Paper on Chetan Bhagat: Tribhuwan Kumar

Research Culture

2 States: The Story of My Marriage : A Tale of Young India

chetan_bhagat_151110

Dr. Tribhuwan Kumar
Assistant Professor of English
Dept of English & Foreign Languages
SRM University, NCR Campus
Modinagar, Ghaziabad, U.P. – 201204
&
Joint Editor,
Ars Artium: A Peer Reviewed-cum-Refereed International Journal of Humanities and
Social Sciences

 

Chetan Bhagat is an Indian author, columnist, and motivational speaker. He is the author of five bestselling novels novels – Five Point Someone (2004), One Night @ the Call Center (2005), The 3 Mistakes of My Life (2008), 2 States (2009) and Revolution 2020 (2011). All five books have remained bestsellers since their release and two have inspired Bollywood films. Bhagat’s debut novel Five Point Someone which has been adapted into the 2008 blockbuster bollywood movie Three Idiots has established his fame as an author of international repute. He got the Indo-American Society’s the Society Young Achiever’s Award in 2004 and the Publisher’s Recognition Award in 2005. The New York Times called Bhagat ‘the biggest selling English language novelist in India’s history’ (http: //www. nytimes.com /2008/03/26/books/ 26 bhagat.html?_r=1). The famous Time Magazine has counted him in the ‘100 Most Influential People in the world (http://www.time. com/time/ specials/packages/complete list/0,29569,1984685,00. html) and Fast Company, USA has listed him as one of the world’s ‘100 most creative people in business’(http://www.fastcompany.com/most-creative –people /2011/chetan- bhagat-writer).
2 States: The Story of My Marriage is the fourth novel of Chetan Bhagat. The novel is about an IIMA couple’s struggle to marry over the cultural differences. It’s a story of an inter-state marriage in India; a Love story of a Punjabi boy Krish, and a Tamil Brahmin girl Ananya and marriage of paranthas and idlis, paneer and coconut. Krish and Ananya, the main protagonists, are lovers but contrary to the usual practice they do not elope. They, instead, choose to convince their parents to approve of their tying the nuptial knot. This book also dwells upon an age-old North India versus South India conflict.
2 States: The Story of My Marriage is an autographical novel. It is considered to be inspired from the real story of the author and his wife Anusha who belong to Delhi and Tamil Nadu respectively. The novel presents a vivid picture of the IIM Ahmedabad life. It is basically moves around two IIMA students Krish and Ananya. This couple cue from two different states in India and thus they face hardships in convincing their parents for the acceptance of their marriage. Generation gap, communication gap and cultural gap – all are thus amalgamated brilliantly. The story begins in the IIM Ahmedabad mess, where Krish, a Punjabi boy from Delhi sights Ananya, a Tamilian girl from Chennai, quarreling with the mess staff about the food. They become friends in a few days and decide to study together every night. In time they become romantically involved with each other. After finishing their course both of them get good jobs, and have serious plans for their wedding. The story is based on how they struggle to convince their parents for the marriage, and eventually succeed in doing so. It is narrated in a first person point of view in a humorous tone, often taking digs at Tamilian and Punjabi culture. The novel ends with Ananya giving birth to twin boys. They say that the babies belong to a state called ‘India’. Inter-caste marriages are still a taboo in India and let alone an inter-state marriage of a Punjabi and a Tam Brahmin.
This novel is excellent because it conveys how youngistan fights oldistan to get the approval for marriage. The boy tries to get acceptance from the girl’s family and the girl tires to get acceptance from the boy’s family while both of them are trying to get acceptance from their respective families. The story closes with Krish’s marriage with Ananya, where he is able to unite the two cultures of the two states together. The Punjabis and the Tamils dance around the couple and according to Krish it is the attainment of the greater purpose for which he decided to convert his love into an arranged marriage: “Only for the sake of uniting the nation” (Bhagat, 2 States 267). It is the voice of the millions if youths who fall in love with somebody and want to marry but fail mostly due to this socio-cultural disparity.
In the author’s view, the next issue that attracts the attention of the reader is the exploitation of students and teacher relationship, students and parents relationship and youth life in colleges and universities. Chetan Bhagat’s campus novel 2 States represents the voices the youth of emerging India. Through this medium he tries to bridge the gap between the young generation and the old generation. It begins with the academic life of the main characters of the novel, Krish and Ananya, in IIM Ahmedabad. It represents the voices of the youth pursuing education in the Indian Institute of Management. It mentions how intelligence outwits beauty in the IIM common admission test – CAT. Bhagat writes about the selected students of the institute in general and the girl students in particular that the students in IIM get admission because they can solve mathematics faster than 99.9% of India’s population:
…girls don’t get selected to IIM for their looks. They get in because they can solve mathematical problems faster than 99.9% of India’s population and crack the CAT (Bhagat, 2 States 3).
Bhagat is not a critic. He only sees things in the way they appear. And this gives his writing a natural touch. In the recent times when the entire country is uniting India against corruption Ananya represents the voices of the youth who dare to speak what is right and what is not. . She finds the food served to the students unfit and unwell. She supports the idea of complaint against the mess worker. She hopes if it is complained against him the quality may improve. She dares say, “And that is why you don’t improve. Maybe they should complain” (Bhagat, 2 States 4). But Krish is the one who accepts things blindly and knowingly. Krish knows that the food is tasteless but he does not complain against it. He fears the glare of the mess worker. He does not want to be called a freak by complaining the food. He simply follows: ‘Live and let live’.
Ananya represents the voices of the modern youth who believe in the complete freedom of the fair-sex. She believes in the equality of men and women. She knows her rights and does what she wants. She likes to wear shorts and smoke cigarettes. She does not care the criticism of others and their feelings. She only cares for what she likes. She does not like people patronizing her. She thinks modern women are intelligent people and intelligent people do not like to be instructed unnecessarily. Ananya shares her opinion with Krish in a conversation with him. Krish reads a topic from the marketing case, ‘Nirdosh – nicotine-free cigarettes’. And the very name of cigarette makes Ananya feel like a real smoke. She responds, “Who the fuck wants that? I feel like a real smoke (Bhagat, 2 States 19).” Krish gives Ananya a dirty look which makes the latter react, “What? Am I not allowed to use F words? Or is it that I expressed a desire to smoke?” (Bhagat, 2 States 20) Krish wants to know what she wants to prove by showing her over-smartness. And this makes Ananya consider him that male should know that women are intelligent people and they know what they should do and what they should not:
