Writers, Patrons and Politics

There are some writers who I find difficult to read because of their politics. They pen books that are well-researched and woven with magic, and magically realistic, words. However, should they be knighted or awarded by the Establishment, I might question the motives of the System and their own supposed ‘unpopular’ positions, mainly because their impact is on today. They are capturing our world.

That is the reason I take issue with M.J.Akbar’s recent piece on the Bharat Ratna that I have written about earlier. Here is my rejoinder to some of his statements:

But his (Markandey Katju’s) campaign for a Bharat Ratna to Mirza Ghalib and Saratchandra Chattopadhyay is ludicrous. One of my great personal regrets is insufficient knowledge of Urdu, and ignorance of Persian: the two books I would carry to the proverbial desert island are the complete works of Shakespeare and Ghalib. Ghalib’s poetry is eternal, but his views did not always belong to the narrative of modern India. Ghalib lived through 1857. He watched 23 Mughal princes being hanged and fellow Dilliwallahs being massacred by merciless British columns. Ghalib was more interested in a pension from Queen Victoria, as is evident from his diary, Dastambuy, than a war for independence. This does not diminish his poetry, but it does raise questions about his politics.

Was he supposed to save those princes? 'Modern' literary mavens murder literature itself, so why question Ghalib's politics when the award is political. It is patronage in a contemporary setting for services rendered to the Republic. I have already expressed my reservations about using that date as definitive of merit.

How many writers, artistes, media persons came out to save Dilliwallahs in the 1984 riots? Did they or did they not get honoured anyway? Can we hold it against them?

Our cultural ambassadors who are chosen for special reasons and RS seats would also be looking for such Victorian encomiums without appearing to be corseted intellectually.

Justice Katju has read a million more books than any silly journalist, but perhaps he has not come across Joya Chaterji’s masterly Bengal Divided [Cambridge University Press, 1996]. He would surely have noticed a speech that Saratchandra, an undoubted literary genius, made in 1926. There isn’t space for the full text, but a few sentences establish the flavor - and trust me, I am leaving out the more gruesome bits: “The truth is that if Muslims ever say they want to unite with Hindus, there is no greater hoax. The Muslims came to India to plunder it, not to establish a kingdom…Unity can only be realized among equals…’Hindu-Muslim unity’ is a bombastic slogan…Hindustan is the homeland of the Hindus.” Et al. Saratchandra’s India was not the India that Mahatma Gandhi lived and died for.

Only because Godse killed for a particular cause does not mean that Gandhi died for the same cause.

As regards Saratchandra's communalism, how is it surprising? Are we going to split hairs over the nature of the kingdom when you cannot colonise without some amount of plundering, British trade being another form of it? If Justice Katju is wrong to wish for recognition of historical figures, then such regurgitation of history does the same. It is sanctifying his words by emphasising their notoriety. Everyone loves the bad guys, and now one can expect some Hindutvawadi to use Sarat babu with an, “He told you so”. They will have one more reason to shout down the ‘pseudo secularists’.

The past has its glories. The past has its dilemmas. The past has its mistakes. The past has its rage. Shall we reserve the Bharat Ratna for those who fought for a future in which every Indian is an equal?

The fact that a certain person will get the Bharat Ratna (“reserve” is an interesting word here), and a select few other Padma awards, means that every Indian is not an equal. Let us not even try for such equality, whether it is among religions, castes, gender, race, regions. Each has its dynamics and an equitable and just way of looking at it makes more sense. And rewarding, shall we say? 


  1. FV,

    Bharat Ratna is nothing but a political joke. In spite of being in power, BJP could never gather enough courage to confer it on either Sawarkar or Golwalkar, scred shit as they were of losing allies' support. So much for Hindutva-based party with a difference!! Bunch of Hypocrites.

    I must accept that my respect for Saratchandra has grown manifold after reading your scholarly exposition! Thanks!!

  2. F&F:

    You are welcome, esp. if re-re-quoting a person makes you laud it as a "scholarly exposition".

    It takes so little to please your Hindutva heart...oops, I mean, 'don't like Hindutva but will fight for its right to exist and do what it wants' heart :)

    And, Eureka...can you please tell your fave Taslima about the Sarat babu quote? Something to write home about, na?

  3. FV,

    Correct the 'don't like Hindutva' bit. What I detest are the double standards practiced in name of Hindutva. I also detest the double standards in practice in name of secularism and constitutionalism as well. If anyone cares to listen, that is!

    How about those who fight for the right of Islamic fundamentalism and Saudi conservatism and Palestinian terror and Kashmiri double-faced seperatism and blasphemy laws and death penalty for conversion to exist?

    That was argument for argument's sake, I concede! But I am sure there will be no answers!


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