Saturday, April 27, 2013

Raja Ram Mohon Roy and Arnos Vale Cemetery of Bristol, England

Raja Ram Mohon Roy and Arnos Vale Cemetery of Bristol, England

Sachi G. Dastidar

For a long time we wanted to visit the Samadhi of Ram Mohon Roy (also Raja Ram Mohan Roy or Rajah Rammohun Roy; 1772-1833) and pay homage to the great man. While living in Dublin, Ireland my wife Shefali and I decided to fly across the Irish Sea and visit the grave in Arnos Vale Cemetery in Bristol. Ram Mohon is considered by many as the Father of Indian Renaissance, the Father of Bengal Renaissance, the Father of the Idea of Modern India, Founder of the Brahmo Samaj reformed religion in Hinduism which espoused caste less, gender equal, monotheistic, services in vernacular languages that people can understand easily and formless religion many of which are now part and parcel of modern Hindu practices. He also fought against many taboos, social ills and orthodoxy of the time. Ram Mohon was influenced by the liberal thinking of the Unitarian Church.

Arnos Vale is quite close to the train station, actually within walking distance of less than a kilometer on your left as you exit the train station. Two bus routes connect the cemetery, or one can take a taxi which takes no more than three minutes at a huge cost. Ram Mohon’s cemetery is barely 100 yards from the entrance as you turn right towards the Speilman Centre.

Among all the cemetery architecture with crosses and headstones Ram Mohon’s stands out distinctively as a Hindu shrine. Arnos Vale Cemetery Guidebook writes, “An extremely influential religious and political thinker, he coined the word ‘Hinduism’ as a term for diversity of Indian religions and wrote extensively on religious and social matters. He stressed the importance of education for Indians, campaigned for women’s rights and worked to end the traditional practice of sati, the burning of widows on the funeral pyres of their husbands…..

“This rare and beautiful tomb is now a listed monument and has long been a place of pilgrimage for Bengalis and Indians. It was repaired and conserved in 2008 using money donated to the Arnos Vale Trust by businessman Aditya Poddar.” (p 35)

The Cemetery has a nice park-like setting with flowering trees and paths for walking and biking. There are chapels and lodges among the beautiful monuments in the Cemetery. Now in the Speilman Centre there are exhibition, information as well as a nice restaurant. At the East Lodge there is a souvenir center selling cards and publications dedicated to Arnos Vale and more.

As it is expensive to maintain such a large property in the middle of the city, the owner of the property proposed to sell it to developers. To keep the property as a national heritage area citizens have formed Arnos Vale Cemetery Trust and Friends of Arnos Vale to raise funds and protect the property. They have to raise one million British pounds to achieve their goal. CEO of the organization is Juliette Randall. Anyone wishing to donate money, buy their publication or receive their newsletter may contact, or call (44) 0117-971-9117 or check the web at Mrs. Contractor, widow of an Indian Parsee, is a Member of the Board of Arnos Vale (2013.)
Raja Ram Mohon Roy Tomb

Inscription on the tomb for Rajah Rammohun Roy Bahadoor
Paying Homage
Back Inscription
Paying Homage
A Section of the Cemetery
Tributes left by Admirers
Paying Tribute
View from the Path
Bikers pause for a Look
A Section of the Cemetery
Part of the Cemetery
The Store run by Volunteers

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Wagha, Punjab – Atari, Punjab, India-Pakistan Border Crossing

Wagha, Punjab – Atari, Punjab, India-Pakistan Border Crossing

Sachi G. Dastidar

The fallout from the 1947 British-created Muslim League-demanded India-Pakistan border can be witnessed firsthand in the Wagha, Punjab and Atari, Punjab border crossing of Pakistan and India. This border crossing was created when British India’s Punjab Province was partitioned to (west) Punjab Province of Pakistan and that of (east) Punjab State of India. In that process almost the entire Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Buddhist and Christian minority was wiped out of Pakistan (after the 1947 partition.) In case of India although her Muslim population went down a bit after 1947 partition as most of her Muslim-majority areas became part of Pakistan but it has risen faster than the majority Hindu-Sikh-Jain-Buddhist-Christian population in spite of huge influx of Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, and Christians from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Pakistani Kashmir and Afghanistan.

The saga of the divide can be seen when one crosses the border line – if one can really cross it. This has been the sole border crossing for over six decades between the second-most and the sixth-most populous nation on earth. As Dastidars tried to cross the borders from Pakistan to India, their first attempt failed as they reached the crossing at 3:15 PM. The officials told them the border is open only for five hours till 3 PM, unless you are a very important person for whom it is open till 5 PM; which Dastidars were not. All attempts of their Pakistani hosts to prove to the border officials that their guests were important failed. Thus they had to make a second trip to cross the border.