Nothing. I want you to consider the possibility that women are intelligent human beings. And intelligent people don’t like to be told what to wear or do, especially when they are adults. Does that make sense to you? (Bhagat, 2 States 20)
Bhagat does not forget to reiterate his most common theme of his stories i.e. premarital sex between friends. Besides focusing on the campus activities and relations among the students, he points his finger very tenderly and affectionately on the topic of sex. And in his this favorite topic he prefers his heroine to take the initiative. Like other lady characters of his novels Ananya dares to kiss her lover Krish in his room. And thereafter they make a premarital love in the girls’ dormitory. However Bhagat makes the situations and the boring books responsible for that, it is true without doubt that he wants to give voice to the needs of the modern youth who do not believe in the traditional beliefs about virginity and chastity but only know their physical needs for love and affections. Krish explains:
Needless to say, one thing led to another and within two weeks we had sex. You put a boy and a girl in a room for a week and add lots of boring books, and sparks are sure to fly (Bhagat, 2 States 26).
Bhagat has exposed the lacking security system of the IIMA dormitory disciplines. The freedom of students to visit each other’s dormitories that Bhagat has expressed in the book might raise a question whether it is safe to put one’s ward in the IIMA hostel. Whatever maturity the youth have attained but the Indian parents are still much concerned with the virginity of their children mostly girls. But according to Bhagat, girls and boys in the IIMA hostel are free to visit each other’s dormitories even at night and there is no objection spending nights together in each other’s rooms – particularly girls’ rooms.
Bhagat has a very keen mind to criticize the common follies of the country. In this novel Bhagat has very beautifully presented the Indian folly called Dowry. He means to state that dowry is “a resident evil” in the North India (http://www.residentevil-movie.com/site/). Krish’s mother wants to cash him in gold and other gifts coming with the bride. It is this reason, perhaps, that she does not approve love marriage and the love of her son Krish and his beloved Ananya.
Bhagat in his novels does not only point his fingers at the social issues but also he does not spare the common problems the country is facing. In 2 States he reveals a fact about the Indian Police that everything is possible in India only if the wrong-doer has money in his hands. Krish kisses Ananya at the famous Marina Beach and is caught by the police but he is able to handle him only in fifty rupees. It is a kind of ‘money solves all the problems’ in India. The constable shouts at Krish and grabs his arm with anger but when Krish pays him off everything gets over. Krish remembers,
I took out a fifty. He looked at me and Ananya. ‘Warning,’ the cop said as he took the note (Bhagat, 2 States 98).
In another instance Bhagat is amazed to see that money relaxes almost all the rules in the country. Krish goes to a government-approved liquor shop to buy wine where the rule is not to sell the wine to person who is less than twenty-five. But Krish manages it by paying merely ten rupees extra per bottle. People say that people of the South are very fair dealers. They obey rules and regulations very strictly but the way Krish finds it, it seems they observe the regulations strictly only to get extra bucks from the users. After ten rupees extra per bottle when Krish gets the wine bottles he observes:
It is amazing how money relaxes rules around the country (Bhagat, 2 States 99).
Krish is a patriotic youth. He thinks through an Indians eye and believes in the unity and integrity of the country. He disapproves Indians feeling different and discriminating each other on account of culture, region and language. He wants to marry an intra-state and intra-culture girl from Tamilnadu with a great purpose – to unite the country. He calls the various types of diversities and discriminations of the country stupid and wants his countrymen to end them to be Indians first:
…these stupid biases and discrimination are the reason our country is so screwed up. it’s Tamil first, Indian later. Punjabi first, Indian later. It has to end…. National anthem, national currency, national team – still, we won’t marry our children outside our state. How can this intolerance be good for our country? (Bhagat, 2 States 102)
Krish has a unique way to unite India. He suggests the youth of the country to marry outside their state because, he thinks, it is the only way India can be made one. He wants his children not to belong to any particular state but the whole country. About his kids he says that they will neither be Punjabis nor Tamils but they will be only Indians:
– they won’t be Tamil or Punjabi. They will be Indian. They will be above all this nonsense. If all young people marry outside their community, it is good for the country (Bhagat, 2 States 103).
Bhagat’s fourth novel 2 States is more anecdotal than fictional. In this novel he recollects his falling in love with his then beloved and now wife Anuskha. Through his personal story he wants to generalise the issues concerning social and economic barriers in the way of marriage. Marriage is a very pious ceremony in India. It is treated and organized with preferred priority in all the states of the country. Through Krish, Bhagat represents the voices of the youth who do not believe in social or economic disparities. India is one. It should not be divided by more than political boundaries. All the people of the country should be free to settle a business, do a job or marry in any part of the country and there should not be any restriction in this regard. But due to social customs and caste discriminations marriage outside the boundary is a far cry. People in the same country feel like foreigners. In this novel Bhagat beautifully deprecates the social and linguistic differences in the people belonging to different states and also their discrimination on the basis of their colour, face, language and styles.
Works Cited
• Bhagat, Chetan. 2 States – the Story of My Marriage. Rupa & Co. New Delhi. 2009.
• http: //www. nytimes.com /2008/03/26/books/ 26 bhagat.html?_r=1
• http://www.time. com/time/ specials/packages/complete list/0,29569,1984685,00. Html
• http://www.fastcompany.com/most-creative –people /2011/chetan- bhagat-writer

