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Mujibur Rahman : A compelling read

MV Kamath

The Unfinished Memoirs; Sheikh Mujibur Rahman; Penguin Viking; Pp 323; Rs 699

$img_titleSheikh Mujibur Rahman, considered as the man who fathered Bangladesh, was born in a village in East Bengal, got involved in politics as early as in 1939, when he was a school student, got even more directly involved in the movement of the creation of Pakistan a year later and, when communal riots broke out in 1947, he played an active role in protecting his co-religionists. But while he was strongly in favour of Pakistan, he was even more attached to his mother tongue Bengali and when, on 23 February 1948, Prime Minister Khwaja Nazimuddin declared that “the people of East Bengal must accept Urdu as their state language”, he plunged into hectic activity to oppose the idea.

Mujibur Rahman even worked for the formation of an All-Party State Language Action Committee, in addition to calling for a general strike, that led to his arrest – the first of its kind and which was to be replicated in the years that followed. In 1953 Mujib was elected as General Secretary of the East Pakistan Awami Muslim League, later to be known just as the Awami League – and that was to be the beginning of an active and blatanantly daring political life till Bangladesh as a free country got established, when he took over the Prime Ministership of the country on 12 January 1972.

So popular was the Awami League that it won 293 seats out of the 300 in the newly set up Parliament (Jatiya Sangsad) in the election held in 1973. In 1975 the country switched over to the Presidential system and Mujib took over as Bangladesh’s first President. But there were traitors even then within the country’s Army. On 15th August 1975, a handful of ambitious and treacherous military officers, no doubt in the payroll of Islamabad, entered his residence before sunrise and assassinated him, his wife, three sons, two daughters-in-law and some other close family members – sixteen person in all.

Sheikh Hasina, one of his daughters was luckily away and lived to suffer the tragedy. Mujibur had kept Notebooks during his often long stays in prison and, as luck would have it, Hasina came across them to her utter delight. As she writes in her Preface to the book: “It was as if the Notebooks were telling me that the Golden Bengal he (Mujib) had dreamt of, still needed to be built.” The diaries Mujib left behind are remarkable for the fascinating details he has provided of his life and times. One gets insights into what went on in-1947 political developments. It may come as a surprise to many that there were strong opposition to the Partition of Bengal. Many apparently believed that the whole of Bengal plus Assam would become part of Pakistan. The sheer impertinence is unbelievable.

The Bengal Muslim League apparently hoped that Bengal would be an independent and sovereign state, that after that state was established, it would then decide whether to join India or Pakistan or remain an independent entity! Muslim leaders were unwilling to partition Bengal and wanted the whole state to be part of Pakistan.

To read Mujibur’s writings of that period is to get new insights into Muslim thinking of that area. Were all Bengal to be part of Pakistan it was also presumed that Calcutta would automatically be its capital, given its history! Mujibur’s resentment against Hindus comes through very early, especially in reference to Hindu landlords and money-lenders. He admits that his speeches were “full of religious sentiments”. “Badmouthing” Hindus was standard practice among Muslim leaders. One of the worst errors – was it only an ‘error’ or a well-callculated ‘crime’? – was to call for ‘Direct Action Day’. What ‘Direct Action’ was Jinnah talking about? All that we know is that Calcutta was turned into rivers of blood. Mujibur lays the blame for what went off on Congress and the Hindu Mahasabha. Mahatma Gandhi was present in Calcutta and was largely responsible for halting the violence.

 By any reckoning East Pakistan has put all political parties in the rest of the country into insignificance. How the rest of Pakistan reacted to that development and how Mujibur was sought to be marginalised by arrogant West Pakistanis remains unrecorded – but that would have been the most exciting part of Mujibur’s life. For all that, this book is still a valued contribution to the history of South Asia, especially of the period between 1939 and 1969 and how badly West Pakistan treated its Eastern half with disdain and contempt, that was to lead to the demand for freedom. Detailed are the roles played by leaders like HS Suhrawardy, Khwaja Nazimuddin, Ataur Rahman Khan and Maulana Bhasani, to name a few. Only Mujibur comes through as a Bengali first, next and always.

(Penguin/Viking Books India Pvt Ltd, 11, Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi-110 017)

The oldest and most consolidated world of the Indians in Durban

Manju Gupta

Melancholia of Freedom: Social Life in an Indian Township in South Africa, Thomas Blom Hansen, Princeton University Press, Pp 354 (HB),  $ 61.98

$img_titleThis book is an outcome of the author’s field studies from 1999 to 2007 undertaken to find out about the world of the Indians in Durban, especially those living in Chatsworth, the oldest and most consolidated township for them since the 1950s and defined till 1994. The author was curious to know how the decades of apartheid and its reorganisation of social life shaped the communities and their everyday subjectivities? What horizons of family life, morality and personal and collective history were being enabled and disabled in apartheid’s vast township spaces? How were these forms of social life and cultural sensibility shaping the people’s interpretations and inhabitations of new institutional, physical and discursive realities of the post-apartheid republic?

