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Thursday, November 27, 2014

British Reminisces | Are we losing our tolerance.?


Removing symbols of British rule in India will not erase their part in the subcontinent’s history..

Dumping of emblems of the British era, which actually began in the 1950s, seems to be back in operation and the main target is Victoria Regina who, though an alien queen, was nevertheless regarded as a benevolent benefactress of the post-1857 reconciliation. Delhi had a number of statues of hers, besides the one at the Town Hall which made the area look like St Mark’s Square in Venice because of the teeming pigeons it attracted. That statue did not somehow find a place in Coronation Park but in the Delhi College of Art. Others are untraceable, though the bust at the erstwhile Victoria Zenana Hospital was looked upon by women both as a symbol of fertility (the Queen had several children) and as a talisman of sorts for a safe delivery. The Hajjan Buas or matriarchs of Jama Masjid still swear by Malika Victoria as the doyenne of womanhood and so do the matajis of Chandni Chowk, Chawri Bazar and Daryaganj. As a matter of fact, Agra and other towns of North India also seem to harbour this belief. The reason probably is that she filled the vacuum after the era of native queens and princesses (shahzadis) with whom housewives could easily empathize.

Talking about Victoria’s popularity, would it surprise you to know that even lal-masoor-ki-dal was named after her as Malika Masoor; vying with Delhi for Queen Victoria statues were Calcutta and Agra. The latter had three magnificent ones, one of which occupied pride of place in MacDonald Park, opposite the Taj Mahal, now named after Shah Jahan. One remembers being present at the park when the statue was being taken down in 1957 as father’s press photographer. This statue and the other two were deposited in the Police Lines from where they were recently brought to the local Paliwal Park, the earlier Hewett Park. While Hewett was a high-profile administrator, S.K.D. Paliwal lived near the park after resigning as Food Minister in Govind Ballabh Pant’s Uttar Pradesh government following his second marriage to a Begum of a well-known Allahabad family. The resignation was compared to the abdication by Edward VIII after his marriage to the divorced Mrs Simpson of the US.

It was planned to set up the Victoria statues in a Paliwal Park Museum of the Raj days but Bajrang Dal volunteers had other ideas. They dumped them behind the nearby John’s Public Library. This library, as per the Dal’s demand, should be renamed after Dr Ram Vilas Sharma, a Hindi litterateur, who left Agra to lead a retired life in Delhi’s Vikaspuri until his death at a very old age. It is pertinent to point out that Dr Sharma, a Communist leader, was actually head of the department of English in B.R. College, Agra and taught English romantic poetry with great relish despite his Leftist views. The library was built by the John family, which was actually Greek, originally named Joanides. Their ancestor, Antonious Joanides took the simpler name of Anthony John when he started life in the city of the Taj as a diamond merchant in 1801 and some of his descendents are still there after 213 years of habitation. They were neither British nor colonialists but philanthropic mill-owners who employed hundred of people in Delhi, Agra and Lucknow and gifted the library to the Municipal Committee in 1925, soon after its construction.

It is worth noting that after Victoria was crowned Empress of India in 1858, romantic as she was, felt that she had merely become ruler in succession to Bahadur Shah Zafar to continue the tradition of the Mughals. Though her desire to visit the country did not materialize, she had Munshi Abdul Karim appointed as her Urdu teacher so that she could understand her new subjects better. The Munshi became a much loved member of her household and his father too, a doctor in the Central Jail, was invited to visit England and made Khan Bahadur. Not only that, a party of qawwals was also invited to entertain the Queen who went into ecstasy on hearing the performance. Is it any surprise then that countless girls in the country were named Victoria? The Queen even met Wajid Ali Shah’s mother despite much opposition.

Statues of such an India-loving monarch should, therefore, not be dumped here and there but preserved to commemorate a part of our history which cannot be wished away. Delhi has shown the way with Coronation Park and other cities can follow suit. After all the Mughals too had come from another country and made India their home and have a good share in our heritage. Do we tend to dump their memory likewise? Kolkata is spending a great deal of money to renovate the Victoria Memorial, which happens to be one of the best historical sites of that city. Surely Agra can do the same, though Hewett Park can remain Paliwal Park as a reminder of Edward VIII’s Indian counterpart who renounced a powerful post to marry the one who had stolen his heart. Incidentally, the rationing system as we know it was first introduced by Shri Krishan Dutt Paliwal and it continues to this day while some of his descendents have become owners of parts of the buildings of the old Johns Mills in Jeoni Mandi on the Yamuna bank, overlooking the Taj.

