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BENGALURU, BANGALORE, BENGALURU: Imaginations and Their Times edited by Narendar Pani, Sindhu Radhakrishna and Kishor G. Bhat. Sage Publications, Delhi, 2010.

IN the late 1970s, the Devaraj Urs regime was anxious that Karnataka would have ‘too much power’ with the full commissioning of the Sharavati hydroelectric power station. The regime shared the imagination of an idyllic small town called Bangalore – Pensioners’ Paradise and all – with a languid industrial public sector of HAL, BEL, ITI and HMT, and the Jog Falls were the tallest in the country.

If that seems quaint, let’s turn to a later imagination, that of the Bangalore Agenda Task Force (BATF) in 2000 AD. The BATF agenda is swift. There are four objectives, as cited in the book, and it starts: ‘1. Make Bangalore the best city in India by 2004 AD.’ As the editors of the book point out, ‘The official description of the BATF’s agenda captures almost every dimension of this imagination, from the absence of history to the skimming over of issues like language.’

BATF had imagined a Bangalore that was just four years off from Singapore, a vision publicly expressed by the then Chief Minister, S.M. Krishna. The editors are scathing: ‘...this imagination had little time for the city’s history. Its discomfort with, even contempt for, the city’s past meant the raison d’être for the city had to be found elsewhere. Bangalore had to be/become like some other city in the world. And it is a comment on just where this imagination placed itself on the global ladder that the target rarely went higher than Singapore.’

Narendar Pani’s opening essay, ‘Imaginations of Bengaluru’ serves as a keynote to the chapters that follow, but sums up the previous centuries a little too quickly (p. 4): ‘...It was a place that Shahji, the father of Shivaji, considered home for a while. It was even, for a brief four days, a part of Aurangzeb’s Mughal Empire. It was to be the site of some of the most significant and bloody resistance to the British colonial power.’ But this ‘significant role in history’ prior to British rule does not merit the full attention of the editors. Pani himself concludes the summary paragraph with this lament: ‘And it was a city that was also, in some not so apparent way, cursed to forget its past.’

Still, in the gamble where the book chooses to look at ‘the turning points in Bengaluru’s history’, it comes up trumps, building a critique of past events and opinions simply by selection and placement with context and juxtaposition. Pani begins with the 16th century and the origins of a fortified commercial town built by Kempe Gowda I at the command of the Vijayanagara king, Achyutaraya. He provides an interesting insight into the need for a mud fort. From the chronicles (1520-1522) of the Portuguese traveller, Domingo Paes, we learn that the king allowed towns ‘to be surrounded only by earthen walls for fear of their becoming too strong.’

Pani, therefore, believes that Kempe Gowda had ‘to make sure his actions would not portray him as a threat to the king in Hampi.’ He supports this belief with the detail that Kempe Gowda, 20 years earlier, had joined Krishnadevaraya, the most famous of the Vijayanagara kings, in the sacking of an ambitious chief, Gangaraja, who was killed in 1512 at Sivanasamudram in the Kaveri basin. So Kempe Gowda knew the score. ‘Being forced by political circumstances, as much as by resources or technology, to restrict his efforts to an earthen structure, Kempe Gowda needed to use other means to strengthen his fort.’ The ‘strategically placed watchtowers’ of the founder therefore served as ‘early warning’ systems in a flat landscape to spot the movement of hostile armies from a distance.

It is this kind of careful, but pithy detailing and a provocative ‘dialectical’ consciousness that make the book engaging beyond the usual confirming chronicles of praise of city founders and builders or, as the book itself notes, ‘popular historical accounts of the city (that) rarely get beyond strong doses of nostalgia.’

The selections of chronicles and extracts make a powerful point: to forget such a history of blood and conflict of varied regimes is indeed puzzling, if not a shame. The eyewitness account by Sir Thomas Munro after the battle for Bangalore Fort, reproduced in the book as ‘The Storming of the Fort, 21 March 1791’ (p. 43), is telling: ‘The enemy made scarcely any resistance... above three hundred were bayoneted in the Mysore gateway... twelve hundred fell in different parts of the fort, and among them several women and children... in the confusion of taking a place at night by storm.’

