Thursday, February 21, 2013

Famine of 1802 - Loss of India to British

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Following is the description of great Famine of 1802 in India by one of the earlier Marathi poets of modern era, Anant Fandi (1744-1817). This is his description of the second great famine in India in late Maratha era (first was 1790-92 - Doji Bara famine) of 1802. Anant Fandi  composed this poem in 1802 and named it Dushkaal (Famine).

This poem gives several pointers at the extent of deaths, poverty and inflation which was caused due to the consecutive famines in India. This famine coincides with downfall of Maratha Empire. Prior to this event, Maratha Empire was in its full zenith, with Mughal emperor living as their pensioner. They practically controlled the Judicial-political-economic policies of most of India (except Bengal, Deep south and Punjab). They had decisively defeated Nizam of Hyderabad and Tipu Sultan and were poised to reclaim Bengal from British East India Company, when this famine struck.

The map below shows the extent of Maratha empire from 1760 onwards until 1805. Third battle of Panipat lead to temporary loss of India over Haryana and Delhi, which Marathas reclaimed in 1772 until 1805.

Similar famine had sapped their strength in 1790s. It is indeed almost miraculous how a pan Indian empire commanding 4-5 armies all over India almost quarter-million strong, finest artillery in India and revenue of 25-30 Crore rupees (these are revenue figures from Maratha sources, inflation not adjusted). Economy of India further faltered and stumbled after exploits of Aurangzeb century ago. After Maratha-Mughal wars ended with Maratha victory, stability slowly started returning to war-ravaged Deccan, Central and North India. It was indeed stupendous bad-luck of India that this famine broke the back of Marathas. With defeat of Marathas in Battle of Delhi and Assaye in 1802-03, practically entire India was won over by EIC. Until 1802, EIC was limited to Bengal and some parts around Chennai, rest of India was controlled by Marathas and Sikhs (Ranjit Singh of Punjab).

वृक्षास न राहे एक पर्ण। मग अपक्व राहतील कोठून ।
सोतरोठे बरबडे भक्षून । तरी वांचले नाहींत ।। 1

वृषभ धेनु सूकर श्वाने । मज्र मंडूक गणपतीवाहने ।
सर्वही भक्षिले भिकार्याने । शेवटी प्राण गेले हो ।। 2

असे जे भक्षू नये ते भक्षिले । शेवटी ईश्वरी उपेक्षिले ।
त्यातून चवथाई रक्षिले ! तीन हिस्से गतप्राण ।। 3

हाताने तोलावे सुवर्ण । धान्य मोजावे ताजव्याने ।
अच्छेर दीडपाव दाणे । रुपयाचे ते ही न मिळे ।। 4

कोण प्रेताला ओढितो । येथे अवघ्यांचा प्राण जातो।
कोण कोणाचा समाचार घेतो । यात वांचतो कोणता ।। 5

सरी सर्वत्रलागी जाणा । एकसारख्याची वेदना।। 

धनाढ्यासी न मिळे दाणा। मग निर्धन कैसा वाचतो ।। 6

Crude Translation:

1. All trees are leaf-less, from where shall fruit remain?
People have consumed leafless branches, roots, seeds, everything...

2. Oxen, pigs, dogs, cats, frogs, rats
People ate everything that lived, and in the end they perished as well

3. What one should not consume, was consumed (referring to cows), yet Gods forsake us,
Only one-fourth of us live, three-fourths have perished

4. A gram of cereals became as expensive as handful of gold coins,
Grains which were available for one and half paisas, now even a Rupee cannot fetch

5. Who will burn whom? Everyone is going to perish here
Who cares for whom? Who is going to survive this anyways?

6. Everywhere, the pain is similar,
Even the rich have nothing to eat, what will happen to poor?
One of the finest and thoroughly researched articles on this topic can be read here on Jambudvipa's blog. Jambudvipa focuses on famine deaths happened in India during the time British East India Company started occupying India and messing up with the internal trade-dynamics of India.

Internal trade of India has always been crucial. Deccan is comparatively less fertile than Gangetic valley region and Indo-Gangetic plain has been grain basket of India (it still is). Punjab was slowly recovering from 700 years of Islamic occupation when Sikhs were consolidating.