To find answers to the questions troubling his mind, the author tries to analyse how township life structured and remade domestic life, forms of enjoyment and consumption, physical movements, religious life and the social, racial and political horizons that now define its character and its romance with the past in the face of a radically uncertain future.

The first chapter entitled ‘Ethnicity by Fiat: The Remaking of Indian Life in South Africa’, which forms the foundation for the subsequent chapters, tells the story of how the Asiatic question was configured in South Africa from the 1860s to the present. It tells the story of how the township of Chatsworth was set up, imagined and framed as a purely Indian space over decades of tense and often antagonistic tussle between policy makers and social activists. It shows how specific methods of policing contributed to the current mythology of the Indian township during apartheid as fundamentally safe as a place where “we never locked our doors.” This has been based not only on official documents but essentially on the narrative by the older residents of Chatsworth.

The second chapter explores how the space of the township gradually became marked and coded as a space that was interior to Indian life. It also shows how the older figure of the “coolie”, the stereotyped, lower-caste plantation worker gave way to a new menace and irritant within the township that is equated with “backwardness” and stubborn traditional conservatism.

The theme of racism and fear of Africans among the people of Indian origin is tackled in the third chapter, which says that the relationship between indentured Indians and Zulu speakers in the province of Natal was tense and contentious throughout the 20th century. The large-scale riots in 1949 in Durban when Indian homes were attacked by African workers as well as the subsequent conflicts in 1985 and after apartheid left a legacy of apprehension and suspicion between the two communities. Periodical eruptions of riots and racist allegations from both sides became the order of the day. This chapter also explores the history and the mythologies of the Indian-African neighbourhood, called Cato Manor which was the epicentre of the 1949 riots and also led to racial fear among young people in schools and on street corners.

The fourth chapter discusses the development of political institutions of autonomy designed for Indians during the apartheid years. It argues that since the 1980s, representative politics became subsumed under a larger imperative of enjoyment and self-deprecating humour. Even today, political figures and their speech are still not read literally but are transposed into a form of entertainment and performance that is enjoyed from a distance.

The fifth chapter investigates the rise of new forms of physical, social and cultural mobility in the post-apartheid city and in particular, the rise of the kombi taxi and its massive sound system as the most striking innovation in the urban landscape. It explores the particular form of taxi industry in Chatsworth and looks at the wider phenomenon of the new sonic taste alliances forged by kwaito (a form of South African pop music) and other forms of urban music after apartheid. 

The new economy of diasporic imagination that hit South Africa after 1994 is the theme of the sixth chapter. It explores tourism whereby thousands of South African Indians each year travel to India in search of the village of their ancestors and for shopping and/or spiritual purification. These journeys are often complex discoveries of both the real and the imaginary Indian and are invariably linked to desires for purification and “proper” Indianness and “culture”, which in their turn are spawned by social mobility and ambition. The other side of this new fascination with India’s past and its emerging power as a nation is an intense interest in Bollywood films and their songs, stars and aesthetics. The revival of the interest in Indian films dates to the arrival of a new type of teenage flick that cater to diasporic market and sensibility.

The seventh chapter explores the quest for religious purification that arose among the Indian middle class in South Africa since the 1980s. It talks of the more standardised Brahminical forms of Hinduism and its clash with the popular customs and traditions that still inform weddings and ideas of beliefs and rituals in the Indian township. A similar tendency is seen among the Muslims of Indian origin. The post-apartheid society has made it possible for the traditional Muslim elite, the merchant communities of Gujarati origin, to embrace global piety movements and to re-imagine their own genealogies as somehow “Arab” and thus not South Asian. This has led to long-standing class differences between Gujarati-speaking elites and predominantly Urdu-speaking working-class Muslims. As a result, South Africa has become yet another field wherein global conflicts play out in complex local configurations.

Chapter 8 explores how the process of re-evaluating one’s past and reaching for a future beyond clear ethno-racial definitions played out among the thousands of ordinary working-class Indians in Chatsworth and elsewhere and who converted to Pentecostal Christianity. It argues that these conversions, which have gathered significant force since 1994, reflect a desire for respectability and purity, but even more so constitute a powerful attempt to find a religious identity that seems both intelligible and in tune with the culture of the larger South African society. Like governmental interventions and most political and cultural activism, the multiple churches identify the charou home and the charou soul as the main targets of reform and purification.

