Indians are killing history instead of nurturing it
Why is there such an outcry over a film about Queen Padmavati that has not even reached movie theatres? For some time last week, I broke free from this question as I walked through my beloved Allahabad. The city, while being rebellious by nature, has become a victim of destruction by destiny.
It is not possible to walk down the city’s streets and not have history knock on the windows of your mind. I remembered the place where our elders said the Hindu Hostel was located. This was the hostel from which Chandra Shekhar Azad emerged to leave for Company Bagh, where he was surrounded by the police. After a long and fierce encounter, when he realised he was running out of bullets, he shot the last one through his temple so that the British would not capture him alive. Even today, the statue of Azad twirling his moustache appears to be challenging the British colonialists.
What an incredible setting! Located next to each other, the Hindu Hostel, Company Bagh, Indian Press and Mayor College together represent innumerable stories of colonialism, repression, protests, education and culture.
For the uninitiated, Mayor College is now better known as the Science Faculty of Allahabad University and Indian Press shut down more than half a century ago. This is the same place where monthly magazine Saraswati, edited by Pandit Mahavir Prasad Dwivedi, played an important role in helping Indians get conversant with literature, culture and values. Some distance away from Indian Press are located Anand Bhavan and Swaraj Bhavan. Motilal Nehru contributed to strengthening the Congress’s nationalistic character from here. This is where Jawaharlal Nehru learned the alphabet of politics and Indira Gandhi was born. As a young journalist, it is here that I met a grief-stricken Rajiv Gandhi after the assassination of Indira Gandhi. On the first of Anand Bhavan, he couldn’t hold back his tears looking at the toys his mother played with as a child.
At that time, the multicultural character of Allahabad was still alive. In one part of the city stayed Firaq Gorakhpuri and in another, Mahadevi Verma. Naresh Mehta, Bhairav Prasad Gupt, Jagdish Gupta and Shailesh Matiani had their residences in different parts of the city, but all of them strived towards reaching a common destination: Allahabadiyat, which means a sense of pride among the people of Allahabad.
During my Allahabad trip, I also discovered that very few people knew about Captain Mahendra Nath Mulla. During the 1971 war, the Pakistanis had sunk our warship Khukri. Mulla was its captain. In true naval tradition, he went down along with the vessel he was commanding. He was a hero for our generation, but today, few remember him. Compared to him, many more people are aware of the family associated with Anand Bhavan. But these days, through the university of WhatsApp, an assortment of bizarre information is being disseminated about them. Not just Allahabad, this is the misfortune of every Indian city. In order to create a new identity, we’ve destroyed the old, but we haven’t managed to create anything that future generations can be proud of.
It is true that Indians don’t know how to preserve the sanctity of history. If we knew how to do that, so much outrage wouldn’t have been unleashed over Padmavati. A number of politicians have jumped in to pursue their own vested interests. Till now, around six state governments have said that they won’t allow the film’s release. Before I left for Allahabad, I remembered watching an interview of Arvind Singh Mewar, a descendent of Rana Kumbha, on YouTube. Sitting in his impressive palace, he conceded that he doesn’t have any photograph of Queen Padmavati in his possession. The reason? There were no cameras at that time. Neither was there a convention of clicking photographs. We are fighting over what happened more than 700 years ago because we don’t have any documentary proof about it. However, the memories of the leading lights of Allahabad and many other Indian cities are still fresh in people’s minds. Why stir up a controversy over them?
The reason is clear. Rather than nurture what history has given us, we want to kill it with our own hands. Why do we forget that humans cannot obliterate history? We should nurture it with care so that we can receive wisdom, advice and guidance from it when the need arises. The exact opposite is taking place. For petty gains, our politicians are ready to change the names of cities, roads, playgrounds and memorials. Going a step further, some of them even talk about demolishing the Taj Mahal or the Viceroy’s canopy at India Gate in New Delhi. Irrespective of which political party gains from this, the common man gets caught in an intellectual cesspool. This is doing injustice to the nation’s wisdom.
Why can’t we Indians understand such a simple fact?
Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan.
His Twitter handle is @shekharkahin.