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Sunday, July 22, 2007

If George Washington had children they would not be pulling rickshaws

GEORGE Washington had no children. However, George and Martha Washington raised two children from her first marriage. By all accounts, George Washington was a very loving father to his stepchildren. Whatever has happened to America’s first First Family and how they may have evolved are matters of conjecture.

But one thing is certain: George Washington’s heirs would not be starving or pulling rickshaws in Kolkata’s hot and humid bylanes to eke out a living as the heirs of Tipu Sultan were recently seen doing.

The link between George Washington and Tipu Sultan is too palpable to be ignored. George Washington became a hero of the American Revolution by defeating Britain’s Lord Cornwallis at the battle of Yorktown on Oct 19, 1781.

In contrast, Tipu Sultan, the ruler of Mysore, was treacherously defeated in 1799 by the same British general who was forced to abjectly surrender before George Washington. There’s a difference here, however. While the American hero enjoyed the unflinching support of his fellow revolutionaries, Tipu Sultan was completely betrayed by the Marathas and by the ruler of Hyderabad, who both joined the assault by Cornwallis on the Fort of Srirangapatnam.

To a lot of historians Tipu represents one of the finest spirits among Indian warriors who gave the East India Company a run for their money. As a matter of record, such was his total sway over the region that he ruled and his defiance of British authority that the East India Company’s shares dropped by almost 60 per cent during the protracted Mysore campaign.

Prasanta Paul is among the few journalists who have tracked the tragedy that subsequently visited Tipu’s family. He says he was shocked by the plight of the great grand descendants of Tipu Sultan, who were as recently as two years ago lugging rickshaws in the mean streets of Kolkata.

For example, Anwar 38, is just another faceless rickshaw-puller, among the thousand others lugging their three or two-wheeled vehicles in Kolkata and its neighbourhood.

“Yet the thin, lanky Anwar is not really a nobody; he is one of the sixth generation descendants of Tipu Sultan, the great freedom fighter from South India who laid down his life in a bloody fight against the British, in the battle of Srirangapatnam, in 1799,” says Paul.

As luck and irony would have it, Anwar and his brothers have been pulling rickshaws on the very road named after one of their ancestors, Prince Ghulam Mohammad Anwar Shah, one of Tipu Sultan’s 12 sons!

Never mind if Anwar or the members of his family pine for what is not, as their brush with history is a distant memory now, a tale almost forgotten. It was from their grandmother that they came to know about the historical connection, or rather, about the link with Srirangapatnam and, subsequently, Prince Anwar Shah.

“We are ashamed to speak of our past; that we are descendants of the great man makes us shrink further, because it won’t help to restore our fortune or mitigate our poverty,” says Anwar Shah, as his eyes search for a passenger in the scorching, humid day.

Says Paul about his assignment: “The sad reality is that talking to the correspondent here about their plight is less important than earning his daily wages, to fend for himself and the family.”

In La Martiniere College, where I went to school in Lucknow, of the four “houses” within which the boys were split into competing teams, the green one is named after Lord Cornwallis. The red one, to which I belonged, is called Hodson House, named after Captain Hodson of the colonial army.

Yes, the same Capt Hodson who captured the last Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar after the vanquished ruler had escaped from the Red Fort to seek shelter at Humayun’s tomb near what is today known as Mizuamuddin East. Hodson had also captured the grandsons of the Mughal ruler who were blinded and executed by him at the Khuni Darwaza, an old sandstone relic that today overlooks the Indian Express building in Delhi.

Recently, completely out of the blue, I was brought face to face with a Muslim family from the southern city of Hyderabad. They were introduced as the surviving heirs of Bahadur Shah Zafar.

Arijeet Gupta, an independent filmmaker, stumbled onto this family, safely secluded from the public eye, by accident. “The Living Moghuls” is the first-ever film on the Hyderabad-based family of 80-year-old Begum Laila Umahani, the 4th generation, of the family of Bahadur Shah Zafar, the “Last Great Moghul” and his first wife Ashraf Mahal.

