Thursday, March 13, 2008

Can we really ignore where we're from?

I watched Jodhaa Akbar. I loved it mainly because of Hrithik's performance as a dignified yet vulnerable emperor who's trying to woo a proud woman. This might never have happened in history but I loved the performance anyway (The scene where Maham Anga is briefing a sheepish Hrithik who gets distracted by his beautiful wife is class)!

Fueled by this movie, I began a frenzy of reading about the Mughals. All the Mughals except Akbar were well-read and they're surprisingly candid in their memoirs. I've read bits and pieces of Babur's writings, Jahangir's memoir, Aurangzeb's letters and the Ain-i-Akbari. History books have always emphasized that the Mughals after Babur were quintessentially Indian having been born and raised in Hindustan. I had also come to think of the Mughals as Indians and the British rule as an unjust "foreign" rule.

However, what really shocked me was how most of these Mughal emperors (except Akbar) viewed themselves as "outsiders" and "superior" beings to the local populace. Babur openly writes that he hates the clime and the "infidel" people of "Hindoostan". He viewed himself as a "ghazi" or holy warrior. Jahangir was openly a religious zealot and believed that his was the superior clan. Shah Jahan seems to have followed the pattern. Aurangzeb was perhaps the worst of them all. In one of his letters to his sons, he tells him to hold "firm to his faith" and to persecute the "infidels" mercilessly by torturing them. I can understand the "hold firm to your faith" part but torture your own subjects just because their non-believers? That too, 150 years after your ancestors entered Hindustan and adopted the country?

History books also seem to have mislead us by parroting that everyone was happy under Mughal rule and that the Britishers were the "bad guys" who fostered dissessions. Based on all these memoirs, it sure feels like the Hindu-Muslim discord was always there festering under the calm veneer of society. The flames were fanned higher by Aurangzeb who made it a point to destroy Hindu temples to build his palaces and places of pleasure. I don't think the resentment felt by the Hindu population chafing under Mughal rule was ever resolved. Before it reached a healthy conclusion, the Britishers took root in the land but it was always there, lurking. Godhra, Babri Masjid et al.. are just occasional outbursts of that resentment.

To some extent, I feel cheated. I know it sounds silly after 500 years. But here we are, preening our Mughal heritage to the world, crowing about Mughal paintings, music and the Taj Mahal as examples of beautiful, "Indian" art while the king who created it really felt like he was a Persian and not really part of Hindustan! :(

Being immigrants to the US, a lot of us face the same conundrum the Mughals faced. We want to hold onto our faith, our beliefs, our culture but we also try to blend in. How much blending in is acceptable? How much will make us just "one of them"-- a betrayer of our faith and values? Can we ever ignore the fact that we're Indian and make decisions excluding that fact? At least for first-generation NRIs, I don't think it is possible. No matter how many years you've lived in your adopted country, the call of the homeland will always be in the blood and it will always resound stronger than any other call.


Anonymous said...

now THAT is one helluva post! pretty difficult and thought provoking questions posted towards the end.. well, difficult and simple really, depending on where one is coming from.

one thing I do not now THAT is one helluva post! pretty difficult and thought provoking questions posted towards the end.. well, difficult and simple really, depending on where one is coming from.

about you feeling cheated... History and Legacy is all about "interpretation" honey :) slowly, I have started to accept that gory reality... thereby leaving me at an ambivalent state about a lot of people and values and culture and all that stuff.. catch my point? :)

one thing I do not agree with you is on the statement about the first-generation NRIs... there are a lot of those people who actually irritate me by acting like 'amroos'...actually they are neither.. they don't act like typical amroos nor have they retained their true indian-ness. I am not judging them as a result, but I (as in people like me) do get judged when I go to say, parties or some social gathering...

if I have misunderstood your statement, spare me from your wrath, milady. :) (gustakhee ke liye maafi chahtha hoon ;))

but once again, brilliant post! cheers!

viswajith.k.n said...

a super ending i wud say...a thought provoking post!

Anonymous said...

Your feeling of cheated is completely understandable. Brits/Muslims (oops correct me Moghuls) ruled us for long, and all these years we proud Indians were not able to put a unified front to send them back home. Well why could not we ? Shame on us aint it ?

I tell you what an average Indian was and has been, one who has no self-esteem, zero patriotism, fight amongst ourseleves, takes shit from people of any country etc.

People reading this, you donot agree with me ? LOL ... please dont kid ourselves.

All the freedom fighters etc were just aberrations from an average Indian, hence the Independence at last 50-60 years back.

On the other hand good that Moghuls ruled us for a while, else we would not have all those beautiful white-skinned Bollywood stars. India would have been predominently brown skinned.

prabukarthik said...