(Princeton University Press, 41, William Street, Princeton, New Jersey - 08540)


 A guide to making your Will

Manju Gupta

Make Your Will Yourself, HL Kumar, Universal Law Publishing Co. Pvt Ltd., Pp 287, Rs 295.00

We all have to die one day and knowing this fact, we all would like to make our Will so that we can disperse our property according to our wish. If we were not to make our Will, then our property will be inherited by legal heirs in accordance with the laws of inheritance in the country. When a person dies, his fond memories remain and can be shared by his descendants and relatives, but when it comes to material possessions, moveable and immoveable property, then the bone of contention comes to the fore. This is then that the Will makes its importance known. It is a legal document containing the desire of the dead regarding his things. A Will precludes the possibility of dispute that might arise after the death of the testator.

There are a number of advantages in leaving behind a Will. Firstly, if a person dies without leaving behind his Will, there is often the confusion among family members whether the deceased left a Will prior to his death or not. If the Will is available, the only question that needs to be ascertained is whether it is the last Will of the deceased or not.

Secondly, a Will is an absolutely personal document. The views, opinions and feelings are indicated in this document. A Will allows the devolution of property in a personalised manner, rather than letting the impersonal rules of inheritance take effect. Thirdly, many disputes can be resolved if there is a clear disposition of one’s property in a Will. Here one is reminded of the discord between Mrs Indira Gandhi and daughter-in-law Maneka Gandhi over the belongings of Sanjay Gandhi since he died a sudden death without leaving behind his Will.

Fourthly, by means of a Will, a person can appoint in writing a testamentary guardian for his infant children. This guardian is appointed by a testament or a Will. In the event of the death of a parent, the surviving natural parent is appointed the guardian of the child. However, if there is no surviving parent, the law wants a guardian to be appointed. Here the important issue is the future of the child (or children). So this is discussed with the proposed guardian before appointing him testamentary guardian.

Fifthly, if a father has two sons – one healthy and the other mentally or physically challenged. By means of a Will, the father can leave make a greater provision for the challenged child. He can even make some provision for a faithful servant, a nurse or a friend in need of money. This cannot happen in the absence of a Will.

Sixthly, in the absence of a Will, even the most unwanted son may claim his share of estate from his father’s property.

A written Will takes care of most of the problems related to passing on of wealth. A Will is a wish list of the owner of any wealth on how he or she wishes to split it among his or her family members, relatives, employees, charity or anyone else after his or her passing away.

(Universal Law Publishing Co., C-FF-1A Dilkhush Industrial Estate, G.T. Karnal Road,                                  Delhi-110 033; edit@unilawbooks.com)


Revisiting the horrid, gut-wrenching images of Partition

Manju Gupta

1946: The Great Calcutta Killings and Noakhali Genocides: A Historical Study, Dinesh Chandra Sinha and Ashok Dasgupta, Sri Himansu Maity Publishers, Pp 351,  Rs 500.00

Here is a deep study that gives a genuine perspective on the 1946 killings and genocide of Hindus in Bengal, which repeatedly was witness to Islamic violence in the world.

Bengal had been under Islamic attack for centuries, beginning with the invasion by the Turkish marauder Bakhtiyar Khilji 800 years ago. The only respite came from Islamic rule when the British ruled over India for the next 200 years.

It was in the 1940s, when the movement for the Partition of India gained momentum that two serious developments took place, clearly exposing the vulnerable position of the Hindus in Bengal. Unprecedented cruelty and barbarity were committed on the Hindus, first in Calcutta and then in Noakhali and thereafter throughout eastern Bengal. Anti-Hindu progroms were organised by the Muslim League government and its fanatical supporters.

The book goes through the growth and development of the Muslim League in great detail and shows how the British Government assiduously tried to support Mohammad Ali Jinnah in establishment of Pakistan for various political and economic nooks. Then in April 1945, a separate Muslim Chamber of Commerce with support of Muslim capitalists, merchants and traders from Sind, Bombay and Bengal came into existence. These developments constituted a distinct Muslim identity and centres of reserves were engineered by British manoeuvres to organise communist support to demand for establishment of Pakistan.

The Muslim League Council declared August 16, 1946 as ‘Direct Action Day’, which passed off peacefully everywhere except in Calcutta, where the League government directed and guided the atrocities perpetuated by the Muslims on Hindus. Premier Suhrawardy and his companions urged it on with the help of local goondas and those brought from outside. The orgy of loot, arson, rape and murder that followed was called a jehad – holy war against the kafirs, that is, the Hindus. It is said that 5,000 innocent Hindus were massacred and 15,000 left wounded.

The book deals in detail with the great Calcutta killings of 1946 by presenting facts and figures based on reports, figures, statistics, observations, memoirs  first-hand memoirs and editorials of various papers and journals and press releases of the Congress and Hindu Mahasabha apart from other voluntary organisations. It says that widespread conversion of Hindus to Islam took place in the Noakhali genocide. Look at the irony of the situation that on 7 September 1946, Ghulam Sarwar along with Ulemas and Muslim League leaders, called a meeting to “devise ways and means to wreak vengeance for what the Muslims had suffered in Calcutta.” The holocaust started on 10 October 1946.

