and want to make their presence as a vibrant community.

I had written a post on Bohras on this blog in the past. Read

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Mushairas in India: Poets recite couplets, enthrall audiences

Once again, so many 'all-India' mushairas were held in Delhi recently, that it became difficult to keep track.

Though a section rues decline in standards of poetry that is read from the stage, the fact is that the institution of mushaira keeps growing stronger.

The historic Shankar-Shaad Mushaira, the 47th such event, organised by DCM group, was held in Delhi recently. This year Anwar Jalalpuri presided over the mushaira.

The founders of Delhi Cloth Mill (DCM) Lala Shankar Lal and Murli Dhar Shaad's poetry was sung at the start. Audience listened to rapt-attention when veteran poet Shaharyar recited:

Jo chaahti dunyaa hai, voh mujhse nahiiN hogaa
samjhautaa koii Khwaab ke badle nahiiN hogaa

zindagii kis se kahegii koii tayyaari nahiiN
maut ke bas meN to ek lamhe ki bhii yaari nahiiN
[Wasim Barelvi]

jo der thii qafas se nikalne kii der thii
phir aasmaaN saara kabutar ka ho gaya
[Munawwar Rana]

Jaam khaali the, magar maiKhaana to aabaad thaa
chashm-e-saaqii meN taGaaful thaa, pashemaani na thi

jin safiinoN ne kabhii toRaa thaa, maujoN ka Ghuruur
us jagah Duube jis jagah daryaa meN tuGhyaanii na thii
[Malikzada Manzoor Ahmed]

Poets from Pakistan including Zohra Nigaah and Ghulam Abbaas Tabish, and shayars from other countries attended the event.

Of course, some poets who relied more on their rendition style or those who sing from the stage, but there is serious poetry as well and hundreds wait till late night to listen to the poets.

Another mushaira was organised at Jamia Millia Islamia. In the auditorium of Faculty of Engineering, poets regaled the shayari aficionados. Elderly Bekal Utsaahi, known for his geets, was heard with due respect. He presided over the grand poetic meet.

daftar meN zehn, ghar meN nigah, raaste meN paaoN
jiine kii aarzuu meN badan haath se gayaa

nuchi qamiis, phatii aastiiN, kuchh to hai
hamaare gaaoN meN moTa, mahiin kuchh to hai
[Bekal Utsahi]

Khamushii chhupaatii hai aib aur hunar donoN
shakhsiyat ka andaaza guftguu se hota hai
[Shams Ramzi]
ab apne aap ko qatraa bhii kah nahiiN saktaa
buraa kiyaa jo samandar se aashnaii kii
[Iqbal Ash'har]

kabuutar aake yahaaN saarii raat rotay haiN
ye kaun log haiN jo maqbaroN meN sotay haiN
[Malikzada Javed]

yahaaN to aadmii milnaa muhaal hai yaaro
voh chaahte haiN ki parvardigaar mil jaaye
[Surendra Shajar]

Ikhtilaaf aapas meN der tak nahiiN rakhnaa
ranjisheN miTaane ko ek salaam kaafi hai
[Abid Wafa]

The third mushaira was during the Sahitya Akademi's seminar on Faiz. Renowned Bengali writer and one my favourite authors Sunil Gangopadhyay had presided over the initial session. The mushaira was a success.

The poetry-lovers were delighted to see legendary poet Balraj Komal recite at the mushaira. Shaharyar, Farhat Ehsas, Khalil Mamoon, Pritpal Singh Betab and Shakil Azmi were applauded for their couplets.

kashti-e-jaaN se utar jaane ko jii chaahtaa hai
in dinoN yuuN hii mar jaane ko jii chaahtaa hai

achchhii chiizeN lagengii aur achchhii
darmiyaaN kuchh Kharaab rakh diyaa karo
[Balraj Komal]

terii aaNkheN Khudaa mahfooz rakhe
terii aaNkhoN meN hairaani bohat hai
[Sheen Kaaf Nizam]

kisii kisii ko thamaataa hai chaabiyaaN ghar kii
Khudaa har ek ko apnaa pataa nahii detaa
[Parvin Kumar Ashk]

The mushaira at India Islamic Cultural Centre that was organised jointly under the aegis of Urdu Academy, Mehfil-e-Urdu and Nobel Education Foundation, was also quite successful. Here is a selection of couplets rendered on the occasion.