Student Speaks : ‘Sorrow, my love!’: Baldeep

Student Speaks

Vol. 2, Issue 1

 

SORROW, MY LOVE!

By BALDEEP

Its ok to cry. In fact, it is wonderful to cry. When we reach that point when our grief finally overcomes us and forces the tears out, its not the point when we are weak or when we break down. We become weak when we care, we break down when we love. That point when we face the grief caused by our weaknesses and fractures, we SURVIVE. Love can be dealt with by tweaking a part of us, adjusting, tilting the small components a little so that the bigger picture looks right. Side stepping the puddles, holding the other person’s hand a little harder, a little longer as you crumble and you break as love hammers the rationality out of you.

Often at night when I’m up reading I can hear my roommate talking to her boyfriend over the phone. Her voice is muffled by the thin walls and sometimes her laughter sounds like sobs. And again, sometimes its sobs convulsing into laughter. Such, is Love. It makes us happy of course. But that happiness is an allusion. Just us being thankful when we don’t have to face loneliness anymore.  For that allusion of happiness we make endless sacrifices, anything that it takes to ‘make it work’. A thousand tears for a single smile. Anything that makes the other person stay. Everything that takes the loneliness away, keeps the sadness of life at bay. Love makes us shy away from the very prospect of sorrow.  Love makes us weak. Grief on the other hand makes us strong, invincible. It doesn’t kill us and thus makes us stronger. It is a defiant rock of rationality that demands our attention. We can’t side step it or jump over it. Go past it, we must, for it blocks the path of our life.

