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Indian Summers, Episode 2, Season 1, Its all A Mystery To Me

This review contains spoilers, consider yourself warned.

Indian Summers was back this Sunday night on Masterpiece Theatre. This installment was even worse than the last one. This show has become so mysterious that it is completely opaque now. In addition to the attempt murder of last week this week has an actual murder made to look like a suicide attempt. There is drama, there is sex, there is violence, there is too much going on to keep things straight.

Unfortunately, none of the characters are particularly interesting. I suppose we are meant to sympathize with the simpering Alice Whelan, because she has developed some sympathies towards Aafrin Dalal, the guy who got shot last week. She seems rather clueless. First she abandons her guests who are especially there to pay her a visit to burst unannounced into Dalal’s house.  She then blurts out about Aafrin’s injuries which the family had managed to keep a secret from their ailing father (Roshan Seth).

The other goody goody British character, missionary Doug is rather unsympathetic too, last week he was flirting with a co-worker and this week he was emotionally unavailable to his wife, a meddling busybody, who is a piece of work. Dougie’s unpleasant wife Sarah, is also a budding detective, who is trying to get to the bottom of the mystery of Alice’s missing husband. She wrote  a letter to her peeps in London asking them to investigate. Truth be told, I cannot muster an ounce of sympathy for any of the  British characters in this show.  It 1932 and way past the the time for British Crown to let go of India.  In fact it should have been done after the end of World War I, instead the British presence is becoming an increasingly desperate attempt to keep the restive Indians under the colonial heel.

Obviously, the series makers want us to root for Ralph Whelan  against our own better judgment, since he is so pretty. I couldn’t care less,  they all seem terribly pompous and even more unforgivable for a TV show, unbearably dull. Even the scheming Cynthia was torpid in this episode, perhaps she had a hangover from the party in episode 1. The Indian characters aren’t all that interesting either, so far I only like Dalal’s youngest sister, the one in the school uniform.

The focus of the action or rather inaction was the assassin who has been identified now as Chandru Mohan of the Madras Presidency, who seems to have known Whelan, who called him rakshas (demon). As an aside, Channel 4 better hire Hindi dialect coaches ASAP because their Indian characters cannot pronounce simple Hindi words like rakshas and zindabad correctly. Kaiser, the mustachioed main minion of Cynthia Coffin helped forge a fake Congress membership letter for Mr. Mohan, who was found dead at the end of the episode but not before he got to beat up Ralph Whelan into a bloody pulp. Why would an Indian have the name Kaiser, or has Cynthia renamed him? Equally mysterious, American houseguest throwing herself at Ralph Whelan again at the end of the episode. Why? Is this so called heiress without any prospects that she has to bait cold fish Whelan in sweltering India of all places. Why is she even there?

Then there was also an Indian journalist a certain Mr. Khan who was trying to figure out the reason behind the attempted murder. Despite the obvious photo-op at Aafrin’s bed, Mr. Khan’s seems to have figured out that the shooting was more a case of personal vendetta and not a political act.

In other happenings, Adam the Anglo-Indian child who was rescued by Dougie and Leena was trying to stab himself with a thin blade, what’s his sad story, I wonder. Why did  Aafrin’s girlfriend Sita and his sister Sooni had a rendezvous in the cemetery?  I have no idea. Its somewhat understandable that the two lovebirds of different religions have to meet under the cover of darkness and in secret, but why these women?

Anyway I am fast losing interest in this show and its convoluted happenings. I am going to give it one more chance, mainly because I am interested in the history of the time period and second  also because reviewers who have seen the entire season in the UK say that the show gets better. We shall see. 

In case you missed it, review for the first episode is here.

Grade: C

https://i2.wp.com/www.victorianweb.org/art/architecture/irwin/1.jpg

This used to be the Viceroy’s Lodge in Shimla (From Victorian Web)

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Nisid Hajari’s Narrative of India’s Partition Leaves Much to be Desired

India’s partition, or the last bloody gift of the not so benevolent British rule, is one of those events that echo through history and haunt the present. You cannot understand the geopolitics of the region without understanding the precipitating event that lead to the birth of the two countries.

I started reading Nisid Hajari’s Midnight’s Furies on the partition of India,  because of the glowing reviews it had received. I have made it up to a hundred pages so far. To say that it is flawed doesn’t even begin to cover my annoyance with Hajari’s narration. My critique is based on the first 100 pages of Furies and his essay on India’s partition. Here are the reasons why:

1. The moral equivalence between the case for a pluralistic India vs. an exclusionary Pakistan based solely on religion.

2. Gossipy narration worthy of supermarket tabloids, to wit, Nehru liked buxom women, well him and a majority of the male populace. This hardly counts as an insight or even an interesting factoid.

3. The British only provide the backdrop to the melodrama between Mohandas Gandhi, Mohammed Ali Jinnah and Jawaharlal Nehru, Hajari absolves them of all agency and responsibility.

4. Getting the basics wrong, like the meaning of Satyagraha.

Satyagraha is literally soul force.

It is literally not. “satya” = truth “agraha” = insistence. In other words, Satyagraha is the insistence on truth no matter the consequences.  I can almost imagine Yoda-Gandhi saying to Skywalker-Nehru,

May the soul force be with you.

BTW. what is RSSS? Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh is usually abbreviated as RSS not RSSS

5.  Flowery language, top heavy with adjectives.

Several of the Muslim conquerors who had dominated India before the British had brutalized their defeated Hindu foes, massacring thousands and demolishing their flower-strewn temples.

What does this even mean?  I have been to several temples, they are seldom flower strewn, the only flowers one usually finds are on the deity behind the altar.