One of the most respected Urdu poets, Anand Mohan Zutshi Gulzar Dehlvi recited:

she'riyat khush-gavaar ho ke rahii/ilm-o-fan kii bahaar ho ke rahii
daur-e-qahat-ur-rijaal meN dekho/zindagii baa-vaqaar ho ke rahii

mizaaj puuchhne vaaloN kii Khair ho yaa Rab
mizaaj puuchhne vaale bhii kam hii rah gaye haiN
[Vaqar Manvi]

log kahte haiN ki is khel meN sar jaate haiN
ishq meN itna Khasaara hai to ghar jaate haiN
[Shakil Jamaali]

tujhe shaahi haram kii ek din zeenat banaayenge
baDe naazoN se paala hai tujhe Urdu zubaaN hamne
[Khurshid Haider]

sulah ke vaaste ba-zid kyuuN ho
tiir baaqii nahiiN kamaan meN kyaa
[Salim Siddiqui]

sabhii vaade-iraade, ahad-o-paimaaN TuuT jaate haiN
Ghariibi meN baDe Khuddaar insaaN TuuT jaate haiN
[Shams Ramzi]

na jaane tumne sub'h ka qasiida kaise likh liyaa
yahaaN to kal bhii raat thii, yahaaN to ab bhii raat hai
[Iqbal Ash'har]

aaNkh bhar bhar aaii aur dhundhlaa gaye manzar tamaam
kis qadar tiikha hai terii be-Rukhii ka zaaiqa
[Zafar Moradabadi]

tumhare saath guzaara huaa voh ek lamhaa
agar maiN sochne baiThuuN to zindagii kam hai
[Moin Shadab]

jis din kitaab-e-ishq kii takmiil ho gayii
rakh denge zindagii teraa bastaa uThaa ke ham
[Javed Mushiri]

The mushaira-e-shayaraat, an exclusive women's poetic meet, was also held recently. It was organised by Delhi Urdu Academy to mark the International Women's Day. It was decided that no male would appear on the stage, however, there was a row between two poetesses.

Comments from audiences and unruliness forced Professor Akhtarul Wasey had to intervene. Malka Nasim, Azra Naqvi, Ana Dehlvi, Iffat Zarreen, Tarannum Kanpuri and over a dozen other poets participated in the mushaira.

maiN us se duur bhii jaauN to kis tarah jaauN
voh itr ban kar mere pairahan meN rahtaa hai
[Waseem Rashid]

Read earlier posts on Mushaira reports on this blog:

1. Enchanting couplets at an Urdu Mushaira in Delhi
2. Makhmoor Saeedi, Zubair Rizvi recite couplets at Mushaira
3. Tarahi mushairas: A glorious tradition of Urdu poetry

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Shias focus on acquiring political clout, carve a distinct identity

Maulana Kalb-e-Sadiq attends Shia board's conclave in Lucknow
The Shia community seems increasingly restless in India, especially, about their lack of political clout.

There is a feeling that voice of Shias is not heard and the political parties also ignore them as they are considered a minority within a minority.

Besides, the Shia populace also feels that the Muslim leadership, which is by and large Sunni, doesn't give the Shias proper attention.

It is not that the problems which Shia Muslims face are different from the issues that concern the Sunnis or Indian Muslims as a whole. But as small sects, communities and groups in the country are aiming for political clout, the Shias also feel that they must be counted.

They also feel that there was not proper representation of Shias in the umbrella organisations like All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB). Shias feel that they have been neglected at almost all the forums and  this should end now.

Shias also realise that they aren't a minuscule minority either. The Shia population in India is estimated between 2-3 crore [20-30 million] which is similar to the Sikh or Christian population in the country and several times more than the Buddhists or Jains.

