The government is under fire over the adoption row of the iconic Red Fort by the private entity Dalmia Bharat group under its ‘Adopt a Heritage’ project. Under attack by the members of the civil society, historians and opposition parties, the decision has not gone down too well with the public either.
“I am certain that it is a part of a systematic attack to denigrate the freedom struggle and the people associated with it. It is no surprise that October 2 is Swachh Bharat Day and no more just Mahatma Gandhi’s birth date”, said SohailHashmi, a well known historian who feels there is an extent of irresponsibility at the level of governance.
The Dalmia Group was chosen over InterGlobe Foundation, the parent company of IndiGo Airlines, and the GMR group, who had also expressed interest in adopting the ‘LaalQuila’ under the scheme where the company becomes a ‘Monument Mitra’. On April 24, 2018, the Group announced that it signed a Memorandum of Understanding under which it committed Rs. 25 crore over a five-year-period for the upkeep of the national treasure- the iconic Red Fort, stirring a storm amongst the experts and political parties.
Hashmi further added, “Dalmia Group is functioning in accordance with their Corporate Social Responsibility which simply means that shedding away a meagre five crores each year for five years would be nothing in comparison to their turnovers of thousands of crores. In turn, what they are getting is much bigger- signages all over a monument of cultural, historical and undying importance”.
Talking to The Citizen, K J Alphons, Minister of State (Independent Charge) for Tourism feels that there is no profit-making in this scheme, nor does it allow partners, public or private, to touch the monuments. “The monument has not been ‘given away’ to any entity. The private company’s role is to create peripheral infrastructure like ensure cleanliness, provide wifi and other visitor friendly installments around the area. Archaeological Survey of India will continue to take care of the heritage that we have where the private entity is helping it with peripheral infrastructure.
There is absolutely no question of renaming the monument” not addressing the question that followed about branding if not renaming”, Alphons added.
While the Red Fort is not the first to be handed over to ‘Monument Mitra’, the importance of the monument puts a question on the action by the Centre over its fading role in the conservation and preservation of National heritage.
Amar Farooqui, a Professor of History and a reputed historian told The Citizen, “There is no doubt that Red Fort is not just any other monument with the colonial history associated with it. Sadly, the government chose to give it away to a private ‘Monument Mitra’. Anybody who knows its special status will think- what kind of a message are we sending to the public with the monument going in the hands of the private company? In principle, when we do not know the credentials of these private groups with regard to their skills and expertise, how could we just give it away without this essential knowledge? Are we really lacking the resources to take care of our history?”
Discussing how this move by the Centre “ultimately reflects that there is a particular kind of attitude that the state has towards conservation”, Farooqui further added, “It is no more a responsibility for them but just a job that can be managed. I believe, the people of India trusted the government with this heritage and the government is betraying it. It is not for them to give it away to any private party.”
“ASI does have the manpower and the capability to take care of these monuments. Strangely, to my knowledge there has been an instance where a private organisation has further outsourced the work of museums to another entity, creating a chain of outsourcing. This is just one of the broader issues with it while the main question stays, what is the message that the government is sending out?”, expressed Farooqui.
Meanwhile, an official from ASI, who wished to stay anonymous said, “It is a policy matter and anyway falls out of the Delhi Circle”, divulging no more details on the issue.
The process of monument adoption begins with the interested entity selecting any of the numerous featured heritage sites according to the guidelines. The monuments are separated into three categories – Green, Blue and Orange – depending on tourist footfall and visibility. So far, the ministry has drafted 31 agencies as Monument Mitras for 95 monuments spread across India. Some of the monuments adopted include Mt. StokKangri in Ladakh, the Gaumukh trail in Uttarakhand, Dalmia Bharat Limited for Red Fort, and Gandikota Fort in Andhra Pradesh, as reported by The Times of India.
Not to much surprise, Gandikota Fort, a 14th Century heritage monument, located in the Kadapa district of the state has also been adopted recently by the Dalmia Bharat group on the same day as it signed the Red Fort deal with the Union ministries of tourism and culture and the Archaeological Survey of India, on April 9, 2018.
After numerous attempts of contact, Dalmia Bharat Group refused to comment on the ongoings and the officials stayed unavailable to comment.
