Mera Bharat Mahan!

Last year, I’d taken my son to the U S of A just before Halloween and he was so impressed with that concept. And his cousin later called to tell him she has bags & bags of candy from Halloween that should last till Christmas and he felt so cheated.

“Amma, Can I dress up in a costume and get candy from people in Chennai?” He asked.

I was horrified. “No way! They’ll think it’s some new-age begging!” I said.

“Why???? Won’t people be kind enough to kids to give them candy?”

“It’s an American concept da.” I explained. “Not everyone will know the meaning of Halloween here.”

“You know what? ” He said, narrowing his eyes. “I hate being an Indian. Indian festivals are noisy & scary, they do not like giving candies to kids, the roads are so filthy, people around us are so rude to each other. And everything is so difficult here. Can we please, please go & live in America? People there are so kind to kids. It’s so much cleaner and everything is just awesome!”

I was horrified at his lack of patriotism.

“How dare you say that? ” I bellowed. “India is your home country. If you say you hate it, it’s like saying you hate your own mother. Do you get me?’

He was shocked at my outburst. “But Amma, I’m only telling you the truth!” he countered.

“Enough! Not one word from you”. I said and resumed driving, seething inside.

But then I calmed down after giving it a lot of thought.

Now whose fault is that children these days do not feel the tug of pride about their own country?

I can’t speak for all kids, but other kids like mine – have never heard of the freedom struggle. the Brits are just another source of toys to them. They get to taste life in other countries either by first hand experience on holidyas or by all the movies and serials they watch.

They have at least one aunt or uncle happily settled abroad.

Most of our cities have malls &  stores just like the one they see abroad.

When I was young, maybe because we were just one generation away from the freedom fighters, it was taken for granted that we were proud of our country and its achievements. We mugged up stories in school about Bhgath Singh, Kumaran, Gandhiji, Sardar Patel, so on & so forth.

Everyday at assembly we’d recite The Pledge.

Foreign countries were some far-off lands which we’d get a glimpse of only in Enid Blyton books or the occasional English movies one went to.

Almost all the movies in the theatres used to play the national anthem at the end and all of us stood ramrod straight to show our respect.

(My uncle used be furious if he ever caught me sitting down when they played the national anthem on tv!)

But today, with the world becoming a global village and all, there’s precious little we can do to make our kids patriotic.

My son hates Diwali because he’s terrified of crackers. He loves Christmas because he gets presents.

And new clothes & sweets are not exclusively for festivals anymore.

Now how do I inject patriotism into his mind?

Do I start by telling him stories of brave soldiers who laid their lives for our great nation’s independence?

Do I start educating him on our rich history and how we were miles ahead of any other country hundreds of years ago in every field?

Do I stand a chance getting his undivided attention while competing with the Ben 10s, Beyblades, Kick Buttoskis, PSPs of his world,  who hold him captive the second he gets home?

And when I see the news everyday about thousands of crores of rupees swindled in various scams by politicians, the sheer audacity of those in power, the cheap mind-games played, the vengence unleashed by some in power, and close to home the over-flowing garbage bins….

All make me feel I should just shut up and let him figure it out for himself.


The Twentieth WIfe – Book Review

I just finished ‘The Twentieth Wife’ by Indu Sundaresan. This book was written in 2002, but I got my hands on it only now.

This is essentially the story of Mehrunnisa- the twentieth wife of Emperor Jahangir.  The story takes us through lives of the lesser-known, but important people of the Mughal Dynasty – their women.

The book starts with Mehrunnisa’s birth enroute to India, when her parents flee Persia with three of her elder siblings.

Her father almost gives her up because he cannot afford to keep her, but she’s brought back to him by a kind soldier/noble who has taken him under his wings.

Once in India, he joins the court of Akbar & establishes himself in the Mughal government & rises to a good position.

Mehrunnisa sets her eyes on Salim, initially the errant son of Akbar on his wedding day when she’s barely nine years old. From then, she grows up dreaming of marrying him  & becoming an empress. But her dreams are thwarted when her father is forced by the emperor Akbar to marry her off to a valiant soldier from Persia, Ali Quli.

Mehrunnisa & Salim meet briefly by chance just before her wedding. Salim is captivated, but unable to stop her wedding. Her marriage takes her away from Agra & Lahore to Bengal, where her husband is posted. Married to a hard-core, alpha male soldier whose sensitive side is non-existent, Mehrunnisa pines for Salim and he in turn thinks of her often.

The story traces Salim’s frustration on not having the crown & his  rebellion against his father, egged on by his cohots.  And Mehrunisa’s loveless marriage simultaneously.

Once Salim becomes the emperor after Akbar’s death, his position is threatened by his own son who rebels against him. He manages to quell this with his well-appointed spies and loyal soldiers.

The story is fast-paced, set in the 1700s brings history alive.

We get a feel of various aspects in the lives of the royalty & especially their women, who are mostly shut in the Zenana, away from the prying eyes of the public. But still manage to be as powerful as their men and they too rule the country indirectly by advicing their men on various issues.

Mehrunnisa’s husband gets killed brutally by the army when he attacks  a General. And she’s brought back by Salim’s aide to safety in Akbar’s first wife’s Ruqqaya’s harem. Ruqqaya herself is like a self-appointed godmother to Mehrunnissa from her younger days and she’s only too happy to get them together, so she can regain some of her lost powers at the Zenana from Salim’s wife, the empress Jagat Gosini.

Mehrunnisa meets Salim again after 16 long years and this time as the emperor. His second son (Shah Jahan) is engaged to her nice who will later become the famous Mumtaz .

The story ends with Mehrunnisa marrying the emperor and gets the title ‘Nurjahan’ and is now the twentieth and the last wife of Emperor Jahangir.

Though the author claims it as a fictional story based on actual historic facts, it’s a very gripping tale which weaves around the various power struggles and seems convincing enough to be a real story. The characters are lively and one can relate to almost everyone. The events that unfold are all put together meticulously and there’s never a part which seems slack.

There’s a sequel to this ‘The Feast of Roses’ and I just can’t wait to read that now!