But, as you see in the pictures below, the entire crossing was given to them as they were the only travelers trying to get to the other side.

The travelers were invited to stay till 5 PM to witness the spectacle of border closing ceremony – many locals call it tamasha – whereby the border guards do a dance-march to officially close the border gates and finally shaking hand with the other side! Dastidars refused to attend that ceremony because the border is supposed to be for people and good to pass through, not for dance-march.

One non-Hindu, non-Hindi speaking minority Indian told the visitors that a few years back in a gesture of friendship Indian and Indian-Punjabi officials gave over 500 visas to Pakistanis for watching a cricket game played across the border in Indian Punjab. According to that official at the end of the prescribed period several “guests” did not return back to Pakistan, and a few of them engaged on terror activities in India.

But the twin jewels of Punjab, cities of Lahore and Amritsar, barely 50 miles apart are worlds away. In one speaking the native Punjabi is considered almost “uncultured” for Urdu, a language of North India, whereas in the other Punjabi language has been saved through teaching in classrooms and writing in Gurmukhi script. In one city killing of any animal for food is almost non-existent whereas in the other even the breakfast starts with animal flesh. In one city women jostle with men in public transport, whereas in the other city public transport is almost non-existent for women. One of the cities has become linguistically homogeneous speaking only Urdu, while in the other one frequently hears along with Punjabi and Hindi, Bhojpuri, Oriya, Malayalam, Bengali, Gujarati, Telugu and many more languages. In Lahore, Pakistan there are certainly more women drivers than a so-called liberal city of Kolkata (Calcutta) in India. Lahore was a Hindu-majority city before 1947 partition with many famed Hindu temples and Sikh gurdwaras (temple.) The visitors asked their taxi to take them to a Hindu temple. After hours of search he came back with sad face, “Sahab, Sir, I was told the last Hindu mandir (temple) called Jain Mandir was brought down two years back.” Then he took the visitors to a “Hindu temple” which was an abandoned Sikh gurdwara maintained by a Muslim guard paid for by the British Sikhs. The driver took them, along with their host Didiji and Shakeela to Harappa – where they were the lone visitors. The small unkempt sign to Harappa ruins in Urdu was barely visible from the highway as the driver missed the turn. Seeing the visitors ordering each copy of their English booklets, the salesman commented, “Sir, you must like to read.” Dastidars also visited Nankana Sahib, the Birth Place of Guru Nanak, and the Founder of Sikhism. The guard first said “Only Hindus and Sikhs are allowed in,” but relaxed the rule for their local Muslim companions as they were coming with Hindus. Absence of religious diversity in Pakistan has affected its intellectual heritage too. The beautiful British-era National Museum of Lahore contain some of the precious gems of Indian civilization, e.g. statue of starving Buddha, lion pillars of Asoka, old manuscripts, marble footprints of Jain, ancient statutes of Hindu deities and more. But an old Bengali manuscript is identified as Sanskrit, while a Sanskrit manuscript is depicted as Tibetan, and statue of Goddess Lakshmi (of wealth) is identified as goddess of music and dance (Saraswati.) On the other hand some of the old places are saved in exemplary form including the British-established Government College University, the Mall, Foreman Christian College, the canals, Lahore University, Badshahi Mosque, Lahore Fort and more.

Yet there is hope! On that visit, as Dastidars were traveling from Peshawar to Lahore in a modern air-conditioned Daewoo coach, they were befriended by two young ladies – professor Shakeela and her younger sister Shabnam – who “kidnapped” them to take them to their home in Sabzazar neighborhood of Lahore by canceling Dastidar’s hotel reservation. (Two ladies had cell phone, but Dastidars did not.) Their mother, Didi or sister for Dastidars, born in East Punjab, India would repeatedly mention that they were blessed to have the first ever Hindu mehman – honored guests – in their home. Shakeela’s poor brother Rizwan was delighted to drive their “Hindu uncle and aunt” to the border twice in two days!

The Empty Wagha-Atari Broder Crossing
Waiting To Cross the Divide; Send off by (Muslim) Pakistanis
The Line that Divides the Partitioned Nations
The Broder from Indian Side
(Hindu-Sikh) Welocme in India
Didi (left) saying Good Bye to her Hindu Guests
Sabzazar Neighborhood Park
Goverment College University, Lahore
The Sikh Gurdwara; the Muslim guard Explaining
Lahore National Museum
The Lion of Asoka; Symbol of Government of India in Lahore National Museum
The Fasting Buddha
 Marble Footprints of Lord Jain
Statue of Ma Durga, Goddess of Strength
Old Stone Tablet at Lahore National Museum