Victoria and Abdul -Book review-Shrabani Basu

While reading this book , I had often wondered how this interesting and enigmatic association of a British Monarch and her Indian teacher “Munshi ” had escaped the keen eyes of historians. In Hindi , the word “Munshi ” is more traditionally used for accountants of small businesses but this “Munshi” was definitely much more than to Queen

Much has been written about the times of Raj but this unconventional relationship was partly concealed as systematically the evidences were purged after Queen’s death .The teacher and his family were driven away from their homes .All the correspondences were burnt or confiscated and Munshi’s family was hounded upto India to wipe away any residual documents .It was as if the indulgence that the Queen was allowed in her later years was a matter of great shame to the Monarchy and earlier it was forgotten the better it was. Further, the descendants of Abdul Karim had left the subcontinent after partition of India and had settled in Karachi [Pakistan], which further helped to fade away the memories .Post Indian independence ,many historical buildings such as the tomb of Abdul Karim after his death had also fallen into neglect . Fortunately , as the Queen’s journal were in Urdu [Persian script]and they were left alone by foreign historians ,it helped the author a great deal to analyze this relationship .

This book’s claim to fame was its adaptation into a major motion picture [Stephen Frier’s film by the same name ] seven years after it was written .It was initially written in 2010 by Shrabani Basu ,who after majoring in History from St Stephens College in New Delhi trained as a journalist and later joined the London Office of Ananda Bazar Patrika as their correspondent The book was republished one more time seven years later. She has many other books to her credit such as For King and another country ; Indian Soldiers on western Front ;Spy Princess-Life of Noor Inayat khan .The book ,Victoria and Abdul ,was a toil of five years and travel of three countries .

Queen Victoria , was the Queen of United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from 1837 until her death in 1901 . In 1876 , she adopted the additional title of” Empress Of India .Tall handsome ,24 years old , Abdul Karim was presented to the Queen at her Golden Jubilee celebration with the other Indian servants. Abdul Karim worked as an assistant clerk at Agra Central Jail and his father was a physician of traditional medicine .Though he was supposed to be with the Queen for a year but an incredible relationship happened and lasted more than a decade .

Though Queen was titular head ,but had always taken a keen interest in affairs of her Monarchy .She had strategically arranged the marriages of her children all throughout the Europe and was later known as the “Grandmother Of Europe and always had some kind of political influence in the country . But after the deaths of her husband , Albert, and later her Scottish gillie , John Brown , whose ring she took to her grave, she had an enormous emotional void in her life .None of the trappings of Monarchy or the presence of her big family could fill it .

Just at that point Abdul Karim entered Victoria’s life and he had all the qualities that Queen admired .He was soft spoken , well mannered ,gentle ,good looking ,proud of his heritage, learned and aware of current affairs .When Queen met Karim she was in her geriatric age group but that did not deter the Queen from forging a human relationship which even to the insiders including her own children was of the most bizarre kind .

Victoria had been brought up as an epitome of morality and the relationship was platonic to its core but it was a combination of various relationship in one . She was a mother, well wisher, guide ,employer and he was a companion ,teacher ,adviser to her .

Queen ,though did not travel to India but was always very inquisitive about this colony ,” The Jewel of the Empire “.Soon after her association with Abdul ,his influence on her was complete . Not only did she start learning the language but Indian curries were being cooked and attires were being worn in the household .Interestingly , the journals she kept of her lessons were of profound importance as they played a great role to unearth this beautiful relationship.

As far as Victoria was concerned, he was a part of her household and expected other members to accept Abdul .But the schism was much wider than the Queen imagined . Abdul lasted for almost ten years but it was almost a daily struggle for Queen to legitimize his position in the household as for rest of them, he was just a part of the” Black Brigade”

In the book “White Mughals “[2002] , written by Dalrymple ,we have witnessed that in early 18 th and early 19 th century, 1 in 3 British men in India were married to Indian women but as British supremacy got established, it was expected that the relations should be of ruler and ruled .We have to recall that post 1857, subcontinent had officially declared its War of Independence and though it was overtly quenched , covertly the milieu was most inappropriate for a relationship between a White Monarch and her Brown servant .

From times immemorial , unconventional human relationships had been under persecution .These relationships are perfectly legal but are not allowed to be preserved as some unspoken rules emerge from some corner . Rules of convention , Rules of race , Rules of religion ,Rules of color , Rules of hierarchy and God knows many other unheard of rules But the bonds of these relationships are much stronger and they resurface time and again with their whiff of eternity .

Advertisements

The Ministry Of Utmost Happiness – Book review – Author [Arundhati Roy ]

The Ministry Of Utmost Happiness – Book review – Author [Arundhati Roy ]

happiness

After a  long wait and long means really long ,after  almost two decades, we did get to read Arundhati Roy’s second fiction .She is an Indian author who writes in English and is based in India .Her first book  ,God Of Small Things , catapulted her as one of the most brilliant writers of her time .It won her the Man Booker Prize and the book was translated into almost forty languages .The book was a masterpiece in itself and I do not know how many times I have read it .She has many non fictions to her credit in between the works of her fiction .

The book “Ministry Of Utmost Happiness” is in two parts . In the first part her protagonist is from that part of society who are considered anomalies of the society . They are acknowledged and tolerated.and with time they are supposed to fade away .