Regarding history material, I read vandhargal vendraargal by Madhan and liked it.

As a counterpoint, I think its just logical that Babur and the rest did not think high of us.
In my opinion, attachment to one's culture or religious belief comes from how superior we think we are compared to the rest of 'them', in what we think as the ultimate measure of superiority - be it intelligence, muscle power or money power at that point in the world.

Babur and the rest of the gang might've thought capturing India was either their birth right or religious call to convert the infidels or just to dominate a weak nation and loot as much as possible. None of this evokes respect or 'pride by association' for India.

That situation is very diffferent from the reason why we folks travel all the way to the US in the first place. We thought US was a much better place to earn, live or study than India. You stop assimilating something only when you think what you have right now is better than what is avlble in the place you live.

if Taj Mahal was not as beautiful we would not have showcased it as ours as much as we have done now, right?

'Evano thulukkan kattinadhu.. vasthu padi illai ' nu dhaan sollirupom..

The same way, 'indha oorla enna irukku? ellam waste' nu andha gang nenachirkalaam??

Not to mention the very definition of India would've evolved by time. appo India na 'indian subcontinent' adhu munnadi india nu onnume kedayadhu..

How much can you change? Of course your degree of assimilation will have a range - starting point and ending point in adapting US culture, values... But the next generation will have a starting point which is more like your midway and end much beyond your ending point in terms of getting assimilated... it will then go on..

Even within India do you really think you can live in Meghalaya and feel attached to the indianness you perceive in, say Tiruchi?? i am not convinced :)

Another interesting side note:

My colleague in US office used to say abt the schools in cupertino 'Of the 30 in the class, 22 are chinese and indian kids, the rest are miscellanous"
She would not even say american or caucasian kids :)
She holds a US passport btw :)

Good post!! Made me write all this at 1.40 AM :)

DufusMaximus said...

That was a really interesting post, thanks.

Though, I should point out that religious tolerance is a fairly new fashion. The use of power to establish one's own culture has a long history all over the world. We can neither fault them nor forgive them.

Even in the modern day, similar things happen, except the show of power isn't always through violence.

Narayanan Venkitu said...

Wonderful post ....Congratulations!

Very true..about the Moghuls etc. Despite all the shortcomings, I always felt that the British finally United the Indians.

Nice ending indeed. Most of us Desi's always try to blend in..but we can't !. It's a constant struggle.

Sriram said...

blame it on the commies for having hijacked ncert.. one of the reasons for the glorifying history lessons in schools. As you've read the Baburnama etc, you'd have learnt just how they viewed this country and its people. To call them '.. the Great' and the like is gross injustice..Anyway, glad that you read up on all that history and can understand the history. Sad that not too many people don't do that..

Red Phoenix said...

Waited long enough for such a good post from the doodler.. Nways am a lil phobiac to history. So I'll leave that part to my past and so cant comment on u being cheated. For our first generation NRI's - We do blend into the US life (and I feel theres not much struggle in it). We don't try to destroy their culture to make our point. We take their practical lifestyle for our benefit and return them back with our cultural skills (Yoga, meditation, even math and the way we study). Persians invaded to increase their border and steal from us. We invaded to increase our knowledge and give back something to our motherland...

IBH said...

To begin with am so happy that am reading the doodles from the old Subha..excellent writing subha....not that what u have written untill recently is not good..but the old subha is back with a bang with ths post :) now getting back to the topic....the way u have summed it all up in the end is what the crux of the whole thing....we constantly struggle and till the end of mankind i dont see any feasible solution to this :)

The Doodler said...

hey paithiyam (hehe),

Everything is about "interpretation". History is always written by winners.

I don't think I was talking about ppl "acting" like Americans. No matter how much you act, underneath the nativity will still lurk..:) It is not possible to shrug it off fully?

The Doodler said...



>>I tell you what an average Indian >>was and has been, one who has no >>self-esteem, zero patriotism, >>fight amongst ourseleves, takes >>shit from people of any country etc.


>>>else we would not have all those >>beautiful white-skinned Bollywood >>stars.

And what's to say brown skin is not beautiful? :)

The Doodler said...


Three things --

1. India has always been prime territory to conquer because of its wealth & fertile land. Not just because of religion. Even Babur acknowledges this in his memoirs and against his inclination, he decided to stay in India for the benefit of his clan. He felt this clan would thrive in this fertile land. He just missed his grapes and persian apples and what not..:) Actually I like Babur cuz he makes sense.

So #1 means that NRIs are quite similar to Babur except we're not rulers and can't impose our beliefs on the population..:) Which is how it should be.