An account of an earlier battle ‘The Fall of the Peté, 4 March 1791’ given by Colonel Mark Wilks is also included in the book (p. 32), describing the capture of the town itself: ‘Rocket men crept in silence, to positions within range of the line of encampment, and discharging their missiles, suddenly eluded pursuit...’ Pani’s belief that these were ‘battles in which the first metal encased rockets in the world were used’ could be contested by other historians. In the book, Lost History: The Enduring Legacy of Muslim Scientists, Thinkers, and Artists (National Geographic), Michael Hamilton Morgan says: ‘As Mongols pour West into the Muslim lands, in their arsenal of wondrous horrors is something never before seen in these parts – screaming tubes of fire... These are the first rockets...’ (p. 173)

The point here is not to look for quarrel with Pani and his colleague editors on such a minor detail, but to suggest that an investigation of events and archaeological evidence from earlier times could have led us to a realm of deeper and wider awareness. Morgan also devotes some paragraphs in his book to Tipu’s rockets that would inspire the British to soon employ modified versions in their war against the Americans.

Tipu’s rockets, however, could not prevent the capture of the Peté. Col Wilks notes: ‘...So long as the English troops continued to fire, the Sultaun’s (guns) were not inferior; but this mode was soon abandoned by the Europeans for the never-failing bayonet. In a contest for the possession of streets and roads, this mode could neither be evaded nor withstood... the Mysoreans were successfully driven from every quarter of the town ...with a loss in killed and wounded upwards of two thousand men, they ultimately evacuated the petta.’

Wilks seems moved enough by the wealth of Bengaluru Peté: ‘The most valuable property had been removed on the approach of the English army; but bales of cotton and cloth in every direction indicated a great manufacturing town...’ Wilks carries on to give his own description of the taking of the fort later on March 21, where he notes that ‘...they (Mysoreans) were repulsed with great slaughter...the carnage had been severe, but unavoidable’ (p. 40). With critical sharpness, the editors comment in a brief introduction to the Wilks’ story: ‘This account of the battle for what was then Bengaluru Peté reflects both first-hand experience as well as the bias of an amateur historian (italics theirs).

But this critical eye seems to be tinted when focused on Dr Francis Buchanan, the redoubtable physician who served Governor General Richard Wellesley. The editors hail him a ‘natural’, as someone who had already shown ‘a masterly ability to observe minute detail that went beyond the requirements of a doctor...’ (p. 47). They claim that ‘in the extracts (they have chosen) Buchanan provides details of what had been Bengaluru that are not remembered two centuries later.’

An unbiased reading would suggest that the Buchanan account from his survey report, ‘A Journey From Madras Through the Countries of Mysore, Canara and Malabar (1807)’, needs further interrogation. The enumerator, by his own account, ‘set out from Madras on 23 April 1800 and returned on 6 July 1801. During those fourteen and a half months he maintained a daily diary, marked by sharp observations and even clearer drawings.’

But what does Buchanan actually ‘observe’ in Bengaluru? The excerpt opens: ‘From the 22nd of June until the 2nd of July I remained at Bangalore...’ That is a camp of 12 days and 11 nights during which Buchanan notes that the city ‘was founded by Hyder, and which, during the judicious government of that prince, became a place of importance.’ This is on Page 48, where the editors take care to flag an explanatory note, which, on examination, is on page 285, in ‘Notes and References’: ‘This is one of several inaccuracies in Buchanan’s account. But in the context in which this account was put together, these must be considered minor.’ Are the editors apologising for the good doctor?

