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Calcutta Town Hall Meeting

July 31st, 2010|India-Pakistan History, Indo Pak peace, Pakistan|0 Comments

Ode to Benaras – Ghalib’s grand vision

A Brahmin resident of Benaras

Ghalib

Benaras: “forever spring”

It is incredible that a Muslim poet who prided himself on his Turkic ancestry and invoked the “warrior” past in his day-to-day conversation (through his letters) could compare the divine light at Mount Sinai to the lamps at Benaras

The cancer of communalism and bigotry in South Asia continues to haunt us. These days, the Muslims are once again a subject of intense, though not always fair, scrutiny in India: their loyalties are being questioned and many are potential terrorists if not already abettors of violence. The post 9/11 world has contributed to the demonising of the Muslim identity and history to surreal heights.

The recent bomb blasts in Delhi have placed the communal discourse on the front pages. The invaders and violent Muslims have done it again. A friend called me from Delhi and narrated the profiling that takes place at marketplaces and how the gulf between different communities is widening.

There was a time, not in the ancient past, when in Delhi the greatest of Urdu poets Mirza Ghalib (1796-1869) lived in an age when Hindus and Muslims shared common saints, dargahs and even popular gods and goddesses. Written accounts of this age – the mid to late 19th century – relate how intimate co-exitence of “Mussalmans” and “Hindoos” had led to a relative amalgamation of customs among the common people. And poets like Ghalib could see the commonalities of spiritual streams:

I n the Kaaba I will play the shankh (conch shell)

In the temple I have draped the ahraam (Muslim robe)

The verse above delineates the Sufi concept of fana (or dissolution of the self in divine reality) and the unity articulated by the ancient Indian texts such as the Vedanta. Sufis were to elaborate this as the wahdat-al-wajood (Unity of Being) philosophy. […]

The story of an ivory chair – Murshidabad’s gift to Hastings

Dr Amin Jaffer, the expert on Indian arts and furniture, currently working at Christie’s holds forth in a conversation below. The chair above is a fine work of craftsmanship and amalgamation of Eastern and Western aesthetics in the eighteenth century India. The chair was presented to the infamous Warren Hastings by the female Rani (ruler) of Murshidabad. Amazing that it survives…

we’re very lucky to have found a group of correspondence relating to Warren Hastings and the ruler of Murshidabad, the old princely capital of the state of Bengal and she was the regent, she was called Mani Begum, who was originally a dancing girl and she married the Nawab and when the Nawab died and there was a sort of power vacuum, Warren Hastings installed her as the regent and she thanks Hastings and his wife Marion by giving them, over a number of years, pieces of very, very high quality ivory furniture.
And when Hastings comes back to England, it’s his agent in Calcutta who’s transacting the shipping of the furniture and Hastings asks him repeatedly to give letters to the Begum to thank her or to tell her how fantastic the furniture looks in the house in Dalesford – Warren Hastings’ great house which he built in the Cotswolds and that’s how we really know that this piece, one of a pair, belonged to this great important commission.
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June 5th, 2008|Arts & Culture, History, India-Pakistan History|1 Comment