I recommend everyone to go through this blog cited above. And Jambudvipa, this is one the internal references (although not quantitative one) from an Indian eye-witness of that era.

From point of view of history lover, the Maratha debacle of 1802 was unexpected and all to sudden. Arthur Wellesley, the British general who defeated Marathas in 1802, went on to be known as Archduke of Wellington and defeated Napoleon in 1815 on Waterloo. He, in own admission, considered this war toughest of his career which he least expected to win and survive. We now refer to this war which lasted for 3 years (1802-05) as Second Anglo-Maratha War.

Friday, February 15, 2013

The Tale of Two Butchers - A lesson on Satya and Ahimsa

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Some times, best of the lessons are learnt and taught, not in classrooms but in times and places where the distinction between life and death, is murkiest. Consider the example of Bhagvad Geeta - Who would have thought that the sublime song would be sung on the battlefield which saw death of forty lakh soldiers? Yet it did. This post today, will recount a tale of two such unlikely teachers who taught the characters in the story (and us, the readers and onlookers) the quintessential lesson of Dharma and Duty. 

Tale One - Dharma Vyadha (धर्मव्याध) - From Mahabharata (Book three, chapters 206-216)

As a typical Indian story begins, once upon a time there was a poor Brahmin named "Kaushika". He learnt all that was to learn from Vedas and decided to do a "Tapas" to sharpen his Yogic prowess and gain knowledge and Siddhis. He began his Tapas. Years passed by. The glow of the penance started showing on his face and his very aura started becoming radiant. One day, while he was meditating under a tree, his concentration was disturbed when a sparrow started making noise while trying to build a nest on the tree. Angry, Kaushika glanced at the sparrow causing nuisance and lo! sparrow turned to ashes that very instant. 
Pleased by his progress, he went to a town nearby to ask for Bhiksha. While asking for alms on one door, the lady of the house took long time to answer his call and give the alms. This angered our Kaushika who threatened to curse the lady and burn her down with his Yogic Powers. But to his surprise, the lady replied that she was neither a crow nor a sparrow, to be burnt. Kaushika is amazed to see that an average housewife had such sophisticated Yogic powers without having to do the stringent austerities. The Lady replied that by doing one's duty, one can achieve all that is to be achieved. She redirected Kaushika to a butcher living in the city of Mithila who, according to lady, would impart knowledge unto this learned Brahmin. 
Curioser and curioser, Kaushika decides to check out this Butcher whom the lady referred to as "Dharma-Vyaadha". He reaches Mithila, tracks down the meat-shop of the said butcher and is horrified at the sight of blood and meat and death around. He gives up the expectation of gaining any knowledge, but now that he had come this far, he decides to atleast meet and talk with this butcher. The Butcher, however, guesses the intent of this brahmin and requests him to wait until his shop is closed, so that he can instruct the brahmin about the intricacies of Dharma as told by the housewife in another city. Kaushika gets second surprise of his life and his arrogance is thoroughly grounded and replaced by genuine curiosity, befitting an ideal student. 
DharmaVyaadha starts his instruction,"Oh tapasvi, I will instruct you upon the nature of Dharma and Ahimsa by my own example. I am in this business because my family has been in this business for generations. Upon careful thinking, I found out that this business suits me well. I devote all my time to ensure that my customers are satisfied with my service. Furthermore, it allows me to take care of my old parents as well as family while ability to have a decent life in this good city. Do not judge an act as good OR bad. No act is of higher OR lower stature. It is higher OR lower based on the driving force behind that act. Right action is achieved by the means of coordinated efforts in two directions - Controlling the six enemies (Kaama/Krodha/Lobha/Moha/Mada/Matsara) and strengthening Dharmik intent of the mind. Any action under influence of these six enemies is bad action. 
Ahimsaa (nonviolence) and Satya (truth) are the two main pillars of Dharma. A decision on what is truth, under difficult circumstances, should be made by choosing that course of action which would lead to highest good of all that is (Bhuta). And Ahimsa is when person wishes and acts for benefit of all keeping the true understanding of Justice (Nyaya) and virtues (GuNa)." 
Knowledge and bliss dawns upon Kaushika who thanks the Butcher and bid him farewell. Butcher gives him final lesson,"Oh learned Brahmana, in quest of mastering Vedas and acquiring Yogic Siddhis, you have neglected your duties towards your parents, your family and have become ascetic. You learned from me, but you also have to learn from the housewife who sent you here. Dharma and knowledge can be achieved perfectly by staying in the society and fulfilling all the duties and earning all the Purusharthas. You have to pay back the dues to parents, to society before you are liberated (Mukta). Quit Sannyasa, go back home, take care of your parents, start family. You have my blessing, knowledge will shine upon you."