The only difference is that Shias aren't concentrated in any state or region. It was in this backdrop that the Shia Personal Law Board was created. As the top Shia leaders remained with the AIMPLB, most had doubts that the All India Shia Personal Law Board (AISPLB) would be taken seriously. In fact, many in Shia circles felt that it would not survive for long.

But the Shia Personal Law Board's recent conclave [March 13-14] has indicated that there is a strong feeling among Shias to carve a separate identity at the national level. After all, when Muslim communities ranging from Mevs to Raeens and Hindus--from Gujjars to Jats, closing ranks for better bargaining power, why not Shias?

A speaker said that when small sub-groups can force governments to accept to their demands by sitting on railway tracks, why couldn't Shias do it. It was an example though and he clarified that Shias weren't going to block railway traffic by sitting on tracks.

But then the speaker further said that, if we can't ensure victory to a person in the elections on our own strength, we can at least ensure the candidate's defeat. The message was loud and clear. Shias want political parties to take them seriously.

It was a major victory for Shia leader Mirza Mohammad Athar when the leading Shia cleric Kalb-e-Sadiq attended the Shia Personal Law Board's recent convention. Maulana Kalb-e-Sadiq, who is senior vice-president of AIMPLB, not just sat on the dais but also gave a speech and supported the resolutions passed at AISPLB meet that was held at the historic Sultan-ul-Madaris in Lucknow.

The speakers said that while there had been a so-called elite among Shias in the past, the fact was that general Shia populace was living in penury and facing greater hardships. Shia leaders from different parts of the country, including Kashmir, were also present.

It was decided to press the governments for nominating Shias is the Muslim bodies, government boards, apart from legislature. The focus was also on issues like establishing separate Shia Waqf Boards and strengthening educational institutions.

The state government was urged to name streets in UP after the names of secular Shia leaders including former Nawabs of Awadh. There were resolutions on the long-standing demands particularly putting pressure on Saudi Arab government to lift the ban on constructions at the cemeteries in Jannatul Baqee, as also allowing the pilgrims to kiss the Rauza-e-Rasool.

It was felt that separate waqfs would lead to better management and upkeep of Shia shrines including Imambadas, Ashurkhanas, Shia mosques et al. It must be mentioned that the Shia-Sunni schism isn't as pronounced in India as in other countries.

Besides, the sectarian differences haven't led to tension historically except in Lucknow, where also it has been more publicized (and exaggerated), than it has been on the ground level, particularly in terms of violence. Other than political aspects, social and cultural issues also came up for discussion.

See earlier post regarding Shia population in India on this blog: Indian Shias And Their Lack of Political Representation

Thursday, March 10, 2011

From Aminabad to Hazratganj: Wandering And Eating in The Lanes of Lucknow

Worth its name or too much hype!

The cities of Uttar Pradesh--Allahabad, Lucknow, Varanasi and Kanpur have a charm of their own. Visitors often complain that there is crowd, traffic and filth but the fact is that soul of these cities is found in their narrow lanes.

A friend recently said how his relatives wanted to see malls and swanky showrooms when they came to a North Indian city.

I find it rather strange, as a real traveller would never go to another City just to see malls, which are more or less same everywhere.

A 'deg' full of biryani
It is the structures, shops, narrow lanes, temples, mosques, unique food, delicacies on street kiosks, architecture, handicrafts, monuments and people who make a City. Lucknow has it in abundance.

Of course, if you enjoy travelling in SUVs and find it tiresome to get down from the air-conditioned vehicle to rub shoulders with the commoners--pass through the maze of rickshaw pullers, buffalo carts, ekkas, handcarts and Vikram tempos--you can't enjoy these beautiful cities on the banks of Ganges, Jamuna and Gomti.

Biryani: Exquisite or just okay!
It is in these lanes that one meets unique craftsmen like Master Mustafa who mends lanterns, personalities like Ram Asray 'Laal kitab wale', classical poets and 'attaar', conversationalists and humorists, mendicants and mavericks.

What I utterly dislike in Lucknow, is of course, the sight of a cop. The UP policemen who have a more faded khaki uniform are perhaps the most foul-mouthed, ill-mannered and uncivilised in the country though Delhi cops don't have a great reputation either.