While some scholars call the move “sheer incompetence” of the current administration in understanding the importance of social responsibility towards history, others claim it is the “worst capitalist move” that could bring down the faith people have put in the government where outsourcing has taken a new tangent. It remains unclear as to how exactly the company plans to carry the processes of restoration, preservation and conservation of these monuments.
“The government, if it wanted to could have worked on a policy to create seperate tickets for compounds that are currently shut like Moti Masjid, Sheesh Mahal and others. That’s what Italy has done for the Leaning Tower of Pisa- separate tickets depending on area visited, climbing and even hours. With these funds more guards could be hired for the protection and in turn, employment could be generated keeping conversation going. There are a hundred other ways to manage, preserve and protect a monument of heritage if you want to”, SohailHashmi told The Citizen, describing an alternative approach the government could have adopted.
He also addressed the undergoings saying, “I am essentially arguing that if these monuments need to be given to corporates, there has to be a very clear policy. The bureaucrats are more concerned about their next appointment or if they were slow starters, then retirement. Archeology is not a glamorous department like the other departments”.
While the historians are thunderstruck by the government’s decision to hand over the 17th Century Mughal era monument, the politics around it is not at rest either.
Issuing a statement on the website, Polit Bureau of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) expressed opposition to the agreement: “The Dalmia group in its own press release has said that they will ‘have to own if for five years initially’ and the contract gives them the freedom to make the Dalmia brand prominently visible. It has the right to use its brand name on all kinds of publicity material to be displayed during events organized at the site and also on all signage. In fact, it will be allowed to proclaim in a prominently displayed sign that the Red Fort has been ‘adopted by Dalmia Bharat Limited’.”
Talking to The Citizen, Tapan Kumar Sen, Member of Parliament, RajyaSabha and a member of CPI(M) said, “We have openly opposing it and have always done it in the past too. Private sector is not taking it for philanthropy. A heritage site will be exploited through all private business means where the government is passing on a share arrangement for their personal profit”. He further added, “It will be discussed when the session of the Parliament opens next”.
The party reminded the government that the Parliamentary Committee that went into the issue of handing over heritage sites to private entities had “decided against this unanimously and it must rescind its decision”.
On April 29, 2018 Samajwadi Party RajyaSabha member, Javed Ali Khan claimed to expose Dalmia Group of 540 crore rupees fraud that dates back to 2014 along with other allegations of serious nature including murder of his wife and absconding from the country.
Talking to the Citizen, Javed Ali Khan expressed, “These are not allegations that I am putting against the Dalmia Group but information that the public deserves to know about the kind of people who will manage our heritage, how sincere they are with their intentions”.
When asked about the recent adoption of Red Fort by the group, Khan said, “Nobody does it without a profit in mind. They are Private and Corporate houses and the government is blessing them with this big opportunity to brand themselves.
Itnebhidayaalunahihainyehaajkitareekhmein.Sarkaar koi bhizimmauthaanekelayaknahihai.Khudhaathkhadekarrahihai is zimme se. (They are not kind people. The government does not want to own up to anything. They are giving up on their responsibility themselves)”.
Discussing his next step, Khan called for “Political parties to take this issue up as our heritage is at stake. If others do not, I will make sure that this is a part of my party’s manifesto in the coming year and 2019”.
INDESCRIBABLE JOHN ELI
By Shabbir Aariz
This indeed is proverbially a herculean task to describe or define John Elia in any particular frame. Whosoever while mentioning him, is either trapped in contradictions of one’s own opinion or is able to confine to a few verses of John Elia to judge him. But the more one tries to understand John, the more confused one is and I believe that you need another John Elia to explain him. He is a phenomenon, a thing like a live fish to hold in your hand or an elephant amongst blinds to be described. Wusatullah Khan, a noted broadcaster, holds that knowing John is as good as dating with a liberated lady. And it is quite obvious that a man who in him is a philosopher, a scholar, a biographer, a linguist with command over Urdu, Arabic, English, Persian, Sanskrit and Hebrew and needless to say that the Ismaili sect of the subcontinent could not find anyone other than John to translate Ismaili treatises from Hebrew, it becomes a tedious affair to be conclusive about John. Common perception though with an element of truth is that John is a progressive Marxist, an unconventional poet and always in denial of everything including himself while himself saying in three line verse,
“KISKO FUSAT K MUJSAY BAHAS KARAY…..