This article has been posted under the Miscellaneous and Historical accounts and FolkLore section of history_geek's Blog.

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  1. A nostalgic post - reminds me of the time when the New Delhi area (called the DIZ - Delhi Imperial Zone) had squares like Outram Square, Clive Square, Geoffrey Square etc. :)

    Each square of single-storied houses with arched entrances was laid out around a huge, grassy lawn with lots of big trees. These British (govt) quarters, as they were known, took note of Indian customs and had bathrooms in the back courtyard, away from the main house! Being single-storied, the ceilings used to be quite high (unimaginable in today's Delhi :) )and the houses used to stay cool naturally even in summers. Otherwise, khus purdahs provided cool, scented breeze.

    Anyway, coming to present - will read again and comment Abhay, but you are right that Queen Victoria was quite popular with the Indian populace. :) She was known as Victoria Maharani among some communities. In fact, tongas used to be known as Victorias in some places. :)

  2. ABhay, not read, Post, but One ques, yesterday, i watched, a docoumentry, on Epic Channel, Rani, Karmavati send Rakhi, To Hamayuan, Because acc to her, Hamayuan, will accept this or Mughals will not attack on Chittod, but he not accepted,, or they attacked, or she attempted, johar. So Gap distance, came More, Between more,Mughal & Rajvancies.,

  3. I agree comletely with u history-geek. By distroying, or throwing things here n there history cannot be changed.On the contrary' a museum should be made n real fact should be made known to the new generation.

  4. Ayushi,
    I am not sure about the authenticity of this Rakhi sending legend.

    Also, i am not getting EPIC channel as of now. So, can't see the documentary too.

  5. Wow Radhika.

    Thanks for sharing this.
    Your comment mentioning Tonga reminds me of an old Hindi movie - "Victoria Number 203" of 1972. We had a tonga in it, if i am not wrong. Saira Banu was the lead, male lead i don't remember. :)

  6. Well Said Geeta.!
    These all are a part of our heritage. :)

  7. you are never wrong! LOL I don't remember much of it but it had a tonga whose number was 203. It also had Navin Nischal, Ashok Kumar and Pran. :)

  8. Radhika,
    Thanks for details.
    Do check your PM / D.Board asap. :)

  9. Hi Abhay thanks for this post.... I fell really irritated to see the conditions of most of the historical sites in India... why only British all other historical sites are in wrecked condition...

    Robert Clive's house Is just 10 minutes away from my house and every time I go there I feel bad for that place... it's Is such a beautiful house but there is no body to take care of... it is now regarded as a.haunted house by the neighbourhood people... if you look at the house now you can never believe that once it was inhabited by a British authority... now it is a place where drunkards and gamblers have a gala time after 8 in the evening and we girls are afraid to pass by that place..... it is really sad to see such a condition

    Another Ignorance that disgusts me is the theft of Rabindranarh Tegors Novel Prize from his birth place at Jarashankho Thakur Bati in Kolkata and neither Bishyabharati University nor WB government is. bothered to seriously hunt it down... it nearly 2 years now but still no trace of it...

    Coming to Victoria Memorial it is being renovated most probably every year before the winter fall as it is one of the best picnic spot of that area.... WB government has been trying to repair the fairy at the top of the central tomb of The memorial which used to rotate previously.... but is unable to do so.... not only Is its exterior parts renovated but the museum inside the Memorial has been improvised.... some very rare Pre-Independent letters, journals, pictures documents are there... many Mughal weapons, pictures and artifacts are there... that place can transport you to that era where each and every one was struggling to achieve independence.... that museum proves why exactly bengal was the epicentre of struggle for independence.... but one thing I didn't like there was a place where there was pictures of many kings and Queens but Akbar and MUZ was not there whereas Humayun, Jahangir and Noor Jahan was there.... You all should visit Calcutta someday.. you will love everything about this place..