Let us examine the ‘context’ itself. It is 1800, nine years after the battles of Bangalore for the Peté and Fort, one year after Tipu’s death. In his 12 days and 11 nights, Buchanan has gleaned that ‘Tippoo began (Bangalore’s) misfortunes by prohibiting the trade with the dominions of Arcot and Hyderabad, because he detested the powers governing both countries.’ As simple as that. In the mien of an ‘embedded’ journalist, Buchanan goes on railing at the betrayed and killed Tipu Sultan without citing his ‘sources’.

It needs to be said that Buchanan’s enumeration of coins, cloths and numerous castes and the interpretations of their various customs and social practices – all quite amazing for a stay of 12 days and 11 nights – served a larger purpose. He was obliged to present data and statistics convenient to Wellesley, and reports that could justify the expensive battles the East India Company had to undertake all over the country – like potential tax revenue from the newly won regions. And Buchanan had to feed the British imagination of India as a land socially fragmented by caste and race, unable to govern itself, to enable the ‘civilising mission’ of his employers.

But introducing a later article, the editors moderate, ‘Even if we ignore Buchanan’s 1800 effort as one carried out without any material to fall back on...’ and so we will let go of Buchanan and turn to Benjamin Lewis Rice. Son of a missionary, he knew Kannada, was in the Maharaja’s service and studied hundreds of ancient stone inscriptions and literary works. The editors duly note that when Rice ‘brought out his Gazetteers of Mysore and Coorg in two volumes in 1876, it represented the first really systematic effort to put together a comprehensive factual picture of the entire state.’ Rice is also credited (not in this book) with discovering Roman coins in the outskirts of Bangalore city. But this fascinating fact points to a possible imagination apparently too ancient to be a part of this book.

Even if we agree to ignore random discoveries of the coins bearing the faces of Augustus, Tyberius or Claudius, to limit the discourses of language and culture in Bengaluru and Bangalore to binaries of Kannada and Tamil or Kannada and English would be to present a lamentable lack of imagination. In Part VI of the book, the editors turn to the fundamental binary of Cantonment and City: ‘The imagination that emerged in the Cantonment was a mixture of nationalist Westernisation and local cultures, particularly Tamil and Muslim. In the City, on the other hand, there was a tradition emerging that was built around Kannada’ (p. 195).

The introduction to this section mentions the new literary movements of Kannada and the Gokak agitation, led by cinema icon Dr Rajkumar, that demanded compulsory teaching of Kannada in school all over Karnataka. The section covers the growth of the city since independence until the ‘City’ has finally overwhelmed the Cantonment. In his opening article itself, Pani notes: ‘The isolation of the Cantonment and the City from each other in the colonial period was so complete that there was a noticeable distinction between the Tamilians in the City and the Tamilians in the Cantonment. The Tamils in the City were comfortable with Kannada as a language and with the local culture.’

This is true, but what is local culture? At the time of the Gokak agitation, about a quarter of a century had passed since the unification of Karnataka as a linguistic state, but pockets of the population had continued to speak, as they do today, in Telugu, Marathi, Tamil, Urdu, Kodava, Tulu and Konkani. And Bangalore contains them all, not as new immigrants coming to the booming city in search of new economy jobs but as ‘originally’ from Karnataka. The ‘audience’ for Dr Rajkumar has perpetually been in envious conflict with ‘audiences’ for competing icons of Telugu, Tamil and Hindi films.

It is difficult to see the Gokak agitation as an imagination of Bengaluru, in spite of the involvement of many Bangalore based artists, writers and intellectuals in the movement. Its inspiration lay elsewhere, in the geographically broader imagination of Karnataka. As the two articles on the Gokak agitation themselves show, subtle issues of caste were overlaid on the agitation. Deepa Ganesh, in her article, ‘The Gokak Card’ says, ‘Sanskrit, which was the dominant language in most schools of the state, was seen as a big threat to Kannada.’ She notes that Kannada writer and activist Dr Chidananda Murthy said some people ‘tried to give a racist colour to the movement.’ There was a sub-regional twist too: Writer Basavaraj Kattimani is quoted with: ‘...The movement took shape in Dharwad’ and writer U.R. Ananthamurthy, in his article ‘Response to Gokak’, says: ‘...In the letters (to newspapers) of Tarasu (writer T.R. Subbarao) and (critic) L.S. Sheshagiri Rao, there is a concealed intolerance about the privileges Muslims have, as well as anger against the Tamils.’