OOR SABIT KARAY K MERA WAJOOD….
ZINDZGI K LIYAY ZARORI HAY
(Anyone prepared to argue and prove that my existence is imperative for life). His poetry is admittedly very close to life and his verses in the words of a legendry poet, Majrooh Sultanpuri, are like a dialogue which no other poet has the distinction to be capable of. John has an extra-ordinary craft of connecting with his audience that has created an unprecedented fan following which no other contemporary poet can claim to have. So magical is his poetry and its rendition that it has created a cult of his admirers with such an obsession and longing for the life of melancholy lead by John Elia himself. It is no secret that he was never a happy man with defiance and protest against everything and anything around. Loudly a nonconformist when he says
“unjaman main mayri khamooshi…..
burdabari nahin hay wehshat hay”.
His style made him famous and popular. He appears to be disgusted even with creation when he says … “HASILE KUN HAY YEH JAHANE KHARAAB….
YAHI MUMKIN THA AYSI UJLAT MAIN”.
His admirers strangely wish to pass through the same pain and despair that is hallmark of John’s poetry besides satire and the disdain for the system which contributed to his sadness in life. He has so glorified and romanticized the pain and sadness that it leaves his audience in frenzied ecstasy.
John Elia was born in the year 1931 and died in 2002. He originally belonged to Amroha in the state of Uttar Pradesh, younger brother of Rayees Amrohi, a known journalist and writer. John migrated to Pakistan in the year 1957 and settled in Karachi where he is buried now. But Amroha never left his heart and mind. He never felt comfortable after leaving Amroha partly because his stay in Karachi brought him in conflict with the system too. Many other things have also contributed to his sadness in life. He was married to a well-known writer of Pakistan, Zahida Hina but in mid-80’s , the relation between the two became bumpy and ended up in divorce which left John devastated and for ten long years thereafter went in depression without writing a word.
As is true about many in the history of literature, John earned his name and fame more after his death than in his life time while he was not received well and felt a strange type of suffocation when he says,
“AAP APNAY SAY HUMSUKHAN REHNA…..
HUMNISHEEN SAANS PHOOL JATI HAY”.
Thanks to the electronic boom and You Tube that brought him to the lime light and enabled audience to reach him and his works. As if this was not enough that his first poetic collection only came to be published when he reached the age of 60. It is worthwhile mention that he has as many as seven poetic collections to his credit namely SHAYAD, YANI, LEKIN, GUMAAN, GOYA, FARMOD and RAMOOZ. Except one, all other are published posthumously. This is besides his scholarly works in prose which may require greater insight to go into.
John all his life remained honest, direct and straightforward in expressing his views on matters of public interest. He also never demonstrated any pretentions or reservations while expressing the truth of his personal life. He never made any secret of his fantasies, love affairs or drinking habits. Yet he was never at peace either with the times or with himself. John Elia, in my humble opinion lived ahead of times and even the desire of dying young without being bed ridden was not granted to him except that he strangely enough wanted to die of tuberculosis and which he did.
(The author, a senior lawyers, is a well known poet and writer. Feedback at: [email protected])
Manto: Why I wanted to read a ‘lewd’ writer
By Naveed Hussain
I first read Saadat Hasan Manto as a teenager and the spirit of what I’m writing now was etched on my memory in those years.
I was too young to understand the intricacies of his stories but I enjoyed what I read and craved for more. Back then, Manto wasn’t available in the small town of Haripur where I lived. A friend introduced me to a schoolteacher, a bibliophile who had a modest collection of Manto in his personal library.
“Why do you want to read Manto, he’s a ribald, lewd writer,” he quipped. “This is exactly why I want to read him,” I replied, almost impulsively. He smiled and agreed to lend me Manto’s books. Thus began my journey to explore Manto. The more I read, the deeper my love for him became.
Manto was a nonconformist, an unorthodox and ruthlessly bold writer. He didn’t believe in the so-called literary norms of ‘decency’ and ‘civility’ set by didactic writers of his time. For him, truth is truth. No matter how bitter and despicable the reality, Manto never dilutes the truth. Like a muckraker, he pokes his nose into the muck, rakes it, and then holds it up to the reader – in all its profound ugliness and twisted beauty. “If you don’t know your society, read my stories. If you find a defect, it’s the defect of your society, not my stories,” he says.