2. There are infinitely more beautiful structures in India than the Taj Mahal. So I don't think that it is being showcased PURELY for its beauty alone. No doubt that it is quite an aesthetically pleasing structure but politics has woven a myth/legend around it..:)

3. Babur not liking Hindustan is quite alright. But 200 years down the line, his heirs thinking the same thing is kinda weird to me..:)

There, I've written a story in response to yours! :)

The Doodler said...


There's nothing to forgive or accept with Mughal rule. They have, by virtue of their association with the sub-continent, become a part of our heritage. That's fine except I'd rather be told as it was really instead of glorification crap.

Narayanan sir,

I am coming round to the idea that the British raj was perhaps much better than what was before it..:) A comment from you after a looooooong time!

Sriram, :)


I blend in but there's always a conflict inside me..:)

thanks! :) You've overcome part of the struggle by going back!

Anonymous said...

Welcome to earth girl! Lived on Andromeda all these days? :))

To think that mughals belonged to India is sacrilege enough. There have been umpteen number of instances in history that rule out such thoughts. Somnath being a standing point of it all. What is there to be proud of the Taj Mahal? A tomb? There are more splendid pieces of architecture in India that go without mention. The Taj is an attempt by the British to further divide India's people and strip it of its originality. And as ever, we fawn over such deluded attempts at pride. No foreign settlers of India have been as commendable as the Parsees who immigrated during the time of Jehangir. All through history, there are battles, wars and war cries of the Hindus who were massacred for just belonging to their faith. Akbar was the worst of them all. He converted hundreds by simply marrying them. India has been enriched by the Mughal rule in some ways : Urdu, Hindustani, Cuisine. But has lost enough and more. I would not trade these for what we lost in a 100000000 years. The peacock throne of the Shah was not mughal. It was stolen from Indian kings during conquests. Amicable solution? The Bahadur was already reduced to a despot when the Bristish took over India. Given the time, we would have sprung back and snapped the jaws shut on the Mughals. Do you think the Shah of Persia would have allowed the East India Company to Persia? After the history that preceded the British? It was only the short sightedness of Jehangir which ruined India and in the process consumed the Mughals. The mughals are remembered because of the recentness in history. Time shall soon oblieterate the invaders and what will remain is the culture of India.

Immigrants today can never be compared to invaders of yester years. Today we still stand belittled at lands which belong to the invaders who still don't forget that India was ruled by their ancestors years ago. The call is of the freedom and belonging which India affords us : The only place in the world, where we can hold up our heads high and say, "We are tolerant. Ahimsa. Non alignment and peace" :all in exchange for one word :bravery. It is the voice of cowardice that calls us back. If we had been proud enough, the Kohinoor would have been back in India now. The largest diamond mined in Golconda: we sold it to the British at a negative premium.



prabukarthik said...


>>So #1 means that NRIs are quite similar to Babur except we're not rulers..
Thats a big EXCEPT i believe :)
Tell me what was the respect and treatment meted out to the native americans by the 'liberty, equality, fraternity' proclaiming clan of british colonialists that is the americans of today.
why do we expect the mughals to be any different?

2. there may be hype around the taj. but the structure was worth the time on hyping too... ofcourse another 1000 years down the line, if some other force decides to decimate the taj, that would be the end of the story. thats the way it has always been and i am okay with that prospect(we can't do anything anyway).

3.his heirs thinking the same reflects how much they have (or have not)actually assimilated into the then prevailing general local way of life. given the respect invaders usually have for the locals, i am not totally surprised by this.

4.(added as a bonus. hehehehe)I am baffled by this 'culture'and 'history' funda where apparently there is always a culture infinitely superior to all other cultures of the world. lot of people hold such notions honestly..

The very mention of the word 'culture' makes me point to the youtube video where kamal expresses his view during the release of virumandi :)

sridhar said...

Only Akber of all the Muslim rulers that ruled India was lot better from the beginning compared to other Muslim rulers, and Akber was having independent thinking, rather than blindly follow like a sheep, of whatever was said by the Islamic spiritual maniacs(Who anyway, had taught their followers with half-knowledge). Akber was considerate to all the religions and viewed religion and GOD as two different aspects, instead of viewing both as same, just as the destination and directions to reacht he destination are different. Akber went to an extent that he even Inscribed the Sayings of Lord Jesus Christ at that time itself as part of his official rules, in Fatehpur sikri, referred to as Silasasan.

While, the current India and Indians only look at their Material achievements that were left to them by the Islamic rulers, they donot understand the loss that those Muslim rulers did under the influence of the Islamic maniacs and fanatics. Islamic maniacs had done more damage to India than anyone else, including britishers. Infact, Britishers gave us back, as vast and unified India, even though they looted only the monetary goodies that India had and may have treated Indians as slaves, while they didnot touch for much part, the religious or ethical aspects of Indians.