It is both interesting and humbling that one of the finest lesson on Non-violence given to a brahmin, not by some enlightened mahatma, but by a Butcher who's occupation is to kill animals. There is an elaborate story where the butcher tells Kaushika about is past life and how Shudras and brahmins are defined. They arrive upon a conclusion that good conduct alone determines who is brahmin and who is not. And good or bad is, is determined by the bold part in quote above. Possession of qualities like Purity, Discipline and adherence to truth alone makes one a brahmin, irrespective of the caste a person is born into and not the birth.

Tale Two - The story of Gopalchandra Mukhopadhyay aka Gopal Patha

Gopal `Patha' Mukherjee, Gopal the Goat was among the most feared of Calcutta's musclemen, with 800 boys at his command. He was an emperor and they were his army. Gopal Patha he got the name because his family ran a meat shop on College Street was, at the time of partition, a protector of his community.  
When Direct Action Day unleashed communal rioting in Calcutta, Gopal Patha assembled his force. In his words, "It was a very critical time for the country. We thought if the whole area became Pakistan, there would be more torture and repression. So I called all my boys together and said it was time to retaliate. If you come to know that one murder has taken place, you commit 10 murders. That was the order to my boys.'' 
The words are uttered so softly, it takes a while for their import to sink in. Calcutta was in flames and Gopal Patha, in effect, took the opportunity to douse the city in kerosene. "It was basically duty,'' he said. "I had to help those in distress." Patha ripostes that his boys were always selective. "We only fought and killed our attackers. But why should we kill an ordinary rickshaw-wallah or hawker who happens to be a Muslim?" 
"An year later when Mahatma Gandhi came to city appealing for peace, people came with their weapons and placed them at the feet of Gandhiji. Shabbily-dressed people came with swords, daggers and country-made guns. However not me. Gandhi called me twice, but I didn't go. The third time, some local Congress leaders told me that I should at least deposit some of my arms. I went there. I saw people coming and depositing weapons which were of no use to anyone out-of-order pistols, that sort of thing. 
Then Gandhi's secretary said to me: "Gopal, why don't you surrender your arms to Gandhiji?" I replied, "With these arms I saved the women of my area, I saved the people. I will not surrender them. Where was Gandhiji during the Great Calcutta Killing? Where was he then? Even if I've used a nail to kill someone, I won't surrender even that nail.'' - click to view source of this story

I find a strange connection in these two stories. I think Gopal Patha understood the crux of Satya and Ahimsa in far better proportions than Gandhiji during those difficult times. The more I think about it, the more I realized that the words of Dharma-Vyaadha resonated in essence from words and actions of criminals and butchers like Gopalchandra Mukherjee. 

As Dharmavyadha said in first tale, it is the driving force behind the action which determines its moral position. Satya is choosing a course of action which would lead to higher good in long term of living beings in the frame of reference. And Ahimsa is acting for benefit of all with true sense of Justice and Virtues. 

What eventually happened to Hindus in Pakistan and Bangladesh? And What has happened to Muslims in India? This is the frame of reference to judge the higher an long-term good of humans. And this should be frame of reference while using the terms like Satya and Ahimsa in context of socio-politico-economic events happening in Indian subcontinent.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Parshuraam ki Pratiksha - Ramdhaari Singh "Dinkar"

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हे वीर बन्धु ! दायी है कौन विपद का ?
हम दोषी किसको कहें तुम्हारे वध का ?