This remarkable family-history reveals the story of four lost generations of descendants after Bahadur Shah Zafar’s exile following the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, also known as India’s first struggle for freedom. This brought to an end 332 years of Mughal rule of India, started by the great adventurer and romantic hero Babur in 1526.

The film shows the Umahani family living in a crowded part of Hyderabad in a dilapidated flat. Meeting them during the premier, I discovered that one of the sons has now become a kind of a chef, advising the Sheraton Hotel on whatever recipes he can remember from oral tradition. So the scion of the great Mughal dynasty turns into a khansama.
As an ardent follower of Laddan Mian’s philosophy, I would have accepted the turn of events in the lives of the children of Tipu Sultan and Bahadur Shah Zafar with good grace. Laddan Mian the late taluqedar of Mustafabad had declared once, after he had given away his assets at throwaway prices, and some even free to a few chosen friends: Jab Sultanat-i-Roma na rahi to meri kya haqeeqat. (When the mighty Roman Empire could vanish without trace, who am I a mere mortal to command these vast assets to my care?”

Mir Taqi Mir had observed this phenomenon thus: Jis sar ko ghuroor aaj hai yaan tajwari ka, kal uspe yaheen shor hai, phir noha gari ka. But there is a rub.

How come the children of those former rulers of India who fought the British colonialists with valour are out on the streets, leading a difficult life that is the lot of a majority of Indians, but those who served the British with servitude and obsequiousness are sitting as members of parliament?

Whether it is the late Rajmata of Gwalior or the late Nawab of Rampur and several others. They were all elected to the Lok Sabha, the house of the people, by a popular verdict. Fine. But to allow them to carry their titles in a republican state? And with the titles that would not have been theirs had they not betrayed people like Tipu Sultan and Bahadur Shah Zafar.

This kind of liberty usurped by many a prince who was loyal to the “Company Bahadur” looks even more absurd and undeserving, since the same feudal values that gave them the power remain at the heart of their prowess even today. This is where it all looks like such a sham. While a lot many of these houses of valour have gone along with the Jana Sangh, for such was the appeal for the rightwing Hindu party, the fact that they claim to be the crux of democracy, the very substance of nationalism, can only make you laugh if not angry.

The late Madhavrao Scindia, the Maharaja of Gwalior, was probably a good, even outstanding parliamentarian. He was first elected as a candidate for the rightwing Hindu Jana Sangh in 1972. Fine. He later switched his loyalty to the more progressive Congress Party. Fine. At least there was this progress.

I am not sure what kind of ideological commitment the self-professed pro-poor Congress party looks for among its candidates, but the former rulers are very much part of the scheme, just as is the case with the Bharatiya Janata Party.

In fact, there may be no difference between the two main political parties where their attitude to the scions of the princely states is concerned. No wonder that the young Jyotiraditya, the son of the late Madhavrao Scindia, says he was approached by the BJP to be their candidate in the election that he won from his late father’s seat in Gwalior last year as Congress candidate.

Speaking about his father, after his tragic death in an air crash, Jyotriaditya Scindia said: “My family has a long tradition of serving people. Entering politics was just a means of furthering that goal. He strived throughout his life to get maximum benefits for the people in his constituency. I don’t think that he had entered politics with the aim of becoming the prime minister. He did his best in his own capacity to serve the nation. His work and the appreciation that he received for it was the driving force for him.”

Was there any attempt by the BJP to woo him in its fold just after his father’s death?

“Yes, there was an offer by the BJP to join the party. But as far as I am concerned it was never an issue.”

Had George Washington not routed Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown, the British governor-general would never have been sent to India on a punishment posting. And who knows the history of our subcontinent might have been different.

The great British Betrayal equivalent to British looting in Basra-Iraq

By Farida Asrar

Do the victors respect the fundamental rights of the vanquished? Not always

WHEN Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last Mughal king, fell from grace, the British did not care for any of his rights. His properties, worth no less than £280,000, along with his jewels, were confiscated. After a sham trial, he was sent to Rangoon as a prisoner along with his family and was allowed for their support 16 Shillings a day. Historian Edward Thompson, in his book The Making of the Indian Princess, mentions that Bahadur Shah Zafar’s “trial was a piece of politics, not of justice”; and unpublished letters of Viceroy John Lawrence which Thompson has read and has access to, clearly gave instructions regarding the trial that “The king should be found guilty (and the) show, was a waste of time”.