You come out of Char Bagh railway station, and the first sight is always of the cop using his baton on rickshaw-wallas, tempo wallas, abusing pedesterians or picking eatables from a thela, of course without paying a single penny. The worst is that it seems there is no authority to keep a check on them. Forgetting them, I move ahead.

Spend time in style at Hazratganj
It has been a sort of ritual for me. Walking from Gol Darwaza towards Akbari Gate, stopping for 'Kashmiri Chai', picking up papers and magazines, passing by the haveli of Asghar Ali Muhammad Ali, the bylane once frequented by the legendary Mir Anees and then reaching Nadan Mahal Road.

Here lies the original Tunday [or Tunde] shop. Sorry, I am not a big fan. The Tunday shop in Aminabad is more frequented and I am not impressed.

The kababs are okay but not to extraordinary. I fail to understand the reasons why Mr Tunday is so over-hyped.

Perhaps the reason is lack of adequate eateries and restaurants of different standards that serve kebabs in Lucknow as per the needs of a visitor to this City. Of course, kebab is a specialty for outsiders, not the local Lakhnavi populace.

Kababs are a regular dish in every non-vegetarian household in this City of Nawabs and so they perhaps don't need to eat out as often.
So I read in local papers that Rahul Gandhi had come and straight he went to Tunday's shop and then left the City.

In the lanes of Aminabad and Nazirabad, I try biryani. There are two shops in this lane, and they always had a difference of Re 1 in their rates.

Once upon a time even the difference of a rupee mattered and one wished to save it. Now the difference is Rs 5 for half plate [Rs 30 at one shop and Rs 35 at the other] and Rs 10 for full plate.

Unless you try food at different places, without caring much about your stomach, you can't get the taste and feel of the town.. The real joy is in experimenting and stepping into any hotel or shop which appears new.
For lovebirds: An oasis in the midst of thickly populated Lucknow

Of course, there is a risk. Some eateries are plain bad. Like I once realised in Allahabad and also the non-vegetarian hotels near railway station in Lucknow. So never order  full plate unless you are too sure about the place.

In the 'chai khanas' here and at Golaganj, I have whiled away hours in the past, often, discussing matters of heart in teenage years with friends.

It was somewhere here that existed Hotel Alamgir. The famous Prakash's Qulfi shop is located here but I prefer a shop at Chowk.

I have heard a lot about a biryani shop at Nakhas but couldn't go there. No regrets, that's marked for my next visit. At Aminabad, I have many destinations. One can't enjoy as much in the scorching Uttar Pradesh summer.
Would you like Qorma?

I was aware that the Hazrat Ganj wears a new look, refurbished pavements and renovated exteriors.

'Ganj-ing' is a popular avocation for Lucknowites. Outsiders think of non-vegetarian delicacies when they think of Lucknow, but I feel Lucknowites, particularly, the women, have an unusual interest in 'chaat'.

It is understandable as one can't restrict himself to Nahari-Kulchas, Kakori ke Kababs and Kalejis. Of course, puri-kachoris and balushahis have a special place in the heart of Lucknowites.

Mayfair closed long back and so did the British Library. People sit idly on the benches, a youth appears tired, probably after job-hunting. Women, they might be pretty or not, but most of them well-dressed, walk past.

Shining postbox, a rarity!
It was here that Ali Sardar Jafri and his group of progressive writers and poets had picked up fight with a Britisher. That had ended in a knock out. That happened in 1940s, too distant it seems now.

The 'firangi' fell on the pavement and Majaz recited the famous verse heralding the arrival of independence 'Bol Ari O Dharti Bol, Raj Singhasan Daanva Dol'. It all happened here.

Every lane and every square has a history. And nearby was the shop of a 'gentleman' who used to secretly sell adult material to teenagers.

He would keep the books in a shelf hidden by general books and gave it to 'trusted' customers only. I enjoy roaming aimlessly, in between eating at small shops. Picking up books from second hand shops is another old hobby.

I reach Sa'adat Ali Khan's tomb. He passed away 197 years ago and is buried here. Nearby is the tomb of Khursheed-zadi. Both the maqbaras have fine architecture and it seems work is on to conserve these structures.
Add caption
The tombs were built by their son, Ghaziuddin Haider, who had declared him the first King of Awadh.