The people who spend their life in seclusion or whither away and die on losing a loved one never suffered from grief. They suffered from an ignorance of grief, a refusal to accept their sorrow. Grief stands in our way and sooner or later we have to give it our attention. That is the moment when we are at our strongest. Sobbing is an outlet through which we let the emotions caused by our loss work their way through our being and out of it. Tears shed in love are crocodile tears. Tears shed in loss overflow with real, raw emotion. They are not a sign of weakness, no. Tears are a sign of acceptance. A burning balm of acceptance of the sad realization that things will no longer be the way they were and that those who’ve left will never make it back to you. Though this balm leaves our wounds raw and aching, it does what otherwise would never have happened – it heals them.

Grief is what shows us how indestructible we are. It shows us the bigger, better, stronger person in us. The person that had thus far, been pushed into the shadows by the dazzle and brilliance of Love. We are diamonds. Its easy to look pretty in the rays Love showers over us. What brings out the best in us is the scarcity of light. When we catch even the faintest reflected ray of light and shatter it into a thousand shards of brilliance. We shine best in the dark.

Reel Story: Vol. I, Issue 4 – Culture Special

GOING GAGA OVER JAIPUR

By Deep Jagdeep Singh

Jaipur is not just about the historical places, forts and palaces. There’s a lot more that signifies the real essence of Jaipur. You’ll find the real Jaipur while roaming on the roads, and of course with a camera in hand. Let’s have a glance at a few of such sights and scenes..

The typically traditional tea!

The typically traditional tea!

Milk goes a long way!

Milk goes a long way!

The Police 'Palace'

The Police ‘Palace’

 

 

Telling Twisted Tales

Telling Twisted Tales

Art and Artefacts

Art and Artefacts

A Look Says it All

A Look Says it All

The Stately Transport

The Stately Transport

Camel Without the Cart

Camel Without the Cart

The Palatial Glow

The Palatial Glow

A Bright Peep

A Bright Peep

 

 

A Sneek-view at Birla Mandir roof architecture

A Sneek-view at Birla Mandir roof architecture

Jalebi Chowk - a traditional plate

Jalebi Chowk – a traditional plate

 

Let me pass!

Let me pass!

Deadly Design!

Deadly Design!

 

 

Cover Story: Vol. I, Issue 4 – Culture Special

COVER STORY

Dr. Abhimanyu Bishnu

The heart – The old city of Delhi

 All cities have a character of their own. Cities such as Delhi, which have a particularly rich history, have an inner corean inner soul that defines the character of the city as it was meant to be. Delhi is today singularly marked by indifference of its citizens towards the city. As a columnist recently wrote, we drive past millennia of history without even bothering to look around. Indeed, it is difficult to rouse the kind of passion in the average Delhiwallah about his or her city compared to a Mumbaikar or Kolkatan. There are reasons for this , the most important being that in most of the urban sprawl that is Delhi/ NCR today, the is the lack of an inner soul that binds.” The city of migrants” seems to drift like a migrant at time, defying comprehension for the drift, for it is here, among the ramparts and monuments that dot the city, that the millennia of history that shaped India as we know it today, are hidden.

It has been nearly a 1000 years since Delhi’s recorded history begins, and a tumultuous 370 years since ” Purani Dilli” (Old Delhi-also called Shahjahanabad), was founded. The reign of Shahjahan and Aurangzeb, then that of the lesser Mughals like Shah Alam, later the sunset of the Mughal empire during the reign of Bahadur Shah Zafar , the eventual transfer of power to the Britishers, existence in a neglected state thereafter , and finally, the stab of Partition which saw large-scale migration from the area- all have affected the spirit of this old place, these few square miles of area which have had a profound effect on Indian history.

But nothing dies forever. In the old city, you can still see pigeons being flown, in the time-honoured tradition of “Kabutarbaazi”. You can see still see the colorful kites flying, fluttering above the rooftops. And once you have done the Red Fort and the Jama Masjid, and venture into the quaintly-named labyrinthine streets of the old city, you will feel the soul of the city, never mind the grimy surroundings. It is here that India existed, in its time-tested tradition of communal amity. This is reassuring in an age where cynicism is increasingly taking the centre-stage in our lives, and secularism seems like just another cliché’. And so, it is on a moderately hot and profusely sweaty day, that I decide to take a journey through the old city, very graciously accompanied by Sumbul Siddiqui, who has grown up here and retains the kind of affection for the place that only an old-timer can muster.