Two of Bahadur Shah Zafar’s sons were summarily executed outside Humayun’s tomb by Major Hudson. Another son who escaped, Firozeshah, was last heard of about in 1864, living as a beggar by the wayside near Makkah. Fakhruddin, the heir apparent, was shot through the knees and left for dead by a British officer. He eventually recovered and lived as a crippled faqir in Delhi. Bahadur Shah himself died in exile in 1862 and was buried in Rangoon and not at the shrine of Khwaja Bakhtiar Khaki near Delhi, which he initially reserved for his burial.

Bahadur Shah Zafar’s crown, which was in the shape of a cap and studded with finest jewels, is currently in Windsor Castle. It was on display at the Indian Heritage Exhibition (April 21 to August 22, 1982) lent by Queen Elizabeth. The crown (which is gold set with the finest diamonds, pearls, rubies and small emeralds) was purchased by Queen Victoria for £500 from Capt Tytler, who had purchased it in an auction of confiscated property. Capt Tytler was the officer in charge of Bahadur Shah’s palace complex. The general practice adopted by the British at that time was to hand the ‘Prizes of War’ to a ‘Prize-Agent’, who would subsequently auction them with the proceeds being divided among the army according to their ranks. It is said that the amount recovered from this auction was ‘half to three quarters of a million pounds sterling’. Harriet Tytler, wife of Capt Tytler, wrote in her memoirs that they were told to sell the crown to Queen Victoria for an absurd amount of 500 pounds sterling, with Capt Tytler being promised a good appointment in India if he accepted the offer. The day after the crown was sold, they received an offer from Oxford Museum of £1000 for just the shell of the crown, without a single jewel. Capt Tytler had also sent two of Bahadur Shah’s throne chairs for the Queen’s approval along with the crown. When he did not hear anything about the chairs for awhile, he contacted Sir Charles Wood, the secretary of state to India, and was told that her Majesty was under the impression that the chairs were also included in the 500 pounds sterling.

The famous crystal block and marble platform, which adorned ‘Diwane Khas’ in his palace, were also forwarded to Calcutta to be sent to England. A beautiful Quran manuscript of the early 19th century that belonged to Bahadur Shah, measuring 5.1cm by 3.8cm and placed in an ivory box with silver mounts is now at the Victoria and Albert Museum. This Quran is said to have been taken away by Sir Theophilus Metcalfe from under the pillow of Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar from his ‘Khas Mahal’ in Delhi Fort following the siege of 1857.

When Muslims ruled India, its wealth never left the subcontinent. These rulers built grand Islamic architectures like the Taj Mahal, Red Fort and Kutub Minar. Such sites are still luring in millions of dollars every year from tourists who come especially to India, to catch a glimpse of such grand Islamic architecture. During the British period, the ‘Drain of Wealth’ was diverted to England. M.J. Akbar writes, “In 1757 Robert Clive noting with wonder that Murshidabad was as rich as London, pointed out that India could pay off the British debt many times over.” Lord Birkenhead said in a speech at Oxford, “India is our prize possession, we in England have to live on it, the Indians may live in it”.

The Indian subcontinent was known as a treasure trove of bullion, gold, jewelry, artifacts, manuscripts, arms and armour, paintings, ivory and precious stones. Many artifacts are now found in museums and private collections in England. Muslim emperors of the Indian subcontinent had a perpetual fondness for precious gems, stones and jewelry. It is recorded that Shah Jahan had such a vast collection, that it would take an expert 14 years to examine and value it.

