Sunday, June 30, 2013

Appeal to stop the telecast of serial "Jodha Akbhar" on communal grounds

I am writing this to appeal to urge you to stop the telecast of the recently launched serial "jodha Akbar" being aired on Zee TV as it can have a negative impact on the society. To begin with, the serial itself runs on the disclaimer that it lays no claim to any historical event. This disclaimer came after there were protests from the Rajput community and from some historians against the inauthenticity of the story being presented. The main argument is that there was no mention to "Jodha Bai" in the historical sources. This debate was also raised for the movie "Jodha Akbar" starring Hrithik Roshan and Aishwarya Rai. It is important for the producers to state the historical source of the story. It should be binding for them to mention the exact historical accounts as history, we know and have seen, is not just the past. It has or is made to have serious implications in the present. One of the most shameful example is that of the demolition of Babri Masjid and the communal riots.
As stated previously, the producers of the serial "Jodha Akbar" has "negotiated" with the protestors and now there is a disclaimer before and during some scenes in the serial stating that the serial does not have any historical backing. The question then is, why is there a need to telecast such a serial? Why is there a need to use the names? Even if Jodha may not have ever existed, Akbar did. Where is the need to demonise him? It is shocking that this has been allowed in a communally-sensitive country. India is threatened with the forces of hindutva which claims the country to be the ancestral and "rightful" property of only Hindus, negating the claims of all other religious groups. It also demonises muslims and have used (or misinterpreted) history to serve their purpose. Even a "liberal" Hindu will agree to this baseless nonsense.

The fact is that history is too hazy. There is so much that can be said about these things. The fact that can be safely established is that religion was not a big deal when the rulers invaded the "country" (which did not exist at that time) in 14th-15th century. Also, desecration of temples was a political statement than a religious one. Historian Richard Eaton has talked about conquest mosques which were built by desecrating the earlier monument because it is quite a rule that an invading ruler establishes throne by destroying the symbols of the previous ruler. The fact is that the word "muslim" in a religious sense for the rulers did not emerge in the historical sources before 16th century. For a native in a kingdom in the now-Gujarat, a ruler from rajasthan was as much a foreigner as a turk. There is so much written on these issues. There is literature on how it were the British who had divded the history into hindu and muslim. But nothing has been read because the historical truth is not in line with the political motives. The historical truth negates Hindutva as baseless. One major point is that V D Savarkar, the founder of the ideology of Hindutva, had himself written in his book on Hindutva that whatever he is writing is for a political reason. Yet, nothing has been read. People have carried the biased colonial legacy and as a result, thousands of innocent people have lost their lives.

Thankfully, the forces of Hindutva seem to be resting with BJP focussing on "development" and the recent unpopularity of other Hindu fundamentalist groups. Some years back, the court had also passed a "secular" verdict on the ayodhya issue which was, thankfully, welcomed. But this serial seems to revive these forces as it re-iterates the baseless stereotypes about mughals. Akbar is shown to be this demon. He is shown to be a "Muslim" ruler. It is historically incorrect to use terms like "secular", "conservative" or "liberal" for rulers as these terms are of recent origin but if I do commit the sin, just for this time, I will not be wrong to say that Akbar is popular for being "secular". He is known for Din-i-ilahi, for rejecting the teachings of the ulama, for rejecting conservative Islam and for rajput-mughal alliances. If we read the history, we will know that this happened for many reasons. But according to the serial, it was Jodha, a Rajput princess who forced him to become "good". Jodha had swore to some goddess that she will behead Akbar and throw the head on the feet of the goddess, bringing a very strong religious angle. It is also historically inauthentic. But a more important concern is the dangerous effect that it will entail. The serial re-iterates the notions about "muslim" rulers who invaded, discriminated, dishonoured women and tried to destroy the "hindu" culture.

Therefore, I appeal that this serial should be banned from being telecasted on the grounds that it is historically inauthentic, demeaning and has the potential to revive communal tensions in the country.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Some thoughts on the "royal" Rajasthan

These are based on my recent short trip to Jaipur, the capital city of Rajasthan. The trip was not an academic venture. I had gone for some personal reasons so it will be a reflection based entirely on observations.

An economy of forts

Albert Museum
Rajasthan makes up to be one of the most historically-conscious, as one may put it, state in India. The pink city is famous and known for its forts. Infact, one of the most obvious images that conjures up when one thinks of Rajasthan is that of the innumerable forts and not to forget, "tradition". The desert, women in lehenga, the traditional rajasthani turban, katputli, bajre ki khichdi...Rajasthan, to an outsider, is synonymous with the traditional Rajasthan. There is also a haunted side to Rajasthan with legends and haunted stories weaved around medieval forts, the best known being that of Bhangarh. Rajasthan is a much-glorified place but what is interesting, but not new, is how the glorification is encashed. It will not be anything new to mention how forts are being converted into hotels, or how hotels have tried to ape the architecture of forts, the most-famous chowkidhaani that promises you a glimpse into the "traditional" village and the over-priced rajasthani food. What I intend to do in this write-up is to reflect on the glorification of tradition.

Whose tradition?

We were near Rajasthan, not sure if we were in Rajasthan, when I, through the window of cafe coffee day, saw a camel. I also saw a man wearing the traditional rajasthani turban. I was a bit shocked with the contrasting images. I would notice the dress of women as our car passed by villages. It was nothing like the glamorised ethnic wear. They wore bright-colored but simple lehenga with a tight-fitting blouse (that we (should i say delhites?) wear with a saree) with a bare midriff. All throughout my journey, I saw this style and needless to mention, I only saw women of not from a very high economic background opting for this dress. The men who would wear the turban would also be generally from a modest economic background. It was not that I was expecting everyone in Rajasthan to be dolled-up in ethnic wear but I found this interesting. All the tradition seems to be now carried off by people who live at the margins. 