We take a rickshaw ride from Daryaganj, where I have parked my car, and we check out the famed Sunday book bazaar. There is an assortment of books- textbooks, childrens’ books, story books. It is renowned throughout Delhi as the place to buy second-hand books from, but since it is only ten in the morning and the bazaar has not opened on a full scale yet, we move on and take a rickshaw. After some haggling, the fellow agrees to fifteen rupees and drops us at Chandni Chowk, in front of the imposing Red Fort (Lal Qila).

The city of Shahjahanabad, the seventh of the eight cities of Delhi, was established by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, about 360 years back, and it was the abode of the inimitable Urdu poet Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib. Shahjahanabad was ruled over by the Mughals, the last of whom was Bahadur Shah Zafar. Chandni Chowk, which means ”moonlit square”, was established by Begum Jahanara, the daughter of Emperor Jahangir, at around the time that Shahjahanabad was built.

Hidden in the ‘galis’ (lanes) of the old city, after one has been to the Red Fort, Jama Masjid and the Sisgunj Gurudwara, there are treasures to be found. Like the curiously -named alley,“Patli Gali”. Like the markets or “Katras”, neatly arranged by sections, the haveli of Mirza Ghalib, the old mansions, the beautiful Fatehpuri Masjid, the abootarbaaz

(pigeon-flyer) on the streets, the covered well of Lalkuan, the quaintly-named streets such as “ Khari Baoli” , and of course the delicacies such as Tikkis, Paranthas, Kababs, Jalebis, Kulfis and what have you. All the while, a mass of humanity moves alongside you, ahead of you and behind you, exhorting you to walk on. The Old City is crowded, hot and dusty- and is definitely not for the faint-hearted.

PHOTO 1

Chandni Chowk was built as the main street of the then-new Shahjahanabad. It was the main shopping street of the city in the years gone by, and at the time of Shah Jahan, it definitely was a fashionable avenue. It was along this promenade that the Mughal emperors would proceed in their processions of splendour, seated on the back of the

imperial elephant; a caravan of mace-bearers, horseriders, footsoldiers, palace guards, sepoys, water-bearers, and other people ahead of and behind them. There was a water channel flowing in the middle of the street those days, which has since been closed. The water supply for the channel came from an octagonal pool in the middle of the road.

The name “Chandni Chowk” comes from the reflection of the moon which could be seen in this water pool in those days. The Britishers later closed the octagonal pool and the water-channel and built a clock-tower on Chandni Chowk, which existed there as one of the prominent landmarks of the area, before collapsing in 1951, never to be rebuilt again.

We walk past the Digambar Jain temple, built by Jain merchants during Shah Jahan’s reign; the Gauri Shankar temple; and the Sis Gunj Gurudwara, where Guru Tegh Bahadur was beheaded by the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb for refusing to abandon his religious beliefs. We walk past the Dariba Kalan, the jewellery lane, which, according to legend, in Mughal times used to be adorned with rare stones and riches. Rare jewellery from all over the world used to find their way here. Today it is just another jewellary market, but nothing like the days of yore. We make our way past hordes of Sunday revelers, merchants, mendicants, policemen and hangers-on. Cycle rickshaws have resumed plying on the road today, it being Sunday, and the general air is that of a laid-back atmosphere, many of the shops being closed on Sundays in Chandni Chowk.

We walk into one of the “Katras”, through a half-closed gate. There are very few shops open inside, but what amazes me is the neat network of tentacle-like Galis inside the Katra. There is a huge network of shops inside this building, Katra Asharfi, and there is no way of making out from outside what kind of life exists inside these walls. Mainly clotheswear is sold here, and as Sumbul informs me, people come from other parts of the city to buy stuff at Chandni Chowk, especially during special occasions like weddings. For some, the Old City is like religion (plus good savings) and they even come from abroad to buy stuff for special occasions, as one of her relatives did.