The famed Kohinoor diamond made its first appearance in the Indian subcontinent when it was presented to the first Mughal ruler, Babar, by his son Humayun. It was as big as a hen’s egg. Babar had mentioned that the “value of the Kohinoor at that time was so much, that it could provide food to the whole world for two and half days”. It was confiscated by the British at the conclusion of the Sikh war. John Lord, in his book The Maharajas, writes that the exiled maharaja of Punjab, Dhuleep Singh called “Queen Victoria a thief, but not to her face”. Lord Dalhousie had promised that the diamond would find its “final and fitting resting place in the crown of Britain”. The Kohinoor was then cut into three pieces, one each for the crown of the Queen and King of England, while the third was kept on display at the Tower of London.

Tipoo Sultan, the King of Mysore, offered a formidable challenge to the British against all odds. In July 2006, Mr Sivdhanu Pillai, Managing Director of BrahMos Aerospace, India while speaking to reporters at ‘Darya Daulat’ (the summer palace of Tipoo Sultan) said, “Tipoo Sultan was the first person to invent rocket technology. 250mm long rockets filled with 2kg gun powder with a range of 1.5-2kn, was the first rocket used in a war and this was made by Tipoo Sultan and his men. I visited the Woolwich Artillery Museum in London where a spent rocket and pieces of other weapons used by the King are on display. We must tell the world that the birth of the rocket took place in Seringapatam. This is depicted in a painting in the London museum in which horses are seen tumbling when hit by the rockets.”

Tipoo’s national motif was the tiger. What was considered by most as the ‘world’s best known mechanical toy’ was created for Tipoo Sultan. This toy depicts a tiger and a British general. When the handle is turned, the man screams and the tiger roars. It is based on an actual event, as Company General Sir Hector Manroe’s son was killed by a tiger. Tipoo’s ivory furniture currently resides in the Victoria and Albert Museum.

A few years ago at in an Islamic Arts and Antiques auction in London, I came across a 4cm diametre agate archer’s thumb ring. It had a provence that stated, A note written by Hannah Baillie (nee Greenwill) wife of the Hon. William Douglas Hall Baillie, member of the Legislative Council of New Zealand reads as follows “This thumb ring was your Gt. grandfather’s share of the loot taken after the 3rd (and last) siege of Seringapatam [sic] in 1799 when the great fortress was taken and Tipoo Sahib [sic] himself slain whilst fighting desperately together with 8,000 men”.

Tipoo Sultan’s golden throne was separated into several pieces. The Tiger’s head from the throne (which was made of gold with eyes and teeth of crystal) along with the ‘huma’ bird from the chattri (canopy) are now at Windsor castle. One of the finials, gold set with diamonds and emeralds made in Mysore belonged to the 2nd Lady Clive. Countess of Powis, who was an inveterate hunter of Tipoo relics.

Robert Clive started his career as a clerk in the East India Company. It was reported that Clive extorted, a fortune of £230,000 and an additional annual income of 30,000 pounds from the Jaghirs of Mir Jaffer. When he returned to London, he had in his possession several hundred thousand in pounds, Dutch bills and Company bills, and nearly £30,000 in diamonds. The resident of Patna, Sir Thomas Rumbold, returned with £200,000. When the British played the game of replacing Nawabs in Bengal to the highest bidder, an estimated total of Rs.2,000,000 was paid out in the form of gifts by various aspirants. The Victoria and Albert Museum has a ‘turban jewel’ set with diamonds, rubies, sapphires and pearls that was presented by Mir Jaffer to Admiral Charles Watson who, along with Robert Clive, had appointed him ‘Nawab of Bengal’. Gifts and bribes for undue favours and war booty played a large part in the ‘drain of wealth’.

In 1856, the British annexed Oudh, exiling Wajid Ali Shah to Calcutta. An absolutely captivating ornament, which the Nawab of Oudh wore in his turban, is also at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Satyajit Ray’s 1977 film ‘Shatranj ke khiladi’ (Chess players) is based on this theme of clever British maneuvers. Similar policies of ‘self-interest’ was also visible in another part of the world, when in 1918, British Prime Minister Arthur Balfour commented that he did not care under what system Iraq was ruled as long as the British got the oil.

chk here..

It hurts to know that they were such big looter..