यह गहन प्रश्न; कैसे रहस्य समझायें ?
दस-बीस अधिक हों तो हम नाम गिनायें।
पर, कदम-कदम पर यहाँ खड़ा पातक है,
हर तरफ लगाये घात खड़ा घातक है।

घातक है, जो देवता-सदृश दिखता है,
लेकिन, कमरे में गलत हुक्म लिखता है,
जिस पापी को गुण नहीं; गोत्र प्यारा है,
समझो, उसने ही हमें यहाँ मारा है।

जो सत्य जान कर भी न सत्य कहता है,
या किसी लोभ के विवश मूक रहता है,
उस कुटिल राजतन्त्री कदर्य को धिक् है,
यह मूक सत्यहन्ता कम नहीं वधिक है।

चोरों के हैं जो हितू, ठगों के बल हैं,
जिनके प्रताप से पलते पाप सकल हैं,
जो छल-प्रपंच, सब को प्रश्रय देते हैं,
या चाटुकार जन से सेवा लेते हैं;

यह पाप उन्हीं का हमको मार गया है,
भारत अपने घर में ही हार गया है।
है कौन यहाँ, कारण जो नहीं विपद् का ?
किस पर जिम्मा है नहीं हमारे वध का ?

जो चरम पाप है, हमें उसी की लत है,
दैहिक बल को रहता यह देश ग़लत है।
नेता निमग्न दिन-रात शान्ति-चिन्तन में,
कवि-कलाकार ऊपर उड़ रहे गगन में।

यज्ञाग्नि हिन्द में समिध नहीं पाती है,
पौरुष की ज्वाला रोज बुझी जाती है।

ओ बदनसीब अन्धो ! कमजोर अभागो ?
अब भी तो खोलो नयन, नींद से जागो।
वह अघी, बाहुबल का जो अपलापी है,
जिसकी ज्वाला बुझ गयी, वही पापी है।

जब तक प्रसन्न यह अनल, सुगुण हँसते है;
है जहाँ खड्ग, सब पुण्य वहीं बसते हैं।
वीरता जहाँ पर नहीं, पुण्य का क्षय है,
वीरता जहाँ पर नहीं, स्वार्थ की जय है।

तलवार पुण्य की सखी, धर्मपालक है,
लालच पर अंकुश कठिन, लोभ-सालक है।
असि छोड़, भीरु बन जहाँ धर्म सोता है,
पातक प्रचण्डतम वहीं प्रकट होता है।

तलवारें सोतीं जहाँ बन्द म्यानों में,
किस्मतें वहाँ सड़ती है तहखानों में।
बलिवेदी पर बालियाँ-नथें चढ़ती हैं,
सोने की ईंटें, मगर, नहीं कढ़ती हैं।

पूछो कुबेर से, कब सुवर्ण वे देंगे ?
यदि आज नहीं तो सुयश और कब लेंगे ?
तूफान उठेगा, प्रलय-वाण छूटेगा,है
जहाँ स्वर्ण, बम वहीं, स्यात्, फूटेगा।

जो करें, किन्तु, कंचन यह नहीं बचेगा,
शायद, सुवर्ण पर ही संहार मचेगा।
हम पर अपने पापों का बोझ न डालें,
कह दो सब से, अपना दायित्व सँभालें।

कह दो प्रपंचकारी, कपटी, जाली से,
आलसी, अकर्मठ, काहिल, हड़ताली से,
सी लें जबान, चुपचाप काम पर जायें,
हम यहाँ रक्त, वे घर में स्वेद बहायें।

हम दें उस को विजय, हमें तुम बल दो,
दो शस्त्र और अपना संकल्प अटल दो।
हों खड़े लोग कटिबद्ध वहाँ यदि घर में,
है कौन हमें जीते जो यहाँ समर में ?

हो जहाँ कहीं भी अनय, उसे रोको रे !
जो करें पाप शशि-सूर्य, उन्हें टोको रे !
जा कहो, पुण्य यदि बढ़ा नहीं शासन में,
या आग सुलगती रही प्रजा के मन में;

तामस बढ़ता यदि गया ढकेल प्रभा को,
निर्बन्ध पन्थ यदि मिला नहीं प्रतिभा को,
रिपु नहीं, यही अन्याय हमें मारेगा,
अपने घर में ही फिर स्वदेश हारेगा ?