British stifled Indian identity
Akhilesh Mithal

Zafar Mahal

India Gate. — Tribune photos by Mukesh Aggarwal

1857 — the millions killed, the hundreds of thousands made homeless and the billions worth of property destroyed, the terror (does it continue?) struck in Indian hearts at the mere sight of a white person — the conditioned reflex of all Indians deferring to the opinions of the white man—especially about things Indian—are subjects which should engage minds in 2007.

Should we continue to be mental slaves of the British or is it time to realise that 60 years is long enough to start thinking for ourselves and assert the unique Indian identity evolved over thousands of years of living with an opulent and rich heritage? Time to rid our minds of the inferiority complex induced by British rule and the distorted view it gave us of India and its culture.

From 1857 to 1947 (four generations) no Indian dared say anything about what the British called "The Sepoy Mutiny" except to parrot the line laid down by the British. All who had opposed the British had been wiped out and effaced most brutally. Those descended from them (such as the Rani of Jhansi) avoided the use of the family names in order to become anonymous and not be the objects of British vindictiveness and venom.

As we now have the third generation of free Indians it should be possible that they fashion their own independent ideas untrammeled by the distortions of fact and taste caused by eight generations of slavery to aliens coming from a less evolved civilisation and culture.

The British involvement in and contribution to the various aspects of Culture (Music, both vocal and instrumental/ Die Making and other lapidary skills/ Sculpture/ Architecture/ Town Planning/ Dance/Culinary Arts/ Textiles etc) is not of any great significance even in Europe.

In the British period of Indian history all these aspects of what goes into improving the quality of life were neglected and allowed to languish. The attempts by Curzon and others like him to show the superiority of the British by building Victoria Memorial (as a challenge to the Taj in Agra) and New Delhi as an "answer" to Shahjahanabad Dillee are pathetic me-too isms.

Unfortunately our "Educated by the British and toilet paper trained" rulers have adopted Lutyen’s New Delhi as Capital. How this slave mentality has been allowed to flourish can be seen in the adoption of the Arch constructed as a memorial to the British dead in the Great War (1914-1918) as the site to honour those who died defending free India after 1947.

We thus have a purely western device — An Eternal Flame — installed in the structure and called "Amar Jawan Jyoti". Dozens of LPG cylinders are emptied daily to service the flame. It is forgotten that in India the dead are soothed, stilled, comforted and set to rest by the use of the water element. Fire is the opposite of water and stands for energy and activity. Our rulers have flames not only at the Arch but also at the samadhis of Gandhi and Nehru. This shows slave mentality. It is as if instead of being slaves we are ruled by slaves.

New Delhi with its lifeless arrogant and "attitudinising" buildings and a Fascist layout (the Viceroy’s House dominated the skyline and he and his civil and military minions had their offices (North and South Blocks) well above the legislature elected by the people) continues to be well maintained and well kept. Shahjahanabad is a slum while Mehrauli is a ruin.

Where were we (before the British brought in the Darkest Age of Indian History) i.e. in the reign of Bahadur Shah "Zafar"? We cannot talk of poetry or music as they cannot be made part of an article in English print media.

We therefore, reproduce, photographs which will illustrate what we had in 1857 and how we declined and fell under British rule.

Out first illustration is the gateway of "Zafar" Mahal, Mehrauli

Built by Bahadur Shah "Zafar", the Zafar Mahal Gateway leading into the palace is marble and red sandstone—a cusped arch opening in the centre linking the building with one of the greatest builders in world history, the Emperor Shah Jahan (1627-1658). This magnificent arch is flanked by openings in the "Company" style made popular by the East India Company and show that the art form was alive and incorporating innovation.

Above the Gateway is the classic tirpolia or three-arch opening into the baaraadaree or 12 opening structure where the slightest puff of wind would be captured.

Our second picture shows the India Gate. It is like a disembodied keyhole and amazingly lifeless.

Perhaps it is time to build a new capital for India.

The Delhi-based writer has been studying ups and downs of empires