Many youths are lying idly, some sleeping on the lawn enjoying the breeze, group of government employees gambling in a corner who are not too secretive about their activity. One of them, a guy chewing pan, even gives a friendly nod.

At a stone's throw is the Balrampur hospital where families are coming out with their newborns. And not too far is the Hanuman Setu. Gomti that has narrowed down to a stream sparkles, enchants as ever and flows ahead with the same serenity.

This is part of the series about my visit to Lucknow. Read earlier posts on this blog at following links:

1. First part is about 'The romance of Lucknow: Rumi Gate, Imambadas and Bhulbhulaiya'.
2. The second part was 'Clock towers of Awadh: Father built clock tower in son's memory'

Monday, March 07, 2011

Arjun Singh: Stood by Indian Muslims, Spoke for Them

Senior Congress leader and former Union minister Chief Minister Arjun Singh's death has been mourned by Indian Muslims who considered him a secular politician who was sensitive towards the minorities.

There are bound to be stronger opinions, both in favour and against, when one analyses a personality like him. Arjun Singh who received more brickbats than bouquets in the last decade of his political life, was a politician with certain convictions.

Even though he never needed Muslim vote [yes I am stressing on this aspect which is not generally mentioned] for his victory, he ensured that Muslims got a better deal from the government and administration. And there are numerous instances in his six decade long political career.

Amongst Singh's biggest achievements was the fact that he single-handedly ensured the establishment of Maulana Azad National Urdu University. Initially, he wanted it at Bhopal but due to lack of appropriate Urdu medium infrastructure (and schools), he agreed to later shift it to Hyderabad.

It is a known fact that had he not taken a firm decision and actively pursued the cause, the establishment of Urdu university would have remained a dream. In later years he was vilified for his 'secular' beliefs, commitment towards backward sections and the reservations in IIMs, but Singh played an important role as HRD minister.

It was under him that the Ministry of Human Resources Development acquired such importance. He will be remembered for detoxification of the text books after the earlier BJP-led regime was accused of saffronising the education.

Whenever there was an attempt to dilute the minority character of AMU or similar other institutions, he intervened. Singh raised his voice against RSS' ideology and was ever ready to take up the cause of minorities.

'Secularism' was turning into a hated word in the 1990s and he was targeted in Hindi media for supporting SAHMAT or similar liberal and progressive groups. Even at the cost of turning a villain, Singh never shed his secular values.

The biggest jolt was his loss in Lok Sabha election from Hoshangabad when the BJP had communalised the election campaign. In those days, there was tremendous negative propaganda against him like the slogans, 'Arjun Singh kahin,  ______ ki bahin' that harped on his association with leftist groups of artists.

The Taraqqi Urdu Bureau was turned into National Council for Promotion of Urdu Language (NCPUL) just because he felt Urdu hadn't got its due under the three language formula and there was more rhetoric than reality in government measures regarding Urdu.

To mention just an incident. In the 2005 Vadodara riot, it was only after Muslim delegations met Singh that he raised the issue in cabinet and forced the ever-reluctant and indecisive Shivraj Patil to communicate to warn the Gujarat government that Army was being deployed, which stopped the rioting. He raised such issues in parliament and in cabinet despite the presence of numerous Muslim leaders who always kept mum.

During his rule Madhya Pradesh remained riot free. Not many would know or care to remember that till 80s, Iqbal's name was not taken at public functions in India despite having written the Tarana-e-Hind, 'Sare Jahaan se achcha', Arjun Singh announced the biggest award in the field of Urdu literature from Madhya Pradesh, known as Iqbal Samman apart from construction of Minar-e-Iqbal or Iqbal's Minaret.

Despite right-wing protests, the name of Bhopal University was changed to Barkatullah University at his instance. Maulana Barkatullah, a revolutionary freedom fighter of the Gaddar Party, hailed from Bhopal and was prime minister of the first government of India in exile during British era.

