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.