These are vexing complexities. In the epilogue to the book, the editors confess: ‘The many imaginations that we have tried to capture here are most striking for their diversity... It is tempting to classify them in terms of popular memories of conflict: the colonial versus the local, the English-speaking versus the Kannada-speaking, the City versus the Cantonment, and so on.’ But painstaking as they are in interpreting articles and citations of the Wodeyars, Dewans, public sector and union strikes, epidemic, science and technology, IT, Bangalore’s climate, buildings and traffic, they could find themselves guilty of popular classification in their presentations of language and culture.

There was a need to look at an earlier Bengaluru. At the end of the first millennium, the Cholas ruled the region covering Bangalore for 100 years. Edicts in Tamil were the norm then. Telugu was the dominant language of Vijayanagara and Kempe Gowda I is credited with the composition of a Telugu Yakshagana titled ‘Gangagowrisallaapam’. The court language of Hyder and Tipu and that of the legal system was Persian; the revenue records continue to use Marathi words.

But I guess that is a longer story.

Prakash Belawadi

 

THE WORLD BANK IN INDIA: Undermining Sovereignty, Distorting Development – Independent People’s Tribunal on the World Bank in India edited by Michele Kelley and Deepika D’Souza. Orient Blackswan, Hyderabad, 2010.

THIS review must start with a disclosure: from 2002 to 2006, I was the World Bank’s Country Director for India. Readers will need to make up their own minds about how to interpret this review in that light.

This book is billed as the report of an ‘Independent People’s Tribunal on the World Bank in India.’ It is scarcely that: the participation of those ‘affected’ was organized by ‘grassroots’ organizations and interested individuals, and the jury was appointed by them. In other words, the prosecution identified victims and chose the judges. It is not a great surprise that the Government of India declined to participate in the process (but quite a surprise that, initially, the Bank did not). The book is made up of a large number of essays, mainly by activists and academics, on an impressive range of topics relating to the World Bank’s work in India, and concludes with the findings of the jury in which the Bank is found guilty on all of 29 charges (which appear to have been selected by the jury).

In some of the essays, this book quite appropriately points to some cases – notably where involuntary resettlement was involved – where the Bank’s performance has been inadequate. A number of the essays touch on some important systemic weaknesses in the Bank which deserve much more active debate: for example, flawed internal governance with an overly-powerful president; the need for further progress in increasing the transparency of the Bank; the dilemmas of lending and conditionality; the need for more incisive and efficient analytic work; the extent to which the Bank has really internalized the lessons of its experience in India; and how the management of bank staffing encourages or impedes a strong grounding of real local knowledge. Sadly, though, the discussion of many of these issues is so overladen with dogma that the analysis falls short of practical conclusions.

It would be less than candid for me to suggest that I read this volume with anything but considerable irritation: irritation at the fundamental governance flaws in the process that I have just mentioned; irritation at the half-thought-through underlying ideological slant of anti-‘neo-liberalism’ (which starts in the Introduction, and recurs in many of the essays); irritation at the innumerable factual inaccuracies, misrepresentations and examples of sloppy logic (just one example: the characterization of the Indira Kranti Patham in Andhra Pradesh as solely focused on savings and micro-credit ‘without challenging the basic social, caste and patriarchal inequalities that are already firmly in place’); irritation at the slur on individuals who have chosen to serve India as a part of careers that at other times have included employment at the World Bank, and at unfounded allegations of Bank misconduct in procurement; and, yes, irritation that, in a book of close to 500 pages I could find not one instance cited of the World Bank doing something of help to India (such as its support to the roll out of the green revolution, and to the reduction of TB, leprosy and polio).