    Abhay Radhika You can still find Tonga infront I Victoria Memorial... it's called TomTom here...

    Radhika Victoria is Referred as Maharani Victoria in Calcutta...

  10. Radhika, tongas r called victoria or tumtum in many old Hindi movies:)

  11. Awesome Post Surochita.

    Thanks for these details. I know about the dilapidated condition of the house of Robert Clive. Rest of the details are absolutely new for me.

    Great to know about the details of Victoria Memorial renovation and the artifacts present there.

    About the pictures of reign of Akbar and MUZ not being present there my view is that , based on my reading - Akbar was so much particular about the "chasteness" of his ladies that seldom he allowed even their names to taken by the public.

    Contrast this with the show, where anyone, takes the names of the queen at the drop of hat.!

    Also, we find very less portraits of his ladies being drawn up.!!. I don't know of ANY portrait of Ruqayya or Salima Begum till now, if at all there is one, it is of Akbar and MUZ. ;p

  12. Hi Suchorita And Abhay,
    well, being a Kolkatan by birth and also becoz my father takes special interest in the history, I must say that yes, the condition is deplorable.But to add with it, We should see that the monuments were not at least demolished or harmed even when Kolkata had passed through numerous historical tragedies....!!
    Has anyone seen the condition of Tipu Sultan's Mosque??
    And, like a silver lining, now the State govt. is taking initiatives to renovate and restore the hence-forgotten relics .
    Abhay is right,MUZ is not mentioned for the obvious reason of Akbar's dislike towards advertising his Begums' identities to outsiders....!! So, no wonder none are there....

  13. Thanks for the details. I agree about Kolkata, many sources of indian history can be traced from that place. :)
    Also, Bengal played a really good part in Indian(Hindustani) renaissance, giving many scholars and freedom fighters to us.

    Can anyone of you please tell me about the Tipu Sultan's mosque, as you are from that place.?. :))

    I read something about it online, that it was damaged a bit for Metro related constructions, but could not get the details. :)

  14. Geeta

    This is similar to name-changing of places and streets etc. Many Indians have a penchant for name-changing and as soon as they come into power, they name everything according to their favorite people. :)

    Many of the British names have been changed to Indian names, but the strings that tie India to Britain cannot be wished away.

  15. Surochita, Kamal, Abhay

    Beautiful discussion about a beautiful city. :)

    Thanks for all the details. :) Surochita, my son definitely has plans to visit Kolkata to see the Howrah Bridge!

    I agree that the upkeep of heritage sites is pathetic in India. And what's more, many people don't even know anything about historical monuments in their vicinity.

  16. Abhay,

    This is Tipu's palace in Coorg. It is surrounded by fort walls, which are in ruins now and there's a small temple too within the complex.

    But the palace itself is now a govt office and in good condition.

  17. Abhay

    This is the fort wall around Tipu's palace in Coorg. I hope you can see the images?

  18. radhika - changing names is a tradition in r nation.

    prayag changed 2 allahabad.

    lavapuri 2 lahore.
    pushkalvati 2 peshawar.
    in present days, politics of naming parks aftr ruling political party leaders is famous in my home state.

  19. Queen Victoria also imported Indian male servants, had an Indian dish on most of her dinner menus, wore / displayed jewels from India, such as the famous Kohinoor diamond and even added a large "Darbar Room" to Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, complete with Indian art and artifacts, so that she could have "her own (version of) India".

  20. This is very interesting. Thanks for sharing. :)
    But i did not get why Indian servants ?

  21. I mean why she wanted Indian Male servants ?
    The reason. ? :)

  22. radika - u r a storehouse of facts. queen victoria had curry every sunday. her favorite servant was an indian. she treated him very generously. she tried 2 help his family in india. she learnt hindi writing 4rm tat servant.

  23. abhay - no. she treated equally. in her letter 2 her favorite indian servant she called him her son. n signed the letter as ur loving mother.

  24. Really?

    Iqra, I don't know if it was any special fondness for Indian servants only. She might have been good to all servants.

    I read that after she shared a long, friendly relation with a loyal, Scottish servant, John Brown.