We walk past the Paranthe Wali Gali, the street of Parantha delicacies in Chandni Chowk, and decide to give this street a miss, because we have just had breakfast .We have Nimbu Paani at one of the roadside shops ; it’s refreshing , and what’s more , it’s available at Old City prices- only Rs.8/- per glass. We are in the search for a chemist shop to buy some band aids, and the shop owner helpfully gives us the directions. The greatest part of the Old City is that there are no airs- people like you or dislike you, and are generally helpful. The synthetic atmosphere of the rest of the city is mercifully missing here. By the roadside we can still see an old haveli. The delicate latticed work stands out; the arches remain-, but the windows are broken, the wood is well-worn. Parts of the building are broken, other parts have been turned into shops and commercial establishments, and eminently “modernized” with iron grills and glass windows, which is typical of many such old buildings in this area. But I can’t help wondering that a vestige of the magnificence of the erstwhile days, remains. She still stands out among the rest.

We see the town hall on our right. It has a chequered history, having been built by the Britishers in 1865, after they defeated the Indians in the 1857 struggle. It was initially an educational and cultural institute and later was turned into the municipal headquarters. Today, it stands still like other buildings on this stretch, a mute spectator to the passage of time and the reversal of fortunes.

We move on to Nai Sarak, which is the place selling clothes and books. Many of the shops are closed today, but this is definitely the place to come to if you are in the need of buying any book, for pleasure or business. A signboard reads” Munshilal Manoharlal Publishers Private Limited”. They sell-“books, magazines, catalogues, reports”. What catches my eye is the elegant building the shop is situated in. It is one of those old buildings that have seen the ravages of time, yet remain beautiful.

It is here that I discover the “Patli Gali”. It is a narrow ally, just off the street “Nai Sarak”, with the entrance, situated amongst two buildings just wide enough to let one person pass. It leads us to a row of bookshops (open,this time).

“You want any books?” one of the shopkeepers enquires.

We are interested only in looking around. A few shops are open, selling law books, engineering books, college books, any book one might require. There are also residences inside, not grand havelis but simple residences as seen in other parts of the city .The Gali meanders inward in a serpentine way, like all these streets of the Old City, and the omnipresent temple is also seen. Sumbul stands at the entrance of the building to demonstrate how narrow it actually is. This place must be one of the hidden gems of the Old City I had never seen before. There’s a proverb in Hindi “Patli gali se khisakna”, which means “to escape by the narrow alley.” This narrow alley would give no such chances of escape. Thieves,beware!

We visit the haveli (house) of Mirza Ghalib in the crowded locality of Ballimaran.This was one of the buildings where Mirza Ghalib had spent some part of his life.The house is adorned with his famous couplets, and has been suitably restored by the government from its earlier stage of dilapidation. Mirza Ghalib was the peripatetic Urdu poet of Delhi. Having spent his life in the service of verse, but also wine and occasionally women, he was one of the icons of the tehzeeb, the culture that characterized Delhi during the days of the Mughals. Having witnessed Delhi in its most culturally advanced phase under Bahadur Shah Zafar, he also later witnessed it under its saddest day-the cataclysmic events post-1857 when the rampaging Britishers razed large sections of the Old City, killed thousands of people, pillaged and looted property and brought the proud city down on its knees. The carnage had a profound effect on Ghalib, and the pain and the shock that he witnessed during the ravishing of this once-beautiful city, remained with him till his days of death. But he refused to abandon his city even in its worst days. He had taken the poet, Ibrahim Zauq’s (his contemporary and rival) verse to heart:

“Kaun jayen Zauq, dilli ki galiyan chhod ke ?’”

(Who would think of abandoning the streets of Dilli, O Zauq?)

The Old City symbolizes a large part of Indian history. Regal elegance, external attacks, British domination, revolt, repercussions, the trauma of Partition –this area of a few square miles has witnessed it all. Today, it is another trading locality where crores of money are transacted every day, but its place in Indian history remains assured forever.

As was perhaps inevitable, winds of change, some of them not so desirable, have come in. The communal amity of yesteryears is shadowed by the advent of mutual distrust. And so you have “Hindu Mohallas” and “Muslim Mohallas”. History acknowledges the efforts of the rulers such as Bahadur Shah Zafar, who took pains to maintain the communal amity of this place, in trying times and under difficult circumstances. People such as Ghalib had an equally large number of friends in both communities and were accessible to both. Hindustani culture as it has evolved over the ages has taken elements from all religions -even languages have borrowed from each other. Here, in Old Delhi, you learn the true importance of that synergy – it is probably the only area in India where you have, in close proximity, a Hindu temple, a Jain temple, three mosques, a Gurudwara and two churches. Probably our religious leaders could take a leaf out of this. Instead, as reports bear out, religious animosity is increasing and a polarization has begun even in the Old City, ironically here where the nearby “Urdu Bazaar” gave rise to a most unique language, Urdu, a synergy of Sanskrit, Persian, Arabic and Turkic, an example that synergestic co-existence can be possible.