But, muslim fanatics had disturbed the core of the Indian & Vedic Hinduism values, and destroyed majority of temples under their ruling, and also ultimately ended up dividing India in to India, Pakistan & Bangladesh. You would not consider it a big sin, if you even kill a person for the sake of Money, but if you kill a person in the name of Religion, then probably this is the biggest sin.

While, coming to the conversions by islamic maniacs in India, they thought what Indians was following was Idolatory, and hence misused their power, but in reality, what Islamic maniacs were themselves doing , is a practice of idolatory, by misinterpreting the term "kafir" or "infidel" or "non-believer".

This term if you take a spiritual meaning, rather than literal meaning, it implies any one who donot have a personal experience of ALL PERVADING DIVINITY OR GOD OR ALLAH OR PARAMATMA OR HEAVENLY FATHER OR UNIVERSAL COUNCIOUSNESS, is to be considered as an infidel, since such persons are prone to the illusion of the creation or duality of the world or maya or saitan or satan etc. Such persons are far away from realizing ones own state of universalness , and had fallen from this universalness, by themselves yielding to the nature and its pleasures and thus became slave to the nature or creation, while in reality was supposed to be superior to the nature. The slavery includes getting stuck in the cycle of life and death, diseases, getting affected by the pain and pleasures of the world, feeling pain of the world, crossing the universal & impartial laws etc.Such a person is to be referred to as KAFIR OR NON-BELIEVER OR INFIDEL. If you go with this meaning, 99.99% of all Muslims also are KAFIRS.



While the term Bramhin to refer to the ones who had a personal realization of self as SOUL, is inclusive, the term KAFIR in Islam is just the other way of referring to BRAMHIN, which is exclusive form. This is similar to saying "A glass if half full OR aA glass is half Empty".

Afterall, whoever says whatever about GOD or universal laws of nature, they all have to say same, no matter when they have to say, but the words or how they say may differ. This is the case with all religions, but those who interpret and preach to others should be very very careful, otherwise, gross misuse of the power will happen and Humanity values gets affected. Ofcourse, those who misuse their powers, even by mistake WILL HAVE TO PAY BACK FOR THEIR MISTAKES BY INCURRING PUNISHMENT AS PER THE UNIVERSAL LAWS OF CREATION THAT DONOT HAVE ANY PARTIALITY TOWARDS HINDUS OR MUSLIMS OR CHRISTIANS OR ANY ONE ELSE.

And finally, if you look at the violence that some Hindus commit against some muslims, which anyway is an isolated incidents, they are PURELY REACTIVE rather than proactive ones. If you want to change the way things work, you need to understand and accept the mistakes and try to turn around the things with patience and understanding, and this is what is the job beore Muslims of India.

sridhar said...


Please read the book autobiography of a yogi by Swami Paramahamsa Yogananda and you will find that, even though there may be differences between east & West, at cosmetic levels, the CORE teachings of the religions of both East and West are one and the same.

Here is the online version of this book:

You can get this book in any book stores like Barnes & Nobles and Online You can read the reviews for this book online as well on Amazon as well. Also, this book is selected as one of the best books for this millennium top 100 books.

Here are the acclaims that this book gathered from all over the world, irrespective of race, religion, nationality, creed,sex etc material and mind level differences:

AFTER ALL, IF YOU PROVIDE KNOWLEDGE AND WISDOM THAT TOUCHES THE SOUL OR THE SPECK OF COUNCIOUSNESS, WHICH EVERY INDIVIDUAL IN THIS WORLD IS ACTUALLY IS, YOU CANNOT RESIST THAT KNOWLEDGE AND WISDOM. Please read the book and will consider yourself as being gifted to get access to this knowledge, that clears the riddles that the current world humans face.

Badhri said...

On the other hand good that Moghuls ruled us for a while, else we would not have all those beautiful white-skinned Bollywood stars. India would have been predominently brown skinned.

Yuck, Nauseating.

I know it sounds silly after 500 years. But here we are, preening our Mughal heritage to the world, crowing about Mughal paintings, music and the Taj Mahal as examples of beautiful, "Indian" art while the king who created it really felt like he was a Persian and not really part of Hindustan!

Why not look at it this way? They plundered us, persecuted us. But in the end they died the same way the killed. Today, the priceless artforms, architectures that *they* created is touted as Indian and not Persian or Afghan.

I guess taking a step back and not looking at it from near (as you did ) does give a more soothing picture!

Insightful post

finding thyself said...

A good post.

To all the people who agree or disagree with the proclamation of TAJ as the face of Indian architecture and heritage, kindly watch this video. If you have already done so, then you would know where TAJ stands today. If not kindly watch it, it is an eyeopener. (the videos is called Temples of South India) and i think every SI needs to know of this. I might be biased singling out the rest of India.