But as I read this volume, my sense of irritation was gradually overshadowed by a more important feeling of frustration; frustration that this book is a wasted opportunity for promoting an intelligent debate about the effectiveness or otherwise of the Bank in helping India address the deep-seated problems of inequality and deprivation that the country faces. How much more telling would some of the criticisms have been, if they had been calmly and dispassionately argued, and properly set in the context of the complexity that is India. How much more helpful they would have been, if accompanied by recognition of strengths as well as weaknesses, and by practical proposals for change, founded on rigorous analysis, including of the political economy context.

If what you are looking for is a polemic on the World Bank’s role in India, designed to reinforce already-held prejudices, this is the book for you. But if the quest is for a reasoned, thoughtful and balanced assessment that might actually help foster understanding and practical change that would make the Bank a more effective instrument for poverty reduction, sadly the reader must look elsewhere.

Michael Carter

 

REMEMBERING MAKHDOOM edited by Jayanti Alam. Sahmat, Delhi, 2010.

SIMPLE, transparent diction. Lyrical, first person tone. Familiar, home-grown imagery. Uncritical, revolutionary fervour. Innocent faith in the utopia of a red dawn. Superb musicality. These were the strengths – and weaknesses – of the poetic legend called Abu Saeed Mohammad Makhdoom Mohiuddin. Makhdoom, in popular parlance.

Popular he was, in Hyderabad, and in the Urdu (and Hindi) world in general. As Zahida Zaidi puts it: ‘…prominent poets associated with the Progressive Writers Association (PWA) include Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Ali Sardar Jafri, Jazbi, Majaz, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Jan Nisar Akhtar, Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi, Wamiq, Sahir, and Kaifi Azmi… With the exception, perhaps, of "Faiz", there was no one who could rival Makhdoom Mohiuddin in popularity and impact among all strata of people.’

This assessment could, of course, be contested by the partisans of Majaz, Sardar, Mazrooh and Sahir. Makhdoom came out of the orb of Hyder Mahal’s city and the PWA when two of his lyrical verses hit the silver screen in Bombay (now Mumbai): ‘Ek chameli ke mandve tale’ (‘Charagar’ – healer), and perhaps ‘Ye jung hai jung-e-azadi’. Except Majaz, the last three lyricists rule the roost even today.

More than the cinema, it is perhaps his revolutionary image that has prompted Hyderabad to romance Makhdoom (4 February 1908-24 August 1969). Celebrating his birth centenary in February 2008, the Alam Khundmiri Foundation invited papers and comments that are collected and edited by Jayanti Alam in Remembering Makhdoom. Lovingly and aesthetically published by Sahmat, the book brings together papers presented at a seminar financed by the National Council for the Promotion of Urdu Language, New Delhi and the Andhra Pradesh Urdu Academy, Hyderabad. Incorporating the proceedings recorded by a rapporteur would perhaps have enhanced its appeal.

The life and times of Makhdoom were fascinating. Growing up practically on his own, hopping from one odd job to another, marrying an illiterate woman, losing his first two children, working with a number of trade unions, going underground for party work and then the armed Telangana struggle against the newly independent India circa 1946-1951, winning a bye-election in the Legislative Council and continuing with legislative politics for nearly seventeen years, roaming the world on trade union and peace missions, and finally dying of a heart attack, leaving his wife and son without a roof over their heads… It’s all strong stuff.

Makhdoom did an MA in Urdu, taught in a college for a while, penned passionate free verse and later on ghazals, wrote and adapted and acted out some plays, gave arousing public speeches, was admired by Tagore and Sarojini Naidu among many others.

However, in the present collection, a number of odd notes may rankle the minds of its probable readers: ‘…we are hopeful that the book will bring Makhdoom, till now a poet known mainly in Hyderabad, to the English-speaking public in India and outside,’ writes the editor. That, in this globalized market economy, the ‘English-speaking public’ would be interested in a fighter of patently lost utopias does sound a bit optimistic. Moreover, why not try to reach out to the public speaking Telugu, Kannada and Marathi? One contributor has stated that Makhdoom was adept in these tongues, often translating for the mono-lingual members of Legislative Council, as opposed to the multi-lingual Assembly.