Anjum , who is a transgender is a resident of the Older part Of Delhi .Older part of Delhi is famous for its delicious meals, poetry , historical monuments and narrow bylanes . Her mother inspite  of knowing about her ambiguous sex , tried to raise her as a male child as it is the preferred sex .But all her mother’s efforts fail . Anjum’s inner conflicts prevails over her social obligations and she decides to break free . She moves to a place called “khwabgah “[Dream Palace } where after initiation rites she is inducted into the group of transgenders.The residents of Khwabgah call the real  world” Duniya”.

Anjum is happy in  her new life and accepts the usual challenges of a transgender . She gets her share of fame as she becomes some kind of spokesperson for the transgenders . Mother hood happens to her accidentally as she finds an abandoned girl on the steps of  a Mosque .The child is raised by all the residents of the commune  and Anjum takes her responsibilities very seriously

But life takes a dramatic turn when she goes on a pilgrimage to pray for her child’s good health .She returns as a different person and suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and decides to leave her home for the most unexpected destination which she calls her as her new home .

In the second part , we move to the newer part of Delhi where again author has chosen a very unconventional protagonist .She is an architect  who has no family and she supports herself by doing various part time jobs .She does not have a sought after complexion and has  equally unaccepted ways of life , but  she is being wooed by three men .She is a soul mate for one and marries the other two . As protagonist Tilo ,follows her love , we get to see the disturbed State of Jammu and Kashmir in close quarters where India is fighting a proxy war .

In a very fascinating way ,author connects both the parts of the book as both her protagonists very interestingly meet each other .

Author has once again aced in her art and had been brilliant in this venture .As her protagonists navigate their lives , she introduces numerous characters who had been described to perfection which makes this book a must read . Author describes interesting anecdotes throughout and those who are familiar with those geographical areas would really relish them Political commentary continues throughout the book and she touches upon various political mile stones of the 80s .She presents various political character of those times and gives them wrapping of her own personnel interpretation which gives the book a humorous touch .  She is honest , brave and stark about her opinions  when she describes the religious riots of Gujrat or Post assassination riots of Mrs Gandhi or Union Carbide gas leakage .

Both the protagonists are considered other than normal in Indian society .Her treatment of both the characters are so close to real that one marvels at our own country and its paradoxes to the extreme .

Though India is vying for one of the top economic powers of the World , it is a very traditional country in spirit .The surface calm holds it all together but any slight ripple breaks it all loose .Any aberration from the perceived normal brings out the worst in the society and one keeps wondering what caused this bipolar behavior. The gentle Indian changes into some thing else.

The threshold of tolerance is getting lower day by day and  counter expression by violence is getting to be the new normal .The recent outrage and protests that a Movie “Padmavat” has caused amongst the Northern part of India has taken us by surprise .It is a film based on the story of an ancient  Rajput queen , Padmavati ,who commits self immolation also known as” Sati” when her husband looses the kingdom to an enemy King . Sati had been a past tradition which had been prohibited by law in the colonial India . A mere film which could cause so much outrage in the country makes us wonder that how could  the same India, which is vying to be the biggest world IT human resource could react to a cinematic expression in such a way !

Wishing you all a happy February .

 

 

 

Female physicians in India

Female physicians in India

female-physician

Women are genetically modified and are the weaker sex of the society . They also have to dedicate their most productive years of life to child-bearing and child raising . Agreed those are priceless moments of your life but that drags them  down on their career graph .

As  smart and bright students, physicians  enter the medical schools very  early in life  .You  are still very confused about the path  you have chosen.Your  life  revolves around libraries , lecture theaters  and  medical wards .Then comes residency .It does not get easier .Early morning rounds, in service exams, presentations, night calls …the list is endless..There goes the best years of  your life down the drain .

Just when you are ready to hit your fun life with vengeance ,your biological clock starts to show you red flags .You have to suddenly mutate to being a  good wife and good mom .If  you still have some steam left in you and are eager to be the part of job market , then new set of restrictions follow you .

In India , female physicians have very few specialty to choose from, where they would be accepted  in their private practice. Obstetrics and gynaecology, Pediatrics and Para medical jobs are preferred for female physicians. The most commonly accepted other job is to work as a medical officer in a government set up. As medical officers you work in an outpatient and prescribe a set of medications from the pharmacy  and refer out difficult patients to specialists as needed. Nothing interesting or nothing challenging about it .

If you can keep your frustration under lid and decide to stick to these jobs then there are time bound promotions and some remunerations. India is a litigation immune country and you can retire peacefully without the pokes of board certifications or continuing medical education .

Women get a second class treatment in every profession. Same is true with medicine in India. Pay disparity, acceptance in private practice, work place harassment would always be your accompaniments .

Women never have it easy anyway ;

For A Better Tomorrow

Last week I experienced two different worlds, both with a promise of better tomorrow in a very different sense.

We took a trip to a Balaji shrine, which is in the state of Andhra Pradesh , one of the southern states of India .We pray to Lord Vishnu  for wordly happiness.Every day it is visited by 50,000 devotees.

Not like most pilgrimages,it is a well regulated place with its impeccable security system .Devotees are supposed to be bare footed in the whole temple complex sans any kind of technology .People stand in long queues chanting and some times they have to wait for hours . The swathes of humanity that comes in and out of the holy sanctum makes you believe that there does exist a promise in submission to the higher power .

The other world was 4th New Delhi , Literature Festival in India Habitat center , which was organized by Times of India publication .It was mostly attended by younger crowd , college students or budding writer .Like most events in India , seating arrangement was outnumbered by the attendees. Attendees enjoyed each other’s participation . Air was charged ,youthful ,enthusiastic , intelligent and interactive .

Here the promise was of fame and immortality to posterity .

Each to his own

Have a very good week ahead .