Manto wrote on socially taboo topics like sex, incest and prostitution, which earned him the wrath of contemporary traditionalists, conservatives and even progressives. For some of his ‘lewd’ and ‘obscene’ stories he had to face lawsuits – among them were great stories such as Thanda Gosht, Bu, Khol Do, Dhuan and Kali Shalwar.
But it is to miss the point to simply say that Manto wrote about sex. He wrote about the sexual debauchery of men and the sexual exploitation of women; about our patriarchal society where women are often treated as a ‘sex toy’, not a human being. Unlike many, I don’t compare Manto with DH Lawrence, because Manto is not lustful, even though he explicitly writes about the female anatomy. He’s more like Guy de Maupassant, who sees the throbbing heart, not the sensuous body, of the prostitute.
Manto blames the ‘diseased mind’ for reading ‘ribaldry’ into his stories. If a sex maniac derives morbid gratification from Venus De Milo, should we blame Alexandros of Antioch for chiselling such a ‘graphic’ sculpture? No, certainly not.
For contemporary literary pundits, Manto was also unacceptable because he wrote ‘indecent’ language. “They [the critics] criticise me when my characters verbally abuse one another – but why don’t they criticise their society instead where hundreds of thousands of profanities are hurled on the streets, every day,” he wonders.
I also love Manto because he was honest. He was an unflinchingly true writer who believed in calling a spade a spade. Sketch-writing was introduced as a genre in Urdu literature much earlier, but Manto created his own peculiar tell-all style. He didn’t write only the good qualities of his characters. “In my bathroom, everyone is naked. I don’t clothe them because it’s the tailor’s job,” he writes.
Manto’s sketches, which he initially wrote for the Lahore-based Daily Afaq newspaper, were later collected and published as Ganjay Farishtay. Manto wasn’t a hypocrite. He minced no words while writing about his dead friends. “I curse a thousand times a so-called civilised society where a man’s character is cleansed of all its ills and tagged as ‘May-God-Bless Him’,” Manto wrote in Ganjay Farishtay. Manto wrote sketches of filmstars Ashok Kumar, Shyam, Noor Jahan, literary figures such as Meera Ji, Agha Hashar and Ismat Chughtai and some politicians. “I have no camera that could have washed smallpox marks off the face of Agha Hashar or change obscenities uttered by him in his flowery style.”
Before embarking on his literary career, Manto had read Russian, French and English masters like Chekhov, Gorky, Victor Hugo, de Maupassant and Oscar Wilde and translated some of their works into Urdu. Surprisingly enough, despite his love for revolutionaries, Manto was not a Marxist ideologue. He was a humanist who was pained to see social injustices, economic disparities and exploitation of the underprivileged. He hated the obscurantist clergy and parasitic elites alike.
Although Manto had migrated to Pakistan after 1947, he couldn’t understand the rationale of partitioning a land along religious lines. His stories of bloodshed and cross-border migration, such as Teetwaal Ka Kutta and Toba Tek Singh, made him unpopular with ‘patriotic’ Pakistanis. To this day he remains a shadowy figure on the official literary lists of Pakistan: our school curricula, our national awards, our drawing room conversations.
Manto was acknowledged as a creative genius even by his detractors. And he knew this, which is perhaps why he wanted these words to mark his grave: “Here lies Saadat Hasan Manto and with him lie all the secrets and mysteries of the art of short story writing. Under tons of earth he lies, still wondering who among the two is the greater short story writer: he or God.”
Manto’s family feared his self-written epitaph would attract the unwanted attention of the ignorantly religious, so on his grave one finds a Ghalib couplet. He faced censorship all his life and even now has chunks of his stories taken out by the authorities. But as we mark his centenary year, I can say this with the instant certainty I felt as a young man in Haripur: the words and stories of Saadat Hasan Manto will outlive us all.
Gauhar Raza: Giving Poetry the Power to Protest
By Asheesh Mamgain
If things were different his poems would have been different, or maybe he would not have been a poet at all. But things are what they are. And that is why Gauhar Raza, the poet is writing, and it is why he writes his poetry of protest.