    On his death, she paid him this beautiful tribute:

    Friend more than servant, loyal, truthful, brave,
    Self less than duty, even to the grave.

  25. John Brown was buried close to Balmoral Castle in Crathie kirkyard.

  26. Abhay

    That's not easy to answer because I am not sure of the depth of her relationship with India. She may have been fascinated by India for political, strategic, or financial reasons or simply because India seemed an exotic destination for her.

    Indians were used as servants by many British personalities, both in India and in England, esp after Queen Victoria became Empress of India.

  27. Iqra

    So she may have been responsible for introducing curry to England LOL

  28. radhika - john brown died b4 this indian servant became her favorite.

  29. Surochita, we all shud be proud of Bengal. What a rich heritage u hv!, be it is literature, poetry, culture n above all patriotism! Although, whole of india has produced freedom fighters, it's only after seeing victoria Memorial, I realised there were so many struggles rooted frm bengal, as u aptly said it was as if epicenter of freedom struggle.
    Still, I think certain things like the house of subhash chandra cud hv been made more attractive fr the tourists.
    As far as maintaining of the historical structures r concerned everywhere its the same story.In South India we mainly hv huge temple construction built in stone fr example as priya pointed out, Mammalapuram,which hv stood their time.The lesser known structures hv no guardians. I think, every state shud make extra efforts to keep their heritage alive n develop them as tourist spots.
    i came to know abt jo-aK story only thru the movie n not before that. History has been the subject of many south indian movies frm long ago, but they r centered around South Indian rulers only. i think even Gowarikar made a movie on freedom sruggle frm Bengal.( I forgot the name).Main thing is ur love fr history, n I hope blogs like this will certainly keep it alive.:)

  30. Abhaay, in Karnataka, comparatively, the maintainance is good.Whatever damage done by Afghans,( I think, he was Khilji) to our temples iin Hampi has been partly restored, though I hvn't visited it fr a long time.
    The story of Tipu is also like Akbar, in the sense, we hv both who loved Tipu n also those who hated him.U must be remembering when Sanjay Khan made The sword of Tipu Sultan, he had to face the protests. There was no doubt, he was an able administrator, n patriot apart frm being great warrior He was called the Tiger of Mysore..But his timing is quite recent, so we can't compare it with the 15th century monuments. When I visited mysore,5 years ago, it was fine.Don't know abt Meyro debate.

  31. Iqra,

    Yes, you are right.

    Albert, her husband died first. Victoria mourned for him for the rest of her life, it is said.

    She was given a great deal of support by, first, John Brown and then by Abdul Karim.

    There is one Victoria and Albert Museum in Mumbai. Visited it long back. :)

  32. But Tipu's fort outside Mysore, near Seringapatnam, is totally in ruins. Many tourist guides don't even encourage anyone going there because the broken fragments of walls here and there are completely overtaken by vegetation. It is very sad.

  33. Geeta,
    It was Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey. This movie was based on life of Surya Sen.

  34. I don't know if this thread is the right place for this discussion. But I am curious to know what everyone here thinks about on the topic of Mughals vs the British.

    Do you consider the Mughals as Indians or invaders like the British?

    Who do you think assimilated into India more?

    Who do you think was better for India overall?

  35. Radhika,

    For me its a tough one to answer. Both came from outside, but the point is while Mughals stared to live in Hindustan and made it their home, but for Britishers they came with pure purpose of exploitation. Hence, in this case i will say Mughals were assimilated into India MORE.

    But who was better for India.?.
    This can be a big debate. I will prepare a post on this topic.

    We can debate it from various angles.
    If i am not able to make a post on this, i will reply here again.

    But for time being i have given my views in short on your point-2. :)

  36. Abhay, thanks. Looking fwd to this post, the post on Chetak, the post on Akbar's wives and the post on Mughal daughters. :)

  37. How many times did Jhangir fall in love exactly? It's seems like he is always enamored with someone.

  38. Well..!!
    This is a question which makes me think too. His list seems endless.
    Till now, we knew about Man Bai, Jagat Gosain, Sahib-i-Jamal, Nur Jahan. Now, we have Khaas Mahal also. ;-P

    PS : I am transferring this comment to the designated post. :)