After independence, which Indian university was named after a Muslim personality in the first fifty years or so! Was there no Muslim freedom fighter or great figure produced by the community? This was an anomaly and Singh rectified it despite strong opposition.

Perhaps, his hard stand on the issue of Babri Masjid, was driven by his ambition to acquire the centre stage in the post-Rajiv Gandhi era when Muslims were disenchanted with PV Narasimharao-led Congress but the truth is that he always stood against right-wing forces.

Many people accuse him for a variety of reasons but the fact is that he spoke for Muslims and did a lot for Muslims, what Muslim leaders could never do. And he hardly needed their vote, which was in any case going to Congress in Madhya Pradesh.

In undivided Madhya Pradesh till 80s that included Chhattisgarh, Muslim population was barely 5%. In Vindhya region, where he hailed from, the Muslim vote is hardly 2%.

Unlike Samajwady Party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav, who belonged to a state with over 17% Muslims, Singh had no such need to rope Muslims in for victory.

Right-wing, particularly, BJP leaders are quick to label any person who takes a step for Muslims, as 'pseudo-secular' and claim that it is due to compulsions of vote bank politics. But Singh couldn't be accused of that. By early 90s, his eyes were set for the post of Prime Minister but for decades before that, he never needed to 'appease' Muslims.

Many leaders were termed pro-Muslim just for their lip service towards Muslims but Singh went ahead and took concrete steps. Thus it's not proper to accuse him of 'vote bank politics'. He had angered sections of upwardly mobile class when he introduced the OBC reservations but the truth was that the man had certain convictions and he stuck to them. The 'wily Thakur' was not infallible and he faltered on many occasions.

It is not that his handling of issues after gas disaster could be forgotten. His freebies, it is alleged, corrupted journalists. Another aspect is that journalists were so under-paid in those days that government accommodation on low rent came as a godsend.

Those who got corrupted or took to 'dalaali' would have done so anyhow. But when it comes to his contribution for Muslims, it is much more that the combined contribution of many self-styled Muslim leaders who pretend to be benefector of the qaum.

There were Tweets and comments on most websites, after his death, many of which suggested how much he was hated by the right-wing. There were angry messages that crossed all limits of decency. But the fact remains that Arjun Singh had a steel grip over administration.

Under him no bureaucrat could make moolah to the tune of crores [like the tainted IAS couple--Joshis did recently]. Of course, there are legendary tales known to everyone in MP, that when he was chief minister he needn't write a note-sheet, rather would pen an appointment order on the back of a cigarette packet's foil and it was obeyed.

The upwardly mobile class that includes upper class Hindus, Muslims, often have in general, the same contempt for slum-dwellers, domestic helps and even Dalits and Tribals. No wonder this class disliked him as he gave away 'pattas [land deeds or plots] to thousands of poor in Madhya Pradesh when he was Chief Minister, to build their shanties. Though he planned and established institutions of higher learning in Madhya Pradesh, it was his 'love for jhuggi-walas' that was mocked at.

If speaking for Muslims or taking on Saffron goons was 'pseudo secularism' or 'sickularism', the OBC reservation turned him into a hateful figure for this class. TV channels demonised him further. Whatever.

Arjun Singh died a sad man. It was he who had persuaded Sonia Gandhi to venture into active politics and his loyalty wasn't rewarded.

Muslims also forgot his contribution, especially towards Madarsas and Minority educational institutions.

One reason is that he didn't hail from Uttar Pradesh-Bihar that has a much higher Muslim concentration and is considered heart of Muslim politics. However, he was termed Mohsin-e-Millat by Muslim organisations. The Jamia Millia Islamia named department and road 'Shahrah-e-Arjun Singh' in his name.

It was not just because of the huge Rs 40 crore aid which he gave to the university when he was heading HRD ministry. When VC Mushirul Hasan was asked that why this step when there was opposition by section of Jamia teachers as Singh was against university's minority status, Hasan recalled Arjun Singh's immense contribution including establishment of over a dozen institutes on campus.

Meanwhile, the Congress had distanced itself from his agenda. And Arjun Singh's bitterness was evident in the years to follow. After differences with his son Ajay Singh 'Rahul', he tried to groom his daughter Veena Singh but she was denied the ticket by Congress. Now he was hurt. Singh had finished his autobiography and it is being awaited eagerly.