“Maybe I would have written about love, the beauty of nature and science. But as things stand my poetry is predominantly about resistance and protest,” said Raza, who is faithful to the tradition of resistance poetry to the extent that he has throttled, without much difficulty, the romantic and the scientist in him. “The need to write poetry always arose when something happened around me which affected me, to the core. I have never written and will never write poetry just for the sake of it.”
“The murder of Safdar Hashmi, the breaking up of the Soviet Union, the demolition of the Babri Masjid, the killing of an activist in Afghanistan, the death of Rohith Vemula are some of those things,” he said.
Raza’s second published collection of ghazals and nazms (71 in all) came out in November 2017 and is titled Khamoshi, or Silence.
Is there a lot of anger in his poems? Yes, there is definitely a lot of anger. But then there is also hope. That is where Raza becomes special.
“For me, a poem that merely complains or rants about the injustice, violence and persecution happening all around is not enough. A poet has to go beyond this; he has to give a vision. The vision of an alternative world, of a better world. Only then will his poetry be successful and meaningful. A poet has to show the consciousness he wants to bring into society.”
So how does he define good poetry? “Well, a good poem should be able to raise the level of the reader at least one notch higher, and also give him a fresh perspective about the aspect being dealt in the poem. Something new to dwell upon,” said Raza.
The influences that shaped his poetic thought came pretty early, at home and at the Aligarh Muslim University where he studied. Raza’s father, Wizarat Hussain, worked in the education department there and was a second-generation Leftist.
“The question about the existence of God came up very early in my life and soon I became an atheist for life,” said Raza. Literature was read with passion at home and by the time he was 15 he had read all the Urdu literature available at the AMU library as well as a solid portion of Russian literature.
“During my growing years, Leftist thought had a major presence in the university. On the other hand, the fundamental forces were also steadily getting stronger. I was smitten by the leftist idea. I was part of a literary study circle, we served tea at the secret meetings of leftist groups and listened to discussions at home between my father and other intellectuals such as Irfan Habib and Iqtidar Alam Khan.”
There was a lot of churning in his mind and soon he started pouring the remnants of all that into his poems. When it comes to poetry some of Raza’s major influences have been Ghalib, Faiz Ahmad Faiz and Sahir Ludhianvi. He is often seen reciting their work at length during his various lectures, with Sahir Ludhianvi’s long poem ‘Parchhaiyan’ or Shadows one of his favourites.
“Writing the kind of poetry I do is not easy. Each time a write a poem I must relive all the pain and emotion I went through when the particular incident happened that forced me to write. All those disturbing images come rushing back to me. It is a difficult thing to undergo.”
Nor is poetry Raza’s only means of reaching the people. He recently retired as chief scientist from the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research. He is also into documentary filmmaking, his documentaries on Bhagat Singh and the 2002 Gujarat genocide being very well known.
Where does poetry stand today, as a means of communication with the reader? According to Raza, “for one, social media has helped. It has helped poets reach a wider audience. Also, the tradition of musharias and kavi sammelans (poetry meets) is still very strong in India. So even if a poet is competing with the multimedia world, it is easy to reach one’s audience with one’s poetry, provided you have something pertinent to say.”
More broadly speaking, however, “I have to say that things have progressed in a disturbing direction. A poem I wrote 20 years ago, I could rededicate it to Rohith Vemula and then to Gauri Lankesh. This disturbing trend is seen all over the world. I believe that the fall of the USSR has been a major turning point in the way our World has evolved.”
A few lines from one of his poems brings out his concern and struggle.
Mein phool khilata hoon jab bhi,
Woh baad e khizan le aate hain,
Mein geet sunata hoon jab bhi,
Yeh aag se ji bahlate hain.
Whenever I make a flower blossom
They bring the autumn wind
Whenever I sing a song
They give the soul succour with flame.
But Raza is still hopeful. “There has been a resurgence of resistance poetry in Urdu in the recent past. The trend of religious poetry in Urdu has also reduced in recent times. The youth today has become more involved in this attempt to bring a positive change. I have seen young people reading protest poetry and reacting to it. Once again universities have become a place of resistance and struggle for change.”