6. Criticizing leaders of the past based on their followers in the present.

Equally troubling was the moral cover the Mahatma granted his longtime followers Nehru and “Sardar” Vallabhbhai Patel — a Gujarati strongman much admired by Modi, who also hails from Gujarat and who served as the state’s chief minister for over a decade. Echoing Gandhi’s injunction against pushing anyone into Pakistan against their wishes, Nehru and Patel insisted that the huge provinces of Punjab and Bengal be split into Muslim and non-Muslim halves, with the latter areas remaining with India.

Considering what happened to East Pakistan in 1971 and the travails of Pakistan’s other minorities, Patel and Nehru’s actions seem particularly prescient.  I also have no idea what Narendra Modi has to do with any of this.

7. Too much focus on personalities, too little on the events and imperatives, not to speak of the history, that lead to the partition. Some background into the formation of the Muslim League would have been helpful. Shorter Hajari, If the main personalities in the conflict got along better, everything would have been fine. This approach strikes me as ahistorical and wrong. You cannot expect to understand the events of 1946-47 if you have no idea what went on before. Jinnah’s personal history including the difficult relationship with the Congress leaders, is not enough to understand the demand for Pakistan.

8. I have saved the best or should I say worst of all, leaps of logic that leave you scratching your head, like blaming the leaders of the Indian Independence Movement for the mess that Pakistan is currently in.

But however exaggerated Pakistan’s fears may be now, Indian leaders bear great responsibility for creating them in the first place.

So are the ghosts of Gandhi, Nehru and Patel compelling Pakistan to perform self destructive deeds from beyond their grave?

However, I do have to give Hajari’s book credit for making me want to dig deeper about the history of the partition and case for Pakistan. While doing that I came across a better narrator, B. R. Ambedkar, the father of the Indian Constitution. Ambedkar like Jinnah had locked horns with Gandhi on several occasions and they did not see eye to eye on many an issue. So, Ambedkar is as close to a neutral party as one can get in this saga, who was also an eye witness and a participant to the major political struggles that ultimately led to the division of India.

B. R. Ambedkar’s remarkable commentary on the case for Pakistan written was written in 1940, it is hosted on Columbia University’s website. Ambedkar, an alumnus of Columbia besides being a prolific writer was an  economist and a lawyer by profession. My thoughts on Ambedkar and his commentary has to wait for another post.

The Honourable East India Company

Post Citizens-United many worry about the undue influence of corporations on the democratic process. It has happen before, in the late eighteenth and the early nineteenth centuries. The shareholders of a joint stock company once decided the fate of millions and had many lawmakers in their back pocket.

Before  British Raj* there was Company Raj. The East India Company made its first territorial gains in India in 1757.  Its territorial conquest of most of India was complete by the 1820s. It passed on the torch to the British Crown in 1858, after the bruising First of battle of Independence or the Indian Mutiny (depending on whom you ask) of 1857.

East India Company was a joint-stock company  granted a charter for monopoly trade rights by Queen Elizabeth I in 1600. It made its first Indian foray in 1610. So for almost 150 years the Company was content to operate  various factories  dotting the long Indian coast line. Three of these factory towns grew to become the cities of Bombay (now Mumbai), Calcutta (now Kolkata) and Madras(now Chennai). These factories were   fortified garrisons where factors or merchants met and carried out their business.

Neither were the British the only ones who had established these factories in India, they had competition from the Dutch, the Portuguese, the French and even the Danes. So eat your heart out Tom Friedman, the world was flat and globalized not only before you were born but long before Britain’s thirteen former colonies declared independence from their original motherland.

The first age of globalization turned exploitative and ugly real fast, especially so after the advent of the  industrial revolution. The East India Company was the prime example of these excesses and egregious practices. Adam Smith, Karl Marx and Edmund Burke,  were all prominent critics of the East India Company.

So just how did a joint stock company come to rule all of  India? Its something I want to figure out as a part of my exploration of British rule in India. My initial interest in this topic was sparked by Shashi Tharoor’s impassioned and witty performance at the Oxford Union debate.

*Raj is the Anglicized version of the Sanskrit Rajya, which means rule.

Happy 69th, India

India is celebrating its 69th independence day. On 15th August 1947, at the stroke of midnight, the long nightmare of British rule was finally over. The departing British gave the  newly independent India one last parting gift of a hasty partition which left millions dead and displaced.  My interest in the British rule, both the Company Raj (1757-1858) and then the British Raj (1858-1947) has been heightened ever since I heard the Indian Member of Parliament, Shashi Tharoor, argue for reparations for the colonial rule at the Oxford Union debate.

The reality of the colonial rule was far from the enlightened ideals the Victorians liked to lecture upon. Nothing highlights this difference between the ideals and the reality than devastating famines that ravaged the country side at regular intervals and the official British response. With more than 45 million dead, it was nothing less than genocide by starvation and disease.

Quite simply, Indian lives meant little to their British administrators throughout the duration of the Raj. A fact brought home by Churchill’s response to the Bengal famine during the height of World War II and Mountbatten’s hurried and inept handover of power which lead to the death and displacement of millions of Indians.

Although, the possibility that India will get back any of the unprecedented loot from India, including but not limited to the Queen’s crown jewels is remote, it is not too late to discuss who gained what from the Empire. Especially since these days we see a hankering for a “benevolent empire” from some quarters. We heard the same tired excuses that justified the overreaches of Europe’s colonial era trotted out during the buildup to the Iraq War. A war which was supposed to bring democracy to the Middle East but has brought  mayhem and anarchy instead.

It is also important from the Indian context to look back at history and figure out how a handful of people from a tiny remote island  far away could impose their will on a once mighty ancient civilization. However those are posts for another day. I leave you with this, an instrumental rendition by the masters of Indian classical music of India’s national anthem penned by Rabindranath Tagore. It showcases the tremendous cultural diversity of the nation.

Instrumental Version of India’s National Anthem