The book quotes from various records some of the events that took place in Noakhali and elsewhere in 1946. It mentions different places which were centres to loot, murder, assaults and rape, particularly in areas like Canning Street, Dharamtala, Comilla in Calcutta. Vivid descriptions of massacre of Hindus are quoted from press reports, particularly from the Statesman, Amrita Bazar Patrika and Modern Review. The no-confidence motion against the Bengal Ministry was defeated in the Bengal Legislature Assembly. Dr SP Mookerjee of Hindu Mahasabha spoke out, “I will certainly hold responsible Mr Suhrawardy, Chief Minster, who lost his mental balance when he made the statement from Bombay that he was going to declare Bengal to be an independent state. He knew that troubles lay ahead.” In a letter to Field Marshal Viscount Wavell on 25 August 1945, Dr SP Mookerjee had written: “The Hindu Mahasabha is the only political organisation in India, which claims to represent the point of view of Hindus as such on all matters affecting our political rights…We have no option but to recognise ourselves as a Hindu political organisation because our political rights have been flagrantly ignored in the past and even today…” He added, “Under the communal award, separate electorates whose main object is to protect minority, have been conceded to the Moslem community in provinces where it is in majority and not to us, Hindus, where we are in a minority. Again, weightage has been given to Moslems wherever they are in a minority but Hindus in provinces of Bengal and the Punjab, though they are in a minority, have not been given representation even on the basis of population strength.”

He concludes by expressing his deep anguish that “the Hindu point of view in Indian politics has been systematically ignored.”

(Sri Himansu Maity, 3B, Deenbandhu Lane, Kolkata-700 006)

A gateway to the world of music

Dr R Balashankar

Oxford Dictionary of Music, Michael and Joyce Kennedy and Tim Rutherford-Johnson, Oxford University Press, Pp 955 (HB), £30.00

$img_titleThe Oxford Dictionary of Music is a one-stop source to get familiar with terms, styles, composers etc on music, especially Western. Sample a few: ‘Madrigal’ is an Italian pastoral-origin vocal composition. They were first sung in Italy around 13th century. Kayagum is one of the best known Korean instruments, a zither. It is similar to the Japanese koto “with silk strands stretched over long wooden soundboard, each with a movable bridge and plucked with fingers.” The violin, the so familiar instrument in Indian music originated in Italy some time before 1550. It was perfected (making) by one man, Antonio Stradivari, of north Italy. Between 1690 and 1737 he made 1,116 instruments, the last at the age of 92 in 1737. Of these 600 are still in existence. An original Stradivari can fetch an astonishing sum today.

The several terms used in music, including those that are not in vogue are explained in the dictionary. A whole lot of musical instruments from world over find mention. Tabla, Veena (Vina), harmonium (it is of French origin), harp, you name it the dictionary has it.

Composers, both masters and the lesser known names abound. Read the amazing story of Strauss (1864-1949). He had pianoforte lessons when he was four, and began composing at six. He had violin lessons at eight. He did not go to any formal music academy. He was both a composer and conductor and was a master of several musical forms. There are several such mesmerising stories. The dictionary also has details of conductors and performers, directors, critics, producers and designers, music journals, and publications. It also has thematic entries such as musicology, acoustics, and absolute pitch and historical periods.

Indian composers, performers and journals do not figure at all in the lists. Such important names of the carnatic music such as the trinity Tyagaraja, Muthuswamy Dikshitar and Shyama Shastri. None of the doyens of Indian music are listed among the list of composers/musicians. Hope the Oxford would rectify this in the next edition.

This is the sixth edition and builds on the Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music, which has seen five editions. “That Concise Dictionary had, by the time of its Fifth Edition (by Michael and Joyce Kennedy, 2006), outgrown its supposedly bigger sibling and the simple decision was taken to drop the adjective and remove the anachronism,” says the Preface. This edition by the Kennedy’s is edited by Tim Rutherford-Johnson. Tim has published and lectured on several contemporary composers, and regularly reviews new music. Michael Kennedy a music critic of long standing has written several books on musicians. He is an authority on English music of the 20th century. Joyce Bourne Kennedy, a general medical practitioner for 30 years has had life-long interest in music. She has published a book Who’s Who in Opera.

What could add value to the dictionary are illustrations — of instruments and persons and also more references from the rich Indian music. An introduction on contemporary music would help greatly. As such, the dictionary is a music lover’s delight.

(Oxford University Press, Great Clarendon Street, Oxford OX2 6DP)

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