It seems there was not much commerce between Makhdoom, the Urdu poet, and poets of his neighbouring vicinities. His endeavour to bring Tagore closer to the Urdu world miserably failed; his first book was a biography of Tagore, which did not ‘provoke a single review.’ Apart from some of the Bolshevik poets, Qazi Nazrul Islam seems to have attracted him and his contemporaries. Alas, under a rather odd illusion, Shahnaz Nabi asserts that being a Muslim, Nazrul had a prolific Arabic and Persian vocabulary in his native Bengali. Words such as damama (drum), sir ooncha ker ay musalmaan (raise your head o! Muslim), Khabar (news), naya jamanar (of a new age) etc. endeared Nazrul to the Urdu-speaking people! These, and hundreds more, are but common words in daily use in Bengal. Even otherwise, Kolkata too has had numerous Urdu-Arabic-Persian luminaries, and rulers over the centuries have endowed practically all the Indian languages with their choice words.

This illusion links up with an attempt made by Ali Zaheer to reconcile ‘modernism’ with ‘progressivism’ in Urdu. ‘On 15 August 1867 [just ten years after 1857], Muhammad Hussain Azad recommended ‘a much-needed change in form, style, and content of Urdu poetry’ in a speech in Lahore. ‘Hali and Azad recited nazms instead of ghazals which had later made Makhdoom in the Deccan so different and modern.’

A journal, Makhzan, was started in 1901 to publish ‘translations of famous English poets… so that the followers of traditional style of poetry writing should become modern.’ Iqbal was a big supporter. ‘Iqbal, in his early days wrote many poems which were either direct translations of a few English and American poets or heavily influenced by them.’ Indian modernity thus began to chase a century-old modernity of England. Even Firaq Gorakhpuri, in his 1950s letters to a critic in Pakistan, evoked Keats and Wordsworth to ‘modernize’ Urdu poetry! Eliot, as if, never was.

It may not be out of place to state that Urdu poetry, barring a few exceptions, has suffered a curious kind of insularity. Despite the decades-old endeavours by Shahryar, Sheen Kaaf Nizam, Nida Fazli and a few others, both ghazal and nazm (free verse) largely remain range-bound, both in subject matter or themes and treatment. Two of the contributors in this book are loud and clear in their dissatisfaction with the ritualized ghazal. One of them has in fact chided Makhdoom for his feudalistic romantic sensibility, ignoring the emancipation of women (contrasted with Nazrul’s enlightened calls).

It is Mujtaba Hussain, the great humorist, who really seems to engage with the legend Makhdoom, pointing at some chinks in the armour, though of course with empathy. Literary analysis in this compendium leaves much to be desired: Maybe because Makhdoom published only two collections of his work, which were finally incorporated into Bisaat-I Raqs (The Dance Floor). The first one was Surkh Savera (The Red Dawn, 1944), and the other, Gul-e Tar (The Blossom, 1961). Incidentally, no contributor has been introduced to the readers!

What his friends and admirers could have done but did not do was this: They did not elucidate Makhdoom’s activism, throwing light on the Telangana armed struggle in particular, and his differences or aporias, if any, on ideological, political and aesthetic-cultural issues (though hinted at in some papers). This indeed was an occasion to find some missing links in the grand narrative of our freedom struggle, and armed uprisings. People like Raj Bahadur Gour could have reviewed their past allegiances to certain strategies, tactics, and indeed the entire ideological canopy. Jwalamukhi, the Naxal-influenced Telugu poet adores both Makhdoom and Sri Sri, in the set (Stalinist) socialist-realist terms. One wonders if the Maoist ‘liberators’ active across several Indian states today would accept Makhdoom as their idol!

Girdhar Rathi

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