Of course, with him goes the era of tall Thakur leaders in Indian politics. Rajputs are no longer politically as strong after a Thakur implemented the Mandal Commission and the power of marginalised sections began translating into electoral success.

I never met him but I do recall the moments when he spoke for Muslims. Particularly, when no one did. Such things strike emotional chord. It was not just 'secular politics' but much more than that. To sum up, I must say that he stood by Muslims and took sincere steps towards the betterment of Indian Muslims.

You may or may not agree with me regarding my views in this obituary but I feel that notwithstanding political considerations, he had genuine concern for Indian Muslims. Read an earlier post on 'Decline of Rajput influence in Indian Politics'.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Clock towers of Awadh: Lucknow's Ghanta Ghar and a father who built clock tower in son's memory

Shams Ur Rehman Alavi

Clock towers are fascinating structures, remnants of the bygone era.

Over the years, some of them have almost come to symbolise the cultural heritage of the respective towns.

Most of these clock towers date back to the pre-independence era when the princely rulers, British officials or the rich Indians built them.

Husainabad Clock Tower

Lucknow's famous Husainabad Clock Tower, also commonly known as, Ghanta Ghar, which was built in 1887, is said to be the tallest such structure in the country.

It is located midway between the Chhota Imambada and the Bada Imambada and is quite close to Rumi Darwaza. This majestic tower is around 67 meters [220] feet high.

Lucknow's Lesser-Known Irshad Clock Tower

But first I will talk about a little-known clock tower in a Lucknow lane. I had accidentally discovered it during one of my causal walks in the by-lanes of Old Lucknow.

The 'Irshad Clock Tower' is located near the City railway station [not Lucknow main station]. There is an emotional story behind its construction.

Khan Bahadur Nawab Syed Hamid Husain Khan had built this tower in memory of his son, Nawab Syed Irshad Husain Khan, who died at a young age.

This beautiful structure that immortalizes a father's affection for his son was constructed almost ninety years ago.

The other aim behind the construction of this clock tower was that citizens should be able to know correct time and the Namazis could also offer prayers on time.

In the photograph, one can clearly read the words 'Irshad Clock Tower' and 'Hamid Park' written in bold letters just below the dial.

Clock in Hazratganj
The tower is located in the midst of the park, which is not visible from this angle in the photograph. It was an imported clock brought from London. Hamid Husain Khan was a talluqadar and chairman of Lucknow municipal board during British era.

Even today the family members residing in Saltanat Manzil including Professor Nawab Syed Ali Hamid [grandson of Khan Bahadur], Begam Nazima Raza [great granddaughter] and Nawabzada Syed Masoom Raza spend a particular sum annually for maintenance.

When the clock stopped for the first time in 1980, the repairers from Bareilly were called a large amount was paid to restore it. Parts of the clock machinery aren't available any longer. Still, a person has been given the job of basic upkeep.

Ghanta Ghar: Clock House, Barabanki
Though the family has been undertaking maintenance of the clock tower and has called repairers from outside in the past, the building needs conservation and authorities' attention.

However, there is no effort on part of government or civic authorities regarding the restoration. But that's the story of most of the clock towers.

As far as Husainabad Clock Tower is concerned, the local authorities including Shia Waqf Board and municipal corporation seem to be taking some initiatives.

Clock House in Barabanki

Lucknow's neighbouring town, Barabanki, also has a historic Clock. Not a tower in the sense but it is also termed Ghanta Ghar, the Clock House, which is located in the midst of the densely populated market place.

Now a days, it is rare to hear of any new clock tower getting erected in the country. It is all the more a reason to keep these structures in shape and ensure the clocks function. Of course, there are practical difficulties. As major clock repairing companies have shut shop, it has become difficult to get the disfunctional clocks work again.

There are many more such 'Ghanta Ghars' in different towns of Awadh, rest of Uttar Pradesh (UP) and also other parts of the country, that are worth mentioning but they can be subject of future posts.

Read the earlier post on Blogging from Lucknow at this LINK.