Sumbul located her old tution school, the “Rabea Girls Public School”, in Balllimaran- it’s like walking down memory lane (literally) for her. Two kids willingly stand and pose for photographs in front of an arch. Just happy to be there. I click their picture and show them. They are thrilled.

We move on to the Fatehpuri Masjid, which was built by Fatehpuri Begum, one of the wives of Shah Jahan in 1650, as a place where women, too, could offer prayers. This mosque has had a turbulent history- it was a prominent centre of resistance for the Indian forces during the 1857 war of freedom, and in retribution, Britishers took control of the building after crushing the mutiny and sold it to Rai Lala Chunamal, one of the prominent traders of Delhi at that time. It was reacquired by the Britishers in 1877 and handed over to the Waqf, so prayers could be carried out once more. It is a beautiful, small mosque, well-preserved and devoid of Jama Masjid’s mad rush. It is situated in a busy street, and one hardly realises that there is a gem of a building inside. There is a Hauz (water body ) for ablutions, and the building is made in red sand stone and marble, typical of Shah Jahan’s time. It is well-kept and well-maintained, and I am pleasantly surprised to see a Sardarji and his family sitting with the ulema and listening to his words. Hoorah!

Communal amity still lives. We do a round of the Masjid. People are sleeping in the shade, others are simply sitting, and the atmosphere is one of calmness after the mad rush of the streets.

We come out onto Khari Baoli, the “street of spices”. Spices and condiments of every sort are sold here, in wholesale, in technicolours of brown, red, yellow, green and other colours. The unmistakable aroma ligers in the air. I make a mental note to come back here sometime, for culinary supplies.

 

We ask for the directions to Chawri Bazaar and are promptly guided. People are in general helpful here.

The names of the streets we pass, are enchanting-“Gali Chabuk Sawar”,” literally the “lane of the rider with the whip. History goes into the naming of these places, “Ballimaran” literally means” lane of the oarsmen” and it was here that the oarsmen who made oars for the boats that plied on the Yamuna, resided at one time.

We are now in Lal Kuan, which had again a prominent significance in the history of Delhi- it was here that Begum

Zeenat Mahal, the queen of Bahadur Shah Zafar, lived in her haveli. This area saw heavy fighting in 1857, and it was at this place that the emperor was imprisoned, a pitiable and dejected man, before being deported to Burma.

The decline of the Old City began at that time. The decimation of the inhabitants of the old city, and a strong bias

against and persecution of the Muslim population by the British rulers, later fructified into the” divide and rule” policy used by the Britishers to drive a wedge between the followers of the two major religions on the subcontinent. The probable byproduct- Partition and its miseries. Delhi was one of the worst-affected cities in the cataclysmic events of 1947.

As a matter of fact, the erstwhile military ruler of Pakistan, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, originated from the Old City, and resided in the quaintly-named ” Nahar wali haveli” , the “mansion with the canal.” One feels tempted into asking,” What if? What if 1857 had not taken place? What if the persecution that followed the Mutiny had not taken place? What if the perceived sense of discrimination had not, later on, given rise to the demands for a separate country? What if 1947 and its carnage had not taken place? Would Delhi then have been a better place, would we have seen its tehzeeb today and witnessed the finest traditions of a synergestic culture even today? Would Babri Masjid, Gujarat and the 2008 Delhi blasts not have taken place? Would Ghalib’s beloved Delhi have remained the epitome of the best that Hindustan could offer? Would our religious and political leaders on both sides of the religious divide have then shut up and just let us be?” Unfortunately, we will never know the answers to these questions.

The name Lal Kuan was given on account of a well which was made by one Mr.Lal Chand. The well lies covered today, and a temple has come up above it. Only a plaque announces its location today.