What about the people of the middle and elite classes? Well, they hop in western clothes or in kurta-pyjama to the malls and the World Trade Park. The World Trade Park, is a mall with no place to sit but to roam about, admiring the expensive shops, the chandliers and the egyptian, chinese and other unnamed but "foreign" (and that is enough!) statues. Out of the four restaurants that I visited, only the one of the hotel included a rajasthani dish in its menu. As about shopping in a regular place, not the famous jowhri bazaar, there was also nothing "rajasthani". The point is... the traditional seems to be the burden of the underprivileged.

Chowkidhaani - The glamorised village

You go to Jaipur and you don't visit chowkidhaani, that's not possible! I have been to Jaipur many times and each time, I have been there, I have visited chowkidhaani to get the "rajasthani" feel. Chowkidhaani promises a "glimpse" into the traditional village. But you will be disappointed if you think through because the glamorised replica does not talk anything about the farmer suicides and the social evils that exists. It reminded me of the ideal image of the self-sustaining and peaceful village that many western thinkers including marx had hold onto.

I remember that last time, we were welcomed by a group of ladies dressed in traditional clothes, a smiling face who would put teeka on our forehead. This time, it was just a young girl who was severely disinterested. She had left the lot before us as she didn't want to waster her energy calling out to them. Nevertheless, she had put the teeka on our forehead like a machine stamping a barcode on a product. I wasn't disappointed seeing the prospering business until I saw three varying prices - 500, 600 and 700. I thought it was the ticket but it was actually the price for the food per head. The highest was for the traditional Rajasthani thali.

It was fun to be in the ideal and dream-like village (a dream especially for those who actually live in villages). It was "exciting" to be in the line to hurt a camel (read camel ride). But the genuinely exciting part was the rajasthani thali. Drenched in rain, with our wet and mud-soaked clothes, we dined on the feast that was once only the right of the "royal". While we feasted on bajre ki kheechdi which was swimming in ghee, the ghee-soaked daal baati churma and many other dishes, a guy was singing the ethnic songs. I do remember his face and the songs that he played. It is a daily ritual for him. However, then and now a thought that crops up in my mind is that has things changed for him? Then and now, he played for the privileged. Then and now, he doesn't have an option. He is sticking on to the tradition.

The forts and the farce of blue-bloodedness 

Coming back to forts. As I saw the forts, especially the amber fort with the long-running ramparts, I was lost trying to imagine the past. But not "my" past. If I were what I am today, in terms of my economic status, in those centuries, I wouldn't have been even allowed to enter the forts with respect. Being a woman, my status would have been even lower. So how is this a past that I should be expected to be proud of? We went to the Albert museum and were expected to be in awe of the "royal" items of daily use. Yes, I was in awe of the fact that they sucked money from the commoners and created a nice royal world for themselves while the commoners suffered during a famine.

But one definite thing that I was happy to realise is that how this farce of blue-bloodedness has been shunned by the recent trend of marrying in forts. Today, it is common for the economically privileged to realise this "dream". Ofcourse, it is still extended only to a few. But I feel happy imagining how the souls and ghosts? of the royalty would react when people of non-rajput or "high" blood share the same privilege.

Concluding with an epic statement 

I would just like to end with what a man who sells chunni/gudiya ke baal (candyfloss in english) had said to two people who were debating about what to call the item that he sold. He said, "Haan, chunni ke baal hi kehte hai par kuch vilayati bandar ise candy floss keh gaye". (Yes, it is called chunni ke baal but some foreign monkeys gave it the name of candy floss.) I think his statement sums it up well. 

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Little Ani learns a lesson...never ignore warning signs

This is the entry for "The Moral of The Story Is...!" contest of Indiblogger and  Colgate Total


"Spit in the basin"


"I said spit in the basin"

"Beta, co-operate. I will buy you that doll"

"Mummy! AAAAHH"

And it was over! Her mom had been furious with little Ani. The moment that they were out of the dentist's cabin, her mom had started scolding her. The dream of the doll was shattered but nevertheless, she did enjoy the big cup of chocolate ice cream. Ani was six year old at that time.


"What happened!"

"My tooth is aching!"

The second visit to dentist was when she was in tenth standard. The doctor told her that plague had destroyed her teeth. The doctor had informed her that since her teeth were crooked, she was more prone to tooth plague and decay. He had advised her for braces.


"Yes or you will face many dental problems later in your life"

"Oh ok, then I will put braces"

"Good girl! Please come on Thursday"

"Sure, Doctor! Thanks"

She never went. She had hated the sound of it. She had heard about the problems that people with braces face - the problem in speech, the maintenance, and the other related natak. "I am not getting those braces!", she said to herself. She thought that the doctor was emphasising only because crooked teeth looks bad. It is not "aesthetically-pleasing". As for other problems, she assumed that they wouldn't be as bad.

She would ignore the essential visit to dentist even when she would have some dental problems because of the fear of the plan. She would assume that she would be forced to get braces or undergo some complicated and painful treatment. She had been ignoring it for years. But now she has started experiencing the problems that she was being warned of, some years back. She has been noticing bleeding of gums and she can no longer ignore it. Why? Because she had chose to ignore the first sign and the first advice. She went to the dentist and is required to visit every month. She no longer ignores the warning signs and also uses Colgate total every day which eliminates all possibilities of tooth problems.

So the moral of the story is...never try to ignore warning signs.