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Further on, we enter into one of those narrow alleys, hardly two metres wide. People live here as they have done for ages, though I must admit it is quite congested. We walk a little inside and come back. These are close-knit neighbourhoods, so people are inquisitive and ask you where you want to go. A Mohammad Rafi song blares from one of the houses-it just adds to the old-world charm of the place:

“Pukaarta chala hoon main, gali gali bahaaar ki”

( I wander, searching, amongst these splendid streets)

It just sums up the mood, though these streets may not be as splendid as they were at one time. Outside, the shops on the streets are selling everything from utensils to kites. Kite-flying is still a big passion in the old city, and colourful kites in various shapes and sizes adorn the shops. Braving the hustle-bustle, we make it to Chawri

Bazaar, decide the heat and humidity is too much, and take a rickshaw, to the famous Karim’s restaurant.

Karim’s is on the southern flank of the great Jama Masjid- the huge mosque built by Shah Jahan, which is a gigantic red sandstone and marble institution, much in the style of Shah Jahan’s typical architecture, and is the epicenter of the Islamic religion in India. One feels awed by the sheer size of the structure.

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Karim’s, situated in “Gali Kababian “(street of the kebabs), is, of course, an culinary institution in its own right. The

hotel ownership claims its descent from the Mughal cooks employed by Babar and his descendants. The food is good, the butter chicken (which I learn to my surprise is actually originally a Mughal and not a Punjabi dish) is delicious and the ambience is comfortable; the AC works, which is a huge relief in this heat. Karim’s does not deject us, like always.

Outside, the Jama Masjid is the epicenter of activity. The tall minarets loom large over the city skyline. Inside, there

are legions of pigeons, fluttering about. People have gathered from all around- there are tourists, devotees,

vagabonds, photographers. Children run about, making good use of the huge courtyard. And outside, boys carrying

metal toothpicks offer to clean my ears. I decline out of purely practical reasons of hygiene and safety, though I was

curious to try it out. Ear-cleaning is an old vocation here, going back to the Mughal times. The Jama Masjid was built in 1656, and is also called Masjid-i Jahān-Numā , literally meaning “the world-reflecting Masjid” in Persian. It is said that in the olden days, the Emperor could directly see the Masjid from the Red Fort, without the intervening visual obstructions that have come up since then. It was also an important area around which the events of 1857 unfolded. British plans post-1857 included blowing up the Masjid and building a church there. One can only thank the turn of history that sanity and better sense finally prevailed upon them, and the Jama Masjid was spared, but only after they had razed many of the cultural treasures of the city, like true rampaging vandals. The market in front of the Masjid is Meena Bazaar, built by Shah Jahan on the lines of a similar bazaar that he had seen in Peshawar. Covered markets were a novelty in India then, in the 17th Century. One can very well call this place the forerunner of the malls of today. It was here, in the days of yore, that expensive goods used to come from all over the world- exquisite carpets, rugs, shatranjis, jewellary, precious stones, costumes, embroidery. Today, it has shops mainly selling an assortment of cheaply priced items-bags, clothes, bedding materials and other things.

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Exiting Meena Bazaar, we enter a shop selling Islamic motiffs. On display is the “Lohe Qurani”, a plaque consisting of letters from the Quran, which gives the revelations from the Quran; and the “Dua e Safar”, a motiff which Muslims use before starting a journey or auspicious activity. A number of these were being sold in the Meena Bazaar, too.

The trip is coming to an end, and as we walk towards the parking lot, I see the final thing that characterizes the different facets of life in the Old City- a boy with his pigeons, the kabootarbaaz. In less hurried and more genial times, pigeon-flying was a popular activity, patronized by the Mughal emperors. Along with kite-flying, it was the way of life that depicted the leisurely pace of life in the city. Pigeon-flying originated from Agra and was developed into an art form by the Mughals. It remains today, but like the rest of the lifestyle of the Old City of yore, in a more diminished form.

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The heat and humidity remain as oppressive as ever as we walk towards the car for our journey back, to a fundamentally different world. But I am happy that the trip has been every bit worth it. We have captured facets of a lifestyle that may not survive the onslaught of “modernity.” As cities change, cultures evolve and people challenge their identities, the way of life in the Old City may matter lesser and lesser to many. But for me, there is no doubt that Bahadur Shah Zafar’s soul still lives here, along with that of Ghalib, Zauq and the other luminaries of that time.

Ghalib’s verses still reverberate :

“Hazaron khwaishen aisi, Ke har Khwaish pe dum nikle,

Bahut nikle mere armaan, Lekin phir bhi kam nikle.”

(Thousands of desires, Each worth dying for ,

I have realized many of these, Yet I yearn for more)

I wonder whether Ghalib’ s soul has finally realized his desires and found peace in his